The tennis analytics revolution is well under way. SAP are doing a great job uncovering critical data in their new relationship with the WTA, and I want to share some of that with you in today’s blog. SAP took 50 women’s matches from the 2015 Miami Open, and combined all that data into one insanely informative report. These amazing numbers represent what is happening at the “coal face” – current numbers from the cutting edge of our sport.
I am going to give those numbers some interpretation in this blog post, so we can see what is going well at the elite level of the game, and what the players need to focus on to improve. These numbers really help take the guesswork out of what to focus on in practice, and what really matters in winning matches. Let’s look at serving, returning, rallying and approaching. To also give it perspective, I am going to give each stat a grade as well.
Because there is so much information to go over, I am breaking the report up into 4 parts – that will all be released this week. Let’s start with serving! You will also see the specific numbers for all four semi-finalists as well.
54% – Overall Points Won On Serve (Grade C)
This is a combination of all first and second serves, and is really not high enough. At the 2015 Australian Open, the ladies won 56.5% of total points on serve, so this is a 2.5% drop from that. Yes it’s different conditions, but the serve has got to be a bigger weapon than that. Whenever serve numbers are underperforming at any level of the game (juniors to pro’s), the first thing I look at is the ability to hit spots. We will get into that a little further down the list. Here’s the four semi-finalists, so you have some good numbers to compare to in this global serve area. Having Serena in this list is invaluable, as that is definitely where the bar is set for the rest of the women’s tour.
- Serena Williams 67%
- Andrea Petkovic 58%
- Simona Halep 57%
- Carla Suarez Navarro 57%
61% – Overall Points Won on 1st Serve (Grade D)
Firstly, at the 2015 Australian Open this number was 69.4%, so that represents a huge “hard court” drop. The one thing that is possibly driving that the most is the humidity in Miami – heavier air slowing the ball down and making it tougher for the server. If you can win 6 out of 10 at anything on a tennis court that is a very good thing, so at least the ladies are getting good marks there. BUT, the first serve should be the ultimate weapon, and for that to only tip it from an even 50-50 battle to a 60-40 battle shows that the first serve is not performing nearly as well as it could. Note that Serena is at 79% – now that’s a weapon. Also good to see the other three semi-finalists above the average as well.
- Serena Williams 79%
- Carla Suarez Navarro 64%
- Andrea Petkovic 62%
- Simona Halep 62%
44% – Overall Points Won on 2nd Serve (Grade C)
This was the identical amount from the entire first round of the 2015 Australian Open, with the second round clicking up a little to 45%. The final was only 43%, so you can see these are pretty stock-standard numbers here – but they are still too low! Think of it like this: imagine you have missed your first serve and now to start the point both players go and stand in the middle of the court at the baseline, and one player feeds the ball underhand to the other, and they begin the rally (just like in practice). That would predictably offer around a 50% chance of winning the point, so you can see how much worse second serves are – they are a total liability. In fact, they are the biggest liability in the game. How much do you think players on tour, and club players as well, specifically work on their second serve? The answer is NOT ENOUGH! Here’s a nice little comparison – Roger Federer has won 56.6% lifetime of all his second serve points. If you are chasing greatness, this is not an area of compromise or shortcuts.
- Serena Williams 54%
- Andrea Petkovic 52%
- Simona Halep 48%
- Carla Suarez Navarro 43%
21% – Overall Serves Unreturned (Grade B-)
You would hope that this number was higher. You would hope that the serve was able to be a little more damaging to the opponent, and that you would be able to get more free points overall than around one out of five from serves. I guess it’s a number that is not outstanding, but at least it is credible. The good news here is that hitting your spots is just as effective as power to force a return error. Serena does crush it, but there is nobody better in the game at hitting a target down the T or out wide than her.
- Serena Williams 31%
- Andrea Petkovic 25%
- Simona Halep 21%
- Carla Suarez Navarro 18%
25% – Overall 1st Serves Unreturned (Grade B+)
Think of it like this – you serve four times, and one of them does not come back in play for you to deal with. It’s not so bad! If you can get a free point one out of four times, then at least the serve is doing some damage in this golden age of the returner. Have a look below at the MASSIVE difference Serena enjoys over the other three semi-finalists. She has around double the amount of unreturned serves as the rest. WOW. That’s crazy, and illuminates why Serena is so dominant. Simply getting her 1st serve back in play is one of the toughest things to do in the entire sport.
- Serena Williams 47%
- Andrea Petkovic 28%
- Simona Halep 21%
- Carla Suarez Navarro 19%
14% – Overall 2nd Serves Unreturned (Grade C)
This is a tough area, because the primary goal with second serves is not to elicit return errors – it’s to be really solid and try and break even to start the point. But as you can see, around nine out of 10 come back, so there is a lot of room for improvement, and that can be made by hitting it deeper in the box, hitting better targets, particularly jamming at the body, adding more kick to get it up out of the strike zone, and more slice to pull the ball away from the returner, or into their body. I am not sure why Serena’s number is so low here – I went back and double checked it from each of her matches, and it appears to be correct.
- Simona Halep 20%
- Andrea Petkovic 19%
- Carla Suarez Navarro 14%
- Serena Williams 11%
96mph – Average 1st Serve Speed (Grade A)
The ladies are definitely hitting their serves harder – no question about it. The speed is increasing and Serena is absolutely the driving force behind this. If you are going to beat Serena, you have got to be able to match her in a lot of areas, otherwise you are going to get blown off the court. I like where this area is headed, and it is going to continue to get better as well in the coming years. Pretty soon, it will be mandatory to be able to crank a serve to compete at the elite level of the game.
- Serena Williams 106mph (fastest 124mph)
- Andrea Petkovic 95mph (fastest 106mph)
- Carla Suarez Navarro 95mph (fastest 105mph)
- Simona Halep 93mph (fastest 109mph)
81mph – Average 2nd Serve Speed (Grade B+)
This is really not so bad. It’s not easy to crank a second serve, and sometimes you are actually looking to hit it off pace on purpose, so the returner is way ahead of it. 2nd serve speed is very situational, as sometimes you are trying to slip in a faster one to rush, sometimes a slower one with more kick, or sometimes deeper but not quite as hard. I like where this number is at.
- Serena Williams 84mph
- Carla Suarez Navarro 82mph
- Simona Halep 81mph
- Andrea Petkovic 80mph
66% – Percentage of Total Double Faults to Aces (Grade F)
This is a very bad number for the ladies. Consider this: for every ace that was served, it was matched by two double faults. That’s a shocking ratio whatever way you want to slice it. At the 2015 Australian Open, it was so, so much better, with aces accounting for 49%, and double faults at 51% – basically dead even. Now in Miami its a bad one-to-two ratio. It really makes no sense either, because if your serve is not that big, you should not miss it that much. It’s either one of the other – big (aces), or consistent (few double faults). In Miami, serving, for whatever reason, got a whole lot tougher than Melbourne, and I think you can only blame humidity for a small percentage of that. I know we are comparing apples to oranges here, but Roger Federer has served 8758 aces in his career, and only 2232 double faults. That’s 20% DF’s, or for every double fault he serves, he serves four aces.
- Simona Halep 79% (4 aces/15 DF’s)
- Carla Suarez Navarro (4 aces/9 DF’s)
- Andrea Petkovic 58% (8 aces/11 DF’s)
- Serena Williams 35% (37 aces/ 20 DF’s)
1st Serve Location Deuce Court (Grade B-)
Whenever I look at serve location, I always defer back to my study of Roger Federer at the 2010 Australian Open where I charted every serve he hit from the Rd 16 on against Lleyton Hewitt, Nicolay Davydenko, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray. In the deuce court, Roger hit 50% of all first serves wide, 25% down the T, and 25% at the body. He does not have the biggest serve on tour, but he can hit his spots so well, AND he runs the Serve +1 play of immediately opening holes in the baseline by dragging the opponent off the court, AND he looks to hit a forehand as the first shot after the serve. Because the ladies do not have the power to hit a lot of aces, or generate a lot of service winners, they should be 100% copying Roger, serving even more out wide so they have an immediate advantage for when the serve does come back (more than the men). To have almost 40% of first serves go down the T, to a small, low percentage target area, is way too much. Federer almost exclusively served down the T as a secondary pattern (2-3 times out of 10), when he was ahead in the score – say 30-0 or 40-15. That is definitely not happening here. Serving so much down the T means there is going to be a lot more faults, and a lot more exposure to second serves – which we already know only has a winning percentage of only 44% AND only 14% are unreturned.
- Serena Williams (57% Wide / 4% Body / 38% T)
- Carl Suarez Navarro (45% Wide / 33% Body / 22% T)
- Andrea Petkovic (31% Wide / 23% Body / 46% T)
- Simona Halep (12% Wide / 23% body / 65% T)
1st Serve Location Ad Court (Grade B-)
Again, too many serves down the T, even though right-handers will gravitate more to this location more because of the natural motion of the serve. There are a lot of points being left on the table with wide serves making up less than one-third (31%). This is a golden opportunity to stretch the two-handed backhand return, not enabling the returner to get behind the ball and really do something with it. You also pull the returner off the court, and then get to play behind them to the backhand as they try to recover fast back to the middle of the court. Also as you can see below, other than Serena, there were also way too many serves at the body by the other three semi-finalists. The ability to hit a spot in the ad court to a corner is a huge advantage. The reality with body serves is that a lot of them come back in play, so Petkovic, Halep and Suarez Navarro are missing out on free points by not going to the corners. Yes, it’s always a balance with getting your first serve in (which obviously happens more at the body), but you also have to take advantage of the ultimate weapon – the first serve.
- Serena Williams (35% Wide / 5% Body / 60% T)
- Andrea Petkovic (29% Wide / 31% Body / 40% T)
- Simona Halep (24% Wide / 41% Body / 35% T)
- Carla Suarez Navarro (1% Wide / 45% Body / 54% T)
Wow. That’s some fun information, and valuable insights into what’s happening at the elite level of the sport a the moment. The next blog in the next couple of days will focus on BREAK POINTS. That’s going to be intriguing!
If you like, this kind of information, please consider the 25 Golden Rules of Singles Strategy HERE
All the best,