Those who have been to a live tennis game will know how different it is from watching it on television. When sat back on the sofa enjoying the tennis from home, it can seem like the players have an eternity to return the ball and make decisions, which really is an illusion of the highest order. In reality, these players have a split second to react and try and counter what their opponents are doing.
Take the lanky Kevin Anderson for example, the big-hitting South African sends serves down at 140mph. You would battle to see a car going down the highway at 140mph if it sped by you - never mind a tiny tennis ball - but still, somehow, these plays find a way to return the ball over the net.
The beauty of tennis though is that often brains are able to counter brawn. Over the course of history, there have been some breathtaking shots that can’t quite be explained given how frantic a tennis match can be. These are the five that have brought arenas to their feet and living rooms to their knees.
5. Nick Kyrgios: Between The Legs
There’s no better place to begin the five best ever tennis shots of all-time than with the man that everyone loves to hate, Nick Kyrgios. The 23-year-old is often attempting the flamboyant and outrageous on the tennis court and his success rate is should we say, varied, with him sometimes looking like the class clown, which will inevitably lead to some sort of tantrum when it doesn’t come off, and at other times looking like the six million dollar man.
Against Rafa Nadal at Wimbledon 2014, it came off spectacularly when he hit what was called the shot of the year. Kyrgios managed to return Nadal’s serve and, before the Spaniard sent the ball back, deep in his own court, the 6ft3 Australian stood up straight and put his racket between his legs before perfectly timing his return that floated over the net and to the left of Nadal who never stood a chance. The Spaniard sauntered off with his usual scowl of indignation before addressing his permanent wedgie whilst Kyrgios looked to the heavens with his arms outstretched. Simply marvelous.
4. Bernard Tomic: No One Plays That Shot
No matter how many times you watch Bernard Tomic’s indescribable shot against Julien Benneteau at the Brisbane International in 2012, you can’t quite figure out how he was able to do it. It really is quite bizarre and difficult to get your head around as the Australian looks to be setting up for a powerful forehand, only at the last minute to soften his grip to that of holding a toothpaste tube without the lid on, and then executing a sliced drop shot.
It’s quite hypnotic to watch, and if you’re not careful with your time you can spend an hour with it on repeat trying to work out how. All his opponent Benneteau could do was shrug and blow his cheeks as it dawned on him that whatever happened in his career from here on in, he would always be on a highlight reel on YouTube.
3. Pete Sampras: Inch-Perfect Backhand
A list of the best ever tennis shots wouldn’t be complete without finding a backhand from Pete Sampras, and after considering some of his very best, his effort against Gustavo Kuerten at the Expo 2000 in Hannover has to be his greatest. Sampras had sent a serve down to Kuerten and in his aggressive style, the American had followed it up by storming the net, ready for Kuerten’s return.
The Brazilian was anticipating Sampras’ approach and coolly chipped the ball over his head. With a squeak of Sampras’ sneakers, the American turned and hightailed it to the back of the court to return the lob with the smug Kuerten having already awarded the point to himself. Not so fast, Gustavo - in the blink of an eye, Sampras unleashed an inch-perfect backhand with ferocious power that landed with the utmost precision just inside the tramlines. Kuerten never stood a chance and gazed back at Sampras to find him sitting on the advertising hoarding, looking equally as puzzled.
2. Roger Federer: Sublime Head Fake
It seems untoward and completely out of line to go through an entire list of phenomenal tennis shots without paying homage to the GOAT. Fortunately enough, there is a very good reason to give him the runner-up spot, but it isn’t for ferocious power or lightning speed. Rather, Federer’s head fake against Ernests Gulbis on the clay courts of Madrid back in 2010 was as exceptional as it was emblematic of the Swiss legend's career, shrewd, composed and easy on the eye.
Keen to break Gulbis’ serve, Federer was looking lively once the Latvian sent the ball down and made good ground around his part of the court during the rally. However, it looked all over as Gulbis chipped a cute ball over the net, which gripped on the dry red clay court and popped up favorably for the onrushing Federer.
Only, instead of looking to outmuscle Gulbis with both men stranded at the net, Federer shimmied his head to the left and dropped the shoulder which promoted Gulbis to put his weight onto his right side, Federer then, without looking, sent a dolly to the right of Gulbis and left the Latvian springing to the right as the ball passed him in what must have felt like slow motion. As the commentator calling the action said at the time, "oh that’s genius".
1. Andre Agassi: No-Look Smash Over The Shoulder
You could spend the whole night talking with tennis enthusiasts about the best tennis shots, and not everyone would agree on the order or argue that he did it better when he played that same shot. If you were to take the topic of best tennis shots to the internet, you would spend your whole life arguing it as the world wide web is not always known to be the place to find a sensible consensus. On this occasion, and after looking at the subject from every angle, it’s virtually impossible to look further than Andre Agassi’s no-look smash over his right shoulder at the 1995 US Open.
Squaring up against Alex Corretja, the two were locked in a ding-dong battle at the year’s last Grand Slam. Both men were full of energy and Corretja, in particular, looked lively. It was during one of their early games when Corretja was so desperate to stamp his authority on the game that he sent Agassi to every part of the court. Looking to have finally run the American off the park, the Spaniard played the ball over Agassi’s head and sent the defending US Open champion to chase a lost cause.
Agassi put on a burst of pace and somehow found himself backtracking but level with the runaway ball. Digging his right foot into the ground and sending his left leg up, Agassi found the perfect leverage to swipe the ball over his shoulder with the fury of a man swatting away a persistent fly on a hot summer’s evening. The ball shot off his racket and went flying past a hapless Corretja like a rocket to give Agassi the point.
At first, an incredulous-looking Alex Corretja stood at the net and pushed his racket up into his chin before a smile broke over his face. The Spaniard dropped his racket and began to clap before walking back to his mark. Agassi, standing in his loose-fitting Nike clothing took a bow to the crowd and his opponent after producing one of the most remarkable incidents to ever take place on a tennis court.