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Deuce Ct | 1st Serves | Serve +1 Data

A baseline point comes to life once the return of serve lands in the court.

When we look at baseline play, it covers all rallies from two shots to 52+ shots. Our mind naturally focuses on the long, grinding, lactic-acid-inducing baseline exchanges, but they are simply not as abundant as the shorter points that still qualify as a "baseline" point.

I first started collecting and researching rally length data in earnest at the 2015 Australian Open.

  • A two-shot rally accounted for 9.5% of total points in the men's draw.
  • A three-shot rally was 15.4%.
  • Those two combine account for around a quarter of all points and the common theme with both of them is they both contain a Serve +1 shot (there are a token amount of return winners mixed in with the two-shot rallies that have no Serve +1 groundstroke).

When you total all rallies from eight shots and longer, it accounts for around 15% of total points, which is right around the same distribution as a three-shot rally all on its own.

The point is this. Any discussion about baseline points starts with an analysis of Serve +1 performance first = analyzing two and three-shot rallies.

The next few pages focus on THE FIRST SHOT that you can hit in a baseline rally = the Serve +1 groundstroke.

The court is cut up into four areas (A, B, C, D) which create different opportunities and angles to develop the point. So let's dive in and take a look at the wealth of data from the 2019 US Open when points started with a first serve in the Deuce court.

It's important to note that only right-handed players only in the data set for both men and women.

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

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

Baseline Locations - A,B,C,D

QUESTION: In general rallies, most balls flow from Position C to Position C, trying to get the opponent to hit a backhand while playing a low-risk shot not far from the middle of the court. Do most 1st serve returns in the Deuce court go to Position C as well?
ANSWER: Yes. But Position B gets almost as much traffic. 👇

Serve +1 location following a 1st serve in the Deuce court.
(cut up by forehand & backhand return)

Position A - Serving more to the forehand return with a first serve in the Deuce court will bring the ball back more to Position A than serving to the backhand return. 21% came to A from a forehand return, while only 11% landed there from a backhand return. It's because of the natural cross-court technique of swinging across your body. It's easier to go cross in tennis than straight down the court or inside-out.

Position B - Position B is an amazing place to return IF you get the return deep. Rushing the big backswing of the forehand can force a lot of Serve +1 errors because the forehand does not really want to play defense. It's the "sword" - not the "shield", and would prefer to swing its way out of trouble than block its way out of trouble. Hitting it short to B gives the forehand all the time it needs to be aggressive and get control of the point. Depth is the key here.

Position C - Position C is where the majority of returns went (36%), especially with a first serve to the backhand (39%). The returner is trying to target the less potent groundstroke and also enjoy a low-risk option down the middle of the court. This is an important statistic to take advantage of. Your plan is to make a 1st serve to the backhand. Know that 70% will come back right down the middle of the court to Positions B and C, but C will get the most at 39%. Your next shot needs to be a run-around forehand from Position C. Based on how well the returner is recovering, you can either play behind them to Position A or look to hit a forehand approach to D. What a great way to start the point in the Deuce court!

Position D - You can see the natural angle coming from the backhand return at work here. If the 1st serve went to the forehand return, it's a tough angle to return straight down the line. Only 9% went to Position D. When the 1st serve went to the backhand, that jumped all the way up to 19% because the returner now has a more natural angle across their body to hit the shot. If you are trying to protect your Serve +1 backhand out wide in Position D, then it's better to serve to the forehand, which will bring the ball back cross court to your forehand a lot more.

 Serve +1 Location In The Deuce & Ad Ct

Deuce vs Ad Court - there were only 12 more returns coming back through the Ad court out of a data set of 1834 forehand and backhand returns. The server can expect an even split of balls overall to both sides of the court.

QUESTION: Do 1st serve returns in the Deuce court come back more down the middle of the court, or go wider?
ANSWER: Definitely look for middle returns against 1st serves. 👇

Deuce Ct | Serve +1 Location Middle & Wide

Middle - This is a nice, clean, easy-to-remember data set that helps you best understand where most returns are directed to = right back down the middle of the court. The goal against 1st serves is not aggression first. It's actually defense first, and landing the ball in the middle of the court (hopefully deep) gives you a great chance to get a foothold in the rally.

Wide - The 30% wide will be a mish-mash of some really good attacking returns, some mis-hits that were intended to go down the middle of the court, and some sharp-angled cross-court returns hit from wide serves. Returning wide against first serves in the Deuce court is not the primary goal.  Making the return deep down the middle of the court is a much percentage play. Sometimes when the serve is really wide, the natural angle is to hit a sharp-angled cross court return. That needs to be factored in as well.

Serve +1 Win Percentages In A, B, C, D From A Forehand & Backhand Return

Overall, getting a return back to Position B, straight to the Serve +1 forehand, offered the highest win percentage for server at 65%. The least successful spots for the server were wider to Positions A and B, where the win percentages dropped slightly to 58% and 59% respectively. The overall win percentage was a very healthy 62%.

Keep in mind that this analysis does not factor in return errors or return winners. There will be A LOT of return errors committed trying to go wide against a first serve. So just because the win percentage is slightly more favorable out wide in the table above, you have got to consider all the returns missed wide as well. This data set is only focused on the return the coming back in play.

The 1st serve return should go middle. If it's middle and short or weak then the advantage is with the server. If the return is middle and deep and rushes the Serve +1 backswing then the returner has the advantage.

SUMMARY: 1st Serves In The Deuce Court

  • 70% of returns will come right back down the middle to Positions B & C.
  • Most forehand returns go to Position B. Most backhand returns go to Postion C.
  • The highest winning percentage (69%) is to make a 1st serve to the backhand that comes back to Position B.

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

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

Serve +1 location following a 1st serve in the Deuce court.
(cut up by forehand & backhand return)

Position A - Overall, the men were at 16% returned to Position A from forehand & backhand returns. That rises to 23% for the women, primarily because the serve is not quite as fast overall and there is a better chance to direct it exactly where you want it. It is also a good position to attack at the start of the point, pressuring the server out wide with a Serve +1 forehand. The returner will be hoping to rush the server as much as possible and compromise the backswing to force an error.

Position B - This is where the majority of returns come back from a first serve. The highest total overall is a first serve to the forehand, which comes back to B 37% of the time. There were more serves to the forehand in the data set (777 to 643). As you will see in the table further down the page, the highest win percentage (60%) for the server was hitting their Serve +1 shot in Position B from a backhand return.

Position C - Position C also got a lot of attention with 30% of returns coming back to this middle-backhand location. It makes total sense to go big down the middle of the court with the return to try and rush the server. It's interesting to note that a forehand return to C, which is somewhat going against the grain of hitting across your body, produced the highest win percentage for the server at 61%.

Position D - This location received the least amount of traffic out of all four spots, with only 11% of returns going here. It was 10% from a forehand return and 11% from a backhand return. Players were just not willing to pull the trigger straight down the line to try and get on offense early in the point. The error count of missing returns going for this location probably has a lot to do with it.

 Serve +1 Location In The Deuce & Ad Ct

Deuce vs Ad Court - The men had a 50-50 split returning first serves between the Deuce and Ad court. The women were 59% Deuce court and 41% Ad court. There were more serves to the forehand which helps explain why so many returns were hit cross court. It's also probable that the women are trying to rush the Serve +1 forehand more than the Serve +1 backhand.

QUESTION: Is it still the high percentage option for the women to return to the middle of the court against a first serve that is typically not overwhelming like in the men's game?
ANSWER: The middle still rules. 👇

Deuce Ct | Serve +1 Location Middle & Wide

Middle - Right at Two out of three returns (66%) went down the middle of the court to Positions B and C. I think these are solid numbers, trying to stay away from loose return errors out wide and still being able to attack with depth, height, spin, power, court position, and time.

Wide - The 34% wide is very muck dominated by the 23% cross court to Position A over the 11% straight down the line to Position D.

Serve +1 Forehand & Backhand Win %

It's interesting to note that the server had the highest win percentage hitting their Serve +1 shot in Position B (65%), while the women was in Position C, at 59%.

 

Overall, getting a return back to Position B, straight to the Serve +1 forehand, offered the highest win percentage for server at 65%. The least successful spots for the server were wider to Positions A and B, where the win percentages dropped slightly to 58% and 59% respectively. The overall win percentage was a very healthy 62%.

Keep in mind that this analysis does not include return errors or return winners. There will be A LOT of return errors committed trying to go wide against a first serve. So just because the win percentage is slightly more favorable out wide in the table above, you have got to factor in all the returns missed wide as well.

The 1st serve return should go middle. If it's middle and short or weak then the advantage is with the server. If the return is middle and deep and rushes the Serve +1 backswing then the returner has the advantage.

SUMMARY: 1st Serves In The Deuce Court

  • 70% of returns will come right back down the middle to Positions B & C.
  • Most forehand returns go to Position B. Most backhand returns go to Postion C.
  • The highest winning percentage (69%) is to make a 1st serve to the backhand that comes back to Position B.
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