One hour, 54 minutes. That's how long it takes to change the face of tennis for ever. It's a baking hot day in south London, the kind that makes for crow's feet and wrinkles in later life but Goran Ivanisevic and Pete Sampras could benefit from two umbrellas. The American and the Croat spend the first two sets raining serves down on each other, only for the former to nudge each in a tiebreak.

The 23-year-old has clung to Sampras' shirt tails but the world No.1 – who's closing in on the fifth of what would become 14 grand slams – is more dominant than the scoreline suggests. The final set is a procession as Sampras rams the ball down Ivanisevic's throat on his way to a whitewash.

The match is recalled as the tipping point in tennis; a borefest of single-figure rallies that expedited a raft of technological changes that would transform the face of the sport.

In truth, the die had been cast much earlier. The debate about outlawing the second serve, decreasing the size of the service box and implementing technological changes merely intensified; out of the options it was the tech that won out.

Yet it would be unfair to cast that Wimbledon final as the straw that broke the camel's back. It was one match in searing temperatures, a day when often the service returner might as well have been sitting in a deck chair as arrows landed around him; but it was not entirely indicative of what had gone before.

Tennis, its subplots, rows and rivalries in the 70s and 80s was worthy of Netflix mini-series. The previous era had been peppered with intense, adversarial rivalries pitting baseliner against serve-and-volleyer: Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors-McEnroe, Boris Becker-Ivan Lendl, Martina Navratilova-Chris Evert et al were match-ups eagerly anticipated from the earliest rounds.

They were pure theatre, a clash of styles that helped instigate, then perpetuate the ill-feeling between players and, above all, provide compelling scripts to epic sagas. They found their logical extension in the rivalry between Sampras and Andre Agassi. But by the time Sampras met Ivanisevic in '94, the International Tennis Federation and broadcasters were concerned about waning interest. They wanted a more exciting spectacle claiming that baseline rallies were more attractive to the mainstream.

The direction of travel was set; moves were afoot in the ITF to alter the face of the tour: sand was added to the paint on hard courts, rye grass replaced the faster traditional grass at Wimbledon, balls were made softer, new polyester racket strings created greater spin – all with the aim of reducing the effectiveness of serve-volley.

Taylor Dent, one of the last exponents of the dying craft, says he knew it was almost obsolete before he entered the professional ranks.

The American, son of 1974 Australian Open finalist Phil Dent, a pure serve-and-volleyer who had taught his son the arts of the game, was an emerging talent on the US college scene and was tipped to follow in Sampras's footsteps. He says he knew from early on that the line of succession was strewn with obstacles.

“When I was just starting, I had the opportunity to practise with Pete Sampras a ton,” recalls Dent from his home in Keller, Texas. “He lived in LA and I was one of the better juniors around so he was gracious enough to invite me up to practise quite frequently and I remember him lamenting with my coach at the time, Eliot Teltscher, and he was just saying 'they are trying to get me out of tennis'. At that time I was trying to play serve-and-volley as well. I kind of raised an eyebrow, and started taking note of how conditions seemed to be getting slower. I hadn't played on tour that much but I did notice when I would go to these tournaments that a lot of the courts were slower and it was tough. I think I noticed from the start.”

Dent, now 40, managed to hold down a position in the world's top 30 for a time at the start of the century and reached the fourth round at the US Open and Wimbledon but that was as good as it got for him, before he retired from the sport in 2010 due to persistent injuries. No player has been brave enough to try serve and volley in the pro game since.

“I don't recall ever feeling like it was unfair,” he says. “I just felt like it was harder and that is just the way it goes. Because I had my dad [to speak to] and he had his experience of technology changing and his experience, I was like 'okay, this is how technology is changing I am just going to have to adapt in x way to make my game thrive here and if I can't do that then that's tough'. I don't want to sound benevolent but I feel like if it is good for the game of tennis then you have to do it.”

“Some of the things that my dad talked about was when Borg was doing well at Wimbledon, he was one of the first to have dimples on the bottom of his shoes and that drastically helped his movement and nobody else was doing that so that's one instance where they allowed that technology to happen and it was a huge advantage. Another was when they went from wood [rackets] to graphite. Dad said all of sudden there were players who never stood a chance to go deep in grand slams all of sudden started doing well in grand slams.”

While Dent, who these days runs his own tennis academy at The Birch in Texas, believes the game is better as a result he accepts it is a matter of opinion, especially when baseline matches between conservative, risk-averse players can be every bit as tedious as a slugfest.

“From a spectator standpoint, I think we see a lot of the same points over and over. That doesn't mean it's not good, I am thoroughly entertained. It's absolutely incredible what these guys can do consistently with the ball behind the baseline but if you are not one who likes to see forehands and the baseline point played out, if you like to see more of an attacking, rushing style then you are not going to get it as much.”

The game has advanced so far that Dent – who once held the record for fastest serve at Wimbledon set against Novak Djokovic in 2010 – sees no return to the days of serve-and-volley, suggesting that it would take a brave soul to embark on a strategy that would be picked apart these days.

“It is too risky with too little reward to do it and it's not like people aren't trying it – [but] you will see those people playing either college or lower levels of tennis. It is really tough to break through because everybody is so skilled from the baseline and the courts and the balls and the strings don't really give any advantage to a rusher. The problem with my game was that I didn't have a forehand that would allow me to stay back. As soon as I got on the pro tour, the conditions were a lot slower, the guys were a lot more skilled, and I could not get my teeth into the point with any safety. That's when I started serving and volleying and that's when I understood that 'okay, this is going to be difficult.”

While Dent feels it is highly unlikely that there will ever be a return to serve-and-volley he does paint a scenario where it might be entertained: “We would have to see a lot of those matches where we've got 50-ball rallies and they are not really doing much,” but, ultimately, he thinks not especially when those who volley superbly such as Roger Federer or serve as ferociously as John Isner are choosing to remain at the baseline.

“Federer volleys amazingly and his net coverage is a joke. Does he do it often? No, he probably does it 10 per cent or less of the time and if someone like Isner is not doing it then, man, I don't know who is.”