Success on second serve

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by krosero, Jun 7, 2010.

  1. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    In the Madrid final this year, Nadal had a higher success on second serve than he did on first serve. So I ran a search of the stats that we've taken, plus our boxscores found in the press, and came up with a list of other folks who had a higher success on second serve.

    Each name here is followed by the success on first serve, and then the success on second.

    Connors – 64% to 66% (my count) – lost to Newcombe – 1975 AO
    Connors – 47% to 54% (my count) – lost to Borg – 1978 Wimbledon
    Jaeger – 41% to 44% (Moose’s count) – lost to Navratilova – 1982 RG
    Mandlikova – 64.9% to 65.0% (Moose’s count) – lost to Navratilova – 1986 Wimbledon
    Evert – 56% to 65% (my count) – lost to Navratilova – 1987 Wimbledon
    Lendl – 77% to 79% (my count) – defeated McEnroe – 1987 USO
    Wilander – 61% to 63% (my count) – defeated Lendl – 1988 USO
    Seles – 52% to 60% (my count) – defeated Graf – 1990 RG
    Graf – 69% to 100% (boxscore) – defeated Seles – 1992 Wimbledon
    Pierce – 39% to 44% (boxscore) – lost to Hingis – 1997 AO
    Sampras – 86% to 92% (my count) – defeated Rafter – 1997 Grand Slam Cup
    Graf – 65% to 69% (boxscore) – lost to Davenport – 1999 Wimbledon
    Agassi – 72% to 80% (ATP) – lost to Sampras – 1999 Los Angeles
    Agassi – 64% to 68% (ATP) – lost to Rafter – 2001 Wimbledon
    Federer – 76% to 79% (Ao_Org) – defeated Santoro – 2008 AO
    Clijsters – 63% to 72% (USo_Org) – defeated S. Williams – 2009 USO
    Nadal – 54% to 63% (ATP) – defeated Federer – 2010 Madrid
    Stosur – 70% to 66% – defeated Henin – 2010 RG

    With some of these it's not a surprise, because people often talked about Connors' first and second serves being essentially the same. With players like Lendl it may be harder to explain.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2010
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  2. LeeD

    LeeD Bionic Poster

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    Statistics can be viewed and jockeyed to anything you want it to be....
    Nadal's first and second are similar.
    Opponent really tries to affect the outcome too....
     
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  3. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Incidentally, I didn't use ATP stats in the 1990s because most are incorrect. However the ATP stats for the '99 Los Angeles final look okay because they agree with stats given in the press.
     
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  4. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Success on second serve has always been a major key to winning matches. Jack Kramer used to think it was one of the keys if the not the main reason he was so effective as a serve and volleyer.

    I was watching the last Nadal/Federer match and the commentators were mentioning how Federer seems to how more problems with Nadal's second serve because he needs pace on the backhand to return effectively.

    One stat I would love to be able to get is the effectiveness of Connors on his first serve and second serve during his prime of around 1973 to 1983.
     
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  5. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    A stat I'd like to get is Kramer's success on second serve; but God knows the likelihood of such old matches turning up on video.

    That was Robbie Koenig who said that about Federer/Nadal. But at some point I'd like to rewatch the match and look at the second serves in particular. He may be right, but the 2010 Madrid final was the only Fed/Nadal match in which this happened (someone getting higher success on second than on first).

    As for Connors, well who knows. In those two matches above he's doing better on second serve, but in other matches (81 W and USO vs. Borg), he's got more typical numbers (higher success on first serve). The key is getting this stat more consistently; most of the matches we've counted stats, we didn't do success on first and second balls (until recently).

    I'd like to see that stat for servers like Cash or Edberg, yet we haven't got any (except from the ATP, and you know the problem with those).

    Maybe I'll get that stat for Laver-Rosewall at Dunlop, since some of you seem interested in the stats for that match.
     
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2010
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  6. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    At the 2010 FO, some others who had higher success on second serve than on first:

    Stosur against Henin, Pivovarova and Halep. (In the Halep match, both players had a higher success on second serve).

    Nadal against Bellucci.

    Dementieva against both Wozniak and Martic.

    Schiavone against Kirilenko.
     
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  7. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    It seems that many of the former players raved about how great Kramer's second serve was. I know Kramer credits his strength on second serve in winning his tour with Frank Sedgman. So in general I would tend to believe that Kramer was excellent on second serve.

    Thing is how do you gauge the effectiveness of a second serve? It is sort of like the discussion we all had on service return in some thread. Agassi was considered to have a better service return but maybe Michael Chang might have won a greater percentage of service return points.

    I have no doubt Kramer had a better overall second serve than Jimmy Connors. But who knows, because Connors was so great with his mobility and groundstrokes, he very well may have won more points by percentage with Kramer on second serve.

    I do have some skepticism on some of the old legends about the old time pros. When I did some research on a super famous player in the 1930's I was very surprised on how he didn't even come close to living up to his reputation.

    I would love to see information about Jack Kramer just to see if some of the things former greats like Hoad and Sedgman said about him are true. Unfortunately I don't think we will ever get the information.
     
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  8. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    I was wondering, in writings from before the Open Era, can you recall any mention of such stats like these (success on first or second serve)? I don't know of anything myself.

    I know of references in the 70s to first-serve percentage (first serves successfully made). Then in the early 80s, CBS had success on first and second serve, in USO telecasts (Sports Illustrated used such a stat at 81W, too). Offhand I can't recall anything earlier.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2010
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  9. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    Unfortunately except for the stats from the early 1990's that I wrote about in another thread I don't have information about success on first and second serve.
     
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  10. Bursztyn

    Bursztyn New User

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    I found these stats intriguing. They reveal basically three things;

    - the quality of the first and the second serves
    - the quality of returners play behind the first and second serve
    - the quality of servers play behind his first and second serve

    In some cases players may have employed different tactics behind the first and second serves (e.g. S&V after the first serve and staying near the baseline after the second).
     
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  11. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Just posted by Moose: Wilander, 1983 RG final, 53% on first, 62% on second.
     
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  12. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Yes and you could even make a fourth category for the quality of return (distinct from the quality of play after the return).

    The way you've listed it makes me think, with all those variables, there are bound to be some matches, statistically, where the success on second serve ends up higher than the first. Maybe the server is hitting the second serve well, but maybe the returner is also not attacking second serves very well (I think both things may have happened in that Lendl-McEnroe qf at 87 USO).

    So yes, definitely, success on first and second serve is not just about the quality of the serves, not even just about the serves and the returns, but the entire quality of play from both players -- and a lot of different things could be happening.

    My question now is basically, we know it can happen with some regularity and in some ways it's not a surprise, but how often does this happen? How often does the figure for second serve end up higher than first serve?
     
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  13. Bursztyn

    Bursztyn New User

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    I suppose that such information can be found in tennis databases.

    By searching such a database we can get the number of matches in which players had more success on second serve than they did on first serve.

    If we know the total number of matches in a database and a number of matches which fulfill this condition, we could easily calculate percentages.
     
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  14. hoodjem

    hoodjem G.O.A.T.

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    I wonder about the percentages on Edberg's second serve?

    I have always thought he had one of the best second serves in the game.
     
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  15. pc1

    pc1 Legend

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    When you think about it, Edberg and Patrick Rafter often used kick serves (which are essentially second serves) for their first serves so they could get into good volleying position. I was watching Rafter do this often against Agassi in one of their great Wimbledon matches. I forgot which one.
     
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  16. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Edberg, Cash, Rafter, probably all those guys have some matches where they ended up with higher success on second serve. However I do know (from boxscores) that in Rafter's four Slam finals his success on first serve was higher. As for Edberg and Cash, offhand I can't recall how much data we have on first and second serves, but I know it's very little.
     
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  17. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Certainly, though I don't know of any database where you could run a single search through the entire data. Not a publicly accessible one, anyway.
     
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  18. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    TC just showed their '01 semi. Per the ATP stats (which I think are mostly good after 2000), Agassi's second serve % was 68, higher than his first. Rafter had 75% on first and was way down at 46% on second despite winning the match.

    So that's an odd match, the loser doing 22% better on second serve than the winner.

    In their 2000 semi, the LA Times had this:

    All that is pretty close to the ATP numbers.
     
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  19. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    #19
  20. Limpinhitter

    Limpinhitter Legend

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    I'd like to know what Gonzeles success on 1st and 2nd serves was. Virtually everyone who played Gonzales, including Kramer and Trabert, has said that his serve was the best they'd ever seen.
     
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  21. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    I'd like to see such a stat for Von Cramm, given what was said about his second serve.

    Here's a page from A Terrible Splendor where Fisher describes von Cramm's second serve as possibly better than his first: http://books.google.com/books?id=Or...AQ#v=onepage&q=von cramm second serve&f=false

    And yet here's a description of Budge taking von Cramm's second serve on the rise during the fifth set of their Davis Cup meeting:

    "Budge, after holding serve to make the score 4-2, decided he must gamble to pull himself back from the abyss. The baron's serve, particularly his second delivery, tended to kick high off the grass and at a tricky angle. To nullify that high hopper, Budge moved a step closer to the net, hoping to catch the ball on the rise with his superb backhand, which may have been the best the game has ever known. Luck was also with Budge, for Von Cramm, in his eagerness to close out the match, began missing his first service. Only once in the critical seventh game did the baron get his first serve in, and that was the only point he won. Budge took each second serve on the rise and drove Von Cramm deep, setting up a volley."

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1138011/4/index.htm
     
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  22. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Here's a reference to the strength of Tilden's second serve:

    "The champion’s second ball was a big thorn in Johnston’s side, breaking too high and wide for him to do more than to get the tip of his racquet on it and send back a short return, which Tilden put away for a point."

    (That's the NY Times report on the 1924 final at Forest Hills which Tilden won over Johnston 6-1, 9-7, 6-2).

    However because of the strength of Tilden's first serve I'd be surprised if he ever had greater success on second serve.

    It's tough to say because I haven't found any boxscores from back then which calculated that stat -- or even first serves successfully made.

    For example the Times boxscore for this match has the game scores. From that you can calculate the points won on service:

    Tilden won 60 of 86 points on serve (70%)
    Johnston won 47 of 90 points on serve (52%)

    ... but nothing about the difference between first and second serves.
     
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  23. Bursztyn

    Bursztyn New User

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    Comparing success on first and on second serve we have to bear in mind that samples sizes should be more or less the same (that is the number of first/second serves successfully executed during a match). Usually this is the case however sometimes (as Wilander Leconte, FO 1988), players may have unusually high percentage of first serves in (Wilander 97%), which implies that the number of second serves executed was very small (2), and calculated success on second serve (50% in this case) is not very informative. Of course in that match Wilander success on first serve was higher that on the second serve.
     
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  24. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Right, if you change just one point in Wilander's match he would have had 100% success on second serve. The comparison with first serve in that case would be flawed. However, as you say, his success on first serve was pretty high (70%), higher than most success rates on second serves.

    I don't know if I would say that the sample sizes of first and second serves should be more or less the same. Not if what you mean is a first-serve percentage of around 50%. I think a player could make around 70% of his first serves and you'd still be left with a sizable number of second serves.

    But I think you're raising an interesting point, and it might be worth looking at whenever someone makes more than 80% of their first serves, and certainly when they make more than 90%. The sample of second serves might be quite small.
     
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  25. NLBwell

    NLBwell Legend

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    Graf – 69% to 100% (boxscore) – defeated Seles – 1992 Wimbledon

    100% won on 2nd serves - pretty good!

    I was surprised how many of the matches were not on clay. That would have been the surface I would have thought most of those occurances would have been on. Back in the 70s a lot of the claycourters just looped both serves in.
     
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  26. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    That's right, she won 25 of 36 points on first serve (69%) and 11 of 11 on second. She made 77% of her first serves.
     
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  27. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Pancho's first serve percentage

    From a 1957 profile of Pancho Gonzales ("Anyone For Tennis?", New York Times, Allison Danzig):

    _____________________________

    Francisco (Pancho) Segura, a little South American from Guayaquil, Ecuador, who has the best two-handed forehand the game probably has known, won the Australian professional championship recently. He rates Gonzales the world's No. 1 player, but only because of his service.

    Little Pancho goes so far as to declare that big Pancho would not be an outstanding player were it not for his serve. He says that on any surface Rosewall is a better player than Gonzales, except in the service department. "Rosewall," says Segura, "is sounder off the ground. He returns service more consistently and his passing shots are better. Gonzales has more great shots but he is not as reliable. He uses a little too much wrist. He flicks the ball and has no long follow-through."

    But no one, Segura concedes, is more consistent than Gonzales in getting his first service into play. When he does, he adds, "You can't attack him. You can't make him work indoors. Outdoors, you can return his service with more length and make him work more to win the points."
     
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  28. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Incidentally the same article reports that Pancho's "service, recorded electronically, travels 112.88 miles per hour."
     
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  29. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    John Kieran wrote in the New York Times, Sept. 1939: "[Adrian] Quist has a fair service, just as good or perhaps a little better on the second ball than on the first."
     
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  30. Bursztyn

    Bursztyn New User

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    I agree. One may say that the smaller sample should not be really small. If it is not very small then we may calculate percentages (success).
     
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  31. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Today Djokovic had 60% success on first serve and 61% on second.

    http://www.rolandgarros.com/en_FR/scores/stats/day18/1602ms.html

    So Federer was not doing too well when he got a look at a second serve. Fed also had a poor conversion rate on break points -- 4 of 25. That's 16%, compared to the 40% he won on receiving points overall. (Djokovic converted 4 of 13 break points, or 31%, compared to 33% he won overall.) So I wonder how many of those break points that Federer lost went to second serve.

    It would also be an interesting stat from Djokovic's viewpoint, just to see how often he made his first serve when down break point. He made 67% of his first serves overall.
     
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  32. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    #32
  33. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    I have another match with a really small sample like you're talking about. I'm pretty sure Borg had only 8 second serves in the '79 RG final (d. Pecci). I know that he lost only one of those points, which means that he must have won 69 of 99 points on first serve (you can see his full service numbers here: http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?t=187098).

    That's a success rate of 69.7% on first serve, and 87.5% on second serve.

    So what does that mean? If you read the articles of the time, they say it was a smart strategy for Borg to spin his first serve in and deny Pecci the chance to attack second serves. But you look at the success numbers and it almost suggests the opposite: that Borg would have been no worse off, and might even have done better, if he'd missed his first serve frequently.

    But that doesn't make sense. Even spinning in those first serves, they were stronger and deeper than the second balls; occasionally he went for the big one on the first serve, too, with success.

    I think in a case like this something odd may be going on with the second serve points. I don't know for sure what it might be but here's a suggestion.

    If a player like Pecci wants to attack second serves, he might do that with some regular success if he gets a look at second serves with some regularity. Then he can put his plan of attack, whatever that might be, into motion. He can figure out how to do it, and get into some kind of groove.

    But if he sees a second serve only once or twice a set, and it comes as a complete surprise each time, he's not suddenly going to be able to switch into the attack mode that he had drawn up on paper. He's been busy playing points on first serves and doing whatever he does to win those points. He can't just switch from that and suddenly do something different. And if he tries he may find himself unsuccessful.

    I'm not saying for sure that's what happened in this particular match, but in general it could explain why the returner might win so few points on second serve when you expect him to be able to take advantage of second balls.
     
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  34. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Nadal in his loss to Federer, 2010 WTF final in London: 64% on 1st serve, 66% on 2nd.
     
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  35. Bursztyn

    Bursztyn New User

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    I do agree that there may be some psychology involved in the "mystery of second serves".

    If the second serves were more effective in general why would players bother to play first serves at all?

    Players may be more conservative dealing with the first serves and more aggressive when returning the second delivery. Sometimes they may be too aggressive, make a lot of errors thus increasing server's success behind the second serve.
     
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  36. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Vilas in the 1978 RG final (lost to Borg): 41% on first serve and 43% on second.

    That margin is somewhat small, but 5 of those points on second serve were double-faults. If you exclude those and just look at points where the second serve landed good and started rallies, there was an even stronger tendency for Vilas to do better on his second serve than he did on his first (and note: he had no aces).
     
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  37. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Connors – 47% on first serve and 52% on second (1985 Wimbledon, lost to Curren)
     
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  38. thor's hammer

    thor's hammer Semi-Pro

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    That certainly stands out!
     
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  39. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    A New York Times article published today noted how Davydenko "is consistently among the best on the ATP Tour in percentage of points won off opponents’ first serves. He has the feel, flexibility, footwork and anticipation that are the distinguishing characteristics of the best returners. This year, the most universal of tools has forsaken him. Since Davydenko switched racket manufacturers, he said, his return has not been the same."

    I looked up his stats vs. Federer to see if he ever kept Federer's success on first serve low enough to fall below success on second. It happened once, but actually Davydenko is the one more often who has higher success on second serve.

    Federer – 72% on first, 76% on second, d. Davydenko, 2005 Doha
    Davydenko – 65% first, 66% second, lost to Federer, 2005 Rotterdam
    Davydenko – 56% first, 58% second, lost to Federer, 2005 Hamburg
    Davydenko – 51% first, 60% second, lost to Federer, 2006 USO
    Davydenko – 53% first, 60% second, lost to Federer, 2010 Cincinnati
     
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  40. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    In the Davydenko-Nadal rivalry, which Davydenko leads 6-4, both players have always had better success on first serve, with one exception:

    Nadal - 59% on 1st serve, 70% on second, d. Davydenko, 2008 Monte Carlo
     
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  41. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    #41
  42. Bursztyn

    Bursztyn New User

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    In general we may propose three scenarios to classify cases when players have higher success on the second serve serve than on the first serve;

    - "Borg-Pecci scenario" - second serves are so few that returner cannot get into a groove,
    -"chance" scenario - second serves are so few that the serves higher success rate behind the second serve may be obtained purely by chance,
    - "mystery" scenario:) - there were many second serves in a match and we have no idea why servers' succes behind these serves was so high.

    I am afraid that usually the third scenario is valid.
     
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  43. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

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    There have been people advocating that for a long long time. Almost a little shocking to see Roddick as the voice of reason there!

    Aside from the mental aspects ("losing a volley" LOL), which I absolutely agree with, I would also worry about the streakiness of the serve. I have the feeling that typical serving strategy may spread out the penalties from double faulting/losing a rally. I would worry that, with 2 first serves, while one may win many games very convincingly, one would also toss away more games....and that would be a very poor trade-off in a sport where games are tallied!
     
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  44. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Yes and in the end the article seems to lean toward what you're saying. Throw in a couple of double faults close together and you could lose a game; and ultimately the winner is the one who wins the games and the sets, not necessarily the one who wins more points or wins his serve more convincingly.

    In tennis you've got to win the Electoral College, not the popular vote.

    Having said that, there's always something to be said for going for more on your second serves, if you're being too cautious with them. Somewhere in there, short of hitting two identical first serves, is a happy medium. I just wonder how that could be measured statistically.
     
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  45. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    LOL, I think you're right about the third scenario :)
     
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  46. Datacipher

    Datacipher Banned

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    Right, looking back at the article, I see Roddick hints at it, though he may have been talking mainly about nerves, and Boynton certainly mentions it.

    Good analogy...for Americans anyways ;-)

    I do agree...it's possible that people have historically erred on the side of caution too much, and in fact, I'd love to see some youngster trained to only 1st serve, try the extreme version...I knew a cocky 6'4 amateur with nothing but a serve who tried it. (bombs away first and second)

    If you conditioned the kid early enough, could he pull it off? How often? Surely not all people could regardless of training, but maybe somebody could. It would be easier if all people did it....if it were the prevailing wisdom. Nonetheless, I don't think anybody could not think about at say....break point in the 5th set of the USO final ;-)

    And of course....were everyone to do it....it would ruin the game completely...LOL.
     
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  47. krosero

    krosero Legend

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    Stosur's defeat of Serena

    From Craig O'Shannessy
    http://straightsets.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/14/on-second-serves-stosur-was-no-1/

    ....Stosur was able to break Williams five times because she was able to win two out of every three points on Williams’s second serve. Williams won only 9 of 27 points (33 percent) in this critical area, which took away all hope of victory for her.

    Stosur’s success on Williams’s second serve came from her strategy to run around her backhand and hit her bigger forehand as often as possible. An opponent’s second serve provides the ideal environment to do that. Williams hit 27 second serves for the match, two of which were double faults. Of the remaining 25, Stosur was able to turn 19 of them into forehand returns, winning 13.

    Stosur won a devastating 68 percent of points starting with a forehand return off Williams’s second serve, which represents winning a set by 6-0.

    Williams was able to find Stosur’s backhand return on six occasions, where Stosur was able to win half of them.

    The No. 1 area in which Stosur hit winners for the match was not aces, ground strokes or volleys, but forehand returns off second serves, with five.

    Stosur not only dominated Williams’s second serve, but she did an outstanding job of protecting her own second serve as well.

    Stosur won 10 of 16 points (63 percent) on her second serve and was broken only once for the match. She has the best kick serve on the women’s tour, and it viciously kicks high out of her opponent’s strike zone, making it very difficult to step in and attack.

    Williams had trouble with Stosur’s kick serve all match, while Stosur devoured Williams’s second serve.

    A critical dynamic for both players was the actual number of second serves they hit (Williams 27, Stosur 16). The first serve has many roles, but a major one is the “protector” of the second serve.

    The first serve will have many more aces and unreturned balls than the second serve, but simply getting the first serve in reduces the exposure to the second serve. Williams made only 52 percent of her first serves, which means major exposure to her second serve. Stosur made 65 percent of her first serves, which greatly reduces the amount of second serves her opponent gets to see.

    In general, winning 50 percent of second serve points means it has been a successful day at the office.

    Since Williams hit 27 second serves, she would be happy to win around 14, but instead won only nine. You can thank Stosur’s determination to hit her big run-around forehand for that.

    Stosur hit 16 second serves, so she would like to win eight, but ended up winning 10. She can thank the heavy, kicking spin on the second serve for the extra points.

    Stosur’s commitment to run around and hit forehands on Williams’s second serve got better as the match went on. At the end of the first set, Williams was able to find Stosur’s backhand with four of her last six second serves.

    But Stosur would not hit one backhand return off a second serve in the second set. Stosur won 7 of 9 points (77 percent) returning with her forehand in the second set to show a total commitment to her game plan.

    The old saying that you are only as good as your second serve rings true, and it is normally the best indicator of all the statistics for who wins the match....
     
    #47
  48. mikeler

    mikeler G.O.A.T.

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    ^^^ Nice analysis krosero.
     
    #48
  49. Fedace

    Fedace Banned

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    what about amateurs ? what is the best way to have success on 2nd serve ?
     
    #49
  50. BeHappy

    BeHappy Hall of Fame

    Joined:
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    Pete Sampras did it, he'd hit 15-20 double faults in a 5 set match, but the match was on his racket and when it counted he made his shots. He took that approach to every single one of his shots actually.
     
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