From the archive
Dwight Davis, a St. Louis native who went on to found the Davis Cup, added a new dimension to the serve in the 1890s, using heavy sidespin to produce a curving delivery similar to the curveball in baseball. Americans’ love of baseball, and the throwing skills it required, could explain why many of the early game’s best servers came from the United States. England, a nation that played cricket and soccer, produced few strong servers.
“The serve is an upward throwing motion, so the straight-arm delivery of cricket does not translate very well to tennis,” said John Faribault, a lecturer in human performance at Baylor University who has studied the serve extensively. “The British players in the early years were hampered by a lack of throwing balls as they grew up. Americans became the dominant servers almost immediately, mainly because of baseball.”
The English were not alone in lagging the Americans in the serve.
“Most of the countries that play soccer — all of Europe, South America and even Africa — built clay courts,” Faribault said. “And the serve, not being a weapon on clay, didn’t receive as much emphasis. A lot of the clay-court players just spun in a kick serve to begin to work the point. But their footwork, developed by soccer, was very good.”