You may have seen the bumper sticker that reads, “the worst day fishing is better than the best day working”. Along the same lines, is your worst day returning second serves still statistically better than your best day returning first serves?
To be specific, if you looked at your second-serve return performance from only the matches you lost, would the average be higher than your first-serve return win percentage from only the matches you won? The fishing analogy rings true for our sport as well as the worst day returning second serves is still significantly better than the best day returning first serves.
This Infosys Beyond The Numbers analysis looks at five seasons from 2015-2019 and includes players that have played a minimum of 50 matches. Players in the data set averaged winning 53.3 per cent (173,783/325,771) of second-serve return points when they won their match, with that average dropping down to 44.5 per cent (122,172/274,276) when they lost the match.
But 44.5 per cent, which is a bad day at the office for second-serve returns, is still significantly superior to 32.3 per cent, which is a great day at the office returning against first serves. The gap is 12.2 per cent, which is essentially night and day.
The following table highlights average points won against first and second serves when players won and lost matches.
Average Points Won When Winning & Losing The Match 2015-2019
|Serve||Player Won Match||Player Lost Match|
|First-Serve Return Points Won||32.3%||23.7%|
|Second-Serve Return Points Won||53.3%||44.5%|
When players were triumphant in their matches, nobody dominated returning serve more in the past five seasons than Diego Schwartzman. Against second serves, the Argentine averaged winning 60 per cent (2713/4524) in matches that he won from 2015-2019, with 23 of his 135 victories above the 70 per cent threshold for second-serve return points won.
Schwartzman was also the leader with first-serve return points won when winning the match at 37.9 per cent (2469/6517). The players, which led the statistical categories when winning and losing matches are listed below.
Looking at match data through a different lens such as this provides new clarity for coaches and players to identify what matters most to win a match and to better organise their practice court. The first serve is the “big hammer” in our sport and even an outstanding performance returning in this area averages winning only about one in every three points.