Cunning and underhanded or genius? When it comes to forearm services, tennis is divided.
Andy Murray added an unexpected dose of mischief to his first round match on Monday when he dropped the controversial shot against James Duckworth† It was the first time he’d ever used it in the All England Club, but it wasn’t strictly a break from tradition. Historically, the last player to regularly play forearm serve here came from another British tennis dynasty.
Susan Billington, late grandmother of Tim Henman, regularly served among the poor in the late 1940s and 1950s. She represented the final days of a bygone era when women in tennis were late to graduate from the modern iteration of the shot. In fact, her mother Ellen Mary Stawell Browne was reportedly the first woman to ever serve upper arm in 1901.
But now the shot has experienced a resurgence in the men’s game rather than the women. Michael Chang gained a lot of attention for its use when he upset Ivan Lendl to win the French Open title in 1989. But more recently, as player services have increased in power and speed and returners choose to go yards behind the baseline. receive, some choose to take advantage.
While world number 38 Alexander Bublik is probably the player on the ATP tour who uses the shot the most, the most infamous Nick Kyrgios† He caused a row in Acapulco in 2019 for hitting a forearm serve against Rafael Nadal, who found the move distasteful. “If you’re doing it with the aim of improving your game, or if you want something tactical, I support 100 percent,” Nadal clarified the following year. “If you do that [it to] despise the adversary, [it] is not a good thing.”
One-time British number 1 and Murray’s former coach Mark Petchey is a forearm skeptic. “My father always told me to warn the opponent if I was going to hit a forearm serve,” he tells Telegraph Sport. “It was considered extremely poor sportsmanship to do it unexpectedly. The only acceptable times you did it was when you were injured or too windy.”
But Murray sees it differently. Allegations of showboating or disrespect make no sense, he said Monday. “I never understood that,” he said. “It’s a legitimate way of serving. Nobody says it’s disrespectful for someone to come back from five yards behind the baseline to try and gain an advantage. So I didn’t use it to be disrespectful to him, but to say, ‘ If you’re going to step back and give the service back to give yourself more time, I’m going to exploit that.”
Though it worked for Murray, Kyrgios’ ‘tweener’ forearm serve against Paul Jubb Tuesday didn’t quite go according to plan. Kyrgios is so famous for putting in the shot, the main element of surprise was lost to British player Jubb, who won the point.
But Kyrgios remains undeterred – even if the tennis hierarchy won’t recognize his role in making it trendy again: “[In Acapulco] I play against Rafael Nadal for about three hours, I couldn’t win a point. I threw in a forearm service. She [said]”I don’t know if there’s a place in the game for that.” Now it’s like, ‘Andy Murray, [he’s] so smart’. I’m like, what the hell? Everyone is doing it now. It’s like they’re geniuses.”
Whether taken seriously, Kyrgios firmly believes it could be a good point of variety and interest for the game: “I’m glad people are realizing that this is another way to get to the point. I think it’s just hilarious.”