ARE YOU ONLY AS GOOD AS YOUR SECOND SERVE?
Updated: May 30, 2020
There's an adage in tennis that you're only as good as your second serve. That phrase, no doubt, was borrowed from the saying, "Your best offense is a good defense." This statement has been so ingrained in most of us that the first thing we used to do after matches was to compare second serve points won.
We here at Break Point Tennis Analytics wondered, "Are you really only as good as your second serve?" We would like to dig a little more into this conundrum about whether the first or second serve is the more valuable statistic in determining the outcome of the match.
2020 AUSTRALIAN OPEN FIRST SERVE STATISTICS
Let's first take a look at the winning percentage for first serves at this year's Australian Open. The men won 72% of first serve points while the women won 64% respectively.
2020 AUSTRALIAN OPEN SECOND SERVE STATISTICS
If we look at second serves, the men had a winning percentage just over 50% while the women had a winning percentage below this 50% threshold.
AUSTRALIAN OPEN TOTAL PERCENT OF SERVES MADE - FIRST VS. SECOND SERVES
Simply having to serve a second serve dramatically decreases your chances of winning the point. The difference between first serve vs. second serve points won was 21% for the men and 18% for the women. What could be the cause of winning more first serve points?
If we compare the percentage of total first and second serves made by each server during 2020 Australian Open, we see that first serves account for 2/3rds of all points played.
If we compare the average speed of first serves to second serves, you can also see a big difference:
Speed of first serve undoubtedly had a factor in winning more first serves over second serves coupled with the percentage of points played. For this reason alone, it is no wonder that winning more first serve points over your opponent will help gain an advantage toward the outcome of the match.
DIGGING INTO THE NUMBERS
If we take the matches where one player wins both first and second serves we see something interesting. Winning both first and second serve points over your opponent almost always guarantees a favorable outcome. In the 2020 Australian Open, there were only 8 men's matches where one player won both first and second serve points over their opponent and lost the match. That translates to a 95% chance of winning the match if you can secure both stats. In the women's game, there were only 2 matches where a player won both stats over their opponent yet lost the match. That means in the women's game, you have a 99% chance of winning if you can best your opponent in both stats.
If we look at the times when a player wins either first or second serve points over their opponent but not both, we start to see how valuable first serve points become. In the men's game, you have a 61% chance of winning the match if you win the first serve points compared with a 39% chance if you win second serve points. In the women's game your chances go up slightly more. For the women, if you win first serve points, you have a 65% chance of winning the match compared with a 35% chance if you win only second serve points over your opponent.
As this table illustrates, winning more first serve points over your opponent will give you a significant boost towards winning the match.
Winning more first serve points over your opponent has a higher premium than second serve points. Not only will you attempt more first serves on average but the serve speed will generally be higher. The goal should be to treat the first serve as an opportunity to gain an advantage over your opponent. This is where speed, location and percentage made can have a huge impact. Missing too many first serves drastically decreases your chances of winning the point. If your goal is to "just make the first serve", you aren't treating it as a weapon to gain an advantage in the point. In future articles, we will explore where the right balance lies between the first serve percentage and how that translates to first serve points won.
One thing is clear - in today's game, the saying should be, "You're only as good as your first serve."
Curious about how your own serve percentages look? Let us tag your matches to give you a comprehensive look.
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