The Most Important Points in Grand Slam Singles Tennis

By O'Donoghue, Peter G. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, June 2001 | Go to article overview

The Most Important Points in Grand Slam Singles Tennis


O'Donoghue, Peter G., Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


A computerized data management system was used to enter details of points played in 252 tennis matches from the men's and women's singles events of all four Grand Slam tournaments over a 2-year period. A supplementary data analysis system was developed to determine the proportion of points won by each player on serve at each game score from love all to deuce as well as the proportion of games the player went on to win from each score. Analysis of the 43 matches in which both players served at each score from love all to deuce revealed that the proportion of points won by the server was not significantly influenced by score, F(15, 495) = 0.8, p [greater than] .05. A further analysis of the 175 matches consisting of at least 100 points revealed that the proportion of points won by the superior player was not significantly influenced by gender, F(1, 165) = 0.1, p [greater than] .05, or surface, F (3, 165) = 0.1, p [greater than] . 05. However, the proportion of points won when serving was significantly greater in men's singles than women's singles, F(1, 165) = 69. 7, p [less than] .001, [R.sup.2] = .30. Surface also had a significant influence on the proportion of points won when serving, F(3, 165) = 8.1, p [less than] .001, [R.sup.2] = .13, with a significantly greater proportion of points won when serving by both winning and losing players at Wimbledon than at the Australian and French Opens, p [less than] .05. This suggests that gender and surface should be accounted for when determining the importance of points in Grand Slam tennis.

Key words: score, strategy, gender, surface

Tennis is a game in which the outcome is decided when a player has reached a winning score rather than by using the score after a predetermined period of time. However, because of the grouping of points into games and sets within matches, it is possible for a player to win a tennis match with well under half of the points played. The current score during a game of tennis may influence player behavior, the strategy adopted, and, ultimately, player performance. Indeed, elite players and coaches have recommended score-specific strategies (Ashe, 1981; Hohm, 1987). There is also empirical evidence that players adopt different strategies when they are ahead, level, and behind on service breaks in both women's singles (O'Donoghue & Scully, 1998) and men's singles (Scully & O'Donoghue, 1999) at Grand Slam tournaments.

Both gender and surface have been found to influence the length of rallies at Wimbledon and at the French Open (O'Donoghue & Liddle, 1998a). In women's singles, more points are won on service and at the net at Wimbledon than at the French Open, while more points are won from the baseline at the French Open (O'Donoghue & Liddle, 1998b). These factors may lead to a variation in the proportion of points won by the server between men's and women's singles and between different court surfaces. All four Grand Slam tournaments are now played on different surfaces. The U.S. Open moved from the grass courts of Forrest Hills to the hard courts of Flushing Meadow in 1978. The Australian Open moved away from the grass surface of Kooyong to the synthetic grass surface of Melbourne Park in 1986. Wimbledon remains a grass court tournament, and the French Open is still played on the clay of Roland Garros. The court surface is associated with many other court characteristics, which have a confounding influence that cannot be controlled within the current investigation.

Mathematical models have been developed to determine the importance of each score, given the probability of the serving player winning a point [p.sub.S] (Croucher, 1986; Morris, 1977). Other mathematical models are used to evaluate the accuracy of different scoring systems. Pollard's (1983) model uses distinct probabilities for points won on serve by the winning player [p.sub.A] and the losing player [p.sub.B] Other models use a probability of a player winning a point [p. …

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