Where should your primary first serve location be? Straight down the T, or out wide to initially pull your opponent off the court?
An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals clearly shows that players who won their matches at The O2 utilised the first serve out wide more than down the T in their quest for victory.
It begs the question: when players are behind in a match, does the scoreboard pressure them to go down the T more often to try and secure quick points to get back into the match?
Serving wide is a higher percentage serve than down the T, offering a bigger target area to aim at, but down the T is the quickest way home, and where more aces were hit in London. Out wide in the both the deuce and Ad court accounted for 69 aces, while straight down the T in both service boxes yielded 111 aces.
So if the T delivers instant results, why did the match winners opt for out wide so much? Because right around 70 per cent of all serves are returned back in play, and if you begin with the returner wide off the court, you initially enjoy more advantageous angles to exploit.
Grigor Dimitrov was the only player to win all his matches in London, and the location where he hit the most aces was deuce court out wide, with eight.
Dimitrov First Serve Ace Location
Overall, Dimitrov hit 55 per cent (127/230) of his first serves out wide in both the deuce court and Ad court for the tournament.
Roger Federer and David Goffin hit the most aces in London, with 35 each. Goffin, in particular, had a favourite serve location of down the T in the deuce court any time he was under pressure and needed the point. He switched out wide as a secondary option to surprise opponents.
Dominic Thiem led the field with first serve points won, at 81 per cent, but lost twice in Group Pete Sampras play to David Goffin and Grigor Dimitrov, while narrowly defeating Pablo Carreno Busta 6-4 in the third set.
First Serve Points Won
Dominic Thiem 81%
Roger Federer 80%
Grigor Dimitrov 75%
Marin Cilic 73%
David Goffin 73%
Alexander Zverev 73%
Jack Sock 69%
Rafael Nadal 65%
Pablo Carreno Busta 56%
Match winners at The O2 collected more first serve points out wide in the deuce court and Ad court than they did down the T. It’s a good lesson for players at all levels of the game.
Editor's Note: Serve direction metrics from the Goffin vs. Thiem Group Pete Sampras match were unavailable.