Connect with us


Mpetshi Perricard’s serve – how Musetti broke it and why Arthur Fils knows it best



Mpetshi Perricard's serve – how Musetti broke it and why Arthur Fils knows it best

Follow live coverage of the ninth day of Wimbledon 2024 today

WIMBLEDON — Over the course of seven beautiful days, this has become the most deadly shot in tennis.

It’s a serve that comes from the racket of a French 21-year-old named Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard, and the player waiting for it must hit it back over the net.

Or fetch, cajole, persuade, will, pray it again.

It’s a rocket blast that can be difficult to see, let alone put on a racket, let alone return over a 300-foot piece of wire mesh from 30 feet away.

As for making a quality return to gain control of a point, or doing it often enough to win a game when Mpetshi Perricard serves? For seven days, that seemed like an impossibility for everyone in the draw.

Except perhaps the only player left in the draw who already knows how to open the Mpetshi Perricard service slot. He is also a Frenchman, a year younger than Mpetshi Perricard, who is enjoying the Grand Slam run that so many have expected from him for more than a year.

That would be Arthur Fils, Mpetshi Perricard’s best friend since the two were ten-year-old standouts in the French national tennis training program. But Fils has no intention of sharing the secrets he has picked up over all these years with the rest of the field.

Some figures. Mpetshi Perricard, who stands 203cm tall, has hit 105 aces in three matches, including 51 in his first-round win over Sebastian Korda, No. 20 seed here at the All England Club and one of the world’s better grass court players.

Mpetshi Perricard begins his motion (Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

He wins 85 percent of his first grinds. He has lost three sets, but only one set has not resulted in a tiebreak. He is tied with Ben Shelton for the fastest serve in the tournament at 230 km/h, but even Shelton puts Mpetshi Perricard’s serve in a different league from his, partly because the Frenchman’s second serve sometimes can travel over the network at a speed of 200 km/h.

“Ridiculous,” is how Shelton describes the Mpetshi Perricard offer.

“He actually hits two first serves.”

The status of the big service, or flat bomb, or boom-boom if you’re Boris Becker, has declined over the past twenty years. These are not the days of Pete Sampras and so many like him, who sailed to Grand Slam titles on a diet of unreturned serves and tiebreaks won when necessary, but more often just one game on the opponent’s serve and considered their work done. until the scoreboard told them to start a new set.

go deeper


‘They slow things down in their heads’: How tennis players return at 130 mph

Four men named Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are largely responsible for that decline. If you serve a ball faster than 130 miles per hour and your first sight as you come out of the move is the ball you just hit hitting your ankles very hard and fast, seemingly harder and faster, then your days of winning tennis matches probably along the way.

In modern tennis, the word on people’s lips is ‘servebot’: an at least mildly derogatory and absolutely apathetic term for a player who is essentially unbreakable because his serve is so good, but who is also essentially unpleasant because of a hyper-effective trebuchet for tennis balls. is basically all they have.

Mpetshi Perricard is not that guy. He can move. His volley stings. He has studied videos from the largest servers, especially from John Isner, but watching Ivo Karlovic, who was about seven feet tall, is “a bit boring,” he said.

Mpetshi Perricards net play, touch and volley are very suitable for grass (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

During those seven days at Wimbledon, Fils and Mpetshi Perricard lived a dream together, trying very hard not to dream; to not think beyond the next match, not even the next set, or game or point that each of them will play.

They text each other constantly and eat dinner together almost every night during tournaments if their schedules allow it. Mpetshi Perricard quickly received the text from Fils after the latter defeated Roman Safiullin to reach the second week of the Grand Slam for the first time.

Mpetshi Perricard’s coach Emmanuel Planque said no one in the world has spent more time with Mpetshi Perricard on a tennis court than Fils.

Fils said Planque was 100 percent right, meaning he has seen and returned more service from Mpetshi Perricard than anyone else on the planet.

“He teaches me how to return,” Fils said of Mpetshi Perricard, after a freak knee injury forced No. 7 seed Hubert Hurkacz to withdraw from the second-round match, with Fils retaining match point in the fourth set.

“It’s a good habit.”

On the eighth day, the realities of professional tennis forced them to wake up. Fils succumbed in the fourth round to Alex de Minaur, a player he defeated at the Barcelona Open in April, but on clay, the Australian’s least favorite surface.

De Minaur, the No. 9 seed, likes grass because it allows him to take advantage of his speed and sublime movement while keeping his hard, flat shots nice and low. He took full advantage of this at Fils, despite an admirable rally from the Frenchman in the fourth set, winning 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

Fils’ incredibly impressive performance against Hurkacz advanced him to the third round (Rob Newell/Camerasport via Getty Images)

Mpetshi Perricard faced Lorenzo Musetti, the rising Italian who has quietly put together a solid grass season.

Musetti was a semi-finalist in Stuttgart and a finalist at Queen’s, and this is his first second week at Wimbledon. Despite feeling lost in this area a year ago, Musetti has a higher winning percentage on grass and clay than on hard courts, and he has a game that suits the surface as well. Not just any knife backhand piece and a good serve, but an economical movement on returning the serve, which leaves out his complicated one-handed forehand and backhand. He chips, cuts and blocks the ball, ready to put his tools to good use in rallies, where they will actually be effective.

“I don’t know, I’m just focused on the next one,” Mpetshi Perricard said when asked how far he could go after beating Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori in four sets on Saturday.

“I already lost to Musetti, so I don’t know.”

Certainly, but Mpetshi Perricard also lost at Wimbledon. He lost his last match in qualifying to Maxime Janvier, another Frenchman, in four sets, three of which went to a tiebreak. Then Mpetshi Perricard finished with one of the ‘lucky losers’ that occur when a player withdraws at the last minute. He was in the locker room after a practice session last Saturday when a tournament official called him and asked if he wanted to play in the main draw of Wimbledon for the first time.

Was he nervous? Not at all, he said. A good opportunity, no pressure, a great experience.

Since then, Mpetshi Perricard and his service have become unstoppable forces with no solid objects in sight. He hits that first serve like he’s hitting a brick with a frying pan, then watches it shoot to the corners of the service box. Opponents simply drop their eyes to the grass and move to the other side of the field.

Mpetshi Perricard’s serve was also effective at Queen’s, the Wimbledon warm-up event (James Fearn/Getty Images)

Fils don’t have a bad serve themselves, but their bodies and their play are completely different.

Fils, who grew up near Paris, is an all-court player with a built-in Goldilocks zone of the all-time greats. Just over six feet tall, a perfectly built athlete who desperately wanted to play striker and score goals for Paris Saint-Germain, but wasn’t quite good enough.

Fils participates in a Grand Slam week for the first time (Mike Hewitt / Getty Images)

Mpetshi Perricard from Lyon is in the mold of the new generation of tennis people such as Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev. Standing almost two meters taller than six meters, they look a little out of place on a tennis court until they start serving, their long arms and spine giving them extra strength to shoot balls down from above.

Mpetshi Perricard also played a little football, dabbled in basketball and swimming before focusing on tennis, mainly because he was better at it than the other sports and believed he could utilize his strength and size while learning the movement.

That part of the game is still a work in progress for Mpetshi Perricard, Planque said. His serve has been his biggest weapon since he and Fils were pre-teens working with Planque and other national coaches at the French Tennis Federation, along with a few other top players their age, including Arthur Cazaux and Luca Van Assche. They are a bit like the young and emerging Italians, led by Jannik Sinner, who pushed each other through their junior years and at regional tournaments at the lower levels of the sport.

Planque knows that Mpetshi Perricard will always ride on his serve.

He doesn’t want to play long rallies,” he said. “The goal is to be aggressive from the first shot.”

He also wants to get to the net at every opportunity, even serving and volleying, a dying art that most players use only as a surprise tactic.

“I’m an old-style coach,” Planque said.

Old-fashioned is also one of Mpetshi Perricard’s principles. Like Musetti, he is the rare young player who uses a one-handed backhand, even though he now wishes he didn’t, watching Isner’s two-hander with envy on those videos. As Musetti has learned, making service returns with one hand is a tall order.

Mpetshi Perricard’s booming serve, one-handed backhand and soft net play feel like a return (Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

And while his first serve is the star, improving his second has been one of his main goals this season. He crushes the first ball and if he misses, he tries to do something else with the second, which averages 187 km per hour. Maybe he’ll give it a little spin or move towards middle or into the body, rather than going wide outside as he so often does on his first ball.

“For now it works,” he said last week after the victory over Ruusuvuori. “We’ll see if it works against the top player.”

He saw it, and he didn’t like what was before his eyes. Musetti won the battle with the serve, bringing 79 percent of the points for the first time to Mpetshi Perricard’s 67, and 84 percent of the points for the second time to Mpetshi Perricard’s 53.

He also won the return match. 32 percent of first-serve return points point to Mpetshi Perricard’s 20 percent; 33 percent of second serve points yield points compared to Mpetshi Perricard’s 16 percent.

After the match, Musetti agreed that facing the serve is like being a goalkeeper in a penalty shootout, and said his coach explained that to break he needed a buffer of 0-40, and not dependent was of 30-40 or even 15-40 as a chance, because it could be taken away so easily. Musetti had to choose his moment of consolation before the discomfort started again in the next game.

That’s not just for now. It looks like Mpetshi Perricard’s serve will discourage the top players in the coming years.

As for Fils, he might get some texts from other players soon.

(Top photo: John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)