Why are ATP players directing more second serves to the right? ATP circuit

For years, coaches have taught budding tennis players and professionals that serving backhand provides a greater chance of winning second-serve points. In fact, it’s clear that this tactic is the norm on the ATP Tour. Fifty percent of the serves have gone to the backhand corner and 35 percent to the body, mostly to the backhand side, leaving only 15 percent of serves delivered to the forehand.

The thinking is simple: serving backhand offers a safer option when delivering a slower pitch on the second serve. Naturally, forehand returns are more dangerous, so a reverse high ball provides a better chance of neutralizing the opponent’s return, while reducing the risk of a double fault.

Animation 1: Trajectories from the service zone on second serves to the deuce court: % gain and % entry

However, the growth of data and increasingly sophisticated analysis of each and every action in the sport of tennis undermines the logic behind this long-held belief.

ATP players win 51 percent of points when serving to the forehand corner versus just 49 percent when serving to the backhand corner.

In other words, primarily directing an ATP opponent’s backhand second serve usually reduces the chances of winning the point. This information is derived from a detailed analysis of nearly 150 right-handed ATP players with at least 1,000 second serves to right-handed opponents over a 10-year period.

players who often serve to the forehand tableTable 1: Percentage of high-frequency wins and second serves to the forehand and backhand corners of 150 right-handed ATP players with at least 1,000 second serves to right-handed opponents over a 10-year period.

What’s more, well-placed second serves from the deu’s side in the forehand corner generate 8.5% more points won than well-placed serves in the backhand corner of the same service box. Perhaps even more surprising, second serves to the right corner on the deu court lead to eight percent more unreturned serves and lead servers to earn 17 percent more deu side return points in plays. shorter than five or fewer shots.

Animation 2: % gain heat map for setting second serves to the deuce court

All of this highlights the growing importance of accessing and understanding detailed data analytics on Tour to allow players to take advantage of every marginal gain available to them. That’s why Tennis Data Innovations is committed to providing detailed tracking data on every court on the ATP Tour in 2023, to shed light on the most effective tactics and strategies in tennis.

And what does all this mean in practice? Well, just as we’ve seen with the inexorable rise of 3-pointers in the NBA driven by data crunching, we’re seeing the rise of second serves to forehands, rising from 15 percent in 2012 to 22 percent in 2022 (a jump of 47 percent).

Novak Djokovic Y daniel medvedev they are two players who have embraced data analysis and often serve second-serve forehands on both sides of the court with success.

However, other players have been slower to adopt the insights provided by data analysis and we see a number that rarely serves as a forehand. Not surprisingly, crucial points are being missed.

Grigor Dimitrov, for example, may have earned a significant number of points serving to the right corner 25 percent of the time instead of 10 percent. The five per cent differential earned on those second serves could have led to several additional matches being won over the course of a season – such are the thin margins in our sport.

In real terms, the difference in Pepperstone ATP Rankings points and prize money lost from over-reliance on the backhand serve could be substantial.

players who rarely serve to the forehand tableTable 2: Percentage of low frequency wins and second serves in the forehand and backhand corners. Dataset of 150 right-handed ATP players with at least 1,000 second serves to right-handed opponents over a 10-year period.

Of course, we shouldn’t assume that pushing more second serves to the forehand will automatically increase the winning percentage on all those points. There is certainly an element of surprise with serving to the right side currently underpinning their statistical advantage, based on the entrenched expectation that more serves will be delivered to the other corner. This raises the question of how many more ATP players should serve forehands on the second serve. Most players would benefit significantly from serving forehands at least 15-20 percent more than they currently do.

One of the reasons forehand second serves have such a high winning percentage is that they surprise the returner. Of course, as a player’s serving percentage to the forehand increases, the winning percentage decreases. Our analysis shows that increasing the proportion of serves to the forehand does not decrease the percentage of points won much. And more variation in second serve placement will result in an increase in the winning percentage of serves that continue to go backwards.

Given ever-improving rackets, strings, and training technologies leading to faster, more accurate serves, we believe the percentage of serves to forehand on second serve will continue to rise, with the expectation that one day we’ll see something more. near. to parity between the two sides.

Until then, we’ll likely continue to see an enlightened group of players and coaches take advantage of these marginal gains. In isolation, they may not sound like much, but in a sport where winning 51 percent of the points will usually win you the game, these small margins can be what separates success from failure.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series in which Golden Set Analytics and TDI are exploring the growing prominence and importance of deeper tennis data to help us all better understand the dynamics of the sport, whether it’s as players, coaches, fans or administrators.

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