Average rally length

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Post by summerblues on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 4:49 am

A few weeks back Born Slippy and I were discussing the length of an average point in tennis.  I expressed the view that – specifically at Wimbledon – the current average must be quite a bit longer than it used to be.  My hunch was that:
summerblues wrote:I strongly suspect that […] the average length of the rally went down from the 80s to 90s, and then increased to above where it started from.
I did not have any real data to support it though, so I decided to – time permitting – try to look at some older matches and collect some stats:
summerblues wrote:I have been planning to (though have not yet got around to it) pick a few matches from Wimbledon and check average length of a point in each.  I would pick a couple of matches that I remember enjoying very much (maybe Borg-McEnroe and Becker-Edberg), then maybe some that I considered having too short points (Sampras-Ivanisevic?, maybe some more?) and then something more recent (Djokovic-Nadal, Djokovic-Federer?)
Re-watching these matches in full proved too much, but I did manage to get some data.  For each of the matches, I looked at the first 50 points played in the match (disregarding any DFs).  In addition to the five matches I listed above, I included three more (all matches are Wimbledon finals):


  • Sampras-Agassi: to get an example of a “slower” 1990s match
  • Borg-Connors (’77): because BS cheekily suggested this as an example of a “typical 1980s” Wimbledon match (even though it is neither)
  • Laver-Newcombe: just for the old-times’ sake


Here is what I get:

YearWinnerLoser1-2 strokes3-5 strokes6+ strokesaverage strokes
1969LaverNewcombe143153.58
1977BorgConnors1019215.3
1980BorgMcEnroe193013.26
1988EdbergBecker232613.06
1998SamprasIvanisevic272212.66
1999SamprasAgassi232163.24
2011DjokovicNadal1713205.28
2015DjokovicFederer2116134.06

In the next two posts I summarize my conclusions.

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Post by summerblues on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 4:56 am

To me, the main conclusion is that this data does not say anything surprising – it essentially shows exactly what we see with the naked eye, and what I would have intuitively expected to find.  1990s matches of Sampras-Ivanisevic variety indeed had points much shorter than “traditional” 1980s Wimbledon did, and current Wimbledon indeed has points which are much longer than in the 1980s.

The number of longer points skyrocketed.  Even last year’s final where Federer played fairly aggressively, and where Djokovic was in general also viewed as playing somewhat aggressively, had points which were on average far longer than in any of the four 1980s-1990s matches I looked at.

1977 Connors-Borg final also had very long points, but it featured two baseliners which - in the 1970s and 1980s Wimbledon – was very much an exception rather than a rule.

So, all in all, the data provides just another illustration why those of us who liked having a mix of styles in the game are not happy with the current state – fast paced tennis is no more.

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Post by summerblues on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 5:01 am

At the same time, however, the data I think also shows why it is not so easy to reduce current tennis’ dependence on long rallies.   If we look at the two matches from 2000s, and compare them to the matches from the 1980s, we will see that:

  • the points are now much longer, but
  • the number of very short points (1-2 strokes) did not really decrease that much, and
  • it is mostly the medium-length 3-5 stroke points that are being replaced with longer 6+ stroke points.

Simply speeding up the surface would reduce the number of 6+ stroke points, but it would also likely increase the number of ultra-short 1-2 stroke points, thus giving us too many of the Sampras-Ivanisevic serve-fests.

In other words, with the current equipment we are stuck between a rock and a hard place  - we will either have to continue with the current rally-based tennis, or we can change to a serve-dominated one.  I find neither of these particularly palatable.

However, it does not mean that a solution does not exist – but we need to tinker with the allowable equipment parameters (balls, strings, racquets).  Which is what I would like tennis to do.

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Post by HM Murdock on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 9:30 am

Excellent work on the research. OK

If we wanted tennis with the most variety, what we'd look for is roughly the same amount in each column. The final that came closest to that is the most recent one - Djokovic v Federer 2015. In % terms, that was:

1-2 strokes: 42%
3-5 strokes: 32%
6+ strokes: 26%

So almost precisely one third of points were 3-5 strokes and the remaining points had a tilt toward shorter 1-2 stroke points. Sounds like a pretty good mix to me.

I think it's a bit of a stretch for you to say "fast paced tennis is no more", when 74% of points in the last final were 5 strokes or fewer.

You're also exaggerating when you say tennis now has a "dependence on long rallies" when the '6+ strokes' category was the smallest one in the last final.

So I think there's a degree of affirmation going on in your analysis.

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Post by summerblues on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 12:58 pm

HMM: Well no, I disagree. I don't want to get hung up on statements like "fast paced tennis is no more" too much. I suppose that is subjective enough.

The point I was making was that the average rally at Wimbledon is now longer than it used to be. Also, I think we can agree without more data digging that the 3-3.5 stroke average found at old Wimbledons will not be found in other big tournamwnts either.

That is what I mean when I say "fast paced tennis is no more". Maybe someone like you would say instead "super fast paced tennis is no more" and that is fair enough.

But we did lose what once a pretty critical facet of tennis to something slower, without replacement.

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Post by lydian on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 12:59 pm

Interesting topic...I'm sure I've stats for this elsewere too. Will have a look.
This is a complex topic as strings and racquets have changed the game since 2000. Back in the 90s you had S&V (3 strokes), now we see the more dominant S&P (serve and putaway, 3 strokes). So some things change, some things stay the same.
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Post by summerblues on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 1:29 pm

Yea Lydian, to some extent serve&putaway can replace S&V (though I personally much prefer the latter).

But my data would suggest that - at least so far - it has not really done so, or else the point length would not have increased materially.

Btw, it was actually quite interesting - and enjoyable - to watch a number of matches across different eras in a relatively short time span. I like to occasionally watch old tennis anyway, but as I was now keeping track of each point it forced me to really get absorbed in - and appreciate - the matches. The exercise was much more fun than I initially expected.

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Post by Born Slippy on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 2:28 pm

My reference to Borg v Connors was, of course, not a reference to a typical 80s match. My point was that two baseliners playing each other at or around that time would have very similar length rallies to Nadal v Novak. Similarly, I suspect two serve volleyers playing each other now would have very similar length rallies to Sampras v Ivanisevic. Court conditions haven't significantly changed.

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Post by HM Murdock on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 2:58 pm

summerblues wrote:The point I was making was that the average rally at Wimbledon is now longer than it used to be.  Also, I think we can agree without more data digging that the 3-3.5 stroke average found at old Wimbledons will not be found in other big tournamwnts either.
But as your research shows, the increase in the average does not reflect an absence of shorter rallies, merely a reduction.

As you highlighted, the number of 1-2 stoke points is currently pretty similar to what we had in the 80s. The change is that approximately half of the 3-5 strokes points have now become 6+ stroke points.

Whether this is good or bad is probably subjective, but I think only 1 point in 50 stretching beyond 5 strokes (as your numbers show for 80, 88 and 98) is too skewed. That some of these 3-5 stroke points extend to to 6+ strokes is an improvement.

One's view of this probably depends on how you want variety to manifest itself. Do you want tournaments that play completely differently to other tournaments but offer little variety among their own points? Or do you want tournaments that allow different types of point?

I must admit, I've always liked the idea of tournaments that have unique characters. Those numbers for the 2015 final are making me re-think though. For the experience of watching a match (as opposed to a season), I think it's probably preferable to have different types of rally within the same match.

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Post by summerblues on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 3:29 pm

HMM, I am not really trying to argue as to what is or is not preferable.  Obviously different people will have different preferences, and if someone prefers points which are 6+ strokes or longer, they may even feel today's tennis is still too "quick".  There is no right or wrong there.

My main purpose was to highlight that - for better or worse - tennis is now slower paced than it used to be.  I am not doing it to "prove" which version may be better or worse - though I am not hiding my personal preference either.  If I have any further "agenda", then perhaps I want people to appreciate where those of us who grew up liking 1980s tennis are coming from.  That we do not necessarily complain because we "hate this player or that one", or because "we cannot stand Federer losing", but that we have a legitimate claim in so far as saying that tennis has lost something it used to have (whether that is a good or bad thing is a different story).

To the extent we discuss preferences, as far as variety goes, I am sort of in-between.  I do not want surfaces to play as differently as they did in the 1990s where clay court tennis and grass court tennis became almost two separate sports, but I do not want them to fully converge either.

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Post by summerblues on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 3:47 pm

Born Slippy wrote:My reference to Borg v Connors was, of course, not a reference to a typical 80s match. My point was that two baseliners playing each other at or around that time would have very similar length rallies to Nadal v Novak.
This sounds tad disingenuous to me.

First, what would be the point of making such a point?  I have pretty much never heard anyone disagree with that anyway.  When people say today's tennis has rallies that are too long, I do not think they mean "today's baseline tennis has rallies that are longer than in old baseline tennis".  I think most people would grant you that baseline tennis itself probably does not have longer rallies than it used to have, but in the old days we had shorter-rally alternatives which we do not really have now.

Second, the way our initial discussion came about was like this:
summerblues wrote:I hope you are not suggesting that a typical Wimbledon match in the 80s had 13% points with 10+ strokes?  I do not mind matches like that at the French Open, but now we have them everywhere.
Born Slippy wrote:A typical match wouldn't but a match between Connors and Borg?

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Post by Henman Bill on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 4:00 pm

Slow down the service inside the service line and speed it up at the back. Why not?

Ivanisevic when he was in a really big game, like serving for the match or serving to stay in the match at a Wimbledon final, had games where the average shot length for the whole game might have been less than 2. He was so scared of getting into a rally in such a game that he would practically go for an ace on his second serve. His opponent would just be walking from side to side between double faults and aces while Goran played against himself and his own demons.

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Post by summerblues on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 4:06 pm

HB, the point about DFs is indeed quite relevant.  I was debating whether or not to include DFs in my account (under 1-2 strokes).  In the end I decided to skip them altogether.

However, Sampras-Ivanisevic match (at least the first 50 points I watched) had far more DFs than any other match on my list.  I agree with you that I do not think it is a coincidence - serve was so important that risking a DF was almost worth it.  In that sense, including DFs maybe would have been appropriate - and it would have made Sampras-Ivanisevic match look even more extreme.

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Post by Born Slippy on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 4:37 pm

summerblues wrote:
Born Slippy wrote:My reference to Borg v Connors was, of course, not a reference to a typical 80s match. My point was that two baseliners playing each other at or around that time would have very similar length rallies to Nadal v Novak.
This sounds tad disingenuous to me.

First, what would be the point of making such a point?  I have pretty much never heard anyone disagree with that anyway.  When people say today's tennis has rallies that are too long, I do not think they mean "today's baseline tennis has rallies that are longer than in old baseline tennis".  I think most people would grant you that baseline tennis itself probably does not have longer rallies than it used to have, but in the old days we had shorter-rally alternatives which we do not really have now.

Second, the way our initial discussion came about was like this:
summerblues wrote:I hope you are not suggesting that a typical Wimbledon match in the 80s had 13% points with 10+ strokes?  I do not mind matches like that at the French Open, but now we have them everywhere.
Born Slippy wrote:A typical match wouldn't but a match between Connors and Borg?

I can't immediately find the thread on which this discussion took place - which one was it? However, my recollection is that we were discussing the Nadal v Novak Wimbledon final. I merely pointed out that two baseliners would have had similar length rallies back in the 80s as well. Obviously, there is no dispute that serve volleyers are going to have shorter rallies than baseliners.

The only disingenuity appears to be your assertion that I said Borg v Connors was a typical 80s match. As the quotes above make clear, I made no such statement.

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Post by summerblues on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 4:41 pm

It was on the Indian Wells thread.

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Post by socal1976 on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 4:45 pm

I am sorry average length of rally at 2.68 shots a match for 90s Sampras v. Ivanisivic is not tennis it is a serving contest. What this research shows is that the big slowdown was needed to save the rally from the power of the male server. It is exactly, what I have been saying now for years. Do any of you think that fans would like wimbeldon going back to what it was especially since the athletes or only taller, stronger, and capable of even more dull serving contests.

What is funny is that with all this complaining about variety and tennis relying on the longer rally, rallies of over six shots in this list are considered a long rally. 6 shots is not a long rally at best that is a medium rally. I would stop watching wimbeldon if we saw a lot of matches like 1998 final.

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Post by summerblues on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 4:46 pm

Ah, my bad.  I actually misread your quote, and not being native English speaker did not quite make the right sense of it.  Until now, I read:

"A typical match would not be a match between Connors and Borg?"

Apologies.

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Post by Born Slippy on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 5:22 pm

No worries.

I have to say my view on the stats are that the Novak v Fed one looks about what I would regard as the ideal proportions for a Wimbledon match. Roughly speaking, I think I would find:

20-20-10 about right for Wimbledon;
15-20-15 appropriate for hard court; and
10-15-25 ideal for clay.

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Post by summerblues on Sun 10 Apr 2016, 8:43 pm

The way I liked it best was the way it was in the 70s/80s (or maybe it was not like that and I only remember it that way?):

  • Grass:  attacking S&V players have a significant advantage, but not totally impossible for baseliners to succeed.
  • Clay: baseliners have a significant advantage but, again, not inconceivable for an attacker to succeed
  • USO-style HC: somewhere in-between where players can win on a more-or-less equal footing with either style

I did not like the 90s as the difference became too big - players like Sampras would bomb out of the RG in the early rounds, and so would top clay courters at W, if they even bothered to enter.

I find the current game is favoring baseline play far too much.  As far as I am concerned, I found last year's W final quite watchable - but more appropriate for medium-paced conditions of the USO rather than fast-paced grass court.  Making things worse, that match was probably one of the quicker recent W finals - more often than not they are slower than that these days.

I do not really have a feel for what splits I prefer best.  Judging by the numbers in my table and how I feel about the respective matches, maybe something like:

Wimbledon: 20-30-0.
HC: 15-20-15 (?)
Clay: Not sure

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Post by Guest on Mon 11 Apr 2016, 12:33 pm

For me, what the stats don't illustrate is the winner/unforced error ratio in those rallies or who won the majority of the rallies in those sections and plus it is only a handful of matches suggested. People go with what they see with their eyes and should they disagree, stats lead the blind apparently.

In terms of current conditions, either way a certain set of conditions will always favour certain types of players. I agree balance is required, however how that is obtained is anyone's guess.

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Post by socal1976 on Mon 11 Apr 2016, 5:57 pm

legendkillarV2 wrote:For me, what the stats don't illustrate is the winner/unforced error ratio in those rallies or who won the majority of the rallies in those sections and plus it is only a handful of matches suggested. People go with what they see with their eyes and should they disagree, stats lead the blind apparently.

In terms of current conditions, either way a certain set of conditions will always favour certain types of players. I agree balance is required, however how that is obtained is anyone's guess.

You state that stats are misleading when they don't fit your argument, but then you want us to consider the winner to UES ratio, which is one of the most misleading if not most misleading stat in all of tennis. And if we understood that number in this analysis what would it tell us about rally length, seems like these numbers do measure rally length directly so would be much more telling than UE/winner ratio which really doesn't tell you much of anything unless you look at a variety of other factors as well.

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Post by Guest on Mon 11 Apr 2016, 7:14 pm

socal1976 wrote:
legendkillarV2 wrote:For me, what the stats don't illustrate is the winner/unforced error ratio in those rallies or who won the majority of the rallies in those sections and plus it is only a handful of matches suggested. People go with what they see with their eyes and should they disagree, stats lead the blind apparently.

In terms of current conditions, either way a certain set of conditions will always favour certain types of players. I agree balance is required, however how that is obtained is anyone's guess.

You state that stats are misleading when they don't fit your argument, but then you want us to consider the winner to UES ratio, which is one of the most misleading if not most misleading stat in all of tennis. And if we understood that number in this analysis what would it tell us about rally length, seems like these numbers do measure rally length directly so would be much more telling than UE/winner ratio which really doesn't tell you much of anything unless you look at a variety of other factors as well.

Read the post again, consider, digest.

I haven't made an argument or anything. I simply pointed out that original set of stats don't demonstrate anything concrete.

I'll leave that to the blowhards on this forum.

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Post by CaledonianCraig on Tue 12 Apr 2016, 10:11 am

I do feel a few more faster courts would be better and as someone suggested earlier also outlawing certain technologies on rackets as well would be good.
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Post by socal1976 on Tue 12 Apr 2016, 7:24 pm

CaledonianCraig wrote:I do feel a few more faster courts would be better and as someone suggested earlier also outlawing certain technologies on rackets as well would be good.


I oppose any changes to conditions as that acts as huge advantage to attacking players on all surfaces and does not further the stated goal of variety. How would these changes that favor big servers impact the already historical high numbers we have in holding serve. Much higher actually than the big serve 90s in terms of hold percentage than it ever has been.

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Post by CaledonianCraig on Tue 12 Apr 2016, 7:30 pm

socal1976 wrote:
CaledonianCraig wrote:I do feel a few more faster courts would be better and as someone suggested earlier also outlawing certain technologies on rackets as well would be good.


I oppose any changes to conditions as that acts as huge advantage to attacking players on all surfaces and does not further the stated goal of variety. How would these changes that favor big servers impact the already historical high numbers we have in holding serve. Much higher actually than the big serve 90s in terms of hold percentage than it ever has been.

Faster courts are something that have been eroded away so straight away variety of court speeds isn't what it was - that needs addressed certainly.
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Post by socal1976 on Tue 12 Apr 2016, 7:59 pm

CaledonianCraig wrote:
socal1976 wrote:
CaledonianCraig wrote:I do feel a few more faster courts would be better and as someone suggested earlier also outlawing certain technologies on rackets as well would be good.


I oppose any changes to conditions as that acts as huge advantage to attacking players on all surfaces and does not further the stated goal of variety. How would these changes that favor big servers impact the already historical high numbers we have in holding serve. Much higher actually than the big serve 90s in terms of hold percentage than it ever has been.

Faster courts are something that have been eroded away so straight away variety of court speeds isn't what it was - that needs addressed certainly.

Again, all these assumptions. You assume that the variety should be different than it is now, like there is some sort of approved level of fast courts and fast conditions that can not be changed. I don't share the opinion that we need to speed up the game and don't want to see a lot of 2.6 shots per rally tennis. So we are left with your opinion and others who don't want those changes. I can guarantee you the tennis will be more unwatchable than anything we have ever seen. And I can't see how any of the critics have made a case for the need for drastic changes. If you listen to their opinion and unsupported assertions the need is drastic. But the game is as popular as ever and many tennis fans like a rally that last more than 3 or 4 shots and don't want to maximize one shot and two shot rallies at the expense of that in anyway. Furthermore many fans like the tour and like the tennis we have seen for the last decade journalists have even copied my now famous golden era references. I mean do fans and critics call sheety tennis a golden era? I wouldn't make any changes to technology, maybe experimental speed up balls and courts at a couple of tourneys here and there. Other than that we already have players holding in the 90s we don't have room for all this speeding up. Those who think we should speed things up probably have no comprehension of the kinds of serves on the ATP tour are like to return, hence they think we have a lot of room to speed things up.

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Post by CaledonianCraig on Tue 12 Apr 2016, 8:33 pm

Sorry we disagree here. Tennis should be a sport with conditions that suit everyone - not just for those that can thrive in long rallies. Don't you even think it would be nice to see Novak being dealt new tests ie how he deals with fast paced courts as we know he is dominant on the court speeds around just now. Think of golf which offers multiple challenges where players have links courses with deep rough or different challenges of course with plenty of water features or those like Augusta - all different challenges. Have we got similar in tennis at the moment? No we have not. Wimbledon is slower than it once was and hard courts have been slowed down as well. Now you think fast courts will bring back serve dominated games but it wouldn't if these modern rackets were outlawed. It can be done just as the one-piece lycra swimsuits were banned in swimming, certain technologies banned in F1 so it is clear it can be done.

As for 'all this speeding up'? Well there has been the opposite ie 'all this slowing down'. It has gone too far in my opinion. You disagree socal - fine but many others wouldn't.
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Post by Born Slippy on Tue 12 Apr 2016, 10:12 pm

Tennis isn't a sport for those who thrive in long rallies though. It's a sport where serve is the most important shot and where even Nadal v Novak matches have 1/3rd of all points ended in 2 shots. How do we address that problem?


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Post by socal1976 on Tue 12 Apr 2016, 11:01 pm

CaledonianCraig wrote:Sorry we disagree here. Tennis should be a sport with conditions that suit everyone - not just for those that can thrive in long rallies. Don't you even think it would be nice to see Novak being dealt new tests ie how he deals with fast paced courts as we know he is dominant on the court speeds around just now. Think of golf which offers multiple challenges where players have links courses with deep rough or different challenges of course with plenty of water features or those like Augusta - all different challenges. Have we got similar in tennis at the moment? No we have not. Wimbledon is slower than it once was and hard courts have been slowed down as well. Now you think fast courts will bring back serve dominated games but it wouldn't if these modern rackets were outlawed. It can be done just as the one-piece lycra swimsuits were banned in swimming, certain technologies banned in F1 so it is clear it can be done.

As for 'all this speeding up'? Well there has been the opposite ie 'all this slowing down'. It has gone too far in my opinion. You disagree socal - fine but many others wouldn't.

If we don't have variety why does Federer have 7 slams at wimbeldon and only one at RG? We have different challenges from surface to surface more than most other sports. Yes we would get serve dominance with the changes you discuss. The changes you discuss make returning more difficult and serving easier, so what other logical outcome would you expect if in a tour with guys holding 93 percent of the time if you speed up conditions and banned technology that favors returning? What other logical conclusion could occur in a game when you make a bunch of drastic changes in favor of the server/attacker then we would get more unwatchable serve fests? Furthermore technology changes don't aid variety they just give a big up to the server on clay, hardcourt, and grass.

Personally, if the changes you guys entailed were implemented I would stop watching the tour. I hated and loathed late 1990s and early 2000s tennis. Fcuking hated it. So why should you guys be happy and those of us who like it now not be happy? I still haven't heard a convincing argument in all these years from a single proponent of speeding up conditions. Not one. I mean do you guys really think favoring 2.6 shot rallies is what any fans other than a few purists on here want to see, like ever, like even once? No one wants to see it, that is why after that unwatchable disgusting Wimbeldon final between Pete and Goran they changed everything, they changed because fans were voting with their feet and that power serve tennis sucked. Period and end of story. Whether it was one match a year or a hundred. That brand of tennis in unwatchable garbage, and the athletes today with 90s conditions would result in even more unwatchable tennis then that period. I mean why else did the tournament directors in mass change it in the early 2000s if the tennis wasn't become unwatchable sheet on a fast surface? I mean with all their market research and broadcasters market interest are we to believe that BB and legendkillar know better how to market the game ? Especially, in light of their policy to increase matches with 2.6 shots a rally as being good for the game? Dumbest policy suggestion east of the American Republican party.

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Post by CaledonianCraig on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 8:36 am

Speeding up court conditions does not automatically equate to serve-dominated games. Look at the 70s and 80s when the courts were quicker and those were not serve dominated times so lets not make out fast courts equals serve domination.

As for Federer winning 1 RG yet 7 Wimbledon lets not be fooled into thinking this is down to court speed variations of any great degree. Clay has always been a different surface to grass in terms of the required movement/agility/construction of points and how the ball behaves on hitting the surface. Speed variation is now not an issue on the surfaces as they are almost now in uniformity.
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Post by bogbrush on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 2:00 pm

Excellent points Craig; the debate is far more nuanced than some posters represent.

I would have been happy to see greater divergence of conditions across the surfaces in recent years; though a massive McEnroe fan I can live with the French escaping him (albeit by the teeny weeniest of margins!!) because playing on that was such a staggeringly different challenge from the one on the surface he was supreme on a few weeks later.
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Post by CaledonianCraig on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 2:03 pm

It isn't just that but listening to the commentators saying how quick Monte Carlo is playing just sums up how slow the other surfaces have become. Clay was always known to be the slowest surface by some way so it just shows how slow the other surfaces have become if clay is being talked about as being fast.
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Post by Mad for Chelsea on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 2:55 pm

Interesting debate. Some points on the OP's stats:

1) Compare the McEnroe vs Borg match to the Sampras vs Agassi match. I think this is pertinent as it is (essentially) S&V player vs baseliner in each case. The matches are 19 years apart and produce, to all intents and purposes, the same average rally length. You have the same thing when comparing Borg vs Connors to Nadal vs Djokovic (again, IMO a pertinent comparison where styles are concerned). In both cases the more modern match will have more longer rallies, and also more of the 1-2 shot ones.

2) Now compare Edberg vs Becker to Sampras vs Ivanisevic (all S&V match-ups). The later match actually has a shorter average rally length due to more of the points being decided in 1-2 shots (and this not being offset by longer rallies in the later match when the rally got going). I suspect this is due to the particular nature of the latter match, two huge servers, one of them with not much baseline game to speak of.

Conclusions? It seems obvious that there are three different things in tennis that evolve over time: conditions (I'll get back to what I mean by that later), players fitness and technology. As technology improves serves have become better: faster (in general), more accurate, bigger kicks, etc. But this also gives the returner better control over his returns, and makes the S&V less of a weapon: while it may be harder to reach a serve in today's game, or at least get there in decent shape, it is easier to make a "telling" return against a S&V player (balls being hit harder so he has less time to close down the net, easier to dip the ball at his feet with the extra control, etc.). Coupled with better fitness it makes it much harder for the S&V player to put away the first volley.

Now I would argue that the tendency to have fewer 3-5 shot rallies is pretty much a consequence of the extinction of the S&V game (as something that was played nearly every point, still is played occasionally of course). Simply put, it's very rare for a rally where the player serves and volleys (or chips and charges) to extent beyond 5 shots, by the very nature of the "rally".

Now onto conditions. Conditions is not just the speed of the court, it's also the balls used etc. You look at RG conditions over the years, they've speeded up if anything, due to using slower balls (and players increased power). Conditions have become rather uniform across the tour, I think it's fair to say. Sure they're a few differences, but in the main you would call most surfaces medium-slow to medium. There's not much really slow stuff, or really quick stuff out there.

Would speeding up some tournaments and slowing down others bring more variety to the tour? Certainly. Would it bring back S&V? I'm not so sure. If you speed things up at Wimbledon, does that make S&V more viable? Or does it just make the serve even more important than it's already become? I would argue the latter.

It seems to me that the best way to bring back S&V is to reverse the technology improvements. For me, these, more than the speed of conditions, make it impossible to systematically S&V on today's tour and be successful.

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Post by socal1976 on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 4:50 pm

CaledonianCraig wrote:Speeding up court conditions does not automatically equate to serve-dominated games. Look at the 70s and 80s when the courts were quicker and those were not serve dominated times so lets not make out fast courts equals serve domination.

As for Federer winning 1 RG yet 7 Wimbledon lets not be fooled into thinking this is down to court speed variations of any great degree. Clay has always been a different surface to grass in terms of the required movement/agility/construction of points and how the ball behaves on hitting the surface. Speed variation is now not an issue on the surfaces as they are almost now in uniformity.

If variation is not a problem on grass why do you support changes that would give big servers and attackers the advantage on a clay court? I mean banning technology big ups the attacker on a clay court and you just said variation isn't an issue on clay courts and assuming that clay courts should be dominated by baseliners why do you want to give an advantage to attackers at clay court events, how does that serve variety?

Second of all the 70s and 80s they used wood racquets. So are you now suggesting we recreate wood racquets as the guide to conditions we recreate. Do you want to see 50 mile an hour FHs and every ground stroke look like my granny hit it. You could watch Borg play for an hour and not see him hit a single winner from the back unless the guy rushed the net. The game is light years away from the 70s and 80s and eighties so what does that have to do with anything.

Tell me the guy's holding at 93 percent and 92 percent, what will they be holding at under your system and does anyone want to watch a service game if they know there is little to no chance player X will be broken and also little or no chance player X will ever break? The direct logical consequence of your changes is to favor 2.6 shots per contest tennis and even worse because the athletes are only bigger and stronger. I don't want to see a repeat of Goran v. Pete at wimby ever, not once, I can do without that kind of variety for the rest of my life.

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Post by CaledonianCraig on Wed 13 Apr 2016, 5:12 pm

Clay courts are much as they always have been speed-wise. My gripe is with the slowing down of grass and hard court surfaces and we all know technology can be used to stop tennis ever being serve dominated even with speeded up courts. To me tennis with universal court speeds is not what I want to see and is unfair as it favours only one type of player.

We shall agree to disagree on this one.
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Post by summerblues on Thu 14 Apr 2016, 1:57 am

Mad for Chelsea wrote:It seems to me that the best way to bring back S&V is to reverse the technology improvements. For me, these, more than the speed of conditions, make it impossible to systematically S&V on today's tour and be successful.
Great post.  Agree with your reasoning and conclusion.  Speeding up conditions alone will just create serve-only matches.

As technology improved, serve becamse ever more dominant which resulted in shorter and shorter points.  Tennis compensated by slowing down conditions, but this hurt attacking play (such as S&V) more than it hurt the serve itself.  As a result, in the current tennis, serve itself is probably as dominant as ever, but the points that are not won on serve tend to result in longer rallies than in the past.

One can also see it from the number of aces in each of the matches in my OP (more precisely, the number of aces in the first 50 points played):

1969 - 3
1977 - 2
1980 - 1
1988 - 2
1998 - 5 (Sampras-Ivanisevic)
1999 - 8
2011 - 5
2015 - 6

Clear pattern - not that many aces through the 1980s, and far more after that.  In spite of that, current matches produce longer rallies.  As you say:

Mad for Chelsea wrote:In both cases the more modern match will have more longer rallies, and also more of the 1-2 shot ones.

So, in current conditions a point tends to be decided either with a serve (I would count serve+putaway here too) or by a rally.  Which is very different from how tennis, and especially grass court tennis, used to play for most of its history.

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Post by Born Slippy on Thu 14 Apr 2016, 8:10 am

summerblues wrote:
Mad for Chelsea wrote:It seems to me that the best way to bring back S&V is to reverse the technology improvements. For me, these, more than the speed of conditions, make it impossible to systematically S&V on today's tour and be successful.
Great post.  Agree with your reasoning and conclusion.  Speeding up conditions alone will just create serve-only matches.

As technology improved, serve becamse ever more dominant which resulted in shorter and shorter points.  Tennis compensated by slowing down conditions, but this hurt attacking play (such as S&V) more than it hurt the serve itself.  As a result, in the current tennis, serve itself is probably as dominant as ever, but the points that are not won on serve tend to result in longer rallies than in the past.

One can also see it from the number of aces in each of the matches in my OP (more precisely, the number of aces in the first 50 points played):

1969 - 3
1977 - 2
1980 - 1
1988 - 2
1998 - 5 (Sampras-Ivanisevic)
1999 - 8
2011 - 5
2015 - 6

Clear pattern - not that many aces through the 1980s, and far more after that.  In spite of that, current matches produce longer rallies.  As you say:

Mad for Chelsea wrote:In both cases the more modern match will have more longer rallies, and also more of the 1-2 shot ones.

So, in current conditions a point tends to be decided either with a serve (I would count serve+putaway here too) or by a rally.  Which is very different from how tennis, and especially grass court tennis, used to play for most of its history.

Two points I would disagree with on this:

1. As MfC said, it isn't the slowing down of conditions that has hurt serve volley. It's the technology improvements. Serve volley was already dying in the 90s as players realised that with the improvement in groundstrokes it was a better approach to stay back and use a forehand put away if they got a weak return;

2. I do think the slow-down of courts has been exaggerated somewhat. Wimbledon is possibly slightly slower but not massively. It's hard courts which have become quite a lot slower. However, that slow-down has definitely kept serve domination somewhat under control. Speeding up the courts would just make the serve totally dominant (see Cincy last year where the two best returners in the world barely laid a glove on Fed's serve).

CC talks about limiting tech. A fine idea in principle but we aren't going back to wooden racquets and the current racquets haven't changed massively for 10 years.

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Post by CaledonianCraig on Thu 14 Apr 2016, 8:39 am

If they can slow F1 cars down so much with set rules written in then I am certain the same could be done with tennis rackets.

For me tennis should be fair to all offering winning chances to every type of player and atcthe moment conditions of court speeds don't allow that.
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Post by Born Slippy on Thu 14 Apr 2016, 10:17 am

Yes it does. Big servers have a clear advantage but more rounded players still can succeed - as the big 4 have shown.

Please explain what technological changes you think should be made. Without some context, it's impossible to debate. What about making them all use squash racquets instead?

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Post by CaledonianCraig on Thu 14 Apr 2016, 10:24 am

Born Slippy wrote:Yes it does. Big servers have a clear advantage but more rounded players still can succeed - as the big 4 have shown.

Please explain what technological changes you think should be made. Without some context, it's impossible to debate. What about making them all use squash racquets instead?

I have no idea about tennis racket technologies - lets make that clear straight away. However, in a day and age when talk is now being made about spacecraft getting to another solar system within 30 years then I am sure it is far from impossible to reduce the power modern rackets have. I certainly wouldn't say big servers are the flavour of the day just now by the way as wouldn't count Djokovic, Murray or Nadal as big servers.
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Post by Born Slippy on Thu 14 Apr 2016, 1:32 pm

So you want to change conditions because three players, who happen to have very good baseline games, have been successful? How does reducing racquet power help other players defeat three players who are probably more skilful and quicker than they are?

Do we ignore the fact that the players who have made up the next tier over the last few years contains the likes of Stan, Raonic, Berdych, DP, Cilic, Isner etc? What about the fact that the two top young stars (Kyrgios and Zverev) are giants with big serves? Where is the next Djokovic or Murray coming from?

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Post by CaledonianCraig on Thu 14 Apr 2016, 1:38 pm

No I want a change as in a return to a greater variety of speeds on surfaces to shake things up a bit. Heck it may even shake Murray out o his malaise and force him to unleash more aggressive tennis he used to produce. Baseliners are pandered to too much with how things stand just now in my opinion.
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Post by temporary21 on Thu 14 Apr 2016, 3:38 pm

Tennis racquets are already subject to limitations by the by. They all have to be tested so that they don't exceed a maximum velocity in a test. Topspin as dar as I know isn't bounded.

Is there any recent clear articles that actually measure surface speed and bounce? Maybe comparing to 1998 or so. Reason being is I think there might be more surface disparity than people think

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Post by socal1976 on Thu 14 Apr 2016, 7:13 pm

Right now you can go online and buy a racquet with 120 sq in.head that weighs less than six ounces and if you flick the ball it will fly off the racquet. Guess what no pro plays with a racquet anywhere near that. The average racquet on tour is 85-100 sq in and weighs between 10.6 ounces to 12 or 12 and half ounces. These specks that represent a 15 percent variation in both weight and size encompasses 98 percent of both tours. Why because players with powerful swings can't play with those old lady racquets I described in the first line of this post. Their problem is controlling power not generating it.

The main tech change is ending the poly string, that will do the most to bring back S and V. It would help because you could no longer pull off the cc pass from behind the baseline and pulled wide like you can today. That shot dramatically makes approaching harder because you just can't always play to cut off the down line shot. As opposed to covering half the net you have to cover all of it.

As BS has stated racquet technology has been consistent for many years. The changes we have seen in the last ten years or even 15 have been minor refinements on the composite racquet. The big change is the strings. They won't do anything about that either because you would lose the super charged FHs and BHs of today. Without synthetics the Gasquet and Wawrinka BHs, or the nadal FH would be greatly less entertaining shots.

The fact is that BS makes a great point that no one of these change tennis nostalgics ever address. S and V has been slowly dying since the advent of the graphite racquet. Really you won't be able to bring it back unless you ban poly strings and composite racquets. You would literally have to go back to gut strings and wood racquets. Serve and volley was dying out long, long before the big slowdown of 1999-2002 and the advent of luxilon in 2002/03.

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Post by socal1976 on Thu 14 Apr 2016, 7:33 pm

For example prior to the luxilon strings, and prior to big slowdown. On the mythic year of 1999, on the very last day of the rankings there were exactly two S and V players in the top ten Sampras and Kracijek. Both of whom where getting close to 30. The top two were Kafelnikov and Agassi and most of the rest of the top ten were all power baseliners. Can't blame the dying of S and V on conditions and tech, it was dying out long before that.

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Post by socal1976 on Thu 14 Apr 2016, 7:42 pm

CaledonianCraig wrote:No I want a change as in a return to a greater variety of speeds on surfaces to shake things up a bit. Heck it may even shake Murray out o his malaise and force him to unleash more aggressive tennis he used to produce. Baseliners are pandered to too much with how things stand just now in my opinion.

I just think you fully grasp how radical the things you are talking about and people that should know better but unfortunately don't would be to the game. Craig, don't beat around the bush, answer the one PRINCIPAL problem I have with your position and others on this that no one will ever give a straight answer to, so maybe on this grounds your the person to ask. Would you be interested in watching many matches where there is little to no chance player X will break, and where there is little to no chance that player X will be broken? Doesn't that take a lot of the mystery and fun out of it as a fan? As an exercise please go back and watch the entire Sampras v. GOran wimby final of 1999 or was it 98 cited in this thread on youtube. Do it I dare you? Then tell me you want to foster a system that the very direct result is a huge increase in these matches. So the question is simple what will the players holding at 92 or 93 hold at under your serve friendly/return unfriendly environment? And what will returners who now break 7 or 8 percent of the time be breaking at?

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Post by temporary21 on Thu 14 Apr 2016, 8:02 pm

This really hinges on whether you don't like the way tennis currently plays. Tennis has moved towards a slightly more attacking aspect lately with more players coming to net and making shots, whilst there is still a benefit to good defence.

S and v is dead. To be honest I don't see why it's missed it meant the game was dominated by net rushing, which made it less varied.

To volley nowadays is either used as a sneak attack or as a way to counter a sliced Bh on the defence. It still has it's place but it's not overused anymore

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Post by socal1976 on Thu 14 Apr 2016, 8:37 pm

temporary21 wrote:This really hinges on whether you don't like the way tennis currently plays. Tennis has moved towards a slightly more attacking aspect lately with more players coming to net and making shots, whilst there is still a benefit to good defence.

S and v is dead. To be honest I don't see why it's missed it meant the game was dominated by net rushing, which made it less varied.

To volley nowadays is either used as a sneak attack or as a way to counter a sliced Bh on the defence. It still has it's place but it's not overused anymore

The thing is a lot of short point tennis is worse on the eye than some long rallies. Long rallies of over 20 shots are a rarity as the numbers show. And fans like them, you see them give standing Os after these type of rallies, and you don't see that on a great ace on some random point. The issue is not that volleying is dead. No, it is alive and well. Players use it as a variation, as a way to finish points, as a way to punish a player dropping too far deep on the return, on a player over chipping the return etc. There is a lot of points that finish in the forecourt. The critique is that we don't have enough players running in on the very first ball or I suppose first return. Well you have to have pretty crappy strings and racquets for control if you want to make that kamikaze tennis a high percentage play, and then you would get less quality winners from the back as well, I don't like the trade off. I like watching huge Forehands and Backhands that are possible because of that technology.

S and V on its own, when it is played as the dominant style on tour, is actually the second dullest version of tennis next to the Simon or Ferrer style power less grinders. The two best for me at least are the power aggressive baseliner and the skilled all court player. S and V is fun to watch when you never see it anymore if it was highly prevalent on tour it loses its charm real fast as a huge number of points are over on the first ball. All my favorite players of old Connors, exception Becker, Agassi, and now Djokovic are all power baseliners.

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Post by summerblues on Sun 17 Apr 2016, 2:33 am

Born Slippy wrote:Two points I would disagree with on this:

1. As MfC said, it isn't the slowing down of conditions that has hurt serve volley. It's the technology improvements. Serve volley was already dying in the 90s as players realised that with the improvement in groundstrokes it was a better approach to stay back and use a forehand put away if they got a weak return;

2. I do think the slow-down of courts has been exaggerated somewhat. Wimbledon is possibly slightly slower but not massively. It's hard courts which have become quite a lot slower. However, that slow-down has definitely kept serve domination somewhat under control. Speeding up the courts would just make the serve totally dominant (see Cincy last year where the two best returners in the world barely laid a glove on Fed's serve).

CC talks about limiting tech. A fine idea in principle but we aren't going back to wooden racquets and the current racquets haven't changed massively for 10 years.
Yes, I roughly agree with all this.  But in the end it still leads to what I have been saying.  Here once again, put slightly differently:

1.  Tennis used to play certain way until 1980s, which allowed baseliners and S&Vers to succeed.  Baseliners would do better at slower surfaces, S&Vers at faster surfaces, but each would have a chance on the others' turf, and they could all compete reasonably equally on medium-paced surfaces.

2.  With technology changes, 1990s and later increased serve's potency and reduced the average rally length.  It also created a larger gap between grass court and clay court tennis.  I would agree that all this made the 1990s tennis less watchable.

3.  Instead of limiting technology, tennis slowed down surfaces.  The result is that we now have (a) dominance of baseline game with (b) rallies longer than ever (not in the sense that baseline rallies are longer than before, but in the sense that we do not have anything other than baseline tennis).  Even Federer, who is among the more aggressive players nowadays, has been playing largely from the baseline for most of his career.

If baseline tennis is your thing, then all of the above may not be particularly problematic.  Who knows, one might even prefer it that way - though I still think one should, if they are honest with themselves, recognize that tennis lost an important facet of the game.  But if you by and large prefer S&V tennis, then the current sport provides only what is for you the less interesting aspect of what tennis used to be.

Socal said that his favorite players used to be players like Connors or Agassi.  Well, good for him, no wonder he is reasonably happy with current tennis.  But if your favorite players used to be McEnroe or Edberg, where do you see a reasonable equivalent now?  The beauty of the old days was that players could succeed with either style.  No longer possible nowadays.

So, to me, tennis went about it the wrong way.  Instead of limiting technology more strictly, it allowed technology to remake the game, and then tinkered with surface speeds to limit the damage so to speak, but in the process gave up what used to be a major - perhaps the major - playing style.

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Post by summerblues on Sun 17 Apr 2016, 2:37 am

temporary21 wrote:S and v is dead. To be honest I don't see why it's missed it meant the game was dominated by net rushing, which made it less varied.
Both baseliners and S&Vers were able to succeed.  Now it is only baseliners.  In that sense at least, the game is less varied now.

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