Coaches have for years drilled into budding tennis gamers and professionals that serving to the backhand offers a stronger likelihood of successful second-serve factors. Actually, it’s clear that this tactic is the norm on the ATP Tour. Fifty per cent of serves have been directed to the backhand nook and 35 per cent to the physique – primarily to the backhand aspect – leaving solely 15 per cent of serves delivered to the forehand.
The pondering is easy: Serving to the backhand offers a safer choice when sending down a slower supply on the second serve. Naturally, forehand returns are extra harmful, so a excessive ball to the backhand offers a greater likelihood of neutralising the opponent’s return, whereas lowering the chance of double faulting.

Animation 1: Serve Zone Trajectories on second serves to Deuce courtroom: Win % and In %
Nevertheless, the expansion of more and more subtle knowledge and evaluation of each motion within the sport of tennis undermines the logic behind this long-held perception.
ATP gamers win 51 per cent of factors when serving to the forehand nook versus simply 49 per cent when serving to the backhand nook.
In different phrases, primarily directing the second serve to the backhand of an ATP opponent usually reduces the possibilities of successful the purpose. This data is derived from detailed evaluation for almost 150 right-handed ATP gamers with no less than 1,000 second serves to right-handed opponents over a 10-year interval.
Desk 1: Excessive frequency and second-serve win per centage to forehand and backhand corners of 150 right-handed ATP gamers with no less than 1,000 second serves to right-handed opponents over a 10-year interval.
What’s extra, well-placed deuce-side second serves to the forehand nook generate 8.5 per cent extra factors gained than well-placed serves to the backhand nook of the identical service field. Maybe much more surprisingly, second serves to the forehand nook within the deuce courtroom result in eight per cent extra unreturned serves and lead servers to win 17 per cent extra deuce-side return factors in shorter rallies of 5 or fewer photographs.

Animation 2: Win % heatmap for placement of second serves to Deuce courtroom
All of this goes to spotlight the rising significance of accessing and understanding detailed knowledge evaluation on Tour to allow gamers to leverage each marginal acquire accessible to them. That is why Tennis Knowledge Improvements is dedicated to delivering detailed monitoring knowledge on each courtroom throughout the ATP Tour in 2023, to make clear the best techniques and techniques in tennis.
And what does all this imply in follow? Effectively, simply as we’ve got seen with the inexorable rise of three-pointers within the NBA pushed by crunching the information, so we’re seeing the second serve to the forehand rise, rising from 15 per cent in 2012 to 22 per cent in 2022 (a 47 per cent leap).
Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev are two gamers who’ve embraced knowledge evaluation and who typically serve to the forehand on their second serve on either side of the courtroom with success.
Nevertheless, different gamers have been slower to embrace the insights supplied by knowledge analytics and we see a quantity who hardly ever serve to the forehand. Not surprisingly, they’re lacking out on essential factors.
Grigor Dimitrov, for instance, could have gained a major variety of factors by serving to the forehand nook 25 per cent of the time as a substitute of 10 per cent. The 5 per cent differential gained on these second serves might have led to a number of further matches being gained in the middle of a season, such are the superb margins in our sport.
In actual phrases, the distinction in Pepperstone ATP Rankings factors and prize cash foregone by an over-reliance on serving to the backhand may very well be sizeable.
Desk 2: Low frequency and second-serve win share to forehand and backhand corners. Date set of 150 right-handed ATP gamers with no less than 1,000 second serves to right-handed opponents over a 10-year interval.
In fact, we must always not assume that pushing extra second serves to the forehand will mechanically enhance the win per centage on all of these factors. There may be undoubtedly a component of shock with serves to the forehand aspect at present that underpins its statistical benefit – constructed on the ingrained expectation of extra serves being delivered to the opposite nook. This raises the query of how way more ATP gamers ought to serve to the forehand on second serve? Most gamers would profit considerably in the event that they served to the forehand no less than 15-20 per cent greater than they at present do.
One purpose that second serves to the forehand have such a excessive win per centage is that they’re shocking to the returner. In fact, because the per centage of serves by a participant to the forehand will increase, the win per centage decreases. Our evaluation exhibits that rising the proportion of serves to the forehand doesn’t lower the per centage of factors gained by very a lot. And extra variation in second-serve location will ship a rise within the win per centage of serves that proceed to go to the backhand.
Given ever-improving racquets, string, and coaching applied sciences, which result in quicker and extra correct serves, we imagine the per centage of serves to the forehand on second serve will proceed to rise, with the expectation that someday we’ll see one thing nearer to parity between the 2 sides.
Till then, we’ll doubtless proceed to see an enlightened group of gamers and coaches reap the benefits of these marginal positive factors. In isolation, they might not appear to be a lot, however in a sport the place successful 51 per cent of the factors will typically win you the match, these superb margins may be what separates success from failure.
Editor’s Observe: That is the primary in a three-part sequence during which Golden Set Analytics and TDI are wanting on the rising prominence and significance of deeper tennis knowledge in serving to us all higher perceive the dynamics of the game, whether or not as gamers, coaches, followers or directors.

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