I’m hoping I’ve not been either, too clever or too old, with my title.
I am a geek. I say that as it has taken me decades to embrace this side of me and I would say it is only in recent years I am now openly proud to say I am this way.
When I was a young tennis player I would study tennis magazines cover to cover. I could have told you compositions and stringing patterns of almost every tennis racket on the market. I loved the history of the game and the statistics that went along with that.
However, it took me a few years for this side of me to come out in me as a tennis coach. I can’t quite put my finger on why. Perhaps it was the fact nobody else seemed to be into it or I became consumed with other things such as the art of coaching. However, around 1996 that all changed. Scotland had a new national coach and she introduced me to the art of charting.
Judy Murray was the first tennis coach I’d ever heard express real ambition for our nations tennis players. I clearly remember being swept away with this idea that Scotland could develop world class tennis players and I was desperate to be involved. Judy was kind enough to bring me on board and one of her first influences on me was in the art form of charting matches. The teenage geek was released again….
I consider myself a never ending student of the game, and when it comes to developing tennis players, I believe understanding statistics is incredibly important. This blog has been sparked from me reading a critique of a 16 year old tennis player this morning. It went something like this.
XXXXX managed to get 67% of their first serves in and win 71% of the points on 1st serve. However, he needs to work on his 2nd serve as he only won 50% of the points on 2nd serve. He also needs to work on 1st serve return as he only won 35% of the points when returning 1st serve. He broke serve 4 times but had 9 chances to break.
I had to give this coach feedback so I thought I would use some stats from Roger Federer.
You will see from the picture, the best male tennis player who has ever played the game has won 56.7% of 2nd serve points. However he’s won 77.2% of all his 1st serve points bringing an average of 69.4% of all service points. However he has won 88.7% of all his service games in the last 20 years.
What may be surprising to read is in all of the 1st serve return points Federer has played, he has won what some would consider only 32.5% of the points with only 51.1% on 2nd serve. In total, over 20 years, the best tennis male tennis player to have ever played the game has won 41.2% of all the return points he has ever contested.
What does this mean? As with everything, it is how you perceive stats that matters. First thought that comes to me is the acceptance when returning serve. I see so many players becoming extremely agitated when they are unable to return serves or win points against serve. Understanding the best male player who has ever played loses more return points than he wins could help improve the mindset of young competitors. With this changed mindset they may have a more calm mind which may help them convert the break points when they occur.
You may be wondering what the stats are of a slightly lesser player so here are Viktor Troicki who is sitting at 87 in the rankings but has been a pro for 15 years and in the top 100 for many years now.
Viktor has won 72.5% of all his 1st serve points and 47.3% of his 2nd serve points. This reduces the overall serve points won to 62.6% but he is still winning 76.8% of all his service games.
You will see Viktor is winning 30.5% of points on 1st serve return and then 49.3% on 2nd serve return. This reduces the overall return points won to 37.9%. This is a massive 2% difference with Roger.
Let’s have a look at the total points won for a second.
Roger has won 54.2% of all the points he has ever played
Viktor has won 50.2% of all his points.
Of course, Roger has contested more, 1401 matches versus Viktor’s 547. This makes Roger’s stats even more amazing. His norms are incredible! Think about that statement for second.
The stat that is most astonishing is percentage of matches won, Roger is on 82% with Viktor being on 52%.
At the end of the day it is what Roger does that makes him the champion he is.
I wanted to compare Roger with Serena but to my astonishment I could not find the same level of career stats for the women as I can for the men. I could only get year to date stats for the women so I have posted the 10 women YTD stats below.
You will see the women are getting between the high 50% – 60% of 1st serves in with percentage of points won as high as 72.2% points.
You will see that 2nd serve return points won vary between 45.1% and 53.2%.
The serve stats are slightly lower than their male counterparts but not as many would guess if asked.
There was a philosophical reason I wanted to bring these stats to your attention and it was around the transition from junior to senior tennis. The reality is a dominant world class junior will most likely have huge win/loss records. The current world no.1’s are both from the USA.
Sebastian Korda (year to date) – won 52 matches – lost 14
Whitney Osuigwe – won 74 matches – lost 13
Dominant juniors in every country will have these crazy good win/loss ratios but will still have very close statistics to their peers. Without correct perspective on process/performance there is a danger they will lose confidence when their win/loss ratios drastically drop on the senior tour. I’ve seen it so many times. Great junior can’t make the transition and when you see their games after several years of trying they are essentially the same.
The constant student in me cannot accept that someone does something full-time and doesn’t get better.
So, when I reflect on this, I believe it is massively important we chart these statistics so players understand what makes up a match and where the small but consistent gains can be made in their development. When they start to venture into senior tennis (at all levels) they will be better equipped to focus on the process that leads to performance.
Tennis is brutal in some senses but ultimately it is a very forgiving sport. You can win less points than the opponent and still win the match. We have an opportunity to educate our players on this side of the game.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. How do you use statistics and how do you collect them?
I learned to chart from a master and for that I will always be grateful.