Should We Say Goodbye to the Second Serve?

by: Jonathan Scott | April 13, 2014

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"Pete Sampras once said that a tennis player is only as good as his or her second serve and it is a claim that is backed up by statistics that are far too boring to reproduce here in their entirety."

Thank you, Guardian. You always bring the stately wit. That said, a new dispatch at that publication's site poses an intriguing query: What if the second serve were done away with in tennis?

Some of those 'yawn-inducing' stats are propped up by the following: Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Andy Murray were, in 2012—a year in which they each won a Grand Slam title—ranked eighth, 17th, 23rd, and 41st, respectively, in terms of landing first serves in the box during match play. (Numerically, Nadal: 67%, Djokovic: 64%, Federer: 63%, Murray: 60%.)

Those stats were food for thought, and similar data was needed for the WTA's top players. Luckily, Kevin Fischer, WTA director of communications and publications, readily supplied it. Victoria Azarenka's 2013 first-serve percentage was 67%, with Li Na at 63.6%, and Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams tied at 62.2%. Conversely, Sara Errani's 2014 first-serve percentage, to date? 79.7%.

This proves the point: Landing the first of two serve attempts in the court's diagonal box isn't all it's cracked up to be. After all, Errani has been past the quarterfinals of just one of nine events she has entered this season.

More enjoyable wording from Guardian, in this closing graf: "Despite assorted erudite opinions to the contrary, the argument for abolishing the second serve in tennis is fundamentally sound and remains compelling. The second serve rewards failure, wastes time and means we all have to spend far longer watching Rafael Nadal towelling his face, fiddling with his headband and pulling his shorts out from between his butt-cheeks than is necessary. The time has come to rid tennis of this superfluous second-serve menace. Alternatively, we could just keep it and eliminate the first serve instead."

Where do you stand, Spin readers? Should the second serve be dismissed entirely? Or, if not, what different change might radically but positively change the sport as it's played at the pro level?

Says here the ATP and WTA tours and Grand Slam events should adopt a play-the-let rule on serves. World TeamTennis does just that, and it would make everyone—competitors, line judges, chair umpires, and spectators in person and on TV—pay closer attention. It would enhance the drama of it all.

Got a thought, a tip, or a point to make? Hit me on Twitter at @jonscott9.

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