Building the perfect men's tennis player

(Disclaimer: I’ve decided to build a male player only as I haven’t watched nearly enough women’s tennis to make an objectively perfect women’s player, otherwise it’d just be called Servenus Williams.)

A while back, we featured a video of Rafael Nadal creating his idea of a “perfect tennis player”. He picked some legendary names and it made me think of what mine would look like and what attributes I’d choose to build one.

The attributes

Tennis is more than just physicality, as we’ve seen in many of the greatest matches of all time. The mental attributes count towards those fine margins between wins and defeats – after all, the person who wins a tennis match is the one who wins the last point.

So for my perfect tennis players, I’ve used the same features as Rafa Nadal:

  • Backhand
  • Forehand
  • Serve
  • Heart
  • Shot selection
  • Attitude
  • Vision
  • Fitness
  • Speed

My perfect men’s tennis player

Backhand – Stan Wawrinka

Backhand - Stan Wawrinka
Stan Wawrinka’s backhand at the French Open

I love a single backhand. It shows strength, poise, and an element of flair. You also have to be courageous to use one as there’s a larger room for error. No player knows that better than Stan Wawrinka (although Roger Federer might have something to say about that).

The 3-time grand slam champion has shown he can beat anyone when his game is on form but it’s his backhand that really shines when that happens. A Stan backhand down-the-line is lethal and uncompromising and a joy to behold.

Honourable mentions: Roger Federer, Richard Gasquet, Gustavo Kuerten

Forehand – Roger Federer

Forehand - Roger Federer
Roger Federer’s forehand at Wimbledon

I’ve never hidden my love for Roger Federer and I’m not gonna start now, so get ready to see his name more than once in this article.

I started watching tennis in 1998 but it’s Federer’s forehand that got me seriously into watching. His technique is the perfect bridge between the old style of Rod Laver and the modern power play styles of Sampras and Agassi. On his day – which is usually judgement day for his opponents – it’s unbeatable.

Honourable mentions: Rod Laver, Rafa Nadal, Andre Agassi, Bjorn Borg, Juan Martin Del Potro

Serve – Roger Federer

Serve - Roger Federer
Roger Federer serving

I tend not to go for big servers, otherwise you’d see a name like Ivo Karlovic or John Isner there. And, yes, they have the most aces in tennis between them but the best players can neutralise them. But Federer’s serve is more versatile and that’s why he’s #3 in the all-time ATP aces list (as of 5th May 2020).

T-serve? Check. Kick serve? Check? A little faster? Check. Need an ace off any of the three? Check. Need to save break points? Check. Clichés aside, that right arm is a Swiss army knife.

Honourable mentions: Ivo Karlovic, John Isner, Goran Ivanisevic, Pete Sampras, Nick Kyrgios

Heart – Andy Murray

Heart - Andy Murray
Andy Murray of Great Britain reacts to Serbia’s Novak Djokovic during the Qatar Open 2017 final match in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Alexandra Panagiotidou)

It took me many years to warm to Andy Murray. A lot of that had nothing to do with him – the rampant British nationalism that was bestowed unto him by the media and general public put me off but I also wasn’t keen on the aggression between points (so sue me). But his heart and passion are undeniable.

And it’s that will to win that won him 3 grand slams, a World #1, and keeps him going even after a career-threatening injury and I can respect that. He’s also a nice guy which helps from a spectator’s perspective.

Honourable mentions: Rafa Nadal, Gaël Monfils, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga

Shot selection – Roger Federer

Roger Federer's tweener at the US Open in 2009
Roger Federer’s tweener at the US Open in 2009

This is the penultimate mention of Roger Federer.

If you go on YouTube, you will find countless video compilations of Roger Federer’s shots over the years and we even featured one before it got taken down. It helps that he’s played well over 1000 matches, including exhibitions, so there’s plenty of scope for the odd trick shot or improvised shot.

But he’s even managed to pull them off in the clutchest of moments, notably the 2009 US Open semi-final against Novak Djokovic to set up match point. A tweener on penultimate match pointwho does that?

Honourable mentions: Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Ken Rosewall

Attitude – Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi showing his gratitude to the crowd

The choice for attitude is purely dependent on what kind of player you want. You could go aggressive, super cool, or somewhere in between. And I chose the latter. I could have picked any of the grand slam champions still active today but Agassi is a really cool guy.

Honourable mentions: Bjorn Borg, Roger Federer

Vision – Nick Kyrgios

A no-look volley from Nick Kyrgios
A no-look volley from Nick Kyrgios

This isn’t vision in the literal sense, as that would be hard to determine for any single player to stand out. The kind of vision I’m referring to is related to the ability to see and play a shot that most wouldn’t have seen or attempted. And Kyrgios fits that bill for me.

For all his antics on and off the court, when he turns it on, it doesn’t stop until he leaves. What comes with that vision and sensationalism is up to him. But the shots he conjures out of his proverbial hat can only be seen by him, no matter how many tweeners he pulls off.

Honourable mentions: Roger Federer, Gaël Monfils, Novak Djokovic

Fitness – Roger Federer

Roger Federer doing some training
Roger Federer doing some training

No more Fed talk now; this is it! You don’t play professional tennis at the highest level for over 20 years without maintaining a high level of fitness. In fact, it’s a requirement for tennis players at all levels, from tennis beginner to tennis GOAT.

So it came as a shock when Federer took 6 months out at the tail end of 2016 with a back injury but the comeback was something nobody expected. And he’s still going (but for how long, who knows).

Honourable mentions: Rafael Nadal

Speed – Gaël Monfils

Gaël Monfils
Gaël Monfils

In another reality, Gaël Monfils would have been the comic book character Static Shock. His speed on the court is matched only by the likes of Novak Djokovic (who is faster, according to research from 2016) and Nick Kyrgios.

Combined with his agility, he’s well-known for reaching shots not many could get or make winners out of and that all ads to the charm, skill, and entertainment of Monfils’s style.

Honourable mentions: Novak Djokovic, Nick Kyrgios

Who would make up your perfect player?

Those are my choices and I’m sure anyone reading would have their own picks for each attribute. Which players would you choose? Let us know in the comments.

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