The Mpetshi Perricard Service – How Musetti Broke It and Why Arthur Fils Knows It Best

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

It is a service that comes from the racket of 21-year-old Frenchman Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard. The player waiting for the service must hit the ball back over the net.

Or, get, flatter, convince, want, pray back.

It's a rocket blast that's hard to see, let alone make noise from, let alone fly over a 3-foot-high piece of wire mesh from a distance of 40 feet back.

And as for making a quality return to take a point, or doing it often enough to win a game when Mpetshi Perricard is serving? For seven days, that seemed impossible for everyone in the draw.

Except perhaps for the one player still in the draw who already knows how to open Mpetshi Perricard’s service lock. He’s another Frenchman, a year younger than Mpetshi Perricard, who is having the Grand Slam run that so many have been expecting for over a year.

That would be Arthur Fils, Mpetshi Perricard's best friend since the two were 10-year-old standouts hanging around France's national tennis training program. But Fils has no intention of sharing the secrets he has discovered over the years with the rest of the field.


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


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

He wins 85 percent of his first-serve points. He has lost three sets, but only one that didn't go to a tiebreaker. He is tied with Ben Shelton for the fastest serve in the tournament at 140 mph, but even Shelton puts Mpetshi Perricard's serve in a different class than his own, partly because the Frenchman's second serve can sometimes travel over the net at 128 mph.

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

“He basically hits the first serve twice.”

The status of the big serve, or flat bomb, or boom boom if you’re Boris Becker, has declined over the past two decades. These are not the days of Pete Sampras and many like him, who cruised to Grand Slam titles on a diet of pristine serves and tiebreaks that they won when they needed to, but more often just got one game on their opponent’s serve and considered their job done until the scoreboard told them to start a new set.

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Four men named Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are largely responsible for that decline. When you serve a ball faster than 135 mph and the first thing you look at when you come out of the swing is the ball you just hit coming down hard and fast at your ankles, seemingly harder and faster, your days of winning tennis matches are probably over.

In modern tennis, the word people use is “servebot”: an at best mildly derogatory and utterly apathetic term for a player who is essentially unbreakable because his serve is so good, but who is also essentially unlikable because a hyper-effective tennis ball trebuchet is essentially all he has.

Mpetshi Perricard is not that guy. He can move. His volley stings. He's watched videos of the biggest servers, notably John Isner, but it's “a bit boring” watching Ivo Karlovic, who was about six feet tall, he said.

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Mpetshi Perricards Net play, touch and volleying are well suited to grass (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

During those seven days at Wimbledon, Fils and Mpetshi Perricard lived a dream together, doing everything they could not to dream; not to think beyond the next match, not even the next set, game or point they would both play.

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

According to Emmanuel Planque, Mpetshi Perricard's coach, no one in the world has spent more time on the tennis court with Mpetshi Perricard than Fils.

According to Fils, Planque was 100 percent right. He has seen and returned more serves from Mpetshi Perricard than anyone else in the world.

“He's teaching me how to come back,” Fils said of Mpetshi Perricard after a freak knee injury forced seventh-seeded Hubert Hurkacz to retire from their second-round match while Fils held match point in the fourth set.

“It's good exercise.”

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

De Minaur, the No. 9, loves grass because it allows him to capitalize on his speed and sublime movement, while keeping his hard, flat shots nice and low. He used that to full effect on Fils, despite an admirable rally from the Frenchman in the fourth set, to win 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

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

Mpetshi Perricard faced Lorenzo Musetti, the emerging Italian who has quietly had a solid grass season.

Musetti was a semifinalist in Stuttgart and a finalist at Queen's, and this is his first Wimbledon second week. Despite saying he felt lost on the material a year ago, Musetti has a higher winning percentage on grass and clay than on hard courts, and he has a game that is also suited to the surface. Not just a stab backhand slice and a good serve, but an economy of motion when returning the serve, making his complicated forehand and one-handed backhand no longer applicable. He chops, cuts and blocks the ball back, ready to put his skills to good use in rallies, where they will really be effective.

“I don't know, I'm just focusing on the next one,” said Mpetshi Perricard 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.”

Sure, but Mpetshi Perricard had also lost at Wimbledon. He lost his last qualifying match to Maxime Janvier, another Frenchman, in four sets, three of which ended in a tiebreak. Then Mpetshi Perricard ended up with one of the 'lucky loser' positions that arise when a player withdraws at the last moment. He was in the locker room after training last Saturday when a tournament director called him to ask if he wanted to play in the Wimbledon main draw for the first time.

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

Since then, Mpetshi Perricard and his serve have become invincible forces, with nothing immobile to be seen. He hits that first serve like he’s hitting a stone with a frying pan, and then watches it whiz to the corners of the service box. Opponents simply cast their eyes to the grass and move to the other side of the court.

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Mpetshi Perricard's serve was just as effective at Queen's, the warm-up event for Wimbledon (James Fearn/Getty Images)

Fils himself doesn't have a bad serve, but their bodies and their games are completely different.

Fils, who grew up near Paris, is an all-court player with a build in the goldilocks zone of the very best. A diminutive 6-foot-1, he was a perfectly formed athlete who desperately wanted to play striker and score goals for Paris Saint-Germain, but wasn’t good enough.

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Fils is in his second week at a Grand Slam for the first time (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Mpetshi Perricard, originally from Lyon, fits into the picture of the new generation of tennis players such as Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev. They are closer to six feet tall than six feet tall, making them a bit of an outlier on a tennis court, until they start serving. Their long arms and spine give them extra leverage to hit balls down from great heights.

Mpetshi Perricard also played a bit of football, tried his hand at basketball and swimming before turning to tennis, mainly because he was better at it than other sports and believed he could utilise his strength and size whilst 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’re a bit like the young, up-and-coming 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 rely on his service.

“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 when serving and volleying. It's a dying art form that most players only use as a surprise tactic.

“I'm an old-school coach,” Planque said.

Old-style is also one of Mpetshi Perricard's groundstrokes. Like Musetti, he is the rare young player who uses a one-handed backhand — though he now wishes he didn't, as he watches Isner's two-hander with envy on those videos. As Musetti learned, making one-handed service returns is a struggle.

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Mpetshi Perricard's powerful serve, one-handed backhand and soft net play feel like a throwback to the past (Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

And while his first serve is the highlight, improving his second serve was one of his main goals this season. He smashes the first ball and if he misses, he tries to do something different with the second, which averages 117 mph. Maybe he puts a bit of spin on it or goes through the middle or into the body, rather than going wide, which he so often does with his first ball.

“It works for now,” he said last week after the win over Ruusuvuori. “We'll see if it works against the top player.”

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

He also won the return battle. 32 percent of the return points on the first serve, compared to 20 percent for Mpetshi Perricard; 33 percent of the return points on the second serve, compared to 16 percent for Mpetshi Perricard.

After the match, Musetti admitted that serving is like being a goalie in a penalty shootout, and said that his coach had explained that to break he needed the 0-40 margin, and not to rely on 30-40 or even 15-40 as a chance, because that could be so easily snatched away. Musetti had to choose his moment of comfort, before the discomfort started again in the next match.

This is not just true for now. Mpetshi Perricard's service looks set to frustrate the best returners for years to come.

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

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

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