Brain Game: Nadal’s Serve + 1 Adds Up To Lots Of Trouble
Only one forehand winner in the Rogers Cup final was struck by the receiving player
It's a forehand unlike any other.
The 'Serve +1' forehand - struck as the first shot after a serve - is the biggest sleeper in our sport. It's perfectly disguised as a regular rally forehand, but it's actually the main offensive juggernaut once the return of serve is put back in play.
Rafael Nadal defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 7-6(4) in the final of the Rogers Cup on Sunday, with both players leaning heavily on Serve +1 forehands to collect their rally winners.
To the Toronto final, Nadal was hitting a remarkable 87 per cent forehands as the first shot after his first serve, and 77 per cent behind second serves. In the final against Tsitsipas, he blew those numbers out the window, hitting an astonishing 41 Serve +1 forehands (95 per cent) and just two Serve +1 backhands. Nadal won 18 of 20 (90 per cent) Serve +1 forehands behind his first serve, and 14 of 21 (67 per cent) Serve +1 forehands behind his second serve.
Tsitsipas was also heavily reliant on his Serve +1 forehand, hitting it 86 per cent (36/42) of the time behind all serves in the match.
The real question is why do these elite players have such a thirst for a forehand right after the serve? The answer is simple. The Serve +1 forehand enjoys the “halo effect” of a dominant serve, delivering the server more time and improved court position to immediately end the point before the returner can diffuse the rally into a neutral battle.
The following breakdown shows just how offensive Serve +1 forehands really are.
Nadal Forehand Winners
• Serve +1 Forehands = 11
• All Other Forehands = 4
Tsitsipas Forehand Winners
• Serve +1 Forehands = 8
• All Other Forehands = 0
It's important to note that Serve +1 forehands contributed 19 winners, while the eight combined Serve +1 backhands didn’t register a single winner. Of the 23 total forehand winners hit at all rally lengths in the match, 83 per cent (19) were struck with a Serve +1 forehand.
There was only one forehand winner for the entire match that came after a player returned serve. It was Nadal returning in the first point of the 3-1 game in the opening set. The Spaniard hit a deep backhand return, and an even deeper forehand on the next ball that set up a crushing forehand blow standing right on the baseline.
With so much offence happening around Serve +1 forehands, is there also an inordinate amount of errors here as well?
The short answer is no.
Nadal Forehand Errors
• Serve +1 Forehands = 2
• All Others = 5
Tsitsipas Forehand Errors
• Serve +1 Forehands = 5
• All Others = 13
Serve +1 forehands accounted for 83 per cent (19/23) of all forehand winners, but only 23 per cent (7/25) of forehand errors. It’s stock just keep rising and rising.
Nadal's 11 Serve +1 forehand winners were sourced primarily from serving to Tsitsipas' backhand return. The Greek hit seven backhand returns (5 Ad Ct / 2 Deuce Ct) and four forehand returns (3 Deuce Ct / 1 Ad Ct) that Nadal immediately hit a Serve +1 forehand winner from.
The only dynamic that we have traditionally counted with groundstrokes is winners and errors. We can clearly see from this match that more layers are needed to paint an accurate picture of baseline performance - specifically who is serving and at what rally length was the ending shot struck.
On match point, with Nadal serving at 6/4 in the second set tie-break, He made a first serve and ran around a return directed to his backhand and crushed a Serve +1 forehand winner to win the match. What a fitting way to cross the finish line.