"You're only as good as your second serve" question

Discussion in 'Tennis Tips/Instruction' started by Raul_SJ, Dec 15, 2012.

  1. Raul_SJ

    Raul_SJ Hall of Fame

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    Let's assume Player A and Player B have identical second serves, but Player A has a higher serve percentage/points won on the first serve, it would then seem that Player A is the better overall server.

    How does the "You're only as good as your second serve" adage apply in this case?
     
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  2. PhrygianDominant

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    This quote is a misgnomer, it should be: "You are only as good as your weakest shot."
     
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  3. TomT

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    Yeah, "you're only as good as your weakest shot" makes more sense to me. I heard "you're only as good as your second serve" from a guy at the local courts a few months ago. Never really thought about it. He's a much better player than me, but he says a lot of stuff, and anyway my first and seconds serves are pretty much the same ... flat or slightly sliced.
     
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2012
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  4. slowfox

    slowfox Professional

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    I don't know about the "weakest shot" perspective. What about the player whose overhead is weakest, but plays matches mostly from the baseline? How would an opponent exploit that?

    "Second serve" makes more sense to me as it is a shot completely dependent on the server alone. If you can't get the 2nd serve in, well you're just giving away free points. Weaknesses such as volleys or backhand can be de-emphasized in match play, or helped by your strengths. But what can make up for excessive double faulting? Relying on breaking back your opponents' serves over and over...?
     
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  5. slowfox

    slowfox Professional

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    Using the ol' adage, A and B are equally good. But "good" doesn't necessarily equal winning. I dunno, this seems like one for the philosophers, not a tennis jock...
     
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  6. TomT

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    Lots of dropshots ... and lobs ... and selective net rushing? Oh OK, your point seems to be a good one. :)

    Points taken. There's also a pretty good argument for hitting out on the second serve. In other words, two first serves. Then we could change the adage to "you're only as good as your serve".

    I've come to the tentative conclusion, following your line slowfox, that variations on the theme of the adage under consideration are doomed to endless interpretation and adjustment.
     
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  7. Cheetah

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    I agree with the traditional quote of 'you're only as good as your second serve'.
     
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  8. TomT

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    What do you think about the idea of using two first serves?

    Also, how would the traditional form of the adage relate to somebody like, say, Ken Rosewall who had, arguably, one of the feeblest serves (first and second) in pro tennis and yet was, again arguably, one of the, say, 10 greatest players of all time? That is, Rosewall's record would seem to contradict the traditional quote insofar as he was much much better than his second serve.

    EDIT: I think we're back to it being an unresolvable philosophical consideration.
     
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  9. Cheetah

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    i don't like the idea of 2 first serves. How many people can do that? The only one I can think of at pro level is Roddick. It's not the best way to play. You are supposed to miss your first serve occasionally. If you don't then you aren't going for enough. If you have a good second serve then you can go for more on your first serve. If your second serve is weak you are going to take a lot off of your first serve. A weak second serve means you won't be hitting your best first serve on average. A weak second serve means you now you are under pressure to get it in and if it manages to go in most likely it won't be dangerous and the opponent can attack it. If you have a weak second serve you no longer have the server's advantage.

    Maybe you can get by at the 4.0 and under levels w/ a weak 2nd but once you reach a level where players can hold their serves then having a weak second serve is a huge disadvantage.

    i don't know rosewall's serves. Maybe the saying doesn't apply to world class players because they posses numerous other world class shots or exceptional speed and anticipation and strategy and footwork and consistency to make up for it.
     
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  10. TRVX1912

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    There is no such thing as in two first serves
     
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  11. Avles

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    Andy Murray's second serve is not one of the best on tour and he's managed to become a fixture in the top 5. I'd say that Connors and Nadal are two other players whose overall game far outclasses their second serve quality. So yes, I don't think it really holds true for world-class players.

    But actually I don't see how it holds true at any level. A weak second serve is definitely a problem. Is it a bigger problem than a weak first serve, a weak return, or a weak forehand? I doubt it. So the adage seems kind of meaningless, since it seems like you could apply it with equal accuracy to any number of shots.

    For me, second serve is a very important shot, just like the first serve, rally groundstrokes, return. But none of those shots determines a player's level.

    I think "you're only as good as your second serve" makes more sense as an exhortation to practice an unglamorous shot than it does as a literal statement of fact.
     
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  12. mikeler

    mikeler Moderator

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    My doubles partner today who I also play quite a bit in singles is a great case to discuss here. He will lose confidence in his 2nd serve after just 1 double fault. Then he hits "bunny" or "puff" serves which go out half the time. I think I'm finally making inroads into his brain. I tell him to clip the ears off the bunny and go for it. He double faults less when he hits his 2nd serve almost like a first serve and wins more points. Food for thought.
     
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  13. Cheetah

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    You can protect a weak groundstroke. How do you protect a weak 2nd serve?

    Also, what do you consider the most important shot in tennis?
     
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  14. Avles

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    Get your first serve in?

    I'm not saying the 2nd serve isn't important, just that "YOAGAYSS" seems like a catchy phrase which may be an effective teaching tool without actually being true.

    If every other part of your game is 4.0 or better, will a 3.5-level second serve knock you back down to the 3.5 level? It just seems doubtful to me (though my opinion is based more on intuition and guesswork than actual experience).

    I think "you're only as good as the aggregate of your various strengths and weaknesses" would be more accurate-- doesn't really have the same ring to it though...

    BTW I think I was incorrect about Nadal's second serve-- he wins a remarkable number of points on 2nd serve, enough that I think the quality of the serve itself must play a role. Murray on the other hand really does seem to struggle a bit on the second serve (though his numbers improved this past year).
     
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  15. Kalin

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    If one insists on hitting two identical serves then how about two 1.2 serves? Meaning, of course, 2 fast and heavy serves that are hit at around 80% of your all-out first serve
     
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  16. Cheetah

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    You have to admit that almost every instructor, online tennis site/coach, books etc say the most important shot in tennis is the serve. Most of those further qualify it to say it's the 2nd serve.

    Yes, i would agree with your 'aggregate' statement. But we are discussing 'shots'. Also I am qualifying it with measurable success meaning a tournament for example,.. not rec tennis where points don't count or you don't have to win to advance. If you are in a tournament and you are 4.0 then you are going to beat the 3.5 regardless of your serve. So you win the first or 2nd round. Eventually you will meet another 4.0 who can attack weak serves and can hold his serve most of the time and doesn't have a weak / inconsisten / attackable 2nd serve.

    Most games in tennis are won by the person serving. It's the only shot they can take their time and place it where they want to and it's the most powerful shot. The main methodology to getting a point in tennis is to gain the advantage.

    You can't protect a 2nd serve by getting your first serve in because then your first serve isn't a first serve anymore. It becomes 'the serve you hit before the second serve'. You'll be spinning it in and hoping you don't miss. An opponent will pick this up during the first game. Bye bye advantage.

    Andy's 2nd serve isn't the best but it's still much much better than any person's on this forum. He won't lose by double faulting. His second serve isn't inconsistent or easily attackable. His 2nd serve percentage is still high. His 2nd serve is reliable enough so that he can go full out on his 1st serve and not worry about having to cough up a weak 2nd if he faults on the 1st. He's not thinking "don't double fault!" when he's hitting his 2nd.

    With a weak 2nd you are thinking 'pls don't double fault!' and the opponent is thinking 'yes! here comes another shot i can tee off on'.
     
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  17. TomT

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    Anyone can do it. The question is, does it make sense to do it. For some players it does. For example, statistics indicate that Isner would win more points if he hit two first serves instead of hitting his less powerful second serve after missing his first. At least that's what the numerical analysis of his game indicates. Of course, one wouldn't expect him to pay attention to that ... pro tennis players being a generally nonscientific and superstitious lot. :)

    How do you know? Have you tried it? Have you compiled sufficient data to back that claim. For example, the statistical data indicates that Isner would win more points if he served full out on both his first and second serves.

    Of course, whether or not this would work for anyone else depends on their first serve percentage and the percentage of points won on the first serve vs their second serve percentage and the percentage of points won on the second serve. Some people might as well just serve two second serves. But some people would win more points by serving two first serves.

    It was more or less like a B club player's serve. Maybe not even as good as that. It barely got him into most points. But he played world class tennis for about a quarter of a century and won 23 pro slam and grand slam titles (more than Laver or Gonzalez or Federer, etc.) and was a professional top 10 player into his 40's.

    I agree. Thus rendering the traditional quote more or less meaningless.
     
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  18. TomT

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    Sure there is. Against stronger players I usually hit full out flat on both the first and second serve. The only thing that's varied is the placement. I'm convinced that, at least for me, it's more effective than hitting a much slower spin second serve.
     
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  19. Cheetah

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    tennis players are generally nonscientific. however they are supported by a team that takes a more scientific view. If isner or roddick had a weak 2nd serve do you think they would hit 2 first serves? Do you think their first serve would be as effective? i say no. Also if this was the case then every single pro would always go for 2 first serves because they all have a 1st serve percentage over 50. Yet, nobody ever hits 2 first serves. If it were statistically advantageous for isner to do so then he would be doing it. Yet he never does it.

    Show me one video of a pro match on youtube where the server went for 2 first serves. I say it would take you days before you can find one.
    These guys are pros. They know much more about tennis than we do. If it were even slightly advantageous to hit 2 first serves they would doing it. Nobody does it. There must be a reason.

    Rosewall's serve was soft. That doesn't mean his 2nd serve was 'weak'. We are not talking power here. We are talking consistency and placement which I'm sure rosewall's was at a high level.
     
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  20. TRVX1912

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    Slower is relative your arm speed should not be slower for a second serve. And if you are saying you hit two flat serves that means you have no second serve. Hitting two flat serves leads to more double faults so you are giving away points.
     
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  21. TomT

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    The stats say that it would be advantageous for Isner to do it. The stats say that many pros should do it.

    Like I said, pro tennis players aren't a particularly educated or scientific lot. But they are quite superstitious in general and fond of tradition.

    His serve was weak. Like club player level. But the rest of his game, his movement, his quickness, his thinking, his strokes, enabled him to handle pretty much anybody he faced.
     
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  22. TomT

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    If you impart enough spin to ensure that the ball will go in, then it follows that the ball speed will be significantly slower, giving the opponent more time, and time is, as they say, of the essence.

    I don't have a good enough slice or kick serve that it poses any particular problems for stronger opponents. However, my hardest hit flat serves take away enough time, and bounce low enough that they do pose problems for stronger opponents. And I've found that if I hit out on both serves, ie., hard hit flat low skidding serves, and I'm placing the ball well, then I win more points than if I go the traditional route of hitting some sort of spin serve on the second serve.
     
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  23. Cheetah

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    Those stats are meaningless which are why there are no pros serving 2 first serves. Once you miss a first serve the whole mentality of the next stroke changes. If you miss a second serve you've just gifted the opponent a free point. You have to get it in. This is not factored into or reflected by stats.

    So what you are saying is that atp players and pros since the 1800's are apparently unaware of this stat that says they should go for 2 first serves despite all the advances in technology and scientific approach to training and strokes and attention to technique and strategy and equipment and ped's etc etc in order to gain even the teeniest little bit of advantage in competition are ignored because all the players are superstitious and fond of tradition?
     
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  24. Cheetah

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    We are not talking power. From I just gathered on a quick search Rosewall's serve was very accurate and consistent.
     
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  25. bhupaes

    bhupaes Professional

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    Well, it's easy enough to do a mathematical analysis. Let p be the probability of getting a first serve in. If two first serves are used, then the probability of getting one serve in would be p + (1-p)*p. If one is getting 70% of first serves in, then using two first serves, the probability of getting a serve in would be 0.7 + 0.3*0.7, which would be 0.91 - that is to say, one out of ten serves would be a double fault, on the average. This may be acceptable at the rec level, but I am not sure if pros can accept this. If the probability of getting a first serve in is 0.5, then the probability of not double faulting would be 0.75, which means one out of four serves would be a double fault - definitely unacceptable at any level.

    So if you are having a good serving day, getting at least seven out of ten first serves in, it would make sense to hit two first serves. Otherwise (especially at the pro level) it would be better to hit a second serve if the first one is a fault.
     
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  26. Cheetah

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    Nice analysis. good job.

    But it still doesn't translate into the real world. The mental approach to a first serve is different than a second serve. Let's say some pro decides to experiment during the first set with the 2 first serves approach. He misses a first serve eventually and attempts another 1st for his second. Let's say he misses that one for a double fault. How many more double faults would it take for a pro to give up on the experiment? 1 more? 2 more max?
    Let's say the pro is having an 80% 1st serve day. Do you really think they are going to go for a first serve on the second serve at 6-7, 5-6 at love 30?
     
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  27. TomT

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    Well, if nobody applies them, then, yeah, they're pretty much meaningless. Stats can lie. They can be misinterpreted. But in this case the stats clearly indicate that certain players would do well to at least try the strategy of always serving first serves. Not all players, but some players. Like Isner, for example.

    Some of them are aware that the stats indicate that they should be giving this a try. They just say that they don't want to do it because they want to be sure to get the second serve in. They don't understand that that argument has nothing to do with the argument for always using first serves.

    But that's just it. You don't have to get it in. The numbers say that Isner, for example, would win more points if he always served first serves.

    Not exactly. This is a fairly recent discovery as far as I know. I'm saying that the refusal of players to try what the stats indicate would improve their results is a function of their ignorance, and that that ignorance results in a predilection for choices based on faith in traditional explanations and superstition. (I'm just using the word superstition here to refer to a belief that isn't based on the best available evidence.)

    The best available evidence suggests that lots of other players would win more points if they always served their first serves. But they'd rather minimize their risk of double faulting, even though that entails that they're much more likely to lose the second serve point.
     
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  28. TomT

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    Don't you need to consider your percentage of successful first serves, your winning percentage on successful first serves, your percentage of successful second serves, and your winning percentage on successful second serves to decide if it might be beneficial to hit two first serves ... or not?

    Hitting two first serves isn't a good strategy for all players, but for some players it is.
     
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  29. ZMaster

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    Back in the day a tall thin friend of mine who I mentioned in another thread had the fastest first serve I ever faced, I should also say heaviest as well, he also hit the best second serve I ever faced. It was a fast high bounding kick serve which he could make jump left or right. Here was a young kid 16 years old with a wood racket who owned a serve that was as good as or better than a lot of the pros on tour at the time. The rest of his game was decent but could not compare to his serve. He was very hard to break, but at the same time he did not have a good return game so he could be beat. Once he improved his volley and overhead it was even harder to beat him, as you had so much pressure on you to hold your own serve. I would say he averaged two or three aces or service winners per service game. Now picture a pro with the best first and second serve ever, along with a pro level rest of the game, as in Sampras. Most pros will play the percentage and hit the heavy kicker as a second serve, it is very reliable and they seldom double fault. Sampras took this same pro heavy kicker second serve and added more mph and pinpoint corner placement, yes he added more risk at doublefaulting but it was the gamble he made and he did not do it all the time, percentage tennis, but he seemed to be able to do it at will on the biggest points of the match. This is why many consider Sampras the best server ever, I can not speak about older legends of the game as I have only seen brief clips of them. It did not concern him at all when he could not break his opponent, he had such extreme confidence in his serve, he just knew his serve would carry him to victory in a tiebreaker. If a pro has a weak second serve the other pros will eat you alive on your service games, if you have a strong second serve you will hold more service games and in the end win more matches, therefore you are only as good as your second serve. It rings true as the serve is the only shot where you are in control or not at the start of a point.
     
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  30. bhupaes

    bhupaes Professional

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    You are right, there is a mental aspect that I completely ignored, which is a huge factor. As you said earlier, there is reason pros have a second serve that's distinct from the first serve!
     
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  31. bhupaes

    bhupaes Professional

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    It's not hard to incorporate the probabilities of winning first and second serves, but I was trying to justify having a second serve simply on the basis of the probability of double faulting. I am sure there are cases where a player's second serve is inferior enough that two first serves may work better statistically - but I doubt that this would be the case at the pro level.
     
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  32. rkelley

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    Interesting thread.

    From personal experience, back in the day (like 25 years ago) when I was playing C level tournaments and players (3.5 or so I think) one of the big advantages I had over my peers is that I had a good second serve. I had a good first serve for my level too, but on my second I was not afraid to swing full speed and put topspin on the ball. A lot of the people I played couldn't or wouldn't do that. I got weak returns from my second serve, and no one ever crushed it.

    On the pro level these players have to take smart chances. They can't play it safe all of the time and win. When I've done the math on first serve percentage, winning percentage on first serve, double faults, and winning percentage on second serve, for most pros it doesn't make sense to hit two first serves. Roddick is different though. He had both a crazy high first serve percentage and winning percentage on first serve. He was incredible in that aspect. Against the very top guys, where the rest of Roddick's game, IMO, just wasn't quite up to the same level, I think he really should have considered going for a flatish, hard first serve like shot on second serves. Maybe not all the time, but for Roddick I think it would have been a smart gamble. I think against a guy like Federer it would have given him an important edge. Agassi was right on when he said at the 07 USO QF that Roddick needed to drop 35 aces against Federer to have a hope of coming out on top. To get to that total in a 5 set match some of those needed to be second serve aces I think. Letting Federer get into the point, at all, put Roddick at a disadvantage.

    Other players, like a Connors or a Nadal, that aren't quite so dependent on their serve, have a different calculus. So it depends on a lot of things, but I think there are times when it could make sense to go for two first serves.

    Sampras, as an example, hit some incredible second serves to get out of jams at times. I don't know if he used his first serve motion, but he definitely was hitting hard and taking some chances. Sampras had a more complete game than Roddick. If Sampras took chances on his second serves at times, other players with effective, consistent first serves might consider doing it too.
     
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  33. Cheetah

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    No. The stats do not say this at all. What the stats say only is that isner has a first serve percentage of xx%. That's all. They do not say or suggest he would do well serving 2 first serves. That's your interpretation. A second serve is a totally different situation than a second serve. The responsibilty of the 1st serve is completely different than that of the second serve.
    Stats don't lie. It's only the interpretation of the stats that lie or are misleading.

    Isner probably has the best second serve in the game right now which is one reason his first serve is so good and this also backs up my earlier statement that if you have a good second then you can go all out and / or have a better first.

    The stats don't indicate this. That is your interpretation only. They don't want to do it because they have a different interpretation of the numbers than you do. I think they understand the situation completely. This is why NONE of them serve two first serves EVER. (minus some extremely rare occastions i suppose and Becker).

    Again, the numbers don't say this.

    I don't think the best players on the planet making a huge amount of money playing on tour, making $$$ with corporate sponsorship which is dependent on their winning %, receiving world class training and instruction since childhood, access to the latest technology and data, focusing their entire lives on tennis on and off the court, discussing / thinking / analyzing tennis and their competitors every day of their lives, constantly trying to improve and looking for any edge possible, and access to sports psychologists are ignorant of service stat numbers and what they mean.

    There is no evidence at all. Have you seen any studies conducted on any players at any level playing matches serving two first serves? There aren't any. There is just data on first serve percentage. That is not 'evidence' of saying 2 first serves would win more points.

    That's like saying "The stats show that Federer hits a winner on 60% of his winner attempts. That means the stats indicate that if he attempts to hit a winner on every single shot then he would win more points. He's either ignorant to these stats or he chooses not to attempt winners on every shot because of superstition or ignorance of his winner %' despite that fact that the 'evidence' says he should'.
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2012
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  34. mtommer

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    The top juniors playing for a chance to play in the US Open say it best I think: "Man, at this level you've GOT to be able to hold serve." The better you get the less you can give opponents free points. If one's athleticism etc. can keep one in a game while having a weak second serve what happens then when those qualities start to go down with "age"? I don't think it's coincidental that players like Federer or Sampras were able to succeed so well while having arguably some of the best second serves in the game in terms of effectiveness.
     
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  35. dominikk1985

    dominikk1985 Legend

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    It depends. If you serve 80% first serves a weak second won't hurt much.

    but if you only serve 50% you will get broken a lot of times if your second serve sucks.
     
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  36. Raul_SJ

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    If the strategy is to hit first serves on both serves, the winning percentage would be the same on the second serve.

    Considering a player with an 80% first serve percentage that wins 70% of the points on his first serve. If he were to employ the same same serve for his second serve, he should also expect to win 70% of points on the second serve.

    Out of 100 points:

    Lose 4 points due to double fault. (probability of missing first and second serve = 0.2 X 0.2 = .04).

    Win 67 points. (70% of the points from successful serves).

    Lose 29 points.
     
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  37. dominikk1985

    dominikk1985 Legend

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    Goran often went for the ace with the second. sometimes he produced like 3 DFs in a game with that but he also hit a lot of aces.
     
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  38. boramiNYC

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    the two serve system dictates first serve more aggressive and risky while second one conservative error free. the saying only applies to players who can hit both of these serves. so for rec players it might not be as true. but for juniors and pros trying to compete that's the best rule for the win and the second serve winning percentage closely correlates with match winning percentage most of the times so it's more true in those cases.
     
    #38
  39. TRVX1912

    TRVX1912 New User

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    Sampras and Roddick still put spin on there second serves even though they can hit it 120.
     
    #39
  40. 2ndServe

    2ndServe Professional

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    it obviously depends on level. At 3.0 it doesn't matter much as long as you aren't hitting double faults. 3.0 won't punish you enough on a 2nd serve or often enough. 4.0 still lets you get away with it, 4.5 maybe a little less.

    I buy into this saying. And a lot of great players from the best of the best have said it. At one point I thought I had an pretty decent 2nd serve. Then I played one of the top kids in the nation that eventually won a D1 national championship. Got hosed like 6-1 6-1 and only cause he was probably bored.

    At the upper levels it will hold you back big time. It's not so much about hitting a good spinning kick serve with lots of spin and kick most guys at 4.5 to 5.5 hit this on the 2nd ball. The better players punish this because it does not penetrate the court.
     
    #40
  41. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

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    I don't agree with this quote at all as it conveys no information.

    A person with a good second serve also has a good first serve.

    And frankly, any player who has a good first serve also has a good second serve. The only exceptions are those with hard flat first serves with no margin who dink their second serve, and such people are gone by the 4.5 level.
     
    #41
  42. mikeler

    mikeler Moderator

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    Nope, there are still 4.5s with big first serves and dink second serves.
     
    #42
  43. Raul_SJ

    Raul_SJ Hall of Fame

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    As a previous post noted, there is a close correlation between second serve winning percentage and the ultimate match outcome.

    If that is indeed the case, the statement "You are only as good as your second serve" holds true.
     
    #43
  44. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

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    It is unlikely that the probability of getting the second serve in (as a first serve) is still p, because of the psychological pressure of failure.
     
    #44
  45. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

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    It may be true, but it seems to be useless as a piece of information, due to the reasons I mentioned. It is like saying that a player with a good forehand, a good backhand, and a great serve is likely to win.
     
    #45
  46. sureshs

    sureshs Bionic Poster

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    Such people should be locked up. How are they roaming free in society?
     
    #46
  47. mikeler

    mikeler Moderator

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    One is a teaching pro no less.
     
    #47
  48. rkelley

    rkelley Hall of Fame

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    They put spin on their first serves.
     
    #48
  49. Avles

    Avles Hall of Fame

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    Seems like evidence that the quote isn't really true...
     
    #49
  50. mikeler

    mikeler Moderator

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    Double post.
     
    #50

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