More on Seeing Big Servers in Person


That's tennis-type servers, not network-type. Previously here. A reader who has seen Wimbledon matches in person, as I have not, writes:

I would say that your viewing of Isner actually understates the situation. If you ever have a chance, take a look at him (or some other boomer) up close on grass!

25 years ago I was wandering around the side courts at Wimbledon and caught the South African Kevin Curren, "only" 6' 1", serving and destroying Stefan Edberg. My reaction was "his first serve is literally impossible to return, it can't be done." It turned out, I was right. Curren was in a groove and didn't lose a service game en route to the finals, blowing away not just Edberg, but then McEnroe and Connors.

His performance in the quarters and semis was incredible:

Then he ran into Becker in the finals, and started missing his first serve, and that was that. He's now mainly forgotten. It was about five days of fleeting brilliance.

My learning from this was, if a guy with a big serve just winds up and fires on grass, and can hit them with about 60-70% (I'm guessing, there), or more accuracy, he wins his service games. It doesn't matter who's across the net. It defies human capability to hit it back.


The Isner-Mahut match, with 183 service games and (I think) only three service breaks, illustrates the reader's point. As for Kevin Curren -- at left above, entering for his finals against Boris Becker at Wimbledon -- he was on the University of Texas tennis team while my wife was in graduate school there, and I would sometimes see him play when I was at the university courts. We were also living in Austin when Roger Clemens was a pitcher for the UT baseball team. Hook 'em, Horns! Go, student-athletes.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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