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Tennis Wins Determined by Percentage of Return Points, Not Speed of Serve

Monday, July 15, 2013 8:08 am EDT
"Ideas taken from this article could help to improve tennis training programs, from high school teams to professional players."

Statistics from all four Grand Slam tournaments reveal that returning well is more important in a tennis match than serve speed. The research, published in Significance, the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society and the American Statistical Association, sought to discover if players with the fastest serves win, and if making too few unforced errors can inhibit winning.

A team led by Sarah Budrus from the Department of Statistics & Statistical Laboratory at Iowa State University reviewed tennis statistics for players in Grand Slam tournaments, which comprise the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. They investigated characteristics that make it more likely for players to reach the quarter-finals.

Results reveal an ideal range of player statistics such as the percentages of return points won, first and second serve points won, and number of unforced errors. Neither too high nor too low on most yields longevity in the tournament. As such, having the highest value of a statistic is not an indicator of winning.

“Players can see that their serve only has to be so fast and that they need to improve their return of serve rather than waste time and risk injury increasing speed or number of aces,” Budrus notes. “Ideas taken from this article could help to improve tennis training programs, from high school teams to professional players.”

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