10 Point Beginner’s Guide to Tennis Tactics – #9 Serve
The serve is a tricky thing to analyze with large, blanket statements. It normally needs to be looked at for who specifically is serving, how they follow said serve up, and its general effectiveness on the surface. Here are a couple of things we do know:
1) Men Serve Bigger Than Women
This may be the most obvious thing you hear all day, but it is sometimes an important reminder. There is a main, simple reason that men tend to have an easier time holding serve than women – the serve. This isn’t just strength either, it’s height. John Isner clearly has a much bigger target to aim at than Sara Errani. It’s a heck of a lot easier to hold serve when you can get a free point or two every go around.
2) First Serve Percentage Is Important
The second most obvious thing you will hear today? In the good old days of ridiculously fast courts at Wimbledon, it could be nearly impossible to break guys like Pete Sampras. Typically the only time it happened was off the back of a few second serve returns – an opportunity to get the racquet on the ball. Not all points are created equally in tennis, so sometimes a player can hold incredibly easily, but have one poor game and be broken to lose a set. This sometimes can be simply traced to them having a game with a ton of missed first serves. The chances of them winning those points is automatically decreased from the get go.
3) Players Have Habits
One big criticism of Rafael Nadal back in the day was his serving on the ad court. As a lefty, he nearly exclusively slid that serve out wide, which was effective against right-handers who were forced to reach out on their backhand wing. However, it eventually got too predictable, and Nadal eventually changed his habits (though still uses that serve often, and to great effect). That’s just one example. The ATP often does a great job of picking up on these habits with their fancy Hawkeye charts, but see if you can pick them up yourself.
4) The Serve is the First Shot of a Rally
This point is both incredibly obvious and complex. We tend not to view a rally to really start until the ball has been returned, but this is not true. Rallies can unfold in different ways depending on where the ball is served to.
Let’s assume a player gets a decent first serve in, that is still well returned by the other player. If the server goes out wide, they’ve already dragged their opponent out, and the chance of more extreme angles may already begin to appear – there is likely more space to attack on the follow up. If the server goes down the middle (assuming it is a good serve) the returner has very little chance to create some sort of angle. These sorts of things vary player to player and match-up to match-up, but are things to think about when watching the habits (and following shots) of a returner.
In the final segment, we’ll look at how returning can effect a match. These should help you in your endeavors of both analyzing matches, and perhaps predicting who might win them. If you’re interested in taking your chance at it, take a look here for more tennis betting information.