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Top 10 returners in tennis today

It might have been just a shot in desperation as Federer had stated earlier. But then it was that forehand crosscourt return of Novak Djokovic which set things up for him to win an improbable contest against the Swiss master in the semifinal of the 2011 US Open. If you are a tennis player who is not blessed with a great serve, it is imperative for you to have a decent return game at least. If you possess neither of the two, then you probably do not have any business entering the court with a tennis racquet.

We have quite a number of tennis players today who have successfully overcome their weaker service games by employing the strong returns of serve in their possession. But not all of them can be called great – a few of them are good and a few are above average. Now based on the effectiveness of their returns, now let me rate the top ten returns in the game today.

10. Richard Gasquet:

This Frenchman is one of the most aggressive returners in the game. Arguably equipped with one of the best backhands of all time, he is also able to generate a huge swing with his returns, particularly when he confronts weaker second serves. He stays well behind the baseline and gets many of his returns in the court. Still, he is not as consistent with his returns as some of the others and so I am keeping him right down at the bottom of my list.

9. Juan Martin Del Potro:

The problem with Del Potro is – though he can use his long wingspan to reach most serves comfortably, he does not seem to pick the serve early enough. That is the reason he makes unforced errors at times while returning. However, his returns off his backhand side are always well-placed which help the ball land close to the baseline of his opponent’s court.

8. Nikolay Daveydenko:

Like I said at the beginning, if you are not blessed with a great serve, you should at least be equipped with a potent return, and this Russian is one of those wonderful modern day returners. Five years back, his returns used to be even better than what we see nowadays and so if you were to pick an all-time list of best players in this department, he would probably sneak through as one of the top ten individuals. But this article is all about the present day scenario and so I could not rank him at a better position. His percentage of points won on the second serve this year has been 54%, which is quite a good number.

7. Roger Federer:

Perhaps if Federer had a double-handed backhand, he would have been ranked at a higher position than this. Not that his returns have been awful with his single-handed backhand, but sometimes, he makes pretty casual errors. His forehand returns have been quite sensational all throughout his career and he does not make many errors off that wing. Even with his backhand, he can creates some effective returns while he receives second serves. He just slices them over the net, pushing the server to come forward to take the ball. And as soon as the opponent comes into the court, he gets ready to go for a booming forehand crosscourt winner. But that happens only occasionally; more often than not he counters second serves with his deadly inside-out forehand, giving room for himself to hit them. His first serve returns are, however, susceptible.

6. Rafael Nadal:

This Spaniard’s strength is to play long rallies and for that to happen, he needs to put decent returns in place. Once he keeps the ball in play, then more often than not, the point ends in his favour. He is incredibly consistent, more than most of the others in this list. Be it first or second serve, he is very good at latching on to them. You cannot say that his returns set up the points for him, but then this style suits him and this is the way he earns points. At times, he hits some incredible backhand down the line return winners off the second serve. Just for the record – 38 out of 100 times he has won points returning first serve, which is the maximum this year by any player.

5. Lleyton Hewitt:

Hewitt was the first baseliner since Andre Agassi to win Wimbledon. It happened in 2002 and it goes without saying – it was because of the way he tamed his opponent through his incredible return game. He has never been a great server but he makes up for this lacuna by some good diagonal returns on both sides. He also gets most first serves returned with ease. His agility and athletic abilities also aid him in responding to very fast serves quickly. He returns the ball very deep when he counters second serves.

4. David Nalbandian:

Out of the numerous talents which this Argentine possesses, the return of serve is perhaps the most extraordinary. He resembles the great Andre Agassi in the way he returns. He stretches, he pushes and he does precisely everything right to get the ball in play. He can hit winners out of nowhere while returning serve. If you are an ordinary server, he can capitalize on your weakness pretty easily. He is capable of causing real damage to his opponents with the help of his returns alone. No matter what way the ball bounces, he can return them so well standing on his toes. He is good both with his forehand and backhand in returning serve.

3. David Ferrer:

Roger Federer, not long ago, called the Spanish bull the best returner of the game. The Swiss wasn’t entirely wrong with his assessment either. David Ferrer is not as tall as some of the other top-ranked players and so he does not possess a big serve in his repertoire. But what he does have is an awesome return game. He returns the ball very close to the baseline of his opponents, forcing them to play half volleys from the back of the court. He punches the ball very hard off his forehand which fetches him some good opportunities to have the points go in his way. He is very effective in returning first serve as well, in spite of his shortcoming of not being tall enough for a tennis player. He has 31% of return games won this year out of the 76 matches played by him.

2. Novak Djokovic:

The Serb is easily the best returner in men’s tennis this year, and yet I have ranked him second as we need to see how consistent he is going to be in the seasons to come. If anyone can answer how good his returns are, the best person to do it should be Rafael Nadal, with whom he played the epic six-hour final this year Down Under. He made Nadal go all the way back to the baseline to pick up his returns as he hit them with depth and accuracy. Djokovic does not leave many serves unreturned and he creates various angles while returning them. Except for the fact that he is a bit predictable, there is no real weakness in his return game. And should I repeat what happened to Federer when he was serving for the match against Djokovic in the 2011 US Open semifinal? I don’t quite think it is necessary. He has won 35% of return games out of 81 matches played by him this year.

1. Andy Murray:

It is only a two-way competition which is prevailing in the tennis world now when it comes to determining who the best returner in tennis is. I have chosen to go with the Brit even though it is Nole who leads overwhelmingly in return games this year. Murray has been dominant with his return games for quite long now and it is impossible for anyone to overlook this ability of his just because another person has been doing it better in an isolated season. Those who  witnessed the Shanghai Masters semifinal which he played against Roger Federer would witnessed to what a perfect return game is all about. He hit three straight winners off Federer’s first serve in one of the games and let me assure you – the Swiss is not a mediocre server. Andy scores more backhand return winners than anyone in the world of tennis today and that is why he normally plays well against some of the lethal servers in the game. His forehand returns also have improved very much of late and he, for me, would come next only to Agassi in the all time best returners’ list.

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