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What If John Isner Only Hit First Serves?

  • Posted: Jun 30, 2022

What If John Isner Only Hit First Serves?

Data scientist simulates 1 million service games to determine if going big on all second serves would be a winning tactic for the game’s greatest server.

Here’s a thought experiment: If John Isner hit ONLY first serves, would he win or lose more service games than his career average?

For clarity, the 37-year-old would still get two serves every point. But if he missed his first serve, he would hit another full-pace serve instead of a traditional second serve with more spin and less pace.

“I have a buddy who is super into analytics, and he is a really smart guy and he is a firm believer that is something I should do. Just going for two first serves,” said Isner, who on Friday is likely to set a new world record for most career aces, needing just five against Jannik Sinner in the Wimbledon third round to pass current leader Ivo Karlovic.

“There have been some situations where I have had the mindset of doing that, where my second serves have been massive. Less of a kick, more two first serves and it has served me well in the past. The key is to really, really commit to it.”

If only there were a way to stress test the idea. Enter Alex Michaels, a data scientist for TennisViz, the provider driving new statistical insights for Tennis Data Innovations, including new metrics such as Balance of Power, Conversion and Steal scores.

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Michaels wrote a program that extrapolated Isner’s Infosys ATP Stats career averages for first serve percentage (69.1%) and first-serve winning percentage (78.7%) over 1 million service games, randomising those percentages to simulate match play. The mission was to identify whether a strategy of hitting first serves only would result in Isner improving his mark of holding 91.8 per cent of service games.

“I wanted to simulate randomness of performance in a match,” Michaels said. “While John puts about two out of every three first serves into play, there will be times when he makes five in a row or 10 in a row, and times when he may miss five in a row.”

While hitting two first serves would be a massive tactical change, the data show that it would have a very minor impact. Michaels’ model reveals that Isner would win 91.4 per cent of service games, down marginally from his career average of 91.8 per cent.

“I thought it would be close to his normal rate or maybe even slightly better, given his first serve is so powerful,” Michaels said. “This of course doesn’t account for the mental side. You don’t know how someone will react to serving a lot of double faults and whether they can be immune to the pressure of hitting a big second serve at crucial moments.”

Isner also noted that real-world pressure may impact winning percentages. “What’s hard about it would be having the conviction to go for another massive serve at 6/5 in a tie-break after missing your first serve,” he said.

<a href=''>John Isner</a> 
Photo: Corinne Dubreuil

While Isner isn’t ready to go ‘all in’ with the radical tactic, he says that there are some situations in which hitting two first serves is the right play.

“If I am playing Djokovic, I sort of know I have to do that,” the father of three said. “If I am playing someone ranked much lower than Djokovic at 70 or 80, of course he is still an incredible player, but it might be a little harder mentally to get myself up for hitting two first serves.”

Although hitting two first serves results in little change for Isner’s rate of holding serve, data show that players with more modest first serves would see a significant decline in the percentage of service games held if they adopted the tactic.

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Michaels cited Frenchman Hugo Gaston as an example. The Frenchman puts about 60 per cent of first serves into play, wins about 65 per cent of first-serve points and holds about 73 per cent of service games. On Michaels’ modelling, Gaston would win just 62 per cent of service games if he hit two first serves.

Isner’s career 69.1 first-serve percentage tops the chart for all active players. He is fourth on the list of career first-serve points won (78.7%) behind leader Ivo Karlovic, Milos Raonic and Sam Querrey. He is second among active players for best percentage of service games held (91.8%), behind only Karlovic (92%)

The 6′ 10″ American is third on the list of second-serve points won (56.1%) behind only leader Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.


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Nadal Heaps Praise On Swiatek, Raducanu, Gauff At Wimbledon

  • Posted: Jun 30, 2022

Nadal Heaps Praise On Swiatek, Raducanu, Gauff At Wimbledon

Spaniard advanced to third round with four-set win over Berankis

Rafael Nadal spread the love after his second-round Wimbledon victory on Thursday, speaking at length about three of the WTA Tour’s biggest stars. In his post-match press conference, the Spaniard was asked about Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff — both of whom were also victorious on Day 4 — as well as reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu.

Nadal has been the subject of admiration from all corners of the tennis world, with many WTA players commending his legendary fighting spirit and his strong start to the 2022 season. World No. 1 Swiatek was on hand to see the Spaniard win the Australian Open final in January, and Nadal revealed he has been watching the Polish star throughout her 37-match win streak as well.

“I texted her a couple of times because it’s unbelievable the way that she’s playing,” Nadal said. “It’s unbelievable the way that she’s able to hold the concentration and the winning spirit for such a long time. I think it’s something very difficult to make that happen.”

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Swiatek has not lost a match since February, winning six titles on her winning streak. Nadal gave his opinion on why she has been so tough to beat.

“I think when she’s playing well, it’s very difficult to stop her because her shots are little bit different, with a lot of power. She’s able to move well. When she’s [playing] with confidence, I think she has shots that are very difficult to stop for the rest of the girls.

“I like her. I think she has a very positive attitude, fresh air for the world of tennis. Happy that a good girl like her is having a lot of success.”

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Raducanu returned to her home Grand Slam as a superstar after her shock US Open triumph last year, but has struggled to replicate that sort of form in 2022 and bowed out at SW19 in the second round. While Nadal stopped short of offering advice, he gave the 19-year-old a supreme vote of confidence.

“I was very impressed when I saw her winning the US Open,” he said. “I saw the final. The way that she played was unbelievable.

“It’s difficult to manage all this kind of success at a very early stage of your life. But I wish her all the very best. I think she is an important character for our sport.”

Echoing the Briton’s comments after her loss to Caroline Garcia, Nadal feels Raducanu’s US Open title could serve to take some pressure off in the bigger picture.

“I know she’s having a tough year, but on the other hand she already won a Slam at a very early stage of her career. That gives her, I think, calm to take her time to keep improving and to keep having chances in the near future. I really hope that she will.”

Nadal sees similar greatness in Coco Gauff, both on and off the court. He predicted the American to win multiple Grand Slams and was equally complimentary of her maturity off the court.

“I like her, the way that she talks to the crowd, to the press at the end of the matches,” he said. “She’s fresh. She’s natural. Looks very mature in her thoughts.

“I think she is a fighter. I like the way that she plays. She fight for every ball. Even sometimes when she’s not playing that well, she keeps fighting until the end, running for every ball.”

The 18-year-old reached the Roland Garros final this season, falling to Swiatek, and is now seeking her third straight fourth-round run at Wimbledon.

“I think, if she’s able just to improve a little bit with this physical performance that she has, probably we’ll talk about the player that she will be: [a] multi-Grand Slam winner.”

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Tsitsipas Sets Blockbuster Kyrgios Clash

  • Posted: Jun 30, 2022

Tsitsipas Sets Blockbuster Kyrgios Clash

Greek earns Tour-leading 42nd win of the season

Stefanos Tsitsipas set a blockbuster clash with Nick Kyrgios on Thursday when he cruised past Jordan Thompson 6-2, 6-3, 7-5 to reach the third round at Wimbledon for just the second time.

The Greek looked sharp throughout his two-hour and four-minute clash against Thompson on Court 1, opening his shoulders to dictate from the baseline. The fourth seed, who is making his fifth appearance at Wimbledon, struck 29 winners and broke the Australian six times to improve to 2-0 in their ATP Head2Head series.

“It was a great match today. I got the crowd involved and even though I am not a Brit, I really felt the love from the crowd and that pushed me,” Tsitsipas said in his on-court interview.

“Last year was a completely different story [compared] to this year,” he added. “I wasn’t really that involved with [my movement] behind the ball. It is great to see that evolution this year. I feel grass suites my game perfectly. I am happy when I see the level of tennis I played today. As long as everything works, I am happy to see where that will lead me.”

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Tsitsipas clinched his first grass-court title in Mallorca last week and has quickly found his feet in London following the short journey from Spain. His victory over Thompson means he now holds an 8-2 record on the surface this season, having won just eight tour-level matches on grass before 2022.

The World No. 5 has captured a Tour-leading 42 wins this season and will next play Australian Kyrgios after the six-time tour-level titlist downed Filip Krajinovic in straight sets. Kyrgios holds a 3-1 lead over Tsitsipas, having won their most recent match on grass in Halle earlier this month.

“I feel that there isn’t a single person here who doesn’t know Nick. We have played each other and had great matches against each other in many tour-level matches,” Tsitsipas said as he looked ahead to his clash against Kyrgios. “I have great respect for his game, that he can utilise his talents. Really fight when he really wants to. It is going to be a challenging one on grass. He is a big opponent on this surface.”

Under the roof on Court 1, Tsitsipas quickly gained control, demonstrating great footwork to dictate on his forehand. The Greek was strong off that wing throughout, while he showcased great touch at times up at net to outmanoeuvre Thompson. Following a commanding first two sets, Tsitsipas remained patient in the third set, gaining the decisive break in the 12th game to seal victory.

Tsitsipas’ best performance at Wimbledon came in 2018, when he reached the fourth round. The 23-year-old, who lost to Frances Tiafoe in the first round in 2021, is now 5-4 at SW19.

World No. 76 Thompson was aiming to advance to the third round for the second time, having reached that stage 12 months ago. Earlier this month, he captured the ATP Challenger Tour title in Surbiton, while he reached the championship match at Nottingham.

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