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Serve +1 Data | 1st Serves In The Ad Court

We now step over to the Ad court where the natural righty angles still work fine to swing the ball down the T, but not as much to go out wide to the backhand return. It's also important to note that the natural cross angle now comes back much more to the Serve +1 backhand.

Data Set

  • 2019 US Open Men (right-handed players)
  • 1st Serves
  • Ad court
  • Forehand & backhand returns
  • Serve +1 performance (totals / win %) in A, B, C, D.

Baseline Locations A,B,C,D.

Question: Is there even a situation where returning down the middle to B and C is not the No. 1 option?
Answer: No, but almost here. 👇

MEN: Ad Ct | Serve +1 Location Following A 1st Serve
(Forehand & Backhand Returns)

  • Position A -  Taking a first serve return and hitting it straight down the line to Position A is a remarkably tough shot for the returner. In the Deuce court, 14% of returns went straight down the line to D, but only 7% go straight down the line to Position A. It's either a really hard shot, or it is not on the radar of the returner - when it should be.
  • Position B - Only 23% of returns go down the middle to the Serve +1 forehand location to Position B. That's a lot less than the 34% that went there from the Deuce court vs. 1st serves.
  • Position C - Position C remains the No. 1 place to hit a return. Overall, 36% of 1st serve returns were directed here, which is exactly the same as the total in the Deuce court vs. 1st serves. Going down the middle to the backhand dominates our sport. The returner wants the server to hit a Serve +1 backhand. The server has got to work hard and upgrade that shot to a more lethal Serve +1 forehand.
  • Position D - For the first time, Position D comes in 2nd place overall with 34% of total returns directed out wide in the Ad court. It was actually No.1 serving to the backhand return in the Ad court with a 1st serve. For players that are not proficient at winning points starting with a Serve +1 backhand, serving wide to the backhand return may not be the best idea.
Question: In the Deuce court vs. 1st serves, returns came back 50-50 to the Deuce and Ad court of the server. Is it the same in the Ad court?
Answer: No, Not even close. 👇

MEN: Ad Ct | Serve +1 Location In Deuce & Ad Ct

Deuce Ct vs. Ad Ct - It was a 50-50 split in the Deuce court vs. 1st serves. Not even close in the Ad court. It now trends 70% coming back in the Ad court to Positions C and D. Points starting in the Ad court definitely come back to the backhand in the Ad court. It's a free pass from the natural angle to attack the server's Serve +1 backhand.

MEN: Ad Ct | Serve +1 Location Middle & Wide

Middle vs. Wide - It was 70%-30% in the Deuce court with 1st serve returns. Now it's down to 59% middle and 41% wide. It's a touch misleading as the natural angle of the backhand return out of the Ad court is not cross court to C and D. You could definitely think that a return "straight" back from a serve out wide in the Ad court will go straight at Position D.

The serve still does better when the return is hit right down the middle of the court to Positions B and C, winning 61% overall in both locations. The winning percentage drops down to 57% in both A and D. Interestingly, the returner did the best when they hit a backhand return down the line to Position A. The server won 52% and the returner won 49%. That looks like a good tactic to develop on the practice court.

SUMMARY

  • Expect backhand returns to come back cross court to Position D more than anywhere else.
  • Hardly any returns go down the line to Position A. It's a skill set to develop that other players won't have. 
  • 70% of returns come to the Ad court. You better have a solid Serve +1 backhand.
  • The returner won the most with backhand returns down the line to Position A. Find the right ball and pull the trigger on that pattern. The server will be looking for a ball in the Ad court.

Data Set - 2019 US Open Women (right-handed players)

  • 1st Serves 
  • Ad court
  • Forehand & backhand returns.
  • Serve +1 performance (totals / win %) in A, B, C, D.

The first thing to take notice of in the table below is the percentage of 1st serves that proportionally go more to the backhand. Right at 55% (734/1331) were struck with a backhand return. So where did these backhands go? Overwhelmingly cross court right back to a Serve +1 backhand. A whopping 40% were returned to Position C and 34% to D = 74% returned cross court back to the Ad court.

Tennis is a game of natural angles and we can certainly see that in play here. Only 6% went down the line to Position A from the backhand return wing, and 9% from a forehand return. But there is a massive difference in the win percentages. If it was a backhand return to Position A, the server won a dominant 65%. If it was a forehand return to Position A, then the server only won 43%, which was the lowest winning percentage from either return side to all four locations. 

The percentages dictate that it’s better for the returner to take the backhand returns vs. the 1st serve in the Ad court back cross court, but if the opportunity is ripe to take a forehand return to A, then it’s worth exploring. 

Question: The majority of 1st serves in the Deuce court for the women came back to Position C (36%). Does Position C dominate again as the primary target in the Ad court?
Answer: Yes. 👇

 Ad Ct | Serve +1 Location Following A 1st Serve
(Forehand & Backhand Returns)

  • Position A - As I just discussed above, going down the line against a first serve in the Ad court is not something players mess around with a lot. Only 8% total of 1st serve returns in the Ad court go to A. If it’s a backhand return, then the server wins an extremely healthy 65%, probably because the serve wide to the backhand pulls the returner off the court and a return down the line leaves them extremely vulnerable for the next shot cross court. They simply can’t run it down. But a serve to the forehand naturally pulls the returner to the middle of the court so it’s easier to cover the ensuing Return +1 shot. The server was only winning 43% of these points. 
  • Position B - This location received a lot more traffic from forehand returns. 29% of forehand returns went here, and just 20% of backhand returns. The server won 60% from a forehand return and 59% from a backhand return. The metrics clearly show that a strong first serve is bringing back a weaker return and it is being owned by a Serve +1 forehand in the middle of the court. The returner can do well to Position B if the return is deep, but that does not seem to be the case here at all.
  • Position C - The is the honeypot for both forehand and backhand returns vs. 1st serves in the Ad court. 41% of forehand returns ended up here and 40% of backhand returns. The server won 48% vs. forehand returns and 57% vs. backhand returns. I can visualize how it plays out right now… a strong 1st serve wide to the backhand comes back to Position C and the server has time to get their hands and feet organized and crush a Serve +1 backhand back behind the returner who is recovering towards the middle of the court. Wrong-footing them would be happening a lot here.
  • Position D - This location receives the second highest amount of traffic with 28% total returns, which includes 21% from the forehand return and a substantial 34% from the backhand return. The natural cross court angle is definitely the dominant theme here. The server won 52% vs. a forehand return and 51% vs. a backhand return.

Ad Ct | Serve +1 Location In Deuce & Ad Ct

Deuce Ct vs Ad Ct - 68% of returns vs. 1st serves in the Ad court came back to the Ad court. The key here is look for an aggressive Serve +1 forehand if possible and either look to wrong-foot the returner by going back behind them to D, or attack immediately to Position A if they are slow to recover after the return.

Ad Ct | Serve +1 Location Middle & Wide

 

Middle vs. Wide - 64% of returns came back through the middle and 36% wide. It’s important to note that of the 36% wide, only 8% were down the line, and 28% cross court. Backhands want to defend cross court and that’s exactly the right thing to do against a strong first serve in the Ad court. 

Ad Ct | Serve +1 Forehand & Backhand Win %

 

The server performed the best when they were able to get either a forehand or backhand return back down the middle to Position B, where they could immediately attack with a Serve +1 forehand. Interestingly, the lowest win percentage for the server was when the return took a forehand return and went straight down the line to Position A. The server only won 43% with this combo. A big part of that is the server is always going to be anticipating a cross court return. The right-handed server will initially land on their left foot after the serve and then push to their right when their right foot comes down. That makes them quick to move to their right (looking for a backhand) and slow moving to their left, where a surprise return to Position A can be a great mix.

SUMMARY

  • Position C is the dominant return location for both forehand returns (41%) and backhand returns (40%). Mentally prepare to step in and attack with a Serve +1 backhand, or even better, look for a run-around forehand to go inside-out back to Position D or inside-in to Position A.
  • Only 8% of returns came back to Position A. That’s a very low amount. When it was done with a forehand return, the returner wins more. When it’s done with a backhand return, the server wins more.
  • The server wins 56% serving to the backhand and 52% serving to the forehand. Keep a good mix to both locations to keep the returner guessing. 
  • More than two out of three (68%) of returns come back to the Ad court. Playing back behind the returner back through the Ad court is a great idea. Look to wrong-foot then rather than chasing the illusion of the open court.
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