Player Patterns in Platform Tennis
Should you go for more winners when you play? The data tells another story.
On the paddle court, a player’s biggest weapon is consistency. It seems stupid to say this, but being consistent over style (big forehands, crazy spin) wins matches.
Part of being consistent is keeping track of what shots you miss,what shots you make, and which shots are winners, so you can make adjustments during a match. One of the hardest skills for a player to develop is tracking that data in real-time.
Part of being consistent is keeping track of what shots you miss, what shots you make and which shots are winners.
If you know the high percentage data patterns- the ones that lend themselves to consistency- before you even start to play, this gives you a huge advantage over your opponent.
I am the Paddle Director at a club in suburban Chicago. We have 7 teams of men and women battling in the Chicago leagues. This fall I charted matches from all the levels, Series 4-28. I kept a running tally of errors, winners and patterns of offensive shots.
In this simple random sampling of players, there were 1,664 points played during 25 sets over the course of four months.
Here are the patterns that emerged:
Winners Mean Less Than you Think
The percentages of winners versus total points is very small. Of the total points, 15.2% were winners (winners being defined as shots the other side either couldn’t touch, or they were hit with so much pace or spin that the mechanics of the opponent broke down).
Roughly 45% of the points ended on an error. Of those errors, 19.8% of the points ended on first touch errors. A “first touch” error is either a serve or return miss. These are balls that players fail to get over the net or into play.
What does the data tell us so far? Teams that had less errors than their opponents won every single time. It was that simple. Teams won because they reduced their errors, not because they increased their winners.
Here’s the breakdown of total errors committed by players:
Surrender Yourself to the game
There are a lot of lessons you can learn from this simple set of data. Just avoiding these error pits will put you ahead of most players out there. Below are the biggest culprits:
#1 — Missed lobs — 23.9%
#2 — Missed Returns — 23.6%
#3 — Missed Serves — 20%
The figure below shows the shots that made up the highest percentage of winners- i.e., the shots that paid off the most:
#1- Overheads- 36%
#2- Volleys- 29.7%
#3- Returns- 16.2 %
Point after anguishing point, I see people throwing good money after bad. If you miss three returns, why would you try and hit a winner on the fourth? There is no way you can make up for all your errors by hitting winners. It’s just too hard to hit winners in this game. It makes no sense, but this is what people do. The better strategy is to make sure you get serves, returns and lobs in the court, even if that means you have to dial down the pace of your shots. It’s a tactical adjustment that wins matches!
The better strategy is to make sure you get serves, returns and lobs in the court, even if that means you have to dial down the pace.
If you noticed, returns just edged drives for the third spot. I think this is because the server is always off the net for the first volley. There’s an opportunity here, but it’s risky. Dial up the return and you risk missing. Dial it down and what happens? A lot of the time the server is just trying to get the first volley in the court. It makes sense to err on the side of caution.
In order to see the shots that precipitate more winners- the overheads and volleys- you have to get past a serve, a return and a lob.
The data shows that it pays off more to go conservative a little bit on the serves, returns and lobs. A note on the lob- this means not worrying so much about short lobs- that’s much better than missing them long.
Why not take chances with the shots that have the most winners- the volleys and overheads?
If you stick to the patterns of consistency in paddle, you can’t help but be a better player than most of your opponents.
Chip was the Director of paddle at several clubs across Chicagoland. He’s been teaching and playing paddle across Chicago for 17 years. Like this article? Give it some claps below!