An excellent serve is a vital tool in any tennis player’s arsenal, but just how much impact does it have on the outcome of a match? Understanding the myths surrounding the serve – such as the importance of the second serve – is key for serious tennis bettors.
A player’s service is a key indicator of their chances of winning a match. Such is the importance of holding serve that set scores are often reported as one player being a “break up” or a “break down”, rather than the actual number of games won.
Myth: A Player is only as good as their Second Serve
One of the myths that surround the serve is that “a player is only as good as their second serve”. Legends of the sport – the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams – have notably reliable second serves, which may have started this myth.
However, upon investigating data from four Wimbledon competitions, researchers Jan Magnus and Franc Klaassen showed that the difference between “good” and “great” players was not their second serve performance at all, but their first serve ability.
Tennis Betting – Be Aware of the Second Serve Myth
Magnus and Klaassen divided players into two categories – seeds and non-seeds – and calculated what percentage of points the players won on each serve against players of a similar ability.
The result was that while both seeded and non-seeded players won 51% and 51.8% (respectively) of points on their second serve against equally talented opposition, seeds won 45.6% of points on their first serve compared, while non-seeds won just 43.1%.
This indicates that seeded players distinguish themselves from non-seeded players by having better first serves (resulting in 2.5% more points), but comparable second-serves (actually winning 0.8% fewer contested points on the second serve than the non-seeded). The same is true for the WTA.
Difference in First Serve for ATP & WTA
There’s a difference in how this phenomenon occurs between the ATP and WTA, however. In the ATP, the difference between seeded and non-seeded players is determined primarily by the percentage of points won if the first service is in – 77.7% over 72.4%. The percentage of first-serves in is very similar.
For the WTA, the difference is determined by the percentage of first services in (65.6% over 60.2%), whereas the percentage of points won if the first serve is in is similar.
Those interested in tennis betting should therefore put more emphasis on a player’s first serve, valuing changes in a player’s first service stats as more indicative of the outcome than the second serve.
For the men, it’s of great importance – particularly in a close match with live tennis betting – to pay attention to a player’s points won if the first service is in. In the WTA, however, the key indicator is the more obvious percentage of first serves in.
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