Risk and Reward: High Stakes At 30-All

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers finds that the chances of holding serve from 30-all vary markedly among the ATP World Tour’s Top 8 players

Risk and reward are hidden all over the scoreboard in tennis, with the scoreline of 30-all containing a healthy dose of both.

Every game has 18 different point combinations, from 0-15 to 40-30 to Ad-In. An Infosys ATP Beyond the Numbers study of the scoreline 30-all reveals there's much more to this mid-game scoreline than meets the eye.

We analysed what happened when the Top 8 players – Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal, Kei Nishikori, Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer – faced 30-all during the 2015 season and during the first two months of 2016.

To peel back the layers and understand the high-stakes consequences of 30-all, it’s important to understand three pivotal percentages. The first is the actual winning percentage for the server when the scoreline hits 30-all. The second is the server's winning percentage at 40-30, and lastly, the server's winning percentage at 30-40.

30-All Winning Percentage = 79 Per Cent

At love-all, the elite eight players have an 86 per cent chance of holding serve. Four points later at 30-30, that percentage drops slightly, to 79 per cent.

But that 79 per cent is just an average of the Top 8 players. Federer leads the group, holding 86 per cent of the time from 30-all. Nadal, though, holds only 71 percent of the time.

40-30 Winning Percentage = 93 Per Cent

If one of the Top 8 players wins the 30-all point while serving, their odds of winning that game shoot up to 93 per cent.

When Djokovic is in that position, he holds 97 per cent of the time, the highest percentage of the Top 8. Nishikori and Ferrer hold 91 per cent of the time, the lowest of the group.

These top of the tree competitors, the Top 8, all hold serve more than 90 per cent of the time when their games reach the dominant scorelines of 15-0, 30-0, 30-15, 40-0, 40-15 and 40-30.

30-40 Winning Percentage = 52 per cent

Losing the 30-all point basically creates a break-even scenario for the server. When that happens, the Top 8 win only 52 per cent of their service games. Tomas Berdych, 44 per cent, and Rafael Nadal, 45 per cent, were the only two players under 50 per cent, while Federer was again the clear leader at 58 per cent.

The Smart Strategy

To summarise, if a Top 8 player wins the 30-all point, he has a 93 per cent chance of holding. If he loses that crucial 30-all point, he has a 52 per cent chance of holding serve.

That substantial 41-percentage point swing dictates that, at 30-all, the server very much needs to make a first serve, keep control with a strong “Serve + 1” groundstroke, and look to force an error from his opponent. The player serving should not chase a lower-percentage winner or hope his opponent donates an unforced error.

Many different combinations exist, but a high-percentage first serve slicing out wide in the deuce court followed by a deep forehand to the open hole in the ad court could force the returner to hit a backhand on the run.

Continuing the forehand to backhand matchup, with an emphasis on depth and superior court position, would be an ideal fit for the high-risk stakes of 30-all.

Competitors at all levels of the game can copy and paste the patterns and percentages of the game’s elite players to successfully navigate the treacherous waters of 30-all.

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