Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Percentage Tennis

Let's put some numbers to some categories of shots that players hit in tennis points. I'll divide shots into five categories:

1. Defense
2. Neutral / Rally
3. Forcing
4. Attacking
5. Finishing

I'm going to skip the first category, defense, for now. A defensive shot in this context is a ball that you hit when you're in deep trouble. These include defensive lobs, sliced forehands and backhands from off the court, returns of very good, well-directed first serves, etc. I don't think I can put a realistic percentage of these balls since so much depends upon the incoming shot.

So focusing on neutral, forcing, attacking and finishing shots, what percentage of these shots should a player make?

The most probable shots to make should be the neutral/rally shots and the finishing shots. Neutral balls are those that players hit when both players are in good court position, striking shots with the intent of keeping the opponent from hurting them. Missing more than one out of a hundred of these balls is unacceptable for good tennis players. So the neutral ball success rate must exceed 99%. Finishing shots are shots struck from a position in the court where it is very unlikely that the opponent will be able to get the ball back, almost exclusively high volleys and overhead smashes from the service line and in. I'm going to put a minimum success rate of 95% on these shots.  You can't win if you let your opponent escape certain death more than a few times out of one hundred.

In order to succeed in tennis, you simply must be able to make these neutral and finishing shots almost all the time.

Moving on to a forcing ball, the success probability necessarily drops. These are shots that are struck with the intent of gaining an advantage in a point. Players strike these balls with higher speed, lower trajectory and closer to the lines. Because of all these factors, players will miss these shots more often than neutral/rally balls which are not struck so hard, so low, nor so close to the lines. However, no player will be successful with a high error rate on these shots. Forcing shots must be consistently hit in the court or obviously no advantage will be gained. I think a 90-95% success rate is the goal on these shots.

Finally we have attacking shots. These are really the kill shots of modern tennis. They are usually struck from inside the baseline with the player's stronger side. These shots must hurt the opponent severely, if they are not outright winners. Often these shots are struck after strong first serves or after a series of forcing shots that leave the opponent off court after a weak reply. These shots will be missed more often than forcing shots, but not so often that a player throws away the advantage gained. The lowest I would accept for these shots would be 85%, but I think 90% is more like it. So, the range on these is 85-90%.

So, here are my summaries for percentage tennis:

Neutral/ Rally balls: 99%+
Forcing balls: 90-95%
Attacking balls: 85-90%
Finishing balls: 95%

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