What would John Isner do if he ONLY returnaed first serves?
What would John Isner do if he ONLY returnaed first serves? Every tennis player has a strategy that they use in order to win. For many, this means going for their opponent’s weaker side and waiting for them to make a mistake. But what if John Isner only hit first serves?
For increased accuracy, the 37-year-old would hit two serves per point. If the first serve was missed, he would then hit a second serve that is full-paced with less spin than a traditional second serve. Isner said that his friend who is super into analytics says he should do this, he’s really smart and considers it to be worth it because it increases his accuracy and ability to have more first serves in a game. The 37-year-old needs just five more aces against Jannik Sinner in the Wimbledon third round to set the new world record for most career aces..
There are some instances where it is wise to play the second serve harder than usual. You want to exert more power on the 2nd serve, so that the ball doesn’t bounce as high and wastes less energy on a return shot. Data scientists for TennisViz have found new metrics for tennis, such as Balance of Power and Conversion, that can be useful when looking at a player’s service game.
Chris Michael wrote a program that extrapolated John Isner’s statistics to simulate over one million matches of tennis. The goal was to see if changing the pattern of hitting first serves would improve his success in holding onto service games.
John put two out of every three first serves into play, but will have moments where he makes five in a row or 10 in a row.
Data shows that a tactical change to first serve would have a very small impact on the outcome. While it would decrease his chance at winning service games by 2%, it would not change the outcome of a match with John Isner.
The pressure of serving more than once can affect the win percentage. André Agassi has said that this is true for him, and John Isner says that it would be difficult to have the conviction to go for a massive second serve in a tie-break after missing your first serve. It’s hard because you know you might lose those points, he said.
He said that when playing in high-stakes matches, it is much easier to get overexcited. When playing against players with rankings below Djokovic, however, it may be more difficult to get excited.
The rate of holding serve is unaffected by hitting two first serves, but players with low rates of first serve on their second serve would see a decline in their number of service games if they were to adopt the tactic. He illustrated this with the example of Frenchman Hugo Gaston. Despite having just under 60% accuracy on first serves and 65% success rate from those efforts, his strategy results in him holding 73% of his service games which decreases to 62% if he adopts the tactic to hit two first serves.
Isner maintains a high percentage of first serves (69.1%), which is the best of any active player. Isner’s second serve points won percentage (56.1%) is also the third-best of all active players.
It’s clear that, on average, John Isner would win more service games if he only hit first serves. However, there is a lot of variation in the results, and it’s possible that he could lose more service games than he currently does. Ultimately, it would be up to John Isner to decide whether or not this tactic would be worth trying.