Does the First Service % matter? - TennisForum.com
Old May 10th, 2006, 09:51 PM Thread Starter
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Does the First Service % matter?

Is it important to have a high 1st service percentage? Should your first serve really go in 70% of the time, like Pancho Gonzales (Arthur Ashe’s coach) said? Is a high 1st service percentage the half work to win a match? We’re going to try to answer that, using match statistics from previous matches.

When you take a look at Fig 1, you won’t see big differences in the scatter between women who won there match and women who didn't.
There are women who lost there match even when they achieved a 1st service percentage of 70% or higher. Melinda Czink, for example, lost her match to Meng Yaun with 4-6 2-6, even after gaining a 1st service percentage of 83,61% (Australian Open, 2006). So a high 1st service percentage doesn’t guarantee you a victory.
On the other side, there are women who had a 1st service percentage less than 50% and still won there match. Fabiola Zuluaga had a 1st service percentage of 37,93% against Ashley Harkleroad, but won her match with 6-0 3-0 ret. (US Open, 2005). So a low 1st service percentage doesn’t always imply a big loss.

Does this mean that Pancho Gonzales was wrong? Does the first service percentage not matter? Off course not, who am I to deny mister Gonzales words.

First of all, when you take a look at Fig 2, you’ll see that only 28,57% of the women won their match when they had a 1st service percentage between 0%-48%. So it’s not impossible to win a match when your 1st service percentage is less than 48%, but it’s more difficult. Optimally, as a female professional tennis player your 1st service percentage has to be higher than 48%. The win/loss percentage for the 1st service percentage between 50%-51%, doesn’t confirm my hypothesis. Is this coincidence? Is this because the number of data is still too low? Or are there other reasons? Difficult to say. Therefore let us say that it’s better for a female professional tennis player to have a 1st service percentage higher than 51%.

Further is it not inconceivable that a good first service percentage helps women with an efficient first serve. Fig 3 confirms our hypothesis. If you win more than 70% of the points with your first serve, than it’s better to have a high first service percentage (> 60%). If you win 50%-70% of the points with your first serve, it’s also better to have a service percentage higher than 50% (like I said before). If you win less than 50% of the points with your first service, the first service percentage doesn’t really matter, you’re going to lose anyway...

Also, if you have an inefficient second serve, intuition would say that a high first service percentage is necessary to increase your chances. In Fig 4 you see that this is true if you win between 30% - 40% points with your second serve. I you win less points, a high first service percentage doesn’t really matter.

In short, a high first service percentage doesn’t guarantee you a victory. But on the other side, a low service percentage makes it a more difficult to win the match. A female professional tennis player should aim a first service percentage higher than 51%. If she wins with her 1st service more than 70% of the points, a first service percentage higher than 60% almost guarantee a winning. If the second serve does not very well, a high first service percentage could increase the chances.

Fig 1
Fig 2
Fig 3
Fig 4

My excuses, I didn't get these images uploaded so I had do do it otherwise.
This is based on data of 757 women's matches of 12 tournaments (Us Open 05 (partly), Zurich Open 05, Kremlin Cup 05, Masters 05, Hopman Cup 06, Australian Open 06, Medibank International 06, Toray Pan Pacific Open 06, Open Gaz de France 06, Proximusdiamondgames 06, Cellular South Cup 06, Dubai Duty Free Women's Open 06.) So these conclusions aren't maybe suitable for different surfaces like grass or clay. Also are these conclusions disputable for professional men's tennis players.

Please help me to collect the statistics, see here . This way I get a bit more time to process the data and to make analysis like this . Matches from the Nasdaq Open, WTA Bausch & Lomb Championships, Family Circle Cup and current tournaments aren't filled in the data collector yet. If we split up the work, it doesn't take that long... Thx!

Here a small overview for the current top 10. It's too soon to make some conclusions, but it gives an image...

1. Amélie Mauresmo
2. Kim Clijsters
3. Maria Sharapova
5. Mary Pierce
6. Lindsay Davenport
7. Justine Henin-Hardenne
8. Elena Dementieva
9. Patty Schnyder
10. Svetlana Kuznetsova

Last edited by samdl; May 11th, 2006 at 04:11 PM.
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Old May 10th, 2006, 09:57 PM
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I think often with players if they are getting a high percentage of first serves in they are also feeling more confident about the rest of the game although obviously this can vary a great deal between players.
It is much more of a problem for Maria and Lindsay for example if they are not serving well than say Lena D .
Shenanigans is offline
Old May 10th, 2006, 10:10 PM
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Its definately a Huge factor in ATP as most players have really solid 1st serves and they can get lots of cheap points on 1st serves...But if your 1st serves are you could definately lose the match even with 100% 1st serves in...You can definately win matches with low 1st serve percentage..But I am sure thats not the way any of the players would want to win given a choice...Serve is I think the most important groundstroke and you can hurt opponent the most with it easily(esp if you keep the opponent guessing)..

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Old May 10th, 2006, 10:15 PM
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When I'm playing it does matter. When my first serve goes in it sets me up to win the point. So yeah...
Craigy is offline
Old May 10th, 2006, 10:18 PM
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1st serve % is a commonly mis-represented stat by idiot commentators like Mary Carillo and her ilk.

It has different meanings for different players. If Henin or Petrova are serving at 50%, that's quite good for them because they usually going for a lot on their first serves. If Davenport is serving at 50%, that's bad, because she is usually using her height to effectively place the first serve into the court instead of trying to hit an outright winner with it.

If Mauresmo or Schnyder are serving at 80%, it might mean nothing, because they are just spinning the first serve in and starting the point with it. So it is a statistic with multiple meanings.
vogus is offline
Old May 11th, 2006, 01:18 AM
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...

First of all, great research. That was very interesting. I didn’t know a lot of the things you mentioned. And about your question, I do think it is important, but I also think it depends a lot on the rest of your game. I mean, when you are fast and physically strong, like Justine, Serena, Amelie, Venus, Kim, etc, you can win a match with a low first services percentage. It means that you have to completely rely on other parts of your game, and that you have to respond properly to your opponent’s attacking game. For people like Mary, Lindsay or even Maria, incredibly talented players, but slower than the aforementioned, it’s crucial to have a high first services percentage, in my opinion. It also depends on how close a match is. If you are playing much better that your opponent, a low first services percentage is not going to distract you or discourage you.

But, a lot of the times, it is much more of a psychological issue. When your first services go out, you instinctively start questioning yourself, you get distracted, and it negatively affects the rest of your game. ˇUn saludo!
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Old May 11th, 2006, 02:03 AM
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It definitely is important especially if your 2nd ball is weak...Hingis for example, or if you DF frequently...Lena, If they are both getting high % of 1st serves it's great for them!! If you have a strong 2nd serve it doesn't matter as much>P
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Old May 11th, 2006, 02:07 AM
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I matters if you have some heat on it.
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Old May 11th, 2006, 03:56 AM
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Depends on how bad your second serve is. Serena doesn't need a high first serve percentage. She has the best second serve in the game. Venus, OTOH ....

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Old May 11th, 2006, 09:30 AM
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Quite honestly, I never look at those stats. If I'm watching a tennis match, I mainly judge it on the quality (and if it was a nice match to watch). If a player serves like sh*t, than I assume the 1st serve percentage is very low...

On the other hand, I think the stats are or can be important for the players and coaches.
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Old May 11th, 2006, 11:30 AM
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It means alot to players who either have problems with their serve (i.e. LenaD, or Hingis) or for those who use their serve to take advantage of their physics to play their game - Luindsay, Masha, Venus..
It's more important on the mens tour - look at Rogers stats...and recent Roddick's service stats for a comparison

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Old May 11th, 2006, 11:56 AM
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Nice thread. I definitely agree with Pancho Gonzalez, and I'd take it a step further and say that the serve is the major difference that separates the men's and the women's games. A few years ago, Martina Hingis played a mixed doubles match, and had the less trouble than her partner at returning Goran Ivanisevic's bombs, and he wasn't taking anything off his first serves to her either. For players like Arthur Ashe and most male tennis players, their games definitely follow how well they are serving. Women simply don't have the same power, and therefor are generally more complacent about getting a high percentage of first serves in, because (again generally) the common conception is that the ball is probably coming back. Only a handful of girls actually go out and try to hit aces, and there are major consistency issues when compared to Sampras or Gonzalez.

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Old May 11th, 2006, 04:10 PM Thread Starter
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I definitely agree, there is a huge individual factor. But it's way too soon to talk about the first service percentages individually. Especially for the top players, because they win most of the times ...

But here a small overview for the current top 10. It's too soon to make some conclusions, but it gives an image...

1. Amélie Mauresmo
2. Kim Clijsters
3. Maria Sharapova
5. Mary Pierce
6. Lindsay Davenport
7. Justine Henin-Hardenne
8. Elena Dementieva
9. Patty Schnyder
10. Svetlana Kuznetsova
samdl is offline

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