Whether it is singles or doubles, dominating at the net is a major tactic that many players have counted on throughout their playing history. It used to be much more prevalent, as a lot of players would serve and volley, but modern technology and strategy have changed that.
Below is a list of the best net players in the history of tennis, with a good mix of old and current players rounding things out. It has been interesting to see how the game has evolved, and how net play still plays a role in how things go.
10. Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal’s game has so many great qualities, and most people are not putting volleying near the top. However, think about how he plays and what happens when he does come to the net. He rarely misses, and his ability to put away points has allowed him to be so successful as a singles player.
Clay court specialists are not supposed to be comfortable near the net, but Nadal has always had great hands that allow him to put the ball where he needs to. He has been able to use those hands in key points in singles matches, but he has had more success as a doubles player than many people realize.
Most notably, he was able to capture the 2016 gold medal at the Olympics with Marc Lopez. Even though he has had so much success as a singles player, he cherishes the doubles win and is only the second player ever to win a gold medal in both singles and doubles.
9. Pete Sampras
Powered with a killer serve, Pete Sampras still needs more than that to succeed and win so many Grand Slams. Thanks to his outstanding hands at the net, he could put away points pretty easily thanks to some key volleys in certain situations.
Sampras always favored his forehand, but his serve was able to hide some of his shortcomings with his backhand. Being able to volley with power was always a skill of Sampras, and he controlled the net very well. Not only did he have a standing length, but his athleticism at the net allowed him to jump and reach for balls that might be passing shots in other situations.
8. John McEnroe
The old technology of tennis made serving and following a much stronger tactic than it is today. Perhaps no one did it better than John McEnroe, and his outstanding hands on the net make him one of the best volleyers the game has ever seen. He played a very classic style in singles, and he refined much of his skill with a pretty steady doubles career as well.
McEnroe had a solid first serve, but nothing too overpowering. What really made his game flourish was his ability to put balls away at the net. Once he could get to the net, it was just a matter of time before he dictated the point and put it away. It usually only took him one or two shots at the net to take control and finish things off.
People know a lot about his singles play, but not that many remember that he won a total of nine Grand Slam double titles. He also added a Grand Slam mixed doubles title at the French Open in 1977. Even in exhibitions in today’s game, he still has outstanding hands and can play doubles competitively against current pros while holding his own.
7. Tommy Haas
Reaching as high as number two in the world, Tommy Haas never found a way to break through and win a Grand Slam singles title. However, he became one of the most feared players on tour thanks to his somewhat unique play style. Although he was an all-court player, and many people remember his outstanding backhand, he also had crisp volleys when he made it to the net.
To set up great volleys, Haas always relied on a solid serve. When he was returning serve, his backhand opened up a lot of opportunities as well. Once he got to the net, it was very tough to pass him, as Haas possessed amazing length and just enough athleticism to finish off most points.
6. Andy Murray
In a lot of ways, Andy Murray is a bit of a throwback player in tennis. Not only did he reach very high levels of play as a singles player, but he was well-rounded enough to be an outstanding doubles player as well. Part of being a great doubles player is having control of the net, and Murray was able to do that very well in his prime.
Although he did not come to the net that much as a singles player, he has one of the best point-winning percentages when he does. Doubles were never a high priority for him, but he did make the finals in the mixed doubles in the 2012 Olympics. If he truly dedicated himself to the game, he could prolong his career by playing doubles for quite a while.
If Murray had to go back in time and play with wood racquets, it seems like he would do very well with serving volley techniques. He uses it occasionally to surprise opponents, but it is just not a consistent play in today’s game.
5. Pierre-Hugues Herbert
People who have only heard of Herbert as a singles player probably do not think too highly of him. He only reached #36 in the world, but he has never made it past the third round in a Grand Slam singles tournament. However, his doubles specialization has allowed him to turn into one of the best players on that circuit. His net play, in particular, has helped him win the career Grand Slam.
Teaming up with the guy above Nicholas Mahut, Herbert is a very steady player who can easily put balls away at the net and angle shots off to set up future shots. The team has worked very well together over the last few years, and they seem to have plenty of good years of doubles left in them. It would not be surprising to see more and more Grand Slams added to the total for both players soon.
4. Nicholas Mahut
Mahut’s success in singles has been pretty moderate, but as a doubles player, he has shown that he is one of the best net players in the game right now. He is not the biggest or the strongest, but he acts like a wall in many ways.
Partnering mostly with the guy below on this list, Mahut is particularly great on grass. He likes the faster pace of the game, and he moves very well on the surface.
3. Roger Federer
Even though he comes in at third on the list, he is arguably the best singles player at the net in the history of the sport. That might surprise some people, as there have been so many good serve and volleyers throughout history. However, Federer plays the game a little bit differently, mixing in some of the old-school mentality with the new.
As far as modern players are concerned, Federer comes to the net more than most. He is not ready to concede points by playing near the baseline all the time. Sometimes it is a sneak attack, and other times, he can put together a good string of shots. His ability to play well at the net on any surface is a big reason he has won so many Grand Slam titles.
2. Bryan Brothers
It is very hard to list the two Bryan Brothers separately when they do just about everything together. Throughout the history of their playing career, they have been able to dominate as a doubles team. They rarely play singles, but the now-retired duo made a name for themselves getting to the net and finishing points quickly.
What really helps the Bryan Brothers out is that one is a left-hander and one is a right-hander. They were able to play off each other when they were at their peak, and getting a chance to play on a specific side of the court certainly helps. They could put their forehands where they wanted to, helping control the net even more.
1. Leander Paes
The doubles specialist has stuck around in the game for quite a while thanks to his outstanding overall netplay. Even amongst doubles players, he is one of the best of the best, which is why he takes the top spot.
It seems like no matter what type of shot comes his way, he is able to deflect it and put the match in his teams’ favor. He has never been able to find much success in singles, but the doubles play gives him enough recognition overall. His eight doubles titles and 10 mixed doubles titles at Grand Slam events speak for themselves.