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Fast Starters On Serve

It is no secret that some players excel at racing out of the blocks quickly, whilst others often need time to build themselves into matches. At the top level, Andy Murray is often regarding as a relatively slow starter, while further down, the likes of Fabio Fognini and Jiri Vesely are seen as players that do not exact start rapidly.

If we could identify those players that start matches quickly and those that struggle to get out of the blocks, we may be able to use the information in terms of betting. If you are looking to get onside with a player that tends to start slowly, maybe it is worth waiting a game or two before entering the market rather than backing him from the start. Similarly, if you are looking to back a quick starter, backing him from the very start may lead to early chances to build a good position. So, how are we to find the quick and slow starters?

Nikoloz Basilashvili is very effective at protecting his serve in the early exchanges

The obvious place to begin is to look at the percentage of holds of serve and breaks of serve in the opening games of the match and compare it with the percentage for the rest of the match. Those players that start quickly are likely to show up with high percentages of holds and breaks in the opening two service and return games, while slow starters will probably have much higher statistics later in the match.

Using the excellent point-by-point data from Jeff Sackman (@tennisabstract), we can break matches down to gain this data. We have point-by-point data from 11,663 ATP matches, which represents the majority of matches from the start of 2011 until the end of the 2015 US Open, and should give us a reasonable sample size for a number of ATP players. We shall calculate the service hold percentage for each player for their first two service games of the match and the service hold percentage for all other service games, and the same process for return games and break percentages. Players with less than 20 service games in the 'Opening Two Games' category will be excluded.

This table shows the top 15 players in terms of the difference between their service hold percentage in their opening two service games compared to the rest of their service games. Nikoloz Basilashvili tops this list with an impressive 19 holds of serve from 22 games, given him a service hold percentage early on of 86.4%. For the rest of service games, this drops to just 67.7%, which suggests that players should not panic if they struggle to make a breakthrough against his serve in the early stages.

We can also see the talented young pairing of Hyeon Chung and Borna Coric on this list. Over time, it will be interesting to see whether they remain toward the top of the table here or whether it is just a lack of stamina that causes their service game to drop as the match progresses.

It is certainly worth considering that if you are looking to oppose any of these players in the market, you might be able to get a slightly bigger price by waiting a couple of games until we get past their strong starts.

At the other end of the scale, we can see some players that really struggle to get out of the blocks. Yannick Mertens has held just 12 out of 24 of his opening two service games, which is pretty horrible when you consider it. It certainly suggests that if you are looking to oppose Mertens, it is worth doing it from the very start, rather than waiting, or if you are looking to back any of these players, you may want to wait a couple of games to see whether they are able to limit the damage in the early stages.

Here, I have listed a few of the bigger name players in the ATP as a comparison. For all the notion of Andy Murray being a slow starter, on serve there does not appear to be much of a difference. Whilst he does hold serve on very slightly fewer occasions, it is a small difference. However, the French pairing of Gilles Simon and Gael Monfils do appear to start relatively slowly, although this is nothing compared to the Italian pairing of Fabio Fognini and Andreas Seppi. If you are looking to back these players, you may benefit by waiting for a slightly bigger price after a slow start.

On the flip side, we can see that Stan Wawrinka is a very strong starter on serve, while the duo of Milos Raonic and Roger Federer are both very proficient at protecting their serve immediately from the start of the match.

The next article will look at those players that have the ability to break serve effectively in the early stages and those that take time to get a read on their opponent's serve.

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