As a kid, I would watch McEnroe play Borg, then head out, wooden Dunlop Maxply in hand, and stand in front of a school wall volleying like Johnny Mac. The goal was to hit the ball as many times as possible without letting it hit the ground.
But McEnroe was not the prototype. Jean Borotra (“the Bounding Basque”) was the first truly world-famous serve-and-volleyer, one of France’s “Four Musketeers,” who dominated tennis in the late twenties and early thirties. Borotra started playing while serving in the French army and developed a style in which, according to tennis histor-ian Arthur Voss, “he sought [the net] at every opportunity.”
Borotra was followed by Pancho Gonzalez, who grew up playing on the concrete courts of South Central Los Angeles and was never embraced by the wasp tennis establishment. A loner with an explosive temper who only grew more effective when angry, Gonzalez played a serve-and-volley game so devastating that tournament organizers briefly changed the rules in order to prevent him from coming to the net immediately after serving.
Legendary Australian player Rod “the Rocket” Laver, though skilled from the backcourt, came in incessantly and won all four of the major singles titles (Wimbledon and the Australian, French, and US Opens) twice each, becoming the only double Grand Slammer in the history of the game. Laver’s style inspired the generation of great serve-and-volley players led by McEnroe, Edberg, and Boris Becker.
Starting in the midseventies, however, technological advances and the popularization of tennis set the stage for the demise of the serve-and-volley ethos.
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For more on "Pancho" the man read this article.
Pancho Gonzalez: The Greatest Tennis Player of All Time