© Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Sebastian Korda is making his Roland Garros debut this year.

Korda’s Code: Strike Early, Strike Often

Big data shows that winners and errors happen at higher rates early in points

The first two times you touch the ball in a point account for half of the winners you will make in the match. That’s worth re-reading.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the first two rounds at Roland Garros this year identifies that 50 per cent (2154/4349) of all winners struck have been in the 0-4 rally length, which means either player had to have hit the winner in their first two touches of the ball.

Before robust analytics arrived in tennis, we preached consistency, shot tolerance and building a point ad nauseam. Now, big data identifies that short rallies greatly outnumber longer ones and striking first is the most effective way to arrive first at the finish line. The data set includes 63 matches through the first two rounds that were played on show courts where rally length was recorded.

Twenty-year-old Sebastian Korda, currently ranked No. 213, became the first qualifier to reach the Round of 16 at Roland Garros in nine years after defeating Andreas Seppi, John Isner and Pedro Martinez. Korda is also the youngest American male to reach the Round of 16 at Roland Garros since Michael Chang in 1991.

Korda, son of former World No. 2 Petr Korda, has not dropped a set en route to the biggest match of his life against Rafael Nadal in the fourth round. Below is the percentage of winners struck in the 0-4 shot rally length through his first three rounds.

Percentage Of Total Winners In 0-4 Shots
• Round 1 vs Seppi = 55%.
• Round 2 vs Isner = 64%
• Round 3 vs Martinez = 46%

In each of the three main draw matches, Korda has been able to amass more winners in the 0-4 rally length than his opponents.

Winners in 0-4 Shots
• Round 1: Korda 18 / Seppi 13
• Round 2: Korda 24 / Isner 23
• Round 3: Korda 23 / Martinez 8
• TOTAL: Korda 65 / Opponents 44

The 0-4 shot rally length has also accumulated the majority of errors at Roland Garros through the first two rounds this year, with 56 per cent (5362/9622) of total errors happening in 0-4 shots. It’s important to note that rally length is predicated by the ball landing in the court, not hitting the strings, which potentially adds a fifth shot into the 0-4 rally length as an error only. For example, a fifth shot error in a rally means four balls landed in the court, therefore it would be designated in the 0-4 shot rally length.

Big data is shattering big myths in our sport and providing a clearer picture of what matters most to advancing further into the draw. The deeper we dig, the more evidence we find that the first two times you touch the ball matter more than the aggregate of shots that follow.