Does Pete Sampras have the best first serve of all time? 

Sampras finished year-end No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings for six straight years from 1993 to 1998, dominating with pinpoint accuracy, and often backing it up with some of the finest serve-and-volley points our sport has ever seen.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Sampras’ first serve shows it has no peer when compared to other players who also ended the season ranked No. 1 from 1991 to 2016.

Infosys Nia Data identifies that Sampras’ best season behind his first serve was 1998, where he won a dominant 83.0 per cent of his first-serve points. The following table shows how consistently good Sampras was during his reign as World No. 1 compared to other players ranked No. 1 at the end of the season from 1991 to 2016. 

Pete Sampras: First Serve Points Won

 1st Serve Ranking vs. Other No. 1s (1991-2016)

Year

First Serve Points Won

1

1998

83.0%

2

1996

82.9%

3

1995

82.9%

4

1993

82.1%

5

1997

81.6%

6

1994

80.8%

Sampras won Wimbledon seven times from 1993-1995 and 1997-2000, with his first-serve win percentages being a major reason why. 

Pete Sampras: 1st Serve Points Won / Wimbledon Ranking

Year

Result

First Serve Points Won

Tournament Ranking

1993

Won

84.3%

2nd

1994

Won

86.7%

2nd

1995

Won

85.9%

3rd

1996

Quarters

81.7%

6th

1997

Won

86.6%

4th

1998

Won

86.8%

2nd

1999

Won

87.7%

3rd

2000

Won

81.8%

9th

Serve-and-volley was a favourite strategy for Sampras behind both his first and second serves, with this specific tactic being first recorded at Wimbledon in 1997.

Sampras defeated Cedric Pioline 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in the 1997 Wimbledon final, serving-and- volleying a massive 81.1 per cent (516/636) of service points for the tournament. He won an impressively high 75.4 per cent (389/516) of those points. The following table breaks down Sampras’ serve-and-volley performance at The Championships from 1997 to the last year he competed at SW19 in 2002.

  Pete Sampras: Wimbledon Serve & Volley Performance 

Year

Result

Percentage of Serve & Volley

Win Percentage

1997

Won

81.1%

75.4%

1998

Won

82.1%

76.6%

1999

Won

50.0%

57.1%

2000

Won

48.3%

57.2%

2001

4th Round

80.3%

72.6%

2002

2nd Round

80.0%

64.8%

TOTAL

70.3%

67.3%

Sampras’ first serve motion, accuracy, and what immediately followed it was magical. If you are building the best player of all time from separate components, you would do well to pick Sampras’ first serve as the ultimate first strike weapon.

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