Novak Djokovic’s admiration of fellow legend Pete Sampras is well documented. Maxime Cressy, who will play Djokovic on Tuesday at the Rolex Paris Masters, not only looked up to Sampras, but is a disciple of the American’s serve-and-volley style.
“I wanted to study [serve-and-volley] patterns, what made them successful, and Pete Sampras was the one player I watched the most since he was one of the most recent serve and volleyers,” Cressy told ATPTour.com. “I watched a lot of tapes from him and studied his game a lot. I was completely inspired by his way of playing.”
The American began focussing on serve and volleying aged 14, spending countless hours closely analysing his countryman’s serve. Cressy spent the most time watching videos of Sampras serving against Andre Agassi.
“He was hitting a lot of T serves and was having a lot of easy putaway volleys or easy second shots after the ball bounced after hitting T serves. I noticed that would be extremely valuable for my game,” said Cressy, who played college tennis at UCLA. “One tip that one of the assistant coaches at UCLA from when I was there, Grant Chen, gave me [is] that Pete Sampras’ biggest quality was to be unpredictable on the serve. I really took a lot of inspiration from that, a lot of admiration and I started to really analyse how he was making his serve unpredictable.”
Cressy discovered that the key is the service toss. It should not be a surprise whose toss he studied.
“Based on watching Pete’s serve motion and his toss, my main goal was to have the same exact toss for every single serve I would hit, whether it be a slice serve, a flat serve or a kick serve,” Cressy said. “The opponent does not know which kind of spin I’m going to put on my serve and what spot I’m going to choose.
“The serve I believe is the most difficult shot to master in today’s game and in the game of tennis and it’s also the one shot you practise the most when you’re alone. It was hours and hours of training on my own, with baskets of balls to really get that toss perfectly aligned. It’s about repetition and faith that it would work.”
It has worked so far. When Cressy arrived at UCLA, he struggled to make the lineup and would spend a bulk of his time on the team’s lower practice courts. Now he is one of the most dangerous players on the ATP Tour.
Stella Sampras Webster, the head coach for UCLA’s women’s tennis team and Pete’s sister, has been impressed by Cressy’s rise.
“[It’s] incredible because he came in to UCLA and he barely made the lineup. He definitely had some things he needed to work on,” Sampras Webster said. “But he really figured out his gamestyle and really found his identity. Once he did that, he just exploded. It was really neat to see him come through so well from where he was.”
Although she has not spoken to her brother about Cressy’s ascent, Sampras Webster added that ‘Pistol Pete’ still has an appreciation for serve and volley.
“I’m sure he watches it and I think he appreciates it because he knows how tough it is,” Sampras Webster said. “I think he likes the idea of having some serve and volleyers especially because there just aren’t very many.
“There are so many great grinders out there and that’s just one style to really counter those grinders. Being able to come forward and win points up at the nets just doesn’t give those grinders as much time.”
Cressy claimed his first ATP Tour title earlier this year at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, where another recent serve-and-volleying star, Todd Martin, is the outgoing CEO.
“Maxime reminds me a lot of how I played. [He] serve and volleys, [is] willing to take risks, understanding that he’s not somebody out there who is meant to hit forehands from the left alley and just pin somebody,” Martin said. “He’s got to be different and it appears as those he really embraces being different.”
According to Martin, Cressy has “a pretty cool toolkit”. Serve and volleying is not a style seen often today’s game, but it has set the American apart.
“I would rather be Cressy than somebody who plays an awful lot like [Carlos] Alcaraz,” Martin said. “I don’t imagine many guys out there are going to be better than Alcaraz at that style of play.”