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Sep 02 2013

Tennis Question

What’s the optimal percent of first serves to miss?

10 comments

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  1. 1
    DrVanNostrand

    I’m not an expert, but I play and watch a lot of tennis. I seriously doubt you could come up with one number. It really would vary from player to player depending on playing styles and the characteristics of their 1st and 2nd serves. I think 60-70% is generally a pretty decent 1st serve percentage. A percentage below 50 will tend to make things very difficult.

  2. 2
    blindrobin

    Optimal? At first blush zero, however one could surmise that if one were able to accomplish playing with no service faults that one would, or perhaps should, miss the occasional first service just to keep the opponent off balance.

  3. 3
    DrVanNostrand

    Zero is definitely not the answer. If your first serve percentage is too high, you’re not hitting hard enough/not aggressively painting the lines enough.

  4. 4
    James K.

    The optimal amount is 0%. But if you miss 0%, then you probably aren’t hitting your serve hard enough to inflict much damage on your opponent. Typically the harder and flatter you try to serve (and how close you aim to either sideline), the lower your first serve percentage will be. All the pros you see on television are capable of getting every serve in by using spin (and aiming safely), but the spin slows the flight of the ball and makes it easier for your opponent to attack. Most pros are pretty happy about getting 70% of their first serves in play. The Bryan brothers typically get between 70 and 80% of their first serves in by serving hard, but right up the center of the court (which means they rarely miss wide). They aren’t worried about the ball coming back, as long as the net partner can pick off the return. I could go on about the mathematics of how tennis is scored, but the (kind of) short answer is that about 70% first serves in is a good balance between inflicting damage and missing so many that your opponent gets to start the point offensively (against a second serve).

  5. 5
    DrVanNostrand

    @ James K
    Your explanation is great, except for your first sentence. There is no way that 0% could be considered “optimal” if a first serve style with a miss rate much higher than 0% is always chosen by all professionals because it is more effective.

  6. 6
    davehooke

    Depends how good your second serve is.

  7. 7
    davehooke

    Actually, it also depends on a host of factors, including second serve, your first service maximum speed, accuracy at different speeds, the surface, and who you are playing.

    For Murray on grass, 70% would probably be an exceptional day against most players ranked outside the top 6 or 7. This was his number against Janowicz in the Wimbledon semi this year, when he served an excellent 20 aces. Against Djokovic in the final it was 64%, and that worked out superbly well for him too.

    When Nadal beat Federer in straight sets on the clay of Roland Garros in 2008, 75% of his first serves went in.

    Against me, 100% of first serves at 80 mile an hour would probably do the trick.

  8. 8
    Shripathi Kamath

    0%. Think optimal number of points you could drop. Or optimal number of games you can lose.

  9. 9
    fusilier

    Given up on baseball?

    Quittah?

    fusilier, Yankee trufan since 1958
    James 2:24

  10. 10
    DrVanNostrand

    I fully endorse #7 davehooke! His analysis is great and he is the only one who correctly identified when 0% is the right answer (i.e. never in the pros, but if Federer plays me, he’ll probably ace me almost every point using his second serve).

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