On average, 70% of all points are finished within 4 shots on the professional tour.
In typical fashion, many coaches are jumping on the bandwagon and perceiving that we should be placing most of our focus on to the 1st 4 shots at all levels. In this blog, I will offer a different view to this stat.
First of all, I do believe more focus needs to be placed on the huge variety of what can happen in these 1st 4 shots but I refuse to accept that we should not look at the long-term skill (in rally and development) of a player. I will break this blog into 3 sections:
- Understanding 1st strike mentality
- Understanding the margins of winning and losing
- Understanding player development
1st strike mentality
This has become a buzz term in recent years. I get it but coaches need to be careful not to ‘over egg the pudding’
There is a growing perception that 70% points are won within 4 shots. The reality, 70% of points are finished within 4 shots. So, what’s the difference?
If a player is developed with the belief that they are trying to win the point within their 1st 2 shots then there is a danger they will try too hard within these 1st 2 shots. Trying too hard could manifest itself in several different ways, from muscle tension, impatient shot selection and anxiety when they don’t finish early.
The reality is, there are so many ways, and reasons, a point can be finished within the 1st 4 shots. A large percentage of them are not because either player has won the point. It could be due to one player giving the point away. These are just some of the variations which could occur early in a point.
- Serve winner
- Double fault
- Serve and sloppy missed return
- Serve – return – winner
- Serve – return – forcing the error
- Serve – return – ball 3 – sloppy mistake on ball 4
- Serve – return – ball 3 – winner on ball 4
- Serve – return – miss ball 3
- Serve – winning return
4 of these include the server winning the point, 2 of these the return player losing the point, 2 where the return player wins the point and 2 of where the server loses the point. That is 60% of the time the point being won and 40% being lost.
Now, of course, there is a genuine logic which states, if your player can come close to mastering the main variations that can happen within these 4 shots then they will be in a very strong position. This leads us nicely to understanding the margins of the match.
The difference between winning and losing is way less than 30%
In the 2019 Men’s Wimbledon Final, Roger Federer outscored Novak Djokovic in 10/12 key stats. The only stats that Novak outplayed Roger were, playing 10 less unforced errors (52-62)and he won more sets.
Federer won more points (218-204) yet he lost the match. I have not seen the stats on how many points out of the 422 were under 4 shots buts lets assume that it was 70%. That means that 127 points in that match went beyond 4 shots. In this match there was a 14 point deficit to the winner but in most cases the difference between wining and losing can be a 2-3 point swing. Are we really going to develop players to have the understanding that they must try and win the point within the 1st 4 shots when there are so many important points still being played beyond 4 shots. I believe we would be doing them a massive disservice.
Can you remember learning how to play tennis? Frustrating huh? I can clearly remember the feeling of trying to control this fuzzy little yellow bouncy sphere. It was like it had a life of its own. I still, to this day, refer to a racket as a trampoline on a stick. You can train a lifetime and I guarantee you one thing, you will be constantly learning how to control this tiny projectile. Just when you think you have mastered it, further demands are thrown your way.
It can take decades to learn how to master tennis to a professional level. The demands of the game are recognised by other sports experts as amongst the toughest of any sport. To cheapen it by saying, all you have to focus on is the 1st 4 shots, does our sport a massive disservice.
The most frustrating aspect of this statistic is the manipulation of the reality of coaching. Many coaches are making out that the vast majority of tennis coaches are allowing their players to have mindless and monotonous rallies as their main tennis development. Personally, I find this extremely disrespectful and, ironically, it is being said by coaches who have never developed, or worked with, any players of note. They have taken this statistic and butchered it. It is another example of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias. No matter what you say, they will turn it around to fit their agenda. In most cases, trying to produce another new ‘system’ to develop players.
I have news for these coaches, players will always lead the way when it comes to player development, not coaches.
To summarise, statistics are important but they do not tell the whole story. I agree, more time should be spent on serve and return and the impact they have in the point. However, there are still so many points in every match that go deeper than 4 shots. As coaches, we must develop a full range of skills to cope with the demands of the game.
I believe, in the near future, we will see a generation of smart and creative tennis players who play with the insane athleticism of the current players. Why? Players are smart. They know if they want to be the best they have to bring something different to the table. Different will not be hitting winners within the 1st 4 shots as a norm. Physics and geometry will not allow it.
Tennis is one of the most sophisticated games in sport. To master it, players must be incredibly skilful at solving problems. A huge percentage of these problems lie deep in the rallies and not just within the 1st 2 shots for each player. Equally as important, the fun of tennis often lies in these extended rallies. Of course, help your players win but help them understand and cope with the full demands of our amazing sport.
I am 46 years old and I still love the feeling of rallying. Surely, I am not alone in this….
I have taken the unusual steps of recording this blog as a very short podcast. The reason? I believe my tone will help you understand better how I feel about this topic. Give it a listen. Click on the link below.