#2 Eight Serve Factors

You walk up to the baseline and bounce the ball.

Before rushing to hit your first serve as hard as you can it’s best to initially do a little problem solving to give yourself the greatest chance of winning the point.

The art of holding serve is as much mental as it is physical as there are several small battles you want to swing in your favor to give you the most amount of control with the ultimate first strike weapon.

Being smart is just as important as being strong when it comes to holding serve.

Following is a list of eight factors you want to consider before hitting your first or second serve in order to give yourself the highest percentage chance of winning the point. Knowing this list takes the mystery out of serve location and it will only take a couple of seconds to “feel” these factors in a match once you have gone through the list a few times.

1. Where does my opponent think I am serving?

Make no mistake about it, your opponent will return a lot better if they know where your serve is going. You will have your favorite locations where you want to serve but you want to mix just enough so that your opponent is uncertain when you are going there. It’s the first question you should always ask yourself before hitting a serve as it typically carries the most amount of weight of all the eight serve factors.

2. Where do I want the ball to come back?

The reality of tennis is that around two thirds of first serves are returned back in play and almost 90% of second serves come back as well. The natural angle of the return of serve is something you can control to dictate whether you get to hit a forehand or a backhand as your first shot after the serve.

3. What are the opponents strengths and weaknesses?

You have two options here – do you immediately want to attack your opponent’s weakness or is it better to open up holes in the court and pressure it once the rally begins? Either way, you want to figure out the best way to match up what you want do against what makes your opponent the most uncomfortable.

4. What is the score?

This is always a filter that deserves considerable attention as it plays a major role in the pressure level that exists in the mind of both players. In general, you will look to mix more in lower pressure situations when you are ahead in the score and stick more to your primary patterns when the score is tighter and the weight of the points have greater importance.

5. What is my favorite serve?

We all have our favorite locations and there are times in the match when it is absolutely correct to hit it where you want to hit it – but it is also important at times to hit it where you opponent does not want it. The balancing act can fluctuate during a match as your opponent’s strokes get stronger or break down. Hiding your favorite serve until you really need it is another great way to utilize your strength.

6. What is my highest percentage serve?

There will be times in a match that it more important just to get your first serve in rather than hit any specific location. Factoring in the spin of the serve (flat, slice or kick) comes into play here as you may be in a situation where the most important factor will be not giving your opponent a look at your second serve.

7. What are the natural conditions (sun, wind, slope of court).

The sun, wind and even the slope of the court are all elements that must be considered to raise the percentages of you winning the point. They can be a major factor that can alter tactics at either end of the court or a subtle part of your decision making.

8. Where is my opponent standing?

Most players stand in the exact same spot all the time to return serve. Understand the angles you can impose on your opponent and use their location as a weapon against them. It’s amazing how little players alter their return position even when you are launching a full frontal assault to a particular location.

 2012 Monte Carlo Final: Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-1 

Rafael Nadal snapped a seven match losing streak against Novak Djokovic.

For all of 2011 and the start of 2012 Novak Djokovic owned Rafa. He beat him seven times in a row and Rafa was clueless how to turn the tide. The problem for Rafa was that Novak upgraded his game and Rafa didn’t make any adjustments himself.

Nole was totally winning the mental battle of the 8 Serve Factors.

YearTournamentSurfaceRoundScore Winner
2012Australian OpenHardFinal5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5Novak Djokovic
2011U.S. OpenHardFinal6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-1Novak Djokovic
2011 WimbledonGrassFinal6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3Novak Djokovic
2011RomeClayFinal6-4, 6-4Novak Djokovic
2011MadridClayFinal7-5, 6-4Novak Djokovic
2011MiamiHard Final4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4)Novak Djokovic
2011Indian Wells HardFinal4-6, 6-3, 6-2Novak Djokovic

Here was a main problem – Rafa loves serving to the classic lefty locations of Positions 4 and 8 but Novak also loved returning from there as well. In fact the returner was getting the better of the server in this match-up. So Rafa correctly changed it up in the Monte Carlo final and finally snapped the losing streak.

Rafa completely stayed away from his favorite spots on first serve, as they happened to also feed straight into Novak’s incredible backhand return. Rafa’s surprise tactic was evident right from the start of the match as he served five of the first six points to Djokovic’s forehand return. Nadal fell behind 15-30 but three consecutive serves to Djokovic’s forehand were all unreturned to even the game score at 1-1.

1st Serves Deuce Ct. 1st Serves Made 1st Serves Won
Position 175% (9/12)88% (8/9)
Position 40%0%
1st Serves Ad Ct.1st Serves Made 1st Serves Won
Position 561% (8/13)75% (6/8)
Position 80%0%

Nadal was able to get inside Djokovic’s head and win the mental battle of the eight serve locations by being a step ahead with serve location. This was a major departure from Nadal’s normal patterns which was precisely what was needed to snap the year-long losing streak.

 2013 Australian Open Final: Novak Djokovic def. Andy Murray 6-7 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2 

Novak Djokovic was the master of the 8 Serve Factors Down Under.

Novak Djokovic proved unbreakable as he won his third consecutive Australian Open Championship thanks to one of the best serving performances of his entire career. Here’s what insanity looks like.

  • Djokovic only got broken in two of his seven matches.
  • He did not drop serve in his last 9 sets from the quarters onwards.
  • Murray only got to four break points in four sets in the final and converted none.

Djokovic’s dominance serving is best understood by analyzing his serve location far more than how hard he hits it. Djokovic did not rank in the top 20 fastest serves hit for the tournament and his fastest serve in the final of 209kph is not even in the same ball park as the 233kph bomb Milos Raonic hit in his Rd 16 loss to Roger Federer.

Djokovic’s biggest asset serving is his ability to hit targets and bring the ball back to a part of the court where he gains initial control of the point.

Djokovic Serve Location – Final v Murray.

Serve Location1st Serves Made1st Serves Won 2nd Serves Won
125/37 = 67%20/25 = 80%2/5 = 40%
21/2 = 50% 1/1 = 100% 3/5 = 60%
33/6 = 50% 2/3 = 66% 5/8 = 62%
420/28 = 71%16/20 = 80% 4/5 = 80%
514/21 = 66%12/14 = 85%3/8 = 37%
61/1 = 100%0/1 = 0% 3/3 = 100%
77/8 = 87%5/7 = 71%8/11 = 72%
813/31 = 41% 7/13 = 53% 5/5 = 100%
Totals 84/134 = 63%63/84 = 75% 33/50 = 66%

 Deuce Court

Djokovic’s primary target was out wide to Position 1 on first serves to initially stretch Murray and open up holes to attack early in the point. He would then serve more down the T to Position 4 to surprise and keep the Scot guessing. Djokovic’s four deuce court aces were all down the T to Position 4 – three at 15-15 and one at 40-15. Djokovic predictably hit most second serves to Position 3 – the backhand jam of Murray as a safe way to begin the point.

Ad Court

Djokovic chased out wide to Position 8 the most, but only made 13/31 (41%) of his first serves to this critical location. He fared much better sliding his first serve down the T to Position 5 to Murray’s forehand where he won 12/14 (85%) of first serves. Having the right serve mix kept Murray unsure and off balance to step in and attack. Djokovic again targeted the backhand jam serve on second serves to Position 7, winning an extremely high 8/11 (72%). Djokovic’s four Ad court aces were mixed two apiece to Positions 5 and 8.

Wide, T and Body

 Djokovic’s 1st serve location numbers clearly indicate his preference to serving wide first, T second and at the body last. Djokovic attempted 134 first serves, and directed 50% of them wide (Positions 1 & 8), 36% down the T (Positions 4 & 5) and only 14% (Positions 2, 3, 6 & 7) at the body. These numbers ring true with the rest of the Top 10 players in the world as well. Djokovic won the 2012 Australian Open final against Rafael Nadal with one of the best return of serve performances the sport has ever seen. This year it was his serve that carried him much more to victory and sends an ominous warning to the rest of the tour that the best player in the world may be actually be improving.

Go Do This

The time between points is the ideal time to go through the filters and problem solve.

The more you think about the factors on the practice court the easier it will be in a match. 

It helps keep your mind on the other side of the net – less pressure on you. 

Soon you will “feel” what is right from knowing the factors and make good decisions in only a few seconds.

It’s a great idea to start with “where does my opponent think I am serving” and progress from there.

At certain times of the match different factors will have difference importance.