In last month’s Australian Open, Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 ranked player in the world, found himself in a tight round-of-16 match against Maxime Cressy, whose rarely seen serve-and-volley attack had the flaky Russian muttering that the onrushing American’s game was, “lucky and so boring.”
Quite the contrary. Cressy, a 24-year-old American born and raised in Paris, is single-handedly intent on bringing the nearly extinct, yet exciting serve-and-volley style back to tennis’ most important stages.
“It’s obviously a much more grueling sport when you play from the baseline, but I think it’s also because most players are scared to go to the net and there’s many opportunities in every rally to come in, but no one comes in,’’ said the 6-foot-6 Cressy, who hopes to continue his 9-4 start of 2022 into this week’s Delray Beach Open (ATP 250).
Cressy is the eighth seed and will open play against Australian John Millman.
Cressy said the top players, including No.1 Novak Djokovic, are “scared to go to the net.”
“That’s why they’re stuck in those 30-to-40 stroke rallies. That’s why they stay back, and they win all their matches because they’re better than all of those guys at the baseline,” he said. “I believe there needs to be a new way of winning for people to start seeing tennis as more exciting and thrilling. … The paradox is Medvedev calling my game boring, even though most people actually love to see that style come back.”
Ironically, about 20 years ago, tennis’ governing bodies decided to slow the hardcourt and grass surfaces at Grand Slams because they felt the rallies weren’t long enough and fans were becoming bored by the one-or-two stroke points, especially at Wimbledon where in a 1995 semifinal, Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic combined for 59 aces.
That, along with racket and string technology moved the sport away from the net to the baseline. Suddenly, the grass at Wimbledon was worn out on the baseline after years of turning brown at the net where the likes of John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker and Rod Laver would be camped out.
Tennis fans longed for the contrasting styles in rivalries such as McEnroe-Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert-Martina Navratilova or Sampras-Andre Agassi, rather than the metronomic, five-hour baseline duels often seen on the slow red clay at Roland Garros.
Cressy did lose that aforementioned four-setter to Medvedev, who eventually fell to Rafael Nadal in the finals for the Spaniard’s record 21st Grand Slam. However, Cressy’s fast start, including a run from the qualifiers in an Australian Open tune-up where he defeated former Top 10 player Grigor Dimitrov in the semis and held a set point against Nadal in the final before bowing, has seen his ranking rise over the past year from 171 to a career-high 59th.
Cressy marks his career turning point coming at last summer’s US Open when he shocked then 12th-ranked Pablo Carreno Busta in a five-set, first-round victory. That said, one trait that Cressy doesn’t lack is self-confidence and persistence, especially after being doubted throughout his young tennis career.
“From the start of my professional tour and before COVID, my vision was to be No. 1, so I knew I would be climbing and eventually have the opportunity to be the top guy,’’ Cressy said. “That win gave me extra confidence that I could actually make it and have the level to be in the Top 10.”
Cressy, whose mother Leslie met his French father, Gerard, on a business trip to Paris after she led USC to two volleyball national championships, began playing tennis at 4 with his two brothers. At 10, he dominated his age category in Paris leagues. From 13 to 16 he was being groomed by French Tennis Federation coaches, but they didn’t select him to continue, telling him, he wasn’t, “going to be a fit tennis professional and that I should focus on my studies.”
He then moved to Los Angeles to play tennis for UCLA. However, UCLA coach Billy Martin felt Cressy was a doubles specialist because of his 130 mph serve and volleying skills, so he couldn’t crack the singles rotation his first three seasons. In his senior year Cressy went 26-0 in doubles and won the NCAA national title, but was ranked 17th in singles.
“I wanted to prove [the French Federation] wrong as I wasn’t in favor of what they said,’’ Cressy said. “Then coach Martin didn’t put me in the singles lineup for a couple of years, so I had to make it on my own because nobody believed in me. It’s a motivation booster and gave me more reasons to go for my dreams.”
Following his freshman season, Cressy did find a supporter in his French coach Romain Sichez, who told him he had the body and athleticism to break into the Top 100.
Cressy also attacks when receiving serves with a solid chip-and-charge approach. Although Cressy had an “overconfident” hiccup in a first-round loss in Dallas last week, he’s excited to bring his old-school serve-and-volley to the hard courts in Delray Beach.
“I’ve just fallen in love with the net so any time I have a chance to get there I will,’’ he said. “I think the evolution of tennis is asking for someone to change the face of the sport and make players more fearless and attack the net more. It’s actually easier to finish at the net than trying to hit big from 10 meters back.
“If I can build my game around going to the net, with my height and length I can make big damage. It’s easy to master and that’s how I’m going to get to the top.”
Delray Beach Open
Where: Delray Beach Tennis Center, 201 W. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach
When: Feb. 13-Feb. 20
Feb. 13 schedule: .
11 a.m. ATP 250 Qualifying:  Stefan Kozlov (USA) vs.  Bjorn Fratangelo (USA)
Not Before 12:30 p.m. ATP Champions Tour: Jan-Michael Gambill (USA)/Tommy Haas (Germany) vs. Luke Jensen (USA)/Radek Stepanek (Czech Republic)
Not Before 2:30 p.m. Bob Bryan (USA)/Leylah Fernandez (Canada) vs. Mike Bryan (USA)/Bianca Fernandez (Canada)
10 a.m. ATP 250 Qualifying:  Emilio Gomez (Ecuador) vs. [Alt] Denis Istomin (Uzbekistan)
 Liam Broady (Germany) vs.  Jason Jung (Chinese Taipei)
 Ernesto Escobedo (USA) vs.  Mitchell Krueger (USA)
Feb. 14 – Feb. 20: ATP 250, 28-player singles draw and 16-team doubles draw. Singles list includes: 2020 DBO champion Reilly Opelka, along with young Americans Maxime Cressy, Jenson Brooksby, Sebastian Korda, rising Brit, 13t-ranked Cameron Norrie, former 5th-ranked Kevin Anderson, 2012 DBO champion and wild-card entrant Grigor Dimitrov, once ranked 3rd.