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In tennis, serving is one of the biggest weapons a player has in their arsenal, and it’s an integral part of the game at elite-level competitions.
This wasn’t always the case, but as racket technology became more advanced and players became more athletic the serve gradually morphed into one of the most powerful weapons available to score points.
Naturally, this makes the player who has the serve the favorite to win the game that they have the serve on, and it makes them the underdog when they’re playing against the serve.
The various governing bodies of the tennis world have tried many ways of slowing down serves and making the game better to watch for fans, and have done this by regulating the construction of tennis balls and how they work, as well as the surfaces of the tennis courts themselves.
But despite their efforts, the serve gives a significant advantage to the player who has it, particularly in men’s tennis where the speed of service regularly breaks 100mph.
Some of the best players such as Alexander Zverec and John Isner regularly reach average service speeds of 120 or 130 MPH on their first serve, and this doesn’t give their opponent very much time to make an effective return or to even react to where the serve is going.
This means that the server has an undeniable advantage, and even though the serve swaps to each player each successive game, this makes winning against the serve an incredibly difficult yet important moment where the momentum of a set or even an entire match can swing massively.
Statistically speaking, far more games are won by the server than the returner, but this is a little different in women’s tennis, as the players are naturally a little shorter and less muscular than the male players and thus aren’t able to generate quite as much power and thus makes the serve a less potent weapon and arguably makes women’s tennis much more entertaining to watch as there are far more competitive rallies and chess like duels, and the advantage of the server is reduced when compared to male tennis.
There are outliers however, and the famous Williams sisters in particular are renowned for their ability to serve incredibly powerfully and rival the speed and pace the male players can generate, and this is part of the reason for their long dominance of the women’s game.
While the serve isn’t as powerful in women’s tennis, winning against the serve is still seen as a significant moment of momentum swing and plays a huge part in the psychological battle of tennis, which is why it’s still so important to break your opponent’s serve.
What is a Breakpoint in Tennis?
This indicates that the player has ‘broken’ their opponent’s serve and has managed to win the game despite the significant advantage that serves have, particularly in men’s tennis, and these moments often prove to be extremely important when determining who wins the overall set and the match in total.
It’s equally important in women’s tennis also, even if the server’s advantage is slightly reduced.
The scoring system of tennis allows for multiple breakpoints to occur during a set, as the serve swaps back and forth between the players.
Often it’s thought that winning a breakpoint is one of the most difficult feats in a game of tennis and is even more difficult to secure a break point than it is to secure a standard game point or even a set point.
What Does This Mean?
In a standard competitive game of single tennis, if the returner gets to a score of 40 before the server and can win the game with the next point, this is break point.
If they win that following point and take the game, they are said to have ‘broken’ the serve of the opposing player, and this is why the point is known as break point.
Why Is This So Important?
The ability to break your opponent’s serve will often lead to a player pulling ahead in the set, and gaining a significant advantage over their opponent.
This is also compounded by the fact that, following a break point, the player who won it will of course be the next to serve, which further adds to their advantage, allowing them to pull ahead in the set and create some distance between them and their opponent.
This is also huge in the psychological battle as the player who loses on their serve will know they’ve been broken and this can put them on the back foot mentally, and if they’re unable to rally they may lose heart or start to make more mistakes as they try to play harder and catch up to their opponent who has pulled ahead.
Break Point vs. Game Point
When the server gets to 40 first, or gets to advantage during deuce, this is known as game point, and means the server will win the game on the next point.
Some games can become very drawn out as players compete for points and if the score reaches deuce, the game could technically go on for an indefinite period of time until someone eventually reaches advantage and then scores the next point to seal the win.
In games like this, where the server or the returner is on advantage and needs to score the next point to win, the game can alternate between breakpoint and game point several times, and builds a lot of pressure on both players.
While breaking serve here can be a huge boost, it can be an even bigger boost to hold serve after a competitive game and saving the game after being on break point can be a significant boost to the player who was almost broken.