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Rafael Nadal has a higher second serve win percentage on clay than Roger Federer does on hard courts.

Second Serve Success: Roger on Hard Or Rafa on Clay?

Infosys ATP Insights digs into service data on three different surfaces

Serving on clay, grass and hard. How much do the different surfaces really effect overall serve performance?

An Infosys Insights deep dive into 1.4 million points played on all three surfaces from the beginning of the 2015 season up to this current week uncovers a clear, linear relationship that shows grass helps the server the most, while clay is the toughest surface for the serve to shine. These metrics correspond to popular opinion, but they go a step further in providing real numbers to substantiate our guess work.

First Serve vs Second Win Percentage
The percentage point difference was much more pronounced behind players' first serves over second serves. The inherent power of the first serve is helped by grass much more than clay, with a 5.2 percentage point gap between grass and clay with first serve win percentages and only a slight 1.7 percentage point difference behind second serves.

First Serve Win Percentage Leader By Surface
- Grass = Ivo Karlovic (84.0%)
- Hard = Ivo Karlovic (83.4%)
- Clay = Ivo Karlovic (81.3%)

The 41-year-old Ivo Karlovic is the career leader (1991 to the current week) of first serve points won at 82.8 per cent (31,514/38,081), and the 6’11” Croatian shows no signs of slowing down as he dominates this first serve data set from 2015 on all three surfaces.

Second Serve Win Percentage Leader By Surface
- Grass = Roger Federer (60.2%)
- Hard = Roger Federer (58.1%)
- Clay = Rafael Nadal (58.7%)

What’s interesting from the second serve data is that Rafael Nadal impressively has a higher second serve win percentage on clay than Roger Federer does on hard. As you will see from the table below in all 10 serve metrics, clay is without exception the toughest surface to serve on.

Average Win Percentages

No.
Category
Grass Hard
Clay
1
1st Serve Win %
75.0% 73.4%
69.8%
2
2nd Serve Win%
52.9% 51.6%
51.2%
2
Holding From 0/15
69.3% 65.2%
60.9%
4
Holding From 0/30
46.5% 42.9%
39.6%
5
Holding From 15/30
61.6% 58.1%
54.2%
6
Holding From 30/30
78.5% 75.2%
71.8%
7
Holding From 30/40
49.8% 45.6%
43.0%
8
Holding From 15/0
92.1% 89.8%
87.6%
9
Holding From 30/15
91.7% 89.2%
87.3%
10
Holding From Deuce
77.3% 74.2%
71.5%

The research is conclusive. When serving, grass is without doubt the most user-friendly surface, followed in strict order by hard and then clay. The largest disparity in the data set between grass and clay came at the start of the game when the server fell to 0/15. When serving on grass, the server still held serve 69.3 per cent of the time, but only 60.9 per cent on clay — a significant difference of 8.4 percentage points.

Knowing the key differences, or lack thereof, in this specific area of the sport makes for more informed players, coaches and fans, and helps us better understand what we are watching when sitting court-side in Miami, Madrid or London.