A List of Court Speeds


I’ve been wondering for a while now about the different court speeds and the above table pretty much sums it up. In the table the court speed is determined by the percentage of points won on serve, which I think is pretty accurate. As expected Paris is number one and is probably the only event on the list which is still conducive to serve-and-volley play. Interestingly Paris has probably been Roger’s worst Masters Series event. Last year was his best result yet where he made semis and lost to Monfils after having match points. I think it shows that he hasn’t really worked that hard on his attacking game over the years. Last year when he joined up with Annacone he started to work more on coming to the net which could be why he had his best result yet in Paris. I wish Roger gave more attention to his net game over the years.

When Wimbledon was still fast he was right up there with the best serve-and-volley players. Then as the surfaces became slower he became a base liner and his net game basically died. I think that hurt him especially against Nadal. He was too stubborn and wanted to dominate Nadal from the base line. I don’t think it was as much the slowing down of the courts that hurt him against Nadal as his stubbornness to go to the net. Now that Annacone is helping him to be more attacking it is at a pretty late stage and a lot of the damage has already been done. To get back to the table, I’m a bit surprised that Wimbledon is still in second spot. Wimbledon has been slowed down some, but I think it is mostly the height and consistency of the bounce that has changed, which have helped someone like Nadal. The surface itself still seems to be pretty fast.

Cincinnati is high up as expected. Cincy has been one of Roger’s best Masters Series events especially of late, having won it the last two years. This to me shows that he does enjoy the faster surfaces, coupled with the fact that he has done so well at Wimbledon over the years. Canada is also pretty high up, although I’m not sure if the stat is conclusive since they alternate between Toronto and Montreal. Anyway Roger has won it twice and made two finals. It’s also quite interesting to see the US Open having about average speed, but I suppose that’s more or less expected. The US Open have been slowed down along with all the other courts, but is still a surface which Roger loves to play on. Then it’s quite surprising to see a clay court event ahead of Miami, Indian Wells, and the Oz Open.

The altitude in Madrid obviously has a lot to do with it but it also shows how slow some of the hard courts have become. Indian Wells, Miami, and the Oz Open are classified as slow hard court. In Indian Wells and Miami Roger was doing really well earlier in his career, while the results have dropped off a little of late. And this year at the Oz Open he lost in straight sets to Djokovic. In that match it looked like the slower courts really got to him because he was unable to penetrate Djokovic’s defenses. Finally at the bottom of the list we have Roland Garros and Rome, which is to be expected. It is worth noting that Roger beat Djokovic on a slower court than the Oz Open when he beat him at Roland Garros this year. How could he not get through Djokovic’s defenses at the Oz Open but was able to do it at the French?

It’s a hard question to answer. Maybe the clay helped him to vary his game more with drop shots and slices. The crowd also played a role as they were really behind Roger. Roger looked inspired on the day, like he was out to prove something. Finally he played a really good tournament throughout, not dropping a set until that match. At the Oz Open he lost two sets to Simon earlier on and wasn’t exactly full of confidence. It looks like from here on if Roger is going to win a slam he is going to have look really confident from the start. Coming back to the surface speeds, Roger have done well on all surface speeds throughout his career. But as he gets older he seems to favor faster courts. That could have to do with the fact that he is trying to play more attacking these days and the fact that he doesn’t move as well as he used to.

Therefor he needs to play first strike tennis and keep the points short. With guys like Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray around who all have amazing defenses, faster courts will obviously help him. It means he gets involved in less long rallies where there is a better chance of him making unforced errors. So it doesn’t work in his favor that things have been slowed down so much these days, but at the same time he left it pretty late to start working on a more attacking game. If he did so earlier it may have been easier to deal with the rise of the defensive base liners and for him to make up for his lack of foot speed as he grew older. My overall conclusions are that Roger started neglecting his net game as surface speeds slowed down and it cost him, in his prime as well as now.


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  1. “How could he not get through Djokovic’s defenses at the Oz Open but was able to do it at the French?”

    I think that has more to do with Djokovic’s game than anything. Djokovic’s best surface – by far – is slow hardcourt: it gives him the time he likes to set up his shots plus the surest footing, crucial given the centrality of movement to his game. Clay also of course gives him lots of time but his movement is not as good. Thus on clay, Fed’s fast game of flat hard shots hit on the rise gives Djoko more trouble than on slow hardcourt.

    I think the Cincy fast hardcourts favor Fed while USO courts are at this stage probably the closest thing to neutral ground for the two of them.


  2. Hi Ruan,
    Interesting analysis. However, I don’t agree to all your assertions.

    I don’t think using individual matches is the best way to do this analysis. The stats can often get distorted based on a big server or an average returner(e.g. Soderling Vs Monfils match. Both have big first serves and are not the best returners). I think Cincinatti is the fastest court, and Paris is a close second. Wimbledon is a fast for a good server, but most players do not have the right footwork, adequate footing during the rallies. So in a way it helps some more than others.

    I think a fast hard court was Roger’s best surface. As astonishing as his record in Wimbledon, his 5 straight US opens and 6 straight finals is more amazing. It is as such a difficult schedule in which to win(with back to back SFs and F), but even more difficult to do this year after year for 5 years!

    I say was because, he had an extra yard of speed in his heydays and it used to be very difficult to attack him. Now, he has lost a yard of speed and more and more players can put him on the defensive positions in fast hardcourts. Counterpunchers get more mileage on these types of surfaces(e.g. Andy Murray).

    I think the relative match up between players is important when it comes to the Federer Djokovic analysis. I think if they play their best, Federer hits a flatter ball in comparison to Djokovic, which allows Federer more time to get to get to Djokovic’s shots on a slow surface like clay. Djokovic’s more spin oriented shots slow down lesser on a hardcourt and therefore allow less time for Federer to get to them. Also the type of surface plays a role in how deep the player can play. If Djokovic is hitting deep into the court on a hardcourt surface, it is extremely difficult to beat him(as was the case in Australian open)


  3. The STATS above merely give the % of points won on one’s service games of the WINNER alone !!!

    So it cannot be ENTIRELY used to determine the relative FASTNESS of these courts…

    May be with the exception of PARIS as its INDOOR!!!

    Federer had 78% 1st serve winnig about 74% of points on service while Tsonga won 70% of 1st serve while also the same 70% of service points!!!

    Atleast Djokovic had more aces(7-5) & lesser unforced errors(12-15) than Nadal which JUSTIFIES the END RESULT…

    Ironically Federer had 1 less ace (17-18) & far lesser unforced errors(11-22) than Tsonga!!!

    Hence Federer was clearly the BETTER player than Tsonga!!



  4. “Percentages of points one on serve over the event”.

    How is this percentage calculated???? Is it the percentage of all players that participated in the event, or the percentage of the finalists, or the performance of only the winner of the event?

    For Rolland Garros 2011 for instance, the table shows us a 62,1% winning percentage. This percentage reflects certainly not the winning percentage of rafael Nadal in this event.

    The percentage of service points won by Nadal in Roland Garros 2011 is clearly a lot higher:

    Serve statistics of Nadal in Roland Garros edition 2011:
    Nadal-Isner -> 79 1st serves won of 97 (81 %)
    26 2d serves won of 37 (70 %)
    Nadal-Veic -> 57 1st serves won of 86 (66 %)
    18 2d serves won of 40 (45 %)
    Nadal – Ljubcic – 40 1st serves won of 49 (82 %)
    15 2d serves won of 23 (65%)
    Nadal -Soderling- 44 1st serves won of 69 (64%)
    15 2d serves won of 21 (71%)
    Nadal- Murray -> 60 1st serves won of 87 (69 %)
    14 2d serves won of 32 (44 %)
    Nadal -Federer -> 69 1st serves won of 106 (65 %)
    21 2d serves won of 41 (51 %)

    Total points won on serve by Nadal in the Roland Garros 2011 event:= 502 points out of 754 serves (=66,5 %) .

    Federer’s winning percentage on serve must also be a lot higher.


  5. I agree Federer can use the net more often but I don’t think it will solve the “Nadal problem”. Serve-and-volley died because of the slower courts (which allow passing more easily since they give more time to set up the shot). Nadal will pass you all day long (even from his backhand side) if you go to the net too often.

    Djokovic solved Nadal by “simply” cancelling his main weapon. He returns Nadal’s forehand spin bombs with his deep and flat backhand, and he’s doing it consistently. Nadal w/o his forehand is just slightly better player than Murray – he is manageable… and beatable. Federer’s never done it that consistently with his one-handed, even in his prime and Nadal used it to beat him on all surfaces (even before the mental issue).


  6. Interesting thoughts. It is good to have some metric for court speed.

    This doesn’t explain everything, though: Nadal is 1-2 in finals at Madrid, in contrast to being 2-1 in finals at IW. That is consistent with that table.

    But he’s 0-3 in finals at Miami, yet Miami is fractionally slower than IW, according to this measure. There are definitely other factors at work.

    It seems harsh to me to criticize Federer for not using his volleying skills more.

    Eight years ago, he wasn’t Roger Federer, 16-time major champion. He was Roger Federer, talented, ambitious, but unproven young hotshot. His big priority was to be #1 and win major titles.

    The fastest, surest route to consistent, high-level success in the baseline era was to develop as a baseliner: stay back, rally, and wait for a chance to make a winner. He had the skills to make that work, so he took that route. It’s hard to blame him for that.

    Trying to dominate as a serve and volley player in the baseline era would have been a difficult and highly uncertain undertaking, and he might have lost out on many opportunities to win titles, especially Grand Slam titles, in the process.

    He might have lost his window to establish himself as a major force and dominant #1. As it was he only won his first Grand Slam at 21 going on 22, which is pretty late for a male player.

    If he hadn’t broken through when he did, Roddick or Safin would probably have established himself as a solid #1 player during 2004 and it would’ve been a lot harder, perhaps impossible, for Federer to come into his own.

    Towards the end of his career, as he lost more often to players with heavy groundstrokes and great court coverage, like Safin and Hewitt, Pete Sampras was surely prescient enough to see that the coming era would be dominated by baseliners and I have little doubt that that realization contributed to his retiring when he did.

    Without an overwhelming advantage like Sampras’ fantastic serve it became impossible for a serve and volley player to be near the top.

    Federer has a great serve but it isn’t on the level of Sampras’. Attempting to do what the great Pistol could not and dominate as a serve-and-volleyer in a baseline era, without having Sampras’ biggest weapon, is a huge ask even for someone as talented as Roger Federer.

    Perhaps he might have been able to eventually do it nevertheless, given sufficient time, but back then he didn’t have the luxury to leisurely experiment for a couple years while he tried to work out how to adapt the net-rushing style to the era of slow courts, tireless defenders, and graphite rackets.

    Now after 16 majors and the Career Slam, he has earned that luxury. He’s not feeling pressure to win merely for winning’s sake. He can take time to work on aspects of his game which he neglected earlier and develop solutions to the problems he’s facing.

    An interview with Annacone gives us a hint of what Federer is currently attempting:

    I asked Annacone for his assessment of Federer’s technique on the volley, and he replied, “It is good…But the game has gotten different and you have to volley differently and approach differently than you did five years ago. We don’t see many people that are able to move in and volley and cover the right volley and hit the volley to the right spot in many sequential volley segments anymore. When guys come in, it is usually a big approach shot and one volley. The game has changed, and now against the better players and the better defenders, you have to be able to do it even better and be ready for a second volley or a third volley or an overhead. But Roger has got the skills to do that and it is part of that recipe that makes up his whole body of work.”

    Clearly both Federer and Annacone are conscious that things have changed since the ’90s, as slow surfaces and racket technology have nearly killed off classical serve-and-volley tennis. However, judging by this quote, Annacone is pretty confident that Federer can nonetheless compensate for these trends by figuring out more effective ways to come forward without getting passed, and develop more sophisticated combinations of volleys and other shots to finish points at the net.

    This is surely a long-term project and I don’t think Federer is done working on it yet. I plan to stay tuned this fall, since the faster hard courts should give him a chance to really showcase this part of his game.


    Ru-an Reply:

    Never said he should have serve-and-volleyed. I said he should have used his net skills more like he is doing now. If he did it earlier he would have done better against Nadal and therefor had a better resume. He is doing it now anyway so he might as well have done it earlier.


  7. As always like your optimistic and insightful post, Steve. Even without looking at your name it is easy to know from the comments you make that this must be you.To all other comments I have only one thing to say. It is easy to say that if Federer had done this or that he would have fared better. This is just like thinking the attacker’s way while playing chess.The attacker may think of some strategy to finish off his opponent but what if his strategy somehow overlooks the strategy of the opponent. In Federer’s case since he is a 16 time GS champion he should know better than most of the his fans making comments and giving him advice.


  8. I agree with Steve that there must be other factors at work as well than court speed.

    How can we indeed explain Nadal looses in Miami Key Biscane in 2007 and 2009 by the same guys he has beaten two weeks before in Indian Wells the same year (Djokovic in 2007 and Del Potro in 2009) ?
    It certainly can not only be explained by the small difference in speed of the courts.


  9. I don’t think Roger was ever that comfortable at the net, and he has also said in the past that his net play was not good enough for today’s game to really come to the net constantly. See this 2007 interview with the prominent American journalist Charlie Rose:

    At the 25:40 mark,


    Also, keep in mind that during the post wood racquet era, the 4 great serve and volleyers (McEnroe, Edberg, Becker, Sampras) all started their decline in their mid-late 20’s and once in their 30’s none of them were able to play at the same level consistently as some of their baseline counterparts (Connors, Lendl, Agassi) did when they were in their 30’s. This I think it does show that as one gets older, it becomes a bit more difficult to play good net game, since one is not as quick as before, which McEnroe alluded to in the above interview, right after Roger’s talk about his net game.


  10. Just want to add that Ruan I know you stated that you are not saying Roger should have served and volleyed more. I was just making a general point about Roger and his net name in the above post.


  11. I see I am being sloppy with the writings here:

    1st post:

    instead of “This I think it does show”

    it should be “I think this shows”

    2nd post:

    “net name” should be “net game”


  12. Ruan,

    I just read this disturbing post on Tennis Has a Steroid Problem. The ITF will not release detailed drug testing statistics for 2010. Ever. They have done so for the past several years but suddenly they won’t do it. This is especially suspicious given that Serena Williams missed a test in 2009 and then disappeared with a mysterious foot injury which kept her out exactly one year.

    “Lopi said…
    I wrote the ITF yesterday, through the feedback section on their website and asked when the detailed testing results for 2010 would be published. This is their reply…

    “The ITF is publishing data in accordance with the minimum requirements of WADA Code Article 14.4.

    14.4 Statistical Reporting
    Anti-Doping Organizations shall, at least annually, publish publicly a general statistical report of their Doping Control activities with a copy provided to WADA.

    We do not intend to publish any additional information.


    Tennis Anti-Doping Department”


  13. Ru-an, this blog has been so silent, where are you and everyone else that so faithfully comes to comment. Hope you are okay, Ru-an. Come back!


  14. Ruan,

    you may want to check out the site of this author:

    The Top 4 (Djokovic/Nadal/Federer/Murray​), Del Potro And The Story Of Hard Court Statistics So Far: Part II:http://bit.ly/noY2Wp

    In part 1, she has discussed the entire game stats: you might find it interesting.


  15. Hi! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after reading through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.
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