Saving Break Points (1st Serve v 2nd Serve)

Imagine if you were allowed to “win” a point in a tennis match at any time – without even having to play it.

It’s like having a “Djoker” card in your hand that you can play whenever you want, no matter what the score or circumstance.

Kinda like being Novak Djokovic, for example.

Well, almost without exception, you would not waste the card early in a game, such as 0-0, or even 30-0. The most opportune time to play the card would be on the most influential points in a match – break points.

Depending on the score and situation, you would use the cards when saving break points on your serve, or converting break points on your opponent serve.

In this analysis, we are going to focus on saving break points, and the idea of having a bunch of joker cards in your hand when you attempt to do so.

From pro tour analysis I have done from the 2015 season on the ATP tour, I found a massive difference in performance for players when they got their first serve in on break point, versus their second serve.

Like all strategies on the pro tour, this concept washes right our sport, affecting club players exactly the same way.

Here’s the top 10 players saving break points over their career.

Career: Break Points Saved

#Career LeaderboardCareer Break Points Saved
1Ivo Karlovic71%
2John Isner71%
3Milos Raonic71%
4Pete Sampras68%
5Andy Roddick68%
6Roger Federer67%
7Jo-Wilfried Tsonga67%
8Wayne Arthurs67%
9Rafael Nadal66%
10Novak Djokovic66%

Ok, so now we know the lay of the land.

Now let’s get to work analyzing Novak Djokovic’s performance since 2010 in this key area.

Novak Djokovic: Break Points Saved 2010 – 2016

YearWin % Overall Record
2016 (Dubai & Australian Open)73%12-0

You can directly see Novak’s improved performance in this key area in 2015 and the start of 2016 – directly helping drive his win column.

Saving break points is a massive part of anyone’s game. It is certainly a moment in time in a match that you would be most willing to play your Djoker card to automatically win the point without having to play it.

There are two key elements of break points that can also swing the percentages wildly in your favor – getting your first serve in, or having to start with a second serve.

#PlayerSaving % 1st Serve1st Serve TotalSaving % 2nd Serve2nd Serve TotalSpread

Analyzing Novak’s numbers speak highly to the level of play he is at currently at to kick of off 2016, winning five straight matches in Doha, and seven straight matches in Melbourne.

Career = 66%

2015 Season 1st Serves 73%

Doha & Melbourne Combined 73%

You can see how elevated the start of 2016 is. Pretty special times for our sport.

The key take away here for your game is that there is a substantial drop in winning percentage on break points, even for the world number one.

There is a 14% percentage point drop for Novak, 19% for Andy Murray, and a higher 22% for Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka. Kei Nishikori had the smallest drop of only 5%, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had by far the biggest gap at 39%.

What does all this mean?

It means that when the biggest points of a match roll around, there is a substantial difference in your chances of winning the point with your first serve over your second serve.