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Having refined his service motion in 2015, World No. 1 Andy Murray has consistently improved on first and second deliveries.

How Good Is Your Serve?

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers breaks down the stats behind first and second deliveries

Ever wondered just how effective a first serve is over a second serve?

The answer is right around 40 per cent better on average, and surprisingly, it has changed very little in the past quarter of a century in our sport.

A 26-season study of first-and-second serve-win percentages from 1991 to 2016 uncovered that time and technology have had very little influence on the performance of what is widely regarded as the most dominant shot in a match.

Tennis discussions often focus on how athletes are getting faster, racquets are getting more powerful, and strings let players manipulate the ball like it’s on a Yo-Yo. These factors all seem to be true on the surface, but somehow fail to significantly move the needle when you look at raw serve analytics.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the Top 50 performers in first and second serve points won every season from 1991 to 2016 uncovers an average 43 per cent improvement in first serve points won over second serve points won. Since 2000, the average has been slightly less at 41 per cent.

World No. 1 Andy Murray averaged winning 76 per cent of his first serve points in 2016, and 54 per cent on second serves. That created a 41 per cent advantage for his first-serve win percentage over his second serve - exactly the same as the larger 2016 sample size.

Top 50 Performers 1991-2016: 1st & 2nd Serve Wins Percentage / Percentage Improvement

Year 1st Serve Points Won 2nd Serve Points Won Percentage Improvement
2016 75% 53% 41%
2015 75% 53% 41%
2014 75% 53% 42%
2013 75% 53% 42%
2012 74% 53% 39%
2011 74% 53% 40%
2010 75% 53% 41%
2009 75% 53% 42%
2008 75% 53% 40%
2007 75% 53% 41%
2006 73% 53% 40%
2005 74% 53% 41%
2004 75% 53% 42%
2003 74% 53% 40%
2002 74% 52% 41%
2001 74% 52% 42%
2000 75% 52% 44%
1999 75% 51% 45%
1998 75% 51% 48%
1997 75% 50% 50%
1996 76% 51% 48%
1995 75% 51% 47%
1994 75% 51% 47%
1993 75% 51% 45%
1992 74% 52% 43%
1991 73% 52% 40%
Average 75% 52% 43%

Top 50 - 1st Serve Points Won Average (75%)
The ATP Stats LEADERBOARDS, powered by the Infosys Information Platform, show that the Top 50 performers in first-serve points won each season has hardly changed at all over the past 20 years, dating back to 1997. The average has either been 73 per cent, 74 per cent or 75 per cent. The highest season was 1996 at 76 per cent, which was the only time it reached that level since 1991.

Top 50 - 2nd Serve Points Won Average (52%)
There has also been remarkable consistency in average second-serve points won as well, producing an average of 52 per cent points won, while deviating just four data points from 50 per cent to 53 per cent. For the past 14 straight seasons, from 2003 to 2016, the points won average of the leading 50 players in this specific service category has been 53 per cent each year.

Top 50 - Percentage Difference (43%)
The average difference in points won of 43 per cent was bumped all the way up 50 per cent in 1997. The mid-1990s in general were the most dominant serving era in our sport, with players such as Pete Sampras, Richard Krajicek, Goran Ivanisevic, Greg Rusedski and Boris Becker leading the way.

At the recently completed 2017 Australian Open, players averaged making 61 per cent of their first serves for the tournament. Tennis in so many ways is a numbers game. Knowing how many first serves typically go in, what their return investment is, and the corresponding win percentage with second serves helps us better organise the sport in our minds. And also allows us to know exactly what to expect in a match.

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