Saturday, January 28, 2012

Doubles First Volley

I've been wondering about something for a couple of years.  I finally collected a decent amount of data on one match related to my wondering.

What percentage of points does the serving team win in doubles when the server plays the third shot?

I just charted the Bryan/Bryan vs Lindstedt/Tecau 2012 Australian Open men's doubles semi-final match won by the Bryans 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5).  The Bryans won the match 95 points to 94 points, so it was a very close, competitive match.

The serving Bryan brother played the third shot twenty-six times in the match (out of 99 service points - just over a quarter of their serving points).  The Bryans won ten of those points or roughly 38.5%.

When Tecau or Lindstedt served the server played the third shot twenty-one times (out of 97 service points - just over a fifth of their serving points).  Tecau and Lindstedt won eleven of those points or roughly 52.4%.

The cumulative totals for both teams for the match show that the server played the third shot in forty-seven of 189 points, almost exactly 25% of the points.  The serving team won twenty-one of those forty-seven points or roughly 44.7% of the points.

My assumption was that the serving team is at a disadvantage if the server plays the third ball.  In aggregate this was true.  It was true for the winning team, the Bryans, but not true for the losing team, Lindstedt and Tecau.

I guess my hypothesis needs more data than this one match.  It is interesting to me that first volleys (or half volleys or a couple of mid-court groundies) happen relatively infrequently, about a quarter of all points played.

I think it makes sense in doubles practice to prioritize 1) serves, 2) returns, 3) server's partner's first hit, and finally 4) first volleys.  I bet most players and coaches spend (waste) too much time on first volleys because they were a lot more common and important in the 1970s.

Incidentally I asked Dominic Inglot, ATP Tour doubles player, what he thought the winning percentage was for servers playing the first ball.  His answer was well over 50%.  He said great doubles players have awesome first volleys.  I'm sure they do.  I just don't think they're good enough to win with.  But to answer this question one way or the other, I'll have to chart more matches.

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