How To Analyze A Tennis Match


Match analysis is crucial for the improvement of a tennis player. Any competitive match is the final test of how good the player is in the technical, tactical, mental and physical aspects of the game.

Too many times I've seen coaches and parents analyzing tennis matches only by watching them rather than taking methodical notes.

This creates a very biased analysis because our beliefs, predispositions and attitudes cause us to see what we want to see.

Instead, we need to analyze the match based on objective facts rather than subjective - and sometimes biased - opinions, and these facts need to be carefully and methodically noted during the match.

The Modified Aggressive Margin System

The match analysis you're about to see is based on the so called Aggressive Margin which I first learned from John Yandell.

I've modified his system, and here's how it works:

As you know, the official statistics of the match (often displayed on TV and on official tournament websites) count the number of winners (including on the service) and the number of unforced errors.

The match stats from the Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal final of the Australian Open 2009
Stats from the Australian Open website

The main difference between the way official statistics are done and this system is done is that I also count shots that force errors. So, these are the shots that I believe forced the opponent to make a mistake.

These shots come into in the same category as winners; the player created and won the point. An unforced error, on the other hand, is a point that is "given" to the opponent where there is (at first glance) no ostensible reason for making the error.

I also look at the stroke with which the last point was made or lost, and note this in the table.

F stands for forehand, B for backhand, S for serve, Bv or Fv for volley, SM for smash, Br or Fr for return, Bp or Fp for passing shot, and I might add Fdrop or Bslice for forehand drop shot and backhand slice to be even more accurate in the analysis.

An example of the stats taken in one game of a match is as follows:

  Player 1 Player 2 Comments
Score Unforced Errors - UE Winners & Forcing Shots - WF Unforced Errors - UE Winners & Forcing Shots - WF  
0'-0 B,F B,S F,SM Fv, Bp  

The ' sign shows who is serving. S (serve) in the unforced errors section means a double fault, and S (serve) in the winners and forcing shots section means an ace or a service winner.

The Aggressive Margin is calculated by adding all the unforced errors of the set, adding all the winners and forcing errors of the set, and then subtracting all the unforced errors from winning shots.

If the result is positive, that means that the player won more points than he lost. In other words, the player did not beat himself because he "gave" more points to himself than to his opponent.

The original Aggressive Margin from John Yandell counts only the numbers of winners, forcing shots and unforced errors, and does not take into account with which shot the last point was made.

I also use a comment section on the right which can include various things noted during the game.

When I do match analysis of the matches of junior tennis players whom I coach, I expand the comment section into techniques, tactics, and mental and physical aspects, and note in each section the weakness and strong sides of my player.

It's very easy to see only mistakes (that's how our mind naturally works; it looks for things that are not good). However, in order to have a realistic view of any player's performance, a coach needs to determine the player's strengths too.

I note weaknesses with a - before a comment and strengths with a + before a comment. Here's an example of an analysis of one set for one of my players:

Comments
TechniqueTacticsMentalPhysical
- Forehand return - the backswing is too big

- Smash - player not working well with the feet

+ good balance and technique on forehand inside-out (reinforce!)
+ is able to move opponent around with short cross court shots

- Cannot get out of backhand cross-court rallies
+ good focus and body language for the first 5 games of the match

- Gets down on herself for missing a sitter, and doesn't recover quickly enough
- Does not react quickly enough to drop shots, and the sprint is still too slow

+ has good stamina, even in the third set (so work more on short sprints)

It's also easy to write a 10 page analysis seeing every little mistake and noting every little strength, so the coach needs to be selective in determining what he/she chooses to note, and then later work on.

It's better to choose the most important things to note down. Note 1 to 5 things in each section in one set.

The priority are those weaknesses that cause the majority of the errors, or which are very often exploited by opponents. The strengths are very important for the player in order to build his confidence and to encourage the player's development.

The player must become realistic in evaluating his/her playing abilities and skills. There is always room for improvement, and there are always positive things in every match on which the player can build confidence, and know that he/she can play tennis well.

This way of analyzing the match provides the player, the coach and the parent with objective and reliable data. It helps avoid arguments based on opinions, and helps the player and the coach know exactly what to work on, and what happened in the match.

Here's what you can see from the analysis:
  • Is the player beating himself, or was the opponent a better player? If the aggressive margin is negative, then the player must first learn to play the game in such a way that he doesn't make more unforced errors than he makes points.

  • If the aggressive margin is positive and the player still lost, he needs to develop more weapons and ways to put the opponent under pressure.

  • Which stroke - forehand or backhand - makes more unforced errors? Too many times, players are convinced that their forehand is a better shot, and a match analysis like this can show that their aggressive margin on the forehand shot is negative! Meaning, they make more mistakes with it than points.

  • Which player is the more active one? You can clearly see under which player there are more signs of F, B, S and so on. That's the more active player. The coach needs to evaluate whether the player goes for too much, or whether the player is playing too passively.

  • Are the games strongly contested, or are they won easily by the server (or returner)? How many points are played on average in each game?

There are many more clues you can get from regularly analyzing matches like this. What works really well is comparing the analyses in the long term, for example in one year.

Has the player improved his aggressive margin, decreased the number of double faults, decreased the number of unforced errors, or improved his ability to win points at the net, and so on?

Three Examples of Analyzing a Tennis Match

These examples have one more thing noted in the analysis; each stroke also has a number which represents which point in the game that it was.

So, F1 means that this was the first point of the game, S4 means that this was the fourth point of the game. This can help you see how I would note the points from these matches into my match analysis sheet.

a) Roger Federer - Radek Stepanek Tie-break - Madrid Masters 2008


  Roger Federer Radek Stepanek
Score UE WF UE WF
6-6 F12 Bv1, S3, S7, Fp11, Bp13 S9, B10, F14 SM2, S4, S5, Fv6, Bv8

There are two, perhaps three points where you'll need to decide whether the mistake was an unforced error or a forced error:
- the eleventh point where Federer plays a passing forehand shot straight to Stepanek and he misses the volley (unforced error or forced by Federer?)
- the twelfth point where Stepanek plays a half volley drop shot and Federer misses the forehand passing shot (unforced or forced from Stepanek's drop shot?)

b) Andre Agassi - Pete Sampras Tie-break Australian Open 2000


  Andre Agassi Pete Sampras
Score UE WF UE WF
6-6   BP1, F3, S6, BP8, S10, S11, FP12   BV2, SM4, S5, FP7, S9

What's interesting in this tie-break of Agassi and Sampras is that all the points were won by great play, and there were no unforced errors. This just shows the amazing level at which these two masters of tennis were able to play, and why it was such a joy watching their clashes.



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