#4 Serve & Volley Part 2
This second part to serving and volleying focuses on Roger Federer winning Wimbledon in 2017. It is a five-part series called "Roger Federer exposes the biggest lie in tennis."
Roger Federer Exposes The Biggest Lie In Tennis (Part 1/5)
What frightens Roger Federer?
Roger Federer walked into an interview room at Wimbledon to talk about his historic eighth title. These Monday "day after" interviews are meant to be very fluffy, lots of fun, and reflect on what it's like to win the biggest prize in our sport. A continuation of the celebration...
It certainly started that way, and then we got some serious "straight talk" from the Swiss champion. He touched on strategy and player development. He talked about coaching philosophies.
He then exposed the greatest lie in tennis... that the net does not work anymore in our sport.
In his own, subtle, sophisticated way, he called out coaches, and he called out players. He especially shook his head at the strategy of younger players, who hope to be successful at Wimbledon against the greats - with a one-dimensional baseline game. He called it how he saw it.
Let's go through the interview and clearly understand Roger's point of view. Just a reminder that very few players speak this openly about our game. Comments like these carry a lot of weight and don't come along that often.
Quote 1 - Celebration
“My head’s ringing. I don’t know what I did last night. I drank too many types of drinks, I guess. After the ball, we went to a bar and there were almost 30 to 40 friends that were there, so we had a great time. I got to bed at 5 am, then woke up and just didn’t feel good." - Roger Federer
If you can't celebrate winning a record EIGHTH Wimbledon title, what can you celebrate?
Quote 2 - Not Strong Enough
"Every generation definitely is different. Since my generation and Rafa’s generation, the next one hasn’t been strong enough to push all of us out really, so that has been helpful for us to stick around." - Roger Federer
Roger is just warming up here. He correctly asserts that players younger than Roger and Rafa have not been able to remove them from the pinnacle of the sport. He does not get into the "why" yet. He is just laying down the groundwork...
Quote 3 - If You Can't Volley
“They can choose not to play that way, too, if the coach has taught them to play differently. I know you can easily get sucked into that mode when you don’t want to attack, but if you can’t volley you aren’t going to go to the net. - Roger Federer
"IF YOU CAN'T VOLLEY"
Bang. Take that #NextGen. Right between the eyes.
Think of it like this. Roger, Nole, Rafa & Andy sit at the top of the tennis mountain. They only look down the mountain, seeing player after player after player trying to climb up to their lofty heights to dethrone them.
These players are simply not fully prepared/equipped for the task. They are trying to do it with an incomplete set of tools. This next generation of players loves to slap a forehand and a backhand from the back of the court... but finishing points at the net is much more a weakness than a strength.
Interesting that Roger mentions coaches here (of which I am also one). Globally, the coaching community fixates much more on the back of the court than the front of the court. Tons of forehand and backhands. Precious few volleys. What is universally lacking is the development of the correct continental volley grip, fundamentally sound "catching" technique, and the high percentage strategies to transition from the baseline to the net.
When a player finally reaches "The Big 4" for a shot at the title, they think they are ready. They are not ready. They can't volley. They don't have 10 years of volley work under their belt, so they completely shy away from the net under the bright lights.
Quote 4 - It's Frightening To See
"I have played almost every player here that wouldn’t serve and volley. It’s frightening to see this at this level. I look at the stats and go into whichever round it is and see that the guy I’m going to face is playing 2 percent of serve and volley throughout the championships. I’m going, ‘OK, I know he’s not going to serve and volley’, which is great." - Roger Federer
If Roger Federer is frightened, then we should all be frightened too.
The new generation of players are too one-dimensional. They have spent their entire junior careers mindlessly, endlessly hitting groundstrokes. They love to grind. They boast about it. They are completely missing the point.
You really think you are going to out-grind Murray, or Djokovic, or Nadal, or Federer, or Thiem, or Nishikori, or Goffin, or Ferrer? Come on now...
The new generation can't serve and volley. Period. The reason is simple. From ages 10-18, during the formative growth/improvement years, they overwhelmingly dismissed it. Coaches can also get more "wins" on the board quicker for juniors by developing the baseline. It turns into complete overkill, and incomplete players are now flooding our game.
It is frightening, Roger. The youth think they are prepared. Far from it.
QUOTE 5 - Good Things Do Happen There
“Then we are talking about grass, it was playing fast this week [compared with the first week]. I wish that we would see more players taking chances up at the net because good things do happen there. You want to be there and have to spend some time up there to feel confident and good there.” - Roger Federer
Of course, they do! It does not matter if you serve and volley, or approach and volley. The average tournament win percentages at the front of the court for both men and women are ALWAYS higher than the win percentages from the baseline.
We have bred a generation of "1/2 court players". They specialize in the 1/2 of the court from the baseline to the back fence. Whatever happened to the area from the baseline to the net? It never stopped producing a winning percentage, even as players and coaches overwhelmingly lost faith in it.
QUOTE 6 - Good Luck
Federer then responded to a question that maybe players were following the lead of Murray and Djokovic, who seemingly dominate from the back of the court.
“They are very different. Andy has a lot of variety in his way but, yes, a slugfest with Andy and Novak from the baseline, or Rafa for that matter, good luck. If you are No. 50 in the world, it is not so simple to take them out.” - Roger Federer
How in the world are you going to out-hustle, out-run, out-work, out-maneuver, or out-hit Novak or Andy or Rafa from the baseline? That's their sweet spot. You have got to find other areas to attack... such as the net.
When Roger says it's frightening to see players not have the ability or confidence or know-how to serve and volley on grass at Wimbledon, it's high time to sit up and take notice. Now is the time to re-adjust our global tennis development paradigm.
The net worked yesterday. It works today. It will work tomorrow as well.
Roger Federer Exposes The Biggest Lie In Tennis (Part 2/5)
Serve & Volley. Dead & buried?
Roger Federer point-blank called out fellow players at Wimbledon last Monday during an interview that was all about celebrating his record eighth singles title at SW19. The interview covered a lot of angles, but Roger also spoke pointedly about the strategy, or lack thereof, of other players in the men's draw - particularly the younger generation who have unsuccessfully knocked him off the top of the mountain.
"It's frightening to see at this level," Federer said of the lack of serve and volley at The Championships.
But is Roger right? Do younger players have a huge hole in their game by not employing serve and volley with any real conviction?
Roger is ABSOLUTELY CORRECT.
The following analysis focuses on all the younger players in the draw, aged between 18-23 years old.
2017 Wimbledon Men
Tournament Averages: Serve & Volley
- 7.2% (1894/26,375) Overall
- 2.2% (103/4638) Players Aged 18-23
Below is exactly what Roger was talking about...
Male Players: Age 18-23
- SIX players combined for ZERO serve & volley points from 788 serve points.
- TWELVE players combined for just SIX serve & volley points from 2069 serve points. That's one out of every 344 serve points.
- EIGHTEEN players did not serve & volley over 5 times for the tournament.
- Of the 25 players, only five served and volleyed in double digits.
We are clearly breeding a new global generation of players that literally shun the front of the court. Roger also said if you can't volley, then you are far less likely to venture forward to the net. That's definitely in play here. In fact, it's a combination of three elements.
- There is no awareness of the outstanding win percentages at the front of the court.
- Therefore young players don't bother to venture forward and develop that part of their game early on.
- Then when they reach the big stage, they revert to what they know best. Grinding at the baseline.
Roger's Seven Matches
Roger played seven matches to win Wimbledon. Here's the opponent's by round, and how much they served and volleyed against him.
- Rd 1 def Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-3, 3-0 Ret. Dolgopolov served & volleyed 0/46 serves.
- Rd 2 def. Dusan Lajovic 7-6(0), 6-3, 6-2. Lajovic served & volleyed 0/84 serves.
- Rd 3 def. Misha Zverev 7-6(3), 6-4, 6-4. Zverev served & volleyed 89/98 serves.
- Rd 4 def. Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-2, 6-4. Dimitrov served & volleyed 0/84 serves.
- Qtr def Milos Raonic 6-4, 6-2, 7-6(4). Raonic served & volleyed 23/96 serves.
- Semi def. Tomas Berdych 7-6(4), 7-6(4), 6-4. Berdych served & volleyed 9/101 serves.
- Final def. Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4. Cilic served & volleyed 15/90 serves.
In the 3rd round, Federer played a true serve and volleyer in Misha Zverev. Apart from that match, Roger faced 47 serve and volley points in 6 matches (18 sets). That's just an average of 2.6 / set.
Where Players Win v Roger
Did opponents do better serving and volleying, approaching, or staying at the baseline against Roger at The Championships this year? Glad you asked...
Opponent Points WON vs. Roger Federer (excluding Dolgopolov retirement).
- 37% Baseline
- 59% Net
- 64% Serve & Volley
In SIX matches against Roger at Wimbledon, the highest winning percentage of the three strategies (baseline, net, serve & volley) was... SERVE & VOLLEY!!!!
In his post-match interview, Roger is literally telling the entire world the best way to beat him. That's how nice of a guy he is! His interview is a candid assessment of the limitations young players have in their game, AND it's also a free coaching lesson from one of the all-time greats of our sport.
Roger Federer Exposes The Biggest Lie In Tennis (Part 3/5)
Serve & Volley. It has fallen off a cliff.
Back in the day, serve and volley used to dominate our sport. In 1997, when serve and volley was first recorded at Wimbledon, it counted for greater than 50% of all first serves AND half of all second serves. Serve and volley was an apex predator. And then it basically vanished from the planet. Consider these numbers:
1st Serve: Serve & Volley Points at Wimbledon
- 1997 = 66%
- 2011 = 8%
2nd Serve: Serve & Volley Points at Wimbledon
- 1997 = 50%
- 2011 = 3%
This is sweet music to detractors of serve and volley. These are the "I told you so" metrics for everyone that thinks serve and volley is a failed/outdated/irrelevant strategy. Serve and volley is universally NOT taught at junior academies all over the world - primarily because of these metrics at the top of the game.
These Wimbledon numbers wash right through our sport, empowering a generation of coaches (and therefore, players) to not bother about serve and volley. After all, isn't it easier to just hit cross court groundstrokes all day long? Doesn't everyone (players, coaches, parents) feel better when a promising junior is hitting a million balls, sweating, and grinding side-to-side from the back of the court?
Serve and volley is also much tougher to teach with eight kids on a court. It requires more attention, more "know-how", more individual coaching on serve locations, movement, grip changes, first volley locations, defensive low volleys, etc...
Who can be bothered with that anymore, especially when nobody at Wimbledon even does it? Who wants to rock that boat?
Roger Federer does. That's who...
Wimbledon Serve & Volley 1997 - 2017
Below is Table 1. It shows the incredible decline in serve and volley at The Championships behind both 1st and 2nd serves since serve and volley was first recorded in 1997.
TABLE 1: Wimbledon Tournament Average: Serve & Volley
LITTLE SECRET: Table 1 is not the table that matters the most...
Table 1 is the result. It is the result of a lack of faith. It is the result of only having half the information. Table 1 clearly shows the abandonment of serve and volley at the elite level of our sport. It happened at Wimbledon, and it, therefore, trickled down and happened literally everywhere...
But what Table 1 does not show is WHY...
- Why did players lose faith in serve and volley?
- Why did they stop coming forward at the beginning of the point?
- Finding out the WHY is the missing link...
There can always only ever be ONE why. And that reason is the WIN PERCENTAGE.
Win percentages are everything in our sport. You see someone with some funk in their technique, but they win with it - hey, the funk is OK!
Win percentages are the wonderful reason we have different tactics, different styles, different strokes in our sport - that can all be successful. If you can make it work, then more power to you...
Serve & Volley Win Percentages
This is where the rubber meets the road. This is the MOST IMPORTANT table.
IF the win percentages of serve and volley dropped dramatically, then you can completely understand players not employing it. If players stopped winning with it, then they rightfully should stay back more at the baseline when serving.
Here's the most important table of all. A table that as far as I know, has never been published...
TABLE 2: Wimbledon Tournament Average: Serve & Volley 1st Serve Win Percentages
1997 - 2017 AVERAGE WIN PERCENTAGE = 69.1%
Players have universally abandoned a strategy that has never abandoned them.
Table 2 just unequivocally vindicated Roger Federer's comments that more players should serve and volley at Wimbledon (and in general). He knows why. BECAUSE IT WORKS!
- 1998: Serve & Volley 1st Serves = 52%. WIN percentage = 71%
- 2013: Serve & Volley 1st Serves = 10%. WIN percentage = 71%
Pleaseeee let this sink in...
It does not matter if you do it a little (2013).
It does not matter if you do it a lot (1998).
It works!!!! It always has, and it always will! Both years had a win percentage of 71%.
Serve & Volley. We owe you a huge apology. Roger never stopped believing, and neither should the rest of us.
Roger Federer Exposes The Biggest Lie In Tennis (Part 4/5)
Time to pick your poison.
Tennis looks random, kinda like pinball. Players typically hit cross court, but sometimes they also go down the line. Every now and then they also venture to the net. Nothing seems guaranteed.
It all looks random, but it's not.
Tennis is actually a game of repeatable patterns. And those patterns produce percentages, which is exactly how you figure out how to be successful at this game...
Look at the following three WIN PERCENTAGES. They are Wimbledon averages from hundreds of thousands of points over 16 years from three different strategies.
- Strategy 1 - Wins 46%
- Strategy 2 - Wins 64%
- Strategy 3 - Wins 68%
You have to now make three picks. You know the win percentages, but what you don't know is the strategy connected to it.
Pick 1 = you must practice this 90% of the time. It will dominate your tennis existence.
Pick 2 = This pick gets the remaining 10% of your practice time. It's basically just a sideshow.
Pick 3 = You can dismiss this from your training altogether. Just throw it out the window.
How did your picks go? Which strategy did you pick first?
I know which one you picked first :-)
Like every sane thinking human being, you wanted as much of that 68% win percentage as you can lay your hands on. Smart.
Now... when we take the covers off and see what's under the hood... you are going to be very, very uncomfortable. You see, 68% is the win percentage for SERVE & VOLLEY over 16 years at Wimbledon in the men's draw. You chose the one thing that you consistently ignore.
The 64% win percentage is finishing points at the net. The 46% win percentage is baseline points won.
I just turned your world upside down...
Wimbledon 2002-2017 Win Percentages: MEN Baseline / Approach / Serve & Volley
Is it really that simple?
Serve and volley is a specific strategy that you must commit to before you even know if you really have the upper hand or not. The fact you are serving certainly helps, but you have no idea what's coming back, or how uncomfortable your opponent is before you have to commit to sprint forward to the net. At least with approaching you can get the opponent really off balance first before coming in.
All too often we muddy the water with varied opinions about serve and volley. Let's not make that mistake again here.
Serve and volley consistently outperforms. It consistently delivers. It has never abandoned you.
For wayyyy too long we have seen a massive decline in the amount of serve and volley. There was this general global assumption that the players must know what they are doing - it really must not work.
It does. The win percentages have never been looked at - and that's where the real truth is.
Remember our 18-23-year-olds?
In Part 2, I did an analysis of how much they the 18-23 year male players served and volleyed at Wimbledon this year. Here's a little reminder.
Tournament Averages: Serve & Volley
- 7.2% (1894/26,375) Overall
- 2.2% (103/4638) Players Aged 18-23
They overwhelmingly avoided serve and volley on the lush grass courts at Wimbledon. But should they? Do the youth of today's game also perform better at the net than the baseline - even though they go out of their way to avoid it?
Here's the answer...
25 Players Aged 18-23: Win Percentages
- Tournament Total = 46%
- 18-23yo = 47%
Approach & Volley
- Tournament Total = 64%
- 18-23yo = 64%
Serve & Volley
- Tournament Total = 68%
- 18-23yo = 73%
How ironic. The age group that shuns serve and volley - only does it 2.2% of total serve points versus 7.2 percent for everyone else - WINS 5 PERCENTAGE POINTS MORE than the tournament average...
Kids these days :-)
Roger Federer Exposes The Biggest Lie In Tennis (Part 5/5)
Roger Federer walks the walk.
We just saw the most serve & volley points won by a Wimbledon men's champion in 13 years. And to put a cherry on top, Roger did it in six matches, as he benefited from a first-round retirement against Alexandr Dolgopolov where he didn't serve & volley once.
Roger won 68 points serving & volleying in 6 matches at SW19 this year. That's the most by a Wimbledon champion since he won 75 in 2004.
The Monday after Wimbledon, Roger said in his press conference that "it was frightening to see at this level" - referring to the lack of serve and volley at Wimbledon this year. He certainly knows what an outstanding return on investment serve and volley yields.
Serve & volley was first recorded at Wimbledon in 1997. We now have 21 years of data to look back on and understand just how serve and volley is part of the overall mix of points won by the singles champion.
1997-2017 Men's Champion: Tournament Total - Points Won
1997-2017: Percentage Points Won By Men's Champion
- 70.6% Serve & Volley
- 68.4% Net Points Won
- 52.5% Baseline Points Won
Serve & volley absolutely, positively delivers on the biggest stage in the world.
This data set = seven matches won each year x 21 years = 147 matches won. Zero lost.
What is amazing is just how narrow the baseline win percentage is. With no matches lost, the best of the best can only win 2.5 more points above a 50-50 contest, resulting in a 52.5 v 47.5 advantage. How did serve & volley do? It absolutely crushed. 💥
Question for you... if the best players in the world, going UNDEFEATED, can only find an extra 2.5 points out of every hundred, how many do you think you can find? Is the baseline really where your advantage is?
Why not take a peek at the greatest win percentage of all - 70.6% serving and volleying. You may want to think long and hard about sprinkling some 70.6% into your game to give that struggling 52.5% a helping hand.
Roger Federer = 11 Wimbledon Singles Finals
Here's a breakdown of all the metrics for the years Roger reached the Wimbledon singles final.
Roger Federer: Years He Reached The Wimbledon Final
1997-2017: Roger Federer Percentage Points Won Reaching 11 Finals
- 72.1% Serve & Volley
- 69.4% Net Points Won
- 51.4% Baseline Points Won
Imagine winning eight Wimbledon finals, going 74-3 overall, and only creating a 51.4 v 48.6 advantage from the baseline. Not a great return on investment... But how about that 72.1% serving and volleying. That kinda stands out!!!
Pete Sampras: Wimbledon Legend
Pete went 63-7 at Wimbledon, winning seven titles - second only to Roger.
He won titles in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000. Since Wimbledon only started recording serve & volley data in 1997, we at least have metrics from four of his title years. Here's Pete's serve and volley numbers from 1997, to the last year he played in 2002.
Pete Sampras: Wimbledon 1997-2002
Serve and volley works. These metrics unequivocally show we have had it wrong for way too long.
YES... you need to practice it from a young age JUST.LIKE.EVERYTHING.ELSE.
Also, it does not mean you have to become Pat Rafter this afternoon... but a few of them running around would be great for our sport!
It also does not mean that you forget about the baseline either. You are still going to play a bucket load of points from back there.
Serve and volley is an absolutely fantastic strategy that consistently provides players at all ages and all levels healthy win percentages. Yes, you will still lose some points doing it, and yes, you will question yourself when you do lose those points because they seem to sting more than losing a point at the baseline.
But do it 100 times and see how you go. Commit to it for a year. Use it as a surprise tactic. Use it to freak your opponents out. Use it to take the net away from your opponent. Use it up 40-0 or down 40-0. Use it when your opponent is slicing returns. Use it to cover a weakness from the back of the court. Use it to shorten the time of points. Use it to drive your opponent bat -#$%^ crazy!
Thank you, Roger Federer. Thank you for speaking up at Wimbledon and calling a spade a spade. The metrics support you 100%.
Hey Coach! Instead of feeding another basket of mindless forehands, how about you mix it up for once with some serve and volley practice. When your player asks why tell them Roger told you so... :-)