First published 9/27/05
Every sport makes use of statistics in order to analyze the result of a match or game. In baseball we have ERA’s (Earned Run Averages), RBI’s (Runs Batted In), No Hitter’s (zero runs batted off the pitchers game). In Football a statistic sheet notes First Downs, Rushes-yards, Passing, Sacked Yards Lost, Fumbles Lost, Penalties-yards and so on. Individual leaders are noted for Rushing, Passing, Receiving and, alas, Field Goal Missed.
Tennis has its own set of statistics. In the broader sense, while we know that Roger Federer is a uniquely talented player his record of wins in Finals – 23-0 – instills dread into any player who might meet him in a final. However when we look at the Box score of one of Federer’s matches we can see just how it is he dominates his opponents.
Let’s look at the statistics of the Federer-Agassi final at the U.S. Open just passed.
Federer, seeded 1 beat Agassi, seeded 7, in four sets, 6-3,2-6,7-6(1),6-1. One fact the statistics don’t tell us that Federer is hitting his stride while Agassi is in the twilight of his career. As such Agassi pulled off a supreme effort for 3 of those four sets. However the statistics show us some key areas that Agassi lost too much ground to Federer.
The first statistic listed in the box score is 1st Serve Percentage. Federer scored 76% compared to 60% for Agassi. This indicates three things. Federer was able to put more pressure on Agassi than Agassi on Federer, Federer probably won his service games more easily than Agassi and Federer’s serve was more effective than Agassi’s. Along with that high percentage Federer served 19 aces, Agassi 6, and while Federer didn’t double fault at all Agassi double faulted 4 times. Neither of these players are known for their “big” serves, so Federer must have utilized a variety of spins and pin point placement to dominate the #1 returner in the game. In junior tennis, along with unforced errors, this is the least understood area of strategy. It is the foundation of strategy. Bear in mind that the best of players have a very reliable and effective second serve.
The next set of statistics that is interesting to us are the winners and unforced errors numbers. Including service, Federer had 69 winners, 37 unforced errors. Agassi’s numbers were 34-28. Although Federer’s unforced errors number was high his winners number was almost double. Agassi’s margin was much lower. So, although Federer made many mistakes, he made far more winning shots. Can you say the same? For any one other than Federer the unforced error stat needs to be lowered and the winner stat increased. Do you have any idea what your stat for a given match is?
The final statistic we want to look at is Total Points Won – 132 to 106, indicating this was not as close a match as it looked. It also gives me food for thought. 238 points over the entire match averages out to 59 points per set, only 30 or so points needed to win a set. How many of the 59 points can you afford to be unforced errors, double faults or break points lost. Looking at statistics this way adds much more immediacy to the game. Unless your win-loss stat is very, very good, each and every point needs to be constructed with more foresight, more deliberateness and accuracy.
Keeping statistics, even if only in practice, will help you be more aware of where and why you are losing matches, or in which areas you can improve. Keeping tabs on unforced errors or first serve faults is as easy as placing a ball in the mesh of the tennis court fence to represent each error, separated by a space per game. Refine your knowledge base by noting whether the error was off a forehand or backhand. Maybe you want to note if your “points at net” are winning more often than losing. Roger Federer is the sport’s ultimate tennis player not only because of his playing talent but because he is the consummate master of the strategic and mental components of the game.