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The rough reality of the second serve.
There are four main elements to a point in tennis.
When we direct our focus to serving, we naturally feel like we are looking at instant offense. Instant winning percentages all-round. It’s simply not so.
The first serve is a weapon at every level of our sport – all the way from Under 12s to the pro tour. The speed of the first serve is the primary reason.
Below are the average speed speeds for the men and women that reached the quarter-finals of the 2018 Australian Open. The last column highlights the difference in average speed between the first and second serves.
2018 Australian Open: MEN Quarter Finalists: Average Serve Speeds
|#||Player||1st Serve||2nd Serve||Difference|
2018 Australian Open: WOMEN Quarter Finalists: Average Serve Speeds
|#||Player||1st Serve||2nd Serve||Difference|
|7||C. Suarez Navarro||94mph||80mph||14mph|
MEN: 2018 Australian Open
So let’s try and draw a straight line between serve speed and win percentage.
- Average 1st Serve Win % = 72%
- Last 8 Average 1st Serve Speed = 115mph
- Average 2nd Serve Win % = 49%
- Last 8 Average 2nd Serve Speed = 94mph
- Average Win Percentage drops from 72% to 49% (23 percentage points)
- Average Serve Speed drops from 115mph to 94mph (21mph)
Second serves are a liability – winning less than 50% on average. The win percentage dropped 23 percentage points, while the average speed dropped 21mph. Two different serves. Two vastly different speeds. Two win percentages that don’t look anything like the other.
WOMEN: 2018 Australian Open
- Average 1st Serve Win % = 64%
- Last 8 Average 1st Serve Speed = 98mph
- Average 2nd Serve Win % = 46%
- Last 8 Average 2nd Serve Speed = 81mph
- Average Win Percentage drops from 64% to 46% (18 percentage points)
- Average Serve Speed drops from 98mph to 81mph (19mph)
It’s the same story with the women. First serves are an asset. Second serves are a liability. An 18 percentage point drop in win percentage courtesy of an average 19mph drop in speed.
Yes, there are other factors involved, such as targets. First serve targets are much more to the corners, while second serves hardly ever go to the corners. No penalty if you miss the first serve. Big penalty if you miss a second.
History is not kind to the 2nd serve
Statistics in tennis were first recorded in 1991. Since then – for the past 28 years – there have only been 222 men that have averaged a winning percentage (50.1%+) on their 2nd serves. Thousands upon thousands of the best players on the planet have tried and failed to win more points than they lose behind their second serves.
Here are the 10 best all-time on the ATP Tour.
Career Leaders: Top 10 2nd Serve Points Won
|#||Player||2nd Serve % Won|
Here are five drills to help you win more 2nd serve points.
- TARGET Aim at the backhand jam location of the returner. Take the singles sideline, center line, and the more powerful forehand return out of play.
- HIT UP The No. 1 place we double fault – for both men and women – is in the net. A low toss, low contact, slow racket head speed, and the ball getting too far back all contribute. Reach higher with the tossing arm, go up to the ball for high contact, and keep the swing speed nice and fast. Aim up as much as you can to get the ball up and over the net.
- AVERAGES On the pro tour, the men average one double fault out of every 10 second serves. The women are at seven. Roger Federer… well, he is a “Greek God” in this area, only double faulting one out of every 16-second serve points. Go to the practice court and try and make 10 second serves without missing. Then do it again. Go back to zero when you miss, which will add some little pressure.
- SERVE +1 DEFENSE The most prolific error in the 0-4 rally length is return errors. Then it’s Serve +1 errors (first shot after the serve). Practice defense here, making as many balls as possible deep down the middle of the court against an aggressive 2nd serve return.
- SPIN Make sure you are proficient at both topspin and slice (side spin) with your second serve. Spin controls the ball, therefore helping you put more in play. Spin also makes it tougher for the returner to step in and be aggressive, especially when they are jammed. Go steeper up the back of the ball for topspin, or get less of it as you come around the side for slice. Spin is a necessity for quality second serves.