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Dominic Thiem varies his serve placement more than others at love-all.

For Thiem & Federer, Variety Is The Spice Of Serving Success

Some players mix up their serving patterns a lot more than others at love-all

Disguise. Concealment. Battering ram.

Where you hit your first serve on the first point of your service game is not always your favourite spot, or the highest percentage location, or even to your opponent’s weaker side.

But sometimes it is, and that’s where the mental warfare rages between players at the beginning of a game.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of first serve location on the first point of a service game from the current Top 10 in the 2018 season reveals a variety of strategies to successfully navigate to 15/0. The data set comes from ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events this season coming into the Rolex Paris Masters.

The Secret Sauce Is In The Mix
Roger Federer is a master at alternating his serve patterns. This season, he has made 32 first serves down the T to begin his service games and 33 out wide. He has turned the first point into a clever guessing game, delivering an even mix of locations so that his opponents won’t be sitting on a specific spot.

Other players within a 10 percentage point range between T and wide include Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin Del Potro, Kevin Anderson and Dominic Thiem.

Current Top 10: 2018 Serve Locations at Love-all at Masters 1000 events.

Ranking

Player

T

Body

Wide

1

R. Nadal

58

17

12

2

N. Djokovic

53

8

62

3

R. Federer

32

3

33

4

J.M. Del Potro

52

7

43

5

A. Zverev

68

6

52

6

K. Anderson

94

6

83

7

M. Cilic

36

8

66

8

D. Thiem

39

2

46

9

J. Isner

31

8

44

10

G. Dimitrov

56

6

39

-

TOTAL

519

71

480

-

PERCENTAGE

48.5%

6.6%

44.9%

 

There Is A Distinct Preference
The next grouping of players has a greater than 10 percentage point difference between T and wide, showing an obvious preference to a specific location. For example, Alexander Zverev served down the T 54.0 per cent (68) of the time, out wide 41.3 percent (52), and at the body 4.7 per cent (6) of the time. Grigor Dimitrov also gravitated more down the T (56 T / 39 wide), while Marin Cilic and John Isner directed more first serves out wide at Love-all.

And In A Category Of His Own…
The only player left in the data set is World No. 1, Rafael Nadal, whose left-handed serve patterns look nothing like the rest of the group. Below is the breakdown of his first serve location at Love All.

  • T = 58 (67%)
  • Body = 17 (20%)
  • Wide = 12 (13%)
  • Total = 87

Nadal was the only player to serve more at the body than out wide, and he had by far the greatest disparity between T serves and wide serves (67% to 13%).

Nadal has won 65.5% (38/58) of his first serves down the T this season, which is almost identical to his win percentage out wide at 66.7% (8/12). His strategy is akin to a battering ram to his right-handed opponent’s backhand return, almost always delivering a Serve +1 forehand to begin the point for the Spaniard. It’s a lethal “1-2” punch that is almost impossible to break down.

Overall, there is no overarching game plan that the Top 10 all stick to with their first serve location on the first point of a game. They are either hitting it where they want, hitting it where the opponent does not expect it, or bombarding a specific location that they know is simply unbeatable.

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