Detailed statistics can tell you almost the entire story about a tennis match.
However they are very underused in tennis instruction.
Tennis generally requires lots of focused practice to become a great player but sometimes very simply ideas can get you to win more matches.
Today I want to share one statistic with you that is super easy to take advantage of and can make a significant difference for you!
This statistic has to do with serving …
When you win the toss in Tennis you get to choose whether or not you want to start the first set as the server or the receiver.
So Should You Choose To Serve Or Receive First ?
Researchers Jan R. Magnus and Frand J.G.M. Klaassen analyzed data from four years of matches at Wimbledon to come up with this conclusion: (see the link at the bottom for their research paper)
There is a clear advantage to serving first in the first set!
Here is the direct quote from their findings:
"The estimated probability of winning a service game if it is not in the first set is 80.1% in the men's singles and 62% in the women's singles. The probability of winning a service game in the first set (including the first two games), is significantly higher, namely 82.4% in the men's singles and 65.2% in the women's singles.
The reason why the probability in the first set is higher is entirely due to the effect of the first game in the match! The probability that the server wins the first game is 87.7% in the men's singles and 74.3% in the women's singles. It is only the very first game that is special!"
So it seems clear that serving first is the better strategy!
Why Is It Better To Serve First ?
There are different theories as to why the percentage in the first game of the first set is higher.
According to the authors of this research paper it is likely that the receiver is not under much pressure to break in the first game and therefore uses the game to try and identify the server's strategy and "get into the match".
Therefore receivers tend to give the first service game away too easily, which results in an advantage when you serve first.
In their studies they also found that the same is not true in the first service game of the second set or third set!
So at that point the probability of winning the first service game is not higher than the average probability of winning any of your service games!
Now of course we have to be careful with statistics …
These stats were taken at the pro level and we can not be entirely certain that things are the same at the recreational level.
However, I tend to believe in the theory that oftentimes in the first service game the receiver does not feel as much pressure to break. Therefore, I believe it is safe to assume that for most of you serving first is the better choice also!
On the pro tour serving is generally an advantage and that's why the receiver may be thinking: I don't really have to win this first game yet.
So to finish this thought I also want to mention this: If the serve is actually a real disadvantage at your level, meaning you win less than 50% of your service games on average, then i believe this effect could possibly be reversed …
So there may be a situation where the psychology in a match is more like: "Let's see who can first win a service game because the normal case is rather to get broken".
The big question in this kind of a situation would then be: Is the probability of getting broken in the first service game of the first set any different, meaning higher of lower, than in the rest of the service games.
Possibly the psychology even go like this … the server in the first game of the first set thinks: "I don't have to win a service game yet because we are just starting the match".
As a result the winning percentage for the server in the first game in the first set could be lower than the rest of the match and in that case it would be smarter to receive first. I do however expect this to be an exception!
Feel free to share your thoughts and comments with me below!