#9 Returning 1st Serves

 2012 U.S. Open Analytics 

Tournament Leaders – Returns Won vs 1st Serve

Worst %’s – All Failed To Win A Match

 Player Focus – Kevin Anderson 

It was Toronto in 2010 where I first gained appreciation for the “butterfly”.

I went to Toronto with Kevin and his coach, Louis Vosloo, and Kevin had a great run through qualifying into the Rd 16 of the Masters 1000 event. Kevin was ranked #87 going into the event and had a huge win over #21 Sam Querrey in the Rd 32.

It was a very close three-setter against Querrey and one thing I thought Sam did extremely well was get a lot of Kevin’s 1st serves back in play. Sam out-aced Kevin for the match (17 to 14) and won a higher percentage of points on 1st serve (80% to 76%) because he adopted a successful neutralizing strategy against Kevin’s big first serve.

Quite simply, Sam blocked/sliced the majority of Kevin’s 1st serves back in play, hitting high, slow floating returns that landed back deep near the baseline and gave no power for Kevin to use to begin the point. I like to call this return the “butterfly” as it is slow and just floats through the air.

It is an ideal way to negate power and if the big server is not serving and volleying then the returner can get away with it all day long. The “butterfly” was taken to another level in the next round against Rafael Nadal who was very successful at blocking Kevin’s serve back slow and deep.

Kevin only had 8 aces against Nadal and Kevin only won 66% of first serve points (while Nadal won 75%). Nadal was always playing defense and aiming deep middle to try and get back to a 50-50 proposition in the point as soon as possible.

 Career: Best 1st Serve Return % 

The ATP website offers up a wealth of information and in this particular area we are able to once again see that the best players in the game are also the best returners in the game.

Here is an insight into becoming seriously good at this sport.

Career 1st Serve Return Points Won

1Guillermo Coria 5,37414,92136.0%324
3Rafael Nadal12,57937,04033.9%789
5David Ferrer12,78637,87633.7%816
7Andy Murray 930827,65933.6%557
11Novak Djokovic 10,67331,851 33.5%660
14Nikolay Davydenko 12,04736,27433.2%783
20 Roger Federer18,19055,71432.6%1124
30 Lleyton Hewitt 12,38538,447 32.2%789
33Fabio Fognini 4,80914,98732.0%319
35Thomas Muster 8,87427,709 32.0%609

If you are winning more than 30% of your opponent’s first serve points over a season you are a rockstar. It’s just a tough thing to do against the power of the first serve.

Think of it like this. Getting a quality first serve back in play – especially deep middle – gets you admission to the point. From there you can start using your primary patterns from the back of the court to swing the momentum in your favor.

Go Do This

1. Have a neutralizing mentality. Try and immediately get the point back to even.

2. Men – if you can win 3 out of ten you are doing well.

3. Women – if you can win 4 out of 10 that’s a great result.

4. Figure out your opponent’s favorite locations and cheat that way – must take it away from them.

5. Move around – don’t be predictable. Get inside the server’s head and make them miss. 

6. Nothing wrong with floating a deep slice return back off a powerful serve. Gives the server nothing to work with.