The return of serve is a lethal weapon in it’s own right, and has improved a lot in the past decade to efficiently neutralize the serve. The best returners in the world are also the best ranked players – much more of an equivalent effect than with the best servers.
SAP’s outstanding data from Miami let’s us take a closer look at all aspects of the tournament with their 50-match global view. This report is part 3 in the series, so make sure to look at the serve and break point data already presented in the blog.
Ok, so let’s get smarter and break down the critical numbers that matter on the returning side of the game, as well assign a grade.
44% Overall Return Points Won (Grade A)
This is a very solid number that underpins the women’s game. The primary difference between men’s and women’s tennis is the ability to really crush a first serve. The ladies can certainly hit it big, but not huge, which in turn makes the return of serve a bigger factor overall. Forty four percent really isn’t that far away from 50% – which would be a complete push for the serve. This is a fantastic number for the returner, and a real warning that serves should demand a higher winning percentage. Andrea Petkovic had an outstanding tournament returning serve, winning 63% against Christina McHale, 59% against Ekaterina Makarova, and 53% against Karolina Pliskova.
- Andrea Petkovic 57%
- Simona Halep 51%
- Serena Williams 48%
- Carla Suarez Navarro 45%
41% Overall 1st Serve Return Points Won (Grade A+)
This is a really high number that speaks to both the quality of the return, and also that the 1st serve is not performing quite as it should be. Imagine your opponent hitting their biggest weapon 10 times, and they win six and you win four. I will take the four every day of the week right there. Again, Andrea Petkovic leading the way here. Yes it is situational, and can change a lot with different opponents, but if you are good here then you can go a long way in the game.
- Andrea Petkovic 55%
- Simona Halep 48%
- Serena Williams 45%
- Carla Suarez Navarro 35%
49% Overall 2nd Serve Return Points Won (Grade B-)
This is surprising low, as it is normally above 50%. At the 2012 U.S. Open, for example, it was at 54.4%. This is the beating heart of winning tennis matches, as you have a great opportunity to really attack your opponent’s serve when it’s a second serve. In fact, having a winning percentage in this area makes you think of this as a “third serve” for you. What’s very interesting is to see Carla Suarez Navarro perform better here than the other three semi-finalists. This gives you a valuable insight into how she goes about crafting her game. Also note that all four semi-finalists are killing the average.
- Carla Suarez Navarro 61%
- Andrea Petkovic 58%
- Simona Halep 55%
- Serena Williams 54%
51% Overall Return Points Won Contacted Inside Baseline (Grade A+)
Congratulations SAP! This is a stat that I have never seen before. Amazing stuff. So here’s what this means – when players made contact with the ball inside the baseline they won more points than they lost. This is a combined number for first and second serves, and supports the wonderful theory that attacking the return with the feet is a great idea. Stepping in really does work! Have a look at Serena’s crazy number – 82%! Wow. It’s such an integral part of her aggressive game style – step in and use the power of the serve back at the server.
- Serena Williams 82%
- Simona Halep 45%
- Andrea Petkovic 44%
- Carla Suarez Navarro 28%
47% Overall Returns Made From Inside Baseline (Grade A+)
This number simply states that 47% of all the returns from both first and second serves were contacted inside the baseline. I really like that number. It shows aggression, it shows intent, it shows that the returner is actually coming after the server! Very well done ladies! It should be no surprise that Serena basically makes contact with eight of of ten overall returns inside the baseline. That’s first-strike tennis at it’s finest!
- Serena Williams 79%
- Simona Halep 47%
- Andrea Petkovic 43%
- Carla Suarez Navarro 19%
32% Overall 1st Serve Returns Contacted Inside Baseline (Grade A)
This is also a number that tells a lot. Just because the server is hitting a first serve does not mean that the returner has to be defensive with their court position. Stepping in and blocking the powerful first serve, and getting the ball back quickly to the server to rush them, is definitely at play here. Basically one out of three first serves are contacted inside the baseline. I like that a lot! Look at the huge disparity here between the players – highlighting the different game styles. Serena is contacting more than two out of three first serves inside the baseline. That’s extremely aggressive!!!
- Serena Williams 68%
- Simona Halep 16%
- Carla Suarez Navarro 3%
- Andrea Petkovic 1%
70% Overall 2nd Serve Returns Contacted Inside Baseline (Grade A)
Well done ladies! I really like that the feet are so involved in attacking the second serve by stepping in, leaning on the ball, using the energy of the body, shortening the preparation time for the server, and generally rattling their cage with excellent court position. Again, look at Serena. When you miss your first serve against her, you know exactly what’s coming – pain.
- Serena Williams 100%
- Andrea Petkovic 97%
- Simona Halep 87%
- Carla Suarez Navarro 47%
63mph Average First Serve Return Speed (Grade A-)
This is a solid number, considering the primary objective here is to neutralize the power of the serve, turn the point into a 50-50 battle, and then enforce superior patterns of play onto the opponent. The range, as you would expect, was huge here, all the way from 20mph to 98mph.
- Serena Williams 69mph
- Simona Halep 65mph
- Carla Suarez Navarro 64mph
- Andrea Petkovic 61mph
71mph Average Second Serve Return Speed (Grade A)
This is exactly where it should be. The average second serve return is 8mph faster as the returner steps in more and can be more aggressive against the slower second serve. When you get a second serve, you have got to attack it, and stepping in and taking it more on the rise inherently gives you more power to fire right back at the server. Very interesting to see Carla Suarez Navarro lead this list. She is standing further back and taking a big cut at her second serve returns. It’a a perfect fit for her game style.
- Carla Suarez Navarro 76mph
- Serena Williams 74mph
- Andrea Petkovic 70mph
- Simona Halep 69mph
64mph Average Backhand Return Speed (Grade A)
This is a solid number off the backhand wing. For the majority of players, having two hands on this shot certainly helps to get more power on the ball. Yes, you want to attack the backhand return, but the backhand return also puts up solid speed numbers that shows it is certainly no push over. Serena’s numbers stand out again here, as she absolutely has the most feared backhand return of serve in the game. She can rip it really hard and make you immediately feel her pressure.
- Serena Williams 69mph
- Andrea Petkovic 64mph
- Simona Halep 64mph
- Carla Suarez Navarro 62mph
68mph Average Forehand Return Speed (Grade A)
Again, another solid number that shows that the forehand is a bigger weapon both on the men’s tour and the women’s tour. Those extra four miles per hour over the backhand get the ball to the opponent a fraction of a second earlier, potentially rushing the preparation of the hands and feet. This is the upgrade power effect. This also shows how effective Carla Suarez Navarro is in this area – leading the field with huge forehand returns.
- Carla Suarez Navarro 74mph
- Serena Williams 72mph
- Simona Halep 69mph
- Andrea Petkovic 66mph
SAP is delivering amazing numbers that are not only cool to know, but are easy to understand and apply. They are “real” numbers that make players, coaches and fans all smarter.
In a few days we will tackle a wealth of data on rallying, which will be the last SAP installment from Miami.
All the best,