Monday, January 30, 2012

Server's Partner

How important is it for the server's partner to take the third shot in doubles?  In one match at the very highest level the answer is extremely.

I charted some aspects of the Bryan/Bryan def Lindstedt/Tecau 2012 Australian Open men's doubles semi-final match.  The Tennis Channel replay caught 182 of the 189 points played.  The Bryans won the match 7-5 in a third set breaker.  The match really was that close, with a winning margin of just one point, 95-94 for the Bryans.

Initially I wanted to know the winning percentage for the serving team when the server played the third shot.  Aggregating the data for both teams, the serving team won just under 45% of the points when the server played the third shot.

Next I looked at what percentage of third shots the server's partner played.  Both teams put 117 returns in play and the server's partner played 57 of those balls.  The serving team won 45 of those 57 points, or 79%.

Overall for the match, the serving team won 67% of the points.  Clearly the servers are at an advantage at this level of tennis.  However, if the returners can get their returns 1) in play, and 2) away from the net player, they swing the odds in their favor.  If the net man plays the ball, the serving team wins 79% of the points.  If the server plays the ball, the serving team wins 45%.  That's an enormous difference.

I've always preached "Get your returns in play and get them away from the net player if possible."  I finally have some pretty good data to back up that advice at the elite level.

Obviously I can't guarantee this analysis applies to any other levels of tennis.

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