Holding serve - how important is it really?

Discussion in 'Adult League & Tournament Talk' started by OrangePower, May 8, 2009.

  1. OrangePower

    OrangePower Hall of Fame

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    Of course we know how important holding your serve is at the pro level, where a break often means the set.

    But one of the other active threads about holding when serving first got me thinking... how much of a big deal is holding serve at the club level (3.0 - 4.5)?

    My personal experience, mainly from playing men's 4.0 singles, is that it's pretty common to trade 2 breaks per set. Meaning that I've often reached scores of 6 all (heading into a tiebreak) where I won 4 service games + two breaks, as did my opponent. Also, winning a set 6-4 might also often include a couple of breaks each way. Based on this, I would say that at 4.0 singles, the server wins the game maybe 2/3 of the time on average. Definitely an advantage, but not overwhelming.

    So I wonder - what are the %'s of service holds at other levels and in doubles versus singles?
     
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  2. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    I am of two minds about this.

    I play with teammates who, when asked how the match went, will proudly declare "I held my serve every time!!" If they are broken, they consider this a terrible failing. I think they feel that if the team loses but they held, they did their job.

    Me, I think (or perhaps I should say "thought") that whether my partner held was a pretty big reflection on me. I mean, I should get at least two volley winners when she serves. I should make a nuisance of myself with movement, even if I don't touch the ball. I should position -- even putting myself at risk -- in a way to ward off shots that will cause her trouble (e.g. if my partner can't run and is serving from the deuce court, I cannot let them get a lob over my head, because she will never reach it to hit a running BH, so I may position or drift back to the service line to discourage the lob).

    That's why I was so concerned that I'm not holding lately. I'm starting to second-guess myself on the whole thing. 'Cause I'm getting broken a lot, and my partners are not, which is why we are still winning.

    Anyway, I am finding that at 3.5 singles, it is completely irrelevant who serves. You could have either player serve every single game for an entire set, and you would get the same result as if they took turns serving.
     
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  3. OrangePower

    OrangePower Hall of Fame

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    So Cindy, you didn't say, at 3.5 ladies doubles, how common are service breaks and how instrumental are they to the outcome of the match?
     
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  4. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    I didn't say because I'm not sure.

    Let's see. In my last match, we won 6-4, 6-3. In the first set, I was broken, but then we broke back. Partner held, opponent held. So 2-all. Then I was broken and opponent held. So 2-4. Then partner held, we broke, I held, we broke. Set.

    So that was 5 service breaks, with my partner holding each time.

    Then in the second set, partner held, they held. I was broken, we broke back. Partner held, we broke. I held, they held, partner held. Set.

    So that was 3 service breaks, with my partner holding each time.
     
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  5. LuckyR

    LuckyR Legend

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    If folks are getting aces, service winners, easy poach winners and easy S&V putaways, then holding is critical. If serving is just a way of starting the point, it is meaningless.
     
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  6. maverick66

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    the higher up the level the more important it becomes. if your not holding regularly at a high level you are not winning the majority of your matches.
     
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  7. larry10s

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    another indicator of if you are moving up the chain. do you hold serve
     
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  8. OrangePower

    OrangePower Hall of Fame

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    Yes...

    Yes...

    Yes...

    So we can all conclude that holding serve becomes more important at higher levels of play, and that conversely, being able to hold serve is a requirement in order to play at higher levels.

    But at the 3.0 to 4.5 levels, how important is it?
     
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  9. OrangePower

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    Well then, based on your last match: First set, 10 games total, 50% of games won by the server. Second set, 9 games total, 66% won by the server. Total, 19 games, 58% won by server. That seems consistent with my experience also.
     
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  10. The_Punisher

    The_Punisher Rookie

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    holding serve is key at all levels. this is true because:

    1.) you should never go into a match underestimating your opponent and assuming that you'll break. what if they have a huge serve? what if they never double fault? even roger federer approaches matches against ranked 100 level players the same way he does against top ten players (with obvious exceptions like nadal or murray).

    2.) you'll finish (and hopefully win) the set earlier. if you hold serve every single time, then after a break or two, you'll have won the set. this will save you energy and improve your confidence going into the next set.

    3.) what if you don't break them back? then you'll be down a break and your opponent can go sampras on you and not have to worry about breaking you again.

    4.) serving is a way to start the point, but more importantly, it is an advantage. yes, at the 3.0-4.5 level, everyone is more worried about not double faulting, but this doesn't mean that you cannot take the initiative. if you can't even win the points that you are in control of, then you will have a tough time defeating your opponent.
     
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  11. maverick66

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    at that level you should be putting returns back in play at a high rate so not as much. break chances will come more in a match between low level players as they have not developed a big serve or a game plan that they can execute with ease. at 5.0 plus players are able to do these things. so to answer your question its not as big a deal.

    it is important to start really focusing on your service games so that you can make gains towards a better level. the best way to beat a better player is protecting your serve. thats why you always hear commentators say players have to hold when they play a top ten player. if they break its almost always there set.
     
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  12. larry10s

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    its important but not crucial . each game you hold is one less break for them and one more chance for you to go up a break. more important 4.0-4.5
     
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  13. raiden031

    raiden031 Legend

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    Holding serve is more important in doubles than singles because its easier to hold and harder to break in doubles. This is assuming the players are somewhat competent.

    I had an interesting serve situation in my 4.0 singles match against a pusher earlier this week. In the first set, there was only one hold among either of us (he held at 5-4). The returner had the advantage due to the way our games matched up. When he served, it was so weak that i could whack my return and approach to close out at the net. When I served, I was missing so many first serves and my S&V approach is questionable so I would hit alot of UEs on the first volley. Instead I approach better off a short ball. For that reason, and because he never hit UEs while returning my serve, I was better off being the returner than the server. So it was interesting.

    But definitely it makes a difference as you play higher levels.
     
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  14. Jim A

    Jim A Professional

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    it can also depend on your opponent's mentality

    there are many out there at 3.0/3.5 who if you get up a break at the 2nd change (3-0) aren't really ready to dig in their heels

    even if you can just make them work hard for it while holding easy it goes a long way. last week I was holding at love/15 with a couple service winners etc each game and then his games would go to break point or a couple deuces (couldn't close him out for a bit)

    so he would hold to win a long game an then 2 min later be at it again...
     
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  15. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    Oh, ugh.

    I lost last night. At one point, I was serving 5-4. I made three errors (one ball long, one approach volley into the net, something else I can't recall), and my partner dumped a sitter into the net. I was broken. :hangs head in shame:

    In the match report to the entire team, my captain pointed out that Cindy did not serve out the set and failed to win the set tiebreak. Ouch. I get no credit for the other times I did hold and whatever I did to help my partner hold. I get the blame for losing the first set.

    Dang.
     
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  16. OrangePower

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    That's gotta hurt. No so much the loss, but being called out for it. Doesn't sound like a very supportive captain actually.
     
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  17. larry10s

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    captain not supportive . time for mutiny
     
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  18. LuckyR

    LuckyR Legend

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    Well, from 3.0 to 4.5 is covering a lot of ground. Advice for 3.0 would be meaningless at 4.0, let alone 4.5

    That is why I phrased my original answer like I did. If you are getting aces, service winners and easy S&V putaways it is important. Do you get that sort of thing when you play?
     
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  19. OrangePower

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    Well, in my particular case, it's a bit of a mixed bag... I have service games where several points are service winners or easy putaways of weak returns. But I also have games where I thow in a double fault plus my opponent makes a 'lucky' return or two... and by 'lucky' I mean a shot other than what the opponent actually intended (I know, there's no luck in tennis!) Basically, I need to get more consistent during service games, especially when I get tired (I lose that 'spring' when serving as I get tired, and then my serves become much less effective and more error prone).

    The flip side is that I have a good return of serve, so I can usually get any serve back into play and get into a rally. So while my service games are kinda up and down, my return games are usually much more consistent.

    But I was not asking just for myself, I was basically curious as to how often people are *actually* holding serve at the various level.
     
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  20. smoothtennis

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    The higher you go, the more important. I was bumped out of a match this weekend at 4.0 due to a couple of breaks- that's all it took in this case. We both had serves that gave each other problems, and it was critical to stay focused on serve in this case.

    If a guy has a serve that is easily returnable, not nearly as important. Although as Lucky said...if you regularly force errors off your service - think about it - that is how you win the matches by holding that serve, so serve well with some intensity, and work hard to make returns that get you into the point so you can work.
     
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  21. jazar

    jazar Professional

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    holding serve is obviously important. i played a couple of doubles matches for my club last week and over the course of four sets, neither me nor my partner were broken and we won both matches in straight sets.

    however, personally i dont place huge importance on holding serve as i actually prefer returning to serving and would always back myself to break back serve if i have been broken
     
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  22. MNPlayer

    MNPlayer Semi-Pro

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    There should be a way to measure this statistically. There definately is an impression that losing a service game is worse than a return game, but perhaps this effect is overstated.

    I think Brad Gilbert said in one of his books that even the top players do not win the overwhelming majority of service games. He was arguing that you should choose to receive if you win the coin flip (for the mental advantage of a possible early break).

    One has more control over a service game than return but perhaps the impression is exaggerated. There are other areas where people systematically misperceive probability - people are more afraid to fly than drive for example, because of the illusion of control.

    It is not obvious to me that holding should be easier (or more important, which is the same thing) at higher levels.
     
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  23. OrangePower

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    That's exactly what I'm after...

    But thanks to all who took the time to advise me that it's important that I try to hold my serve as much as possible :)
     
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  24. smoothtennis

    smoothtennis Hall of Fame

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    One point Brad Gilbert makes is that *AT THE REC LEVEL* you get way more bang for your buck in working hard on improving service returns vs. trying to develop a killer serve. It is a good point.

    That doesn't mean to not work on a good service of course - but how many rec players honestly *practice* service returns in practice, not just matches?
     
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  25. JRstriker12

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    Just my 2 cents (FWIW).

    Holding serve isn't the ONLY key to winning, but it seems like the top players win about 80% + of their service games. On the flip side, the top returners win about 41% of their return games.

    http://www.atpworldtour.com/tennis/en/players/matchfacts/

    One thing I will say, is that being able to hold your serve easily, puts the pressure on the other guy not to make a mistake on their service and it feels like the match could come down to a single break. If I can win most of my service games at love or 15, I feel like I don't have to work as hard.

    IMHO - the idea of letting your opponent serve first is that they have the pressure to hold off the bat AND it gives you a little time to warm up. If they hold and you hold, you're on serve. If you break then hold, you're up early. So really that strategy is kind of assuming that you are going to be able to hold your serve.

    IMHO - I think holding serve is probably more important at the pro level, with most guys having big serves, than it is on the rec level, where most players may not have dominant serves.

    I also don't know if it comes down to the illusion of control. When you serve, you can take the initiative - place the serve to your opponent's weakness, make the opponent guess. It's possible to place the opponent at a disadvantage.

    Returning serve, there's not much you can do to take the upper hand in that situation, unless you are just a great returner and/or the opponent has a weak serve.
     
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  26. mikeler

    mikeler G.O.A.T.

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    I'd say at the 5.0 level anywhere from 2 to 4 breaks is pretty typical unless one of the players is having a bad day. I've only played one match in the last year where both players held all the way to the tiebreak. That match we even held serve in the tiebreak until my opponent got the mini-break on set point.
     
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  27. raiden031

    raiden031 Legend

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    Well the server has the advantage in that they fully control how the first shot of the point is started. The difference between lower levels and higher levels is that lower level players often are not skilled enough to take advantage of this so they immediately negate their advantage by hitting a weak or mediocre serve or even if the serve is good, their next shot doesn't keep the pressure on the returner. High level players are more likely to have the knowledge and skillset to remain in control until the point is over.
     
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  28. heninfan99

    heninfan99 Legend

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    Sounds like you recently re-read WINNING UGLY. I think that's the one insight I didn't agree with in Gilbert's book. I find that people usually hold in singles 3.5 and up. That's why I opt to serve first if given the choice --it's a definite advantage for me. Not to hit aces but I like my chances serving.

    I played a guy once that chose to have me serve first. I won the match and it turned out he had read WINNING UGLY. Hehehe

    I think at 3.5s can place the serve a bit.


     
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  29. JRstriker12

    JRstriker12 Hall of Fame

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    If you know you are going to hold anyway, why not let them serve first?

    Here are the are the advantages:

    1. Let them know you are not afraid of thier serve (mental edge).
    2. If you are going to hold anyway, it will be hard to recover from an early break.
    3. Give you a bit of time to warm up.
    4. At worst, if you are going to hold anyway, you're on serve.
     
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  30. mikeler

    mikeler G.O.A.T.

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    I always serve first. I find it to be a big mental advantage to force my opponent to hold serve at 4-5 and 5-6.
     
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  31. LuckyR

    LuckyR Legend

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    Well by your description holding serve is important. When your serve is "on" you hold serve easily (with the winners and putaways). If you could do that consistantly, given your return game, where you are almost guaranteed a single break per set, means you are essentially unbeatable when your serve is "on". Definitely important!

    I play doubles a lot. My serve is tailored for it and as such is very effective. I think of it as a guaranteed game. Of course I have been broken, but if I am broken twice, the other team is so much better than us in so many other ways besides returns that we are in a world of trouble and are likely to lose the match.
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2009
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  32. Swissv2

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    Key is: if you are unable to hold serve, you better be able to break your opponents serve.
     
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  33. tfm1973

    tfm1973 Semi-Pro

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    +1. i agree completely. i ALWAYS elect to serve first if i win the toss. i hold serve far more than i lose serve and i like having my opponent always playing catch up.

    serving at 0-1 -- they are still technically ON SERVE but it doesn't change the fact that they have to hold to stay on par. i like the idea of immediately putting pressure on the opponent.
     
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  34. mikeler

    mikeler G.O.A.T.

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    It just seems like I get a get a lot of cheap breaks at the end of sets because I can usually rely on winning most of my service games. Many people feel behind at the end of a set even though you are still on serve.
     
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  35. Cindysphinx

    Cindysphinx G.O.A.T.

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    Yeah, I guess I feel that way too. I don't like having to serve to stay in a set. I love trying to break someone to win the set.
     
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  36. raiden031

    raiden031 Legend

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    I think the main reason people elect to return is because they believe their opponent or themselves are less likely to have a good service game since they are still tight and nerves are still a factor. I've had mixed results by electing to serve first. I always choose to serve first in doubles, but about half and half for singles.
     
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  37. heninfan99

    heninfan99 Legend

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    You can't be SURE you're going to hold and unless you're Nadal playing Federer serving first is the way to go if you're 3.5 & up. If the match stays on serve your opponent with never actually be ahead in the set. You'll have that psychological advantage. He'll feel like he's swimming up stream the whole time. He'll feel like he MUST hold which is hairy when he's down 5-6.

    "4. At worst, if you are going to hold anyway," I never said definitely that I'll hold but I like my chances. There are no guarantees but I'll serve to your backhand/weaker side which I noticed in warm-up and I'm gonna force you come up with something.

    "3. Give you a bit of time to warm up." Your warm-up should be completed before the match.


     
    Last edited: May 13, 2009
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  38. FloridaAG

    FloridaAG Professional

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    That is nice in the abstract but not always possible in reality for anyone that works and has to play a match at night. I often elect to receive as I am often a slow starter especially at night matches and also get a lot of breaks in that first game. I see the other side to this issue though and also choose to serve first a lot when it feels right.
     
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  39. DBH

    DBH New User

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    This spring I kept track of my games won and lost. I played against a variety of players, a few at the 3.5 level and a few at the 4.0 level (I'm kind of at the border between those levels). In 120 games in which I served, I won 66 games (55% winning percentage when serving). In 121 games in which I received, I won 59 of those games (48.8% winning percentage when receiving).

    I don't have an especially strong serve, even for my level. There was still a slight empirical advantage towards serving for me (actually not really large enough to be statistically significant), possibly because some of my opponents had strong serves. I almost always choose to serve first when winning the toss. Any player could chart several matches and see what their percentages are, and thereby make a data-based judgment.

    DBH
     
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  40. zebano

    zebano Semi-Pro

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    I'm a 3.5 and I play a lot of 4.0s in my informal league so my results are greatly skewed by that fact that I typically only win one match in four (in singles). Other needed information is that I have an above average serve and a below average return (get it in is my strategy and that fails sometimes). My non-statistical analysis is that If I am broken two or more times I lose the set and If I am broken - 0 or 1 times I will win the set or at least go to a tiebreaker. I always choose to serve first since I have a massively reliable second serve that 3.5s don't tee off on (I don't care what Gilbert says, I'm going to play to my strengths).

    Doubles is a whole different ballgame because of the extra people. Given a choice between players A,B,C that I regularly play with
    A = 3.5 amazing & instinctive net player
    B, C = standard 4.0 baseliners
    I will choose A and despite being cumulatively a 7.0 team versus an 8.0 team it's very close and I don't get broken. My partner may occasionally get broken but that is not only because he has a worse serve than me but also because I'm not as good of a net player. In fact, the deciding factor of who wins those sets is how well I play at the net.
     
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  41. SuperJimmy

    SuperJimmy Rookie

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    I think it is very important. Even if you trade breaks, you don't really want to be getting into tiebreaks or third sets if you can get the scores to 6-4 or 6-3 range. I just played a 4.5 league match yesterday. I was up 4-2, 3-1 in the first and second set respectively, but ended up losing 7-5,6-3 because I couldnt hold anything at all (double faulting a lot of that away as well). You gotta take advantage of your breaks because you never know when they are going to hold, and all of a sudden the lead is gone.
     
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  42. jc4.0

    jc4.0 Professional

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    Some people are better at defense and return of serve - which is just as important. But I agree that as you go to higher levels, the serve becomes critically important. Try to make your serve a weapon, not just a way to start a point. This will elevate your entire game, because it builds confidence when you have more control at the beginning of a point.
     
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  43. mikeler

    mikeler G.O.A.T.

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    Had a match last Saturday and I only got broken once. Problem was, I never got a break off my opponent! Went down 7-6, 6-3.
     
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  44. 35ft6

    35ft6 Legend

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    When you start competing, holding serve is pretty much the most important thing.
     
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  45. Steady Eddy

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    In my first tennis team, some days the servers seemed to win, other days the advantage was with the returners. It was anybody's guess as to who truly had the advantage because our serves weren't reliable enough or hard enough to be weapons. Everyone knows about "holding serve" from watching tennis on TV, but that doesn't mean it's a factor in all matches. For women's 3.0, "holding serve" isn't really a factor. Both sides have a pretty decent shot at the game. If you partner points out when the score is 1-0, "All we have to do is hold our serves and we'll take this set.", she's being positive, but not realistic. "Holding serve" is a term that only applies when serves become big weapons.
     
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  46. volleynets

    volleynets Professional

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    Exactly. Before a serve is a weapon both opponents have pretty much an equal chance to break each as much as they have chance of holding serve.
     
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  47. NE14Tennis?

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    Exactly. It all depends on who you're playing.
    Obviously, if you have a serve that generates a lot of free points, but you lose most of the rallies, then holding is paramount. If, like most 3.0-4.0's, your groundies are superior to your serve and the same is true of your opponent, then holding doesn't mean a whole lot. Even in the pros, it doesn't mean nearly as much on the women's side.
     
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