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Top 5 hardest hitters in tennis at the moment

Ernests Gulbis
UAE Royals

In the year 2000, one of the first signs that Pete Sampras was on the decline came when he played in the US Open final against a young Russian named Marat Safin. Sampras was, at that time, a 13-time Grand Slam champion and was playing in his sixth US Open final. Safin, on the other hand, was a tall 20-something who was quickly establishing himself as a force on the tour.People expected and wanted Sampras to win. What they saw instead was a young Russian who struck the ball with such ferocity that the great American was blasted off the court.When the big hitters are tuned-in and the elements are in place, they can take the game away from you with their sustained bludgeoning. The big hitters can make your jaw drop with the awesomeness of their ball-striking ability.Players like Marat Safin and Fernando Gonzalez were well-known for their immense groundstroke speeds, and the current ATP tour has some ferocious hitters of the ball too. Not surprisingly, most of these big hitters feature in the IPTL, and the UAE Royals’ team is particularly well-stocked with powerful players. (For buying tickets to the UAE Royals games, click here)So without further ado, here is the list of the top 5 ball-strikers in today's game that anyone would pay considerable money to watch:

#6 Ernests Gulbis

The only known Latvian male player on the ATP World Tour, Gulbis was at one point coached by the same person who coached Marat Safin. This probably explains his aggressive baseline game.

Gulbis' best shot is his backhand, which he strikes early and directs easily. It’s a flat, hard shot which he uses to control the rally. Add to this his mammoth first serve which routinely hits the 130-140 mph mark and you have a player who can be very tough to beat.

An offensive game like Gulbis' tends to produce a lot of errors, but the Latvian has done reasonably well on the tour - he has won six singles titles and two doubles titles in his career so far. His best result at a Grand Slam came in 2014 when he reached the semi-finals of the French Open.

Gulbis defeated Federer in five sets in the fourth round and won in straight sets against Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals before losing to Novak Djokovic in the semis. As a result of this run, he reached the top 10 for the first time in his career.

His form dipped in 2015 and he is ranked a lowly No. 79 in the world right now. But Gulbis is still only 27 and given his style of play, he could well knock out a big star or two from a Major in the future.

#5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

There has hardly ever been a player more enigmatic than Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Way back in 2008, when he was ranked 38th in the world, he handed Rafael Nadal what was then his worst defeat at a Major. But even before that, Tsonga had dispatched Andy Murray, Sam Warburg, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Mikhail Youzhny and Richard Gasquet on his way to the semi-finals.

The semi-final score-line read an incredible 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. Tsonga did not face a break point till the final set and broke Nadal five times in the match. His powerful hitting took him to his first Grand Slam final, where he lost in four sets to Djokovic.

The Frenchman had another fantastic year in 2011 when he defeated Federer at Wimbledon (and became the first man to win against Federer after being two sets to love down at a Slam) and finished as runner-up at the World Tour Finals (lost to Federer).

Tsonga has been fairly consistent as far as the rankings are concerned. He is currently ranked 10th in the world and has a regular feature in the top 20 ever since his breakthrough in 2008. His highest rank has been No. 5 in 2012.

It goes without saying that Tsonga is fun to watch. He thwacks the ball hard but he can also surprise his opponents with delicate drop shots which then can make for the most entertaining net exchanges. He plays with good humour too, which makes tickets to his matches highly sought after.

#4 Marin Cilic

Marin Cilic

The only player of the chasing pack (Nishikori, Cilic, Dimitrov, Raonic and a few others) to have broken through is Marin Cilic. For two weeks in 2014, he played at an unreal level and bludgeoned his way to his first Major title at the US Open.

Cilic, who will play for the UAE Royals in this year's IPTL, has always been a promising player. Tall and lanky with a good serve and groundstroke technique, he won the French Open junior title defeating Andy Murray in the final. He shot into the limelight in 2010 when he won the Chennai Open and went on to reach the semifinals at the Australian Open, defeating Wawrinka, Tomic and del Potro before losing to Murray in four sets.

For a while after that, Cilic was there and thereabouts. He won a few titles every year and had mixed results at the Slams. This continued until 2013, when he hired Goran Ivanisevic as his coach.

The former Wimbledon champion, who will also be playing for the UAE Royals this year, was just as famous for hitting the hard ball as his new pupil. The results were not immediate, but the first signs of their partnership working came after the 2014 Australian Open. Cilic won the title at Zagreb without dropping a set and reached the semifinals at the tournament in Rotterdam. Then, he reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, losing to Novak Djokovic in five sets.

Cilic was seeded 14th at the US Open in 2014, and when he reached the semi-final against Federer, most expected the Swiss to waltz into the final. But Cilic demonstrated his fiercest best, struck the ball to all corners with incredible power and won in straight sets. A couple of days later, he won the title.

#3 Stan Wawrinka

Stan Wawrinka

Samuel Beckett said, ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’

Stan Wawrinka has this tattooed on his forearm, the left hand. Which makes sense because his right hand, especially on the backhand side, doesn’t really need that kind of inspiration.

Perhaps the most thrilling and powerful backhand currently on display in men’s tennis, what makes it even more amazing is that it is a one-handed shot. With a full backswing and a majestic arc as his body uncoils and the racquet smashes through the ball, the shot can produce winners from the unlikeliest court positions. Wawrinka has the ability to strike clean winners off his backhand wing at any moment in the rally - such is the greatness of the shot.

With a serve that frequently hits 135 mph and an equally powerful forehand, Wawrinka has had a very successful late career. He won his first and second Slams in the last two years, after turning 28, and also won the Davis Cup for Switzerland.

For a long time, he played second fiddle to Roger Federer as the best player from Switzerland but for a brief period in 2014, Wawrinka usurped that honour and became the Swiss No. 1 as well.

Prone to wild swings in form, Wawrinka can be frustrating to watch. But when he is on, there are very few players in the world who can counter his power and precision.

#2 Tomas Berdych

Tomas Berdych

Despite being a huge hitter blessed with tremendous power off both wings, Tomas Berdych is a surprisingly consistent player. Since 2011, he has reached the quarterfinals or better at the Australian Open every year. In 2015, he reached the 4th round or better at each of the Majors, and over his career he has reached the semi-finals of all the Slams.

Berdych, who like Cilic will also represent the UAE Royals in the upcoming IPTL, is one of the few players to have defeated each of the Big 4 in a Grand Slam.

Moreover, in eight out of nine ATP Masters 1000 events this year, the Czech reached the quarterfinals or better. In fact, his career is peppered with semifinal and quarterfinal appearances at all the big events around the world.

Berdych is possibly the hardest hitter in the world of tennis at present. Tall, well-built and with a huge wingspan, Berdych strikes the ball with plenty of venom. When on song, his forehand is one of the most penetrative shots in men’s tennis which frequently hits 90 mph.

Perhaps even more impressive though is Berdych's backhand. The easy power he generates with that shot almost looks too good to be true. His aggressive baseline game is well-complemented by his big serves, which top out at around 140 mph.

Berdych's best moment came at Wimbledon in 2010 when he defeated Federer (the defending champion) in four sets in the quarterfinal. (Berdych, in fact, has performed quite well against Federer. He won their very first match at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and has six wins against the Swiss). He went on to reach the final that year after handing Djokovic a straight sets semifinal loss, but he eventually lost to Nadal in the finals.

Berdych has been in the top 8 for several years now; he and David Ferrer are probably the two most consistent players to have not won a Grand Slam title. There are a few chinks in the Czech’s game, but lack of power is certainly not one of them.

When the Berd-man lets it fly, the ball, and his game, are both sent into orbit.

#1 Honourable mentions

Juan Martin del Potro

When Juan Martin delPotro does return to play on the regular tour, he would probably feature on the top of this list. Currently sidelined with injury (a recurring theme that has derailed his highly promising career), Del Potro could have probably been that one huge hitter who did more than occasionally dazzle.

When Del Potro did hit the ball with all his fury, his shots were irretrievable. As Roger Federer found out in the 2009 US Open final, Del Potro can strike laser-like forehands which can simply blow anyone off the court.

He even reached the final of the ATP World Tour Finals at the end of that year, hammering past everyone before succumbing at the last hurdle to Nikolay Davydenko's baseline solidity.

Robin Soderling

In 2009, Robin Soderling achieved the unthinkable by defeating Rafael Nadal at the French Open. He remained the only player to do so for well over five years, until Novak Djokovic replicated the feat this year.

Well known as a hard-hitter, clay was considered a highly unlikely surface for Soderling to find success. But he did succeed against the greatest claycourter of all time, and the confidence surge took him all the way to the final in 2009, where he lost to Federer.

Edited by Staff Editor

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