Serving and volley is back at the Australian Open

Snide visitors to Australasia recommended that you set your watch to 1956 as soon as you got off the plane. Today, Melbourne is trendy enough to laugh at such barbs. On Monday, however, there was a real sense of time travel at Margaret Court Arena as Maxime Cressy’s serve-and-volley tribute act took us back at least 40 years.

As the first real net rusher of the 21st century, Cressy has many former pros drooling over his old-fashioned game. “He’s a dinosaur in tennis terms,” ​​Eurosport commentator John McEnroe chuckled. Still, McEnroe must have loved the way Cressy kept attacking the net, stroking the ball into the corners with his silky volleys. For a certain kind of purist, this was tennis porn.

Fans of flair-filled handicrafts will have to be disappointed by the final result, as Cressy lost to world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev 6-2, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5. The outcome was hardly unexpected: since Novak Djokovic’s dramatic expulsion, Medvedev has become the tournament favourite. Still, he found the whole experience disturbing. “This is so boring!” he shouted, after Cressy had knocked out another clean winner early in the fourth set. When his own passing shot cut the net tape: “This is the happiest day of my life!”

After the match, Medvedev explained that he had not meant the screams literally. “I was trying to say something to kind of get him on his mind,” he said, “so maybe he’ll start saying ‘what the hell is Medvedev saying’ and miss a few shots.” As he later added, “I don’t like trash [but] Unfortunately I can sometimes roll into this. Today was border. I don’t think I actually said anything bad about Maxime, but I’m not really happy about it.”

The contest could be interpreted as a vindication of Cressy’s personal slogan, which he writes on a notepad three times a day and underlines for added effect. The tagline reads: “Arouse doubt.” And that’s what a serve volleyer does, especially at a time when they’re as rare as unicorns. As three-time Australian Open champion Mats Wilander put it on Monday: “You can’t really see it, so of course you don’t know how to deal with it. Where do you stand to return? Am I far back? Do I go further? Ultimately, it’s irritating.”

After his third-round win over Christopher O’Connell, Cressy had expressed his ambition to revive a lost art. “My vision from the very beginning was to bring back service and volley,” he told reporters. “A lot of people told me it’s dead, that it won’t be efficient or effective, that courts are slower, that there are better returnees today. But I believe it will happen.” Cressy, a man who thinks big, also revealed that his goal is not only to break into the top ten in the world, but even to claim the number 1 spot.


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