Why Abolishing The Second Serve Would Ruin Tennis


British newspaper The Guardian put the cat firmly amongst the pigeons last week by suggesting that tennis ought to abolish the second serve altogether.

“The second serve rewards failure, wastes time and means we all have to spend far longer watching Rafael Nadal towelling his face, fiddling with his headband and pulling his shorts out from between his butt-cheeks than is necessary,” wrote one of their columnists.

“The time has come to rid tennis of this superfluous second-serve menace.”

They have a point. Eliminating the second serve could well improve the sport by speeding up matches significantly. Take the 2010 Wimbledon marathon between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. There’s no way that would have lasted 11 hours if players hadn’t been able to fall back on second serves when under pressure.

Such a rule-change would also make serves far easier to break. On fast surfaces, currently, once a player has had his service game broken, that’s often set over. But with just one serve, service games would be broken all the time.

Unfortunately such a radical rule change would also impair the sport in ways we don't immediately realise. Players would be forced to decelerate their service speed in case they faulted. This would result in stronger returns of serve and therefore much longer rallies.Not to mention the few serve-and-volleyers left in the sport who would die out overnight.

And there’d be no more aces. Well, virtually no more aces. Only the most reckless players would risk firing down a 145mph serve without the cushion of a second chance. A shame, since spectators like the odd ace now and then. The likes of Ivo Karlovic, Michael Llodra and Nicolas Mahut could kiss goodbye to their careers.

Another consequence is that servers would serve less riskily by not aiming for the corners of the service box. This would result in less varied rallies since the court wouldn’t be opened up as much because returners wouldn’t be dragged wide along the baseline.

Overall, it would be a grave error to eliminate the second serve. There’s nothing wrong with changing rules per se, but such a radical change could change the sport beyond recognition.

A far better idea, Guardian columnist, would be simply to eliminate the service let. If the ball hits the net and lands in the service box, play should continue. This will speed up matches without changing the entire dynamics of play.

But just imagine if the one-serve-only rule was adopted. Which players would most benefit?

One way of measuring this is to look at the ATP’s first-serve percentage figures. Last year, the most consistent male player on the first serve was Roberto Bautista Agut at 71%, followed by Rafa Nadal at 69%. Then came Carlos Berlocq, Nikolay Davydenko and John Isner, all at 68%; and Daniel Brands at 67%.

Nadal is hot favourite at 1.70 to win next month's French Open, Isner is at 300.00 while Berlocq is a rank outsider at 800.00.

When it comes to the WTA, only the 2014 figures are available. Sara Errani is the most consistent on first serves, followed by Carla Suarez Navarro, Kurumi Nara, Yaroslava Shvedova and Annika Beck.

Of these, only two have Unibet odds to win the French Open: Errani is at 30.00, while Suarez Navarro is at 120.00.