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I Am Entranced By This Evil Serve

Mark Brown/Getty Images

Here was a perfect pairing of artist and canvas. Reilly Opelka is a hairy behemoth who was put on this earth to toss tennis balls above his head and send them to hell. The world No. 17 has no shame about his relatively narrow mandate on the tennis court; he's even reclaimed the "servebot" slur. Opelka's 6-foot-11 height allows him to effectively serve the ball straight down. Over the last year he has won a hilarious 71 percent of service points—22 percent of his service points are outright aces—and in both respects he ranks second only to his spiritual predecessor John Isner, suggesting that there is some Sith "rule of two" principle at play with the American 'bots.

This week Opelka is at Indian Wells, which is played in dry and thin desert air, which balls move through fast, and on a Plexipave court surface, which sends balls kicking up high off the ground. What is often lost in the discourse about servebots is the subtle nature of their crimes against tennis. Speed is an important aspect, and they can absolutely push past 140 mph on their best days, but do nearly as much violence with their kick serves, which are lighter on speed and heavier on the topspin. This spin causes the ball to take a surreal trajectory, urgently dipping to the court and then vaulting back up into the heavens. Late in his third-round match against Denis Shapovalov on Monday, Opelka dialed back the pace, laid on the spin, and produced something unholy. I recognize that this is evil, but I can't stop watching it.

No one could convince me that ball bounces any lower that eight feet off the ground. Poor Denis is lucky to even get his strings on it. Opelka won, 6-7(4) 6-4 6-4.

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