The Aceless Career of Filippo Volandri

While other players racked up mighty ace totals and remarked on the fast surface in Sao Paulo last week, one man stood alone.

Filippo Volandri played three matches, eventually losing in the quarters to Martin Alund.  In his seven sets on court, he hit a grand total of one ace.  Fellow quarterfinalists Carlos Berlocq and Albert Montanes, two men who aren’t exactly known for their serving prowess, hit 21 and 10 aces, respectively, for the tournament.

This isn’t Volandri’s first time defying the trend.  His career ace rate (which takes into account most ATP events and his many challenger appearances since 2007) is 0.8%, which represents less than one ace per typical three-set match.  In no season of his career has he topped 2%.  To compare to Berlocq again: Charly’s career ace rate is close to 5%, and in only one season has his rate fallen below 2%.

As big serves are such a mainstay of the men’s game, it’s amazing to see what the Italian has accomplished without one, even on clay.  (On hard courts, Volandri has an 18 match losing streak going back to Doha in the beginning of 2008.)

Several times he has reached the final of a challenger while hitting only one ace; at the 2008 San Marino Challenger, he won the event without a single free point on serve.  He was particularly impressive early in his career in Umag.  In both 2003 and 2004 at the tour-level event, he reached the final despite hitting only one lone, early-round ace.

Perhaps it is most remarkable just how much time can pass between Volandri aces.  11 times since 2007 has the Italian put together a streak of 10 or more matches with zero aces.  In 2010, he went almost twice as long.  After managing to send a serve past Pablo Andujar in the qualifying round at Costa do Sauipe in early February, he went aceless in a first-round loss to Pablo Cuevas.  He wouldn’t hit another ace for 19 matches, not until he faced Matteo Viola at the Rome Challenger more than two months later.

That’s a stretch of over 1,200 service points.  And for Volandri, it’s not at all uncommon; just last year, he put together a stretch of 16 straight aceless matches between June and September.

Unfortunately, thanks to the speedy surface in Sao Paulo and his single ace last week, the Italian won’t be breaking his personal record soon.  But with a ranking outside the top 100 and a full year of clay-court challengers to draw upon, it’s safe to say that this story is far from over.

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