Tennis 2.0: When data serves Tennis

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The ATP released the statistics of the year. Let’s focus on serve data, an essential shot in modern tennis.

Service and return: the two essentials of modern tennis

Here are the players that hold their service games the most frequently:

  1. Ivo Karlovic >>> 93.3% of service games held
  2. John Isner >>> 92.9%
  3. Roger Federer >>> 91.2 %
  4. World Number 1 Rafael Nadal is 7th in this ranking with a 89.6% rate

Here are the ratios for returners:

  1. Diego Schwartzman >>>> 34.8% of break success on opponent’s service games
  2. Rafael Nadal avec 32.9%
  3. Andy Murray avec 32.2 %
  4. World Number 2 Roger Federer is 10th in this ranking with a 27.4% rate


Those statistics are really interesting, and tend to prove different things:

  • Players tend to have specialties in their game. The most obvious example is Ivo Karlovic, who is first at holding his serve (93.3%) but last at breaking (6.3%)
  • Number 1 and 2 Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are performing well in both aspects, showing that those two aspects are key to modern tennis performance.

Tell me how you serve, I’ll tell you what player you are

Let’s have a look at the zones played by the best players at serve

Serve direction : Federer's example


If their technique and the effects they give to the ball differ a lot from each to other, one thing is certain : they do all vary a lot the zones.

They actually mostly serve in angles, to take time to their opponent from this first shot

Federer, Service Maestro

Let’s have a closer look to Roger Federer’s stats

Roger Federer Service zones


We can see here that Roger Federer is able to find all the zones he wants, keeping the same ball toss, in order to not give a single clue to his opponent.

First Serve is key

Because you have two serves in tennis, the first one is key to give you a clear advantage for the rest of the point. Most of the time, players use this first serve as a risky shot to put the opponent at a disadvantage.
A good strategy, but only if you have a high % of 1st serve. Otherwise you put yourself in great danger.

Here are the First Service % of the greatest tennis players in History

% of first serve in the whole carrer


As you can see, none of them have served less than 55% of first serve in. And most of them are over 60%, which represents a good ratio for a risky shot !

Speed is not enough

Finally, let’s focus on service speed. You’ll find on this image the fastest ever serves for the Big Four players :

Fastest serves on Tennis World


The Big Four are clearly not the fastest servers in the world.

Most of the time, they actually serve 10% slower than the fastest ever on their first serve.
They know that speed is not the only key part to hold a service game.

Accuracy and consistency all match long are much more efficient !