It was an epic match, one that few predicted. The hype was all around Serena Williams, one of the greatest female tennis players of all time, going for #24 Grand Slam victories and a historical accomplishment. But today, World Ranked #7 Simona Halep made a big statement in the Wimbledon Ladies Championship Final -> not on my watch Serena.
The 27 year old Romanian took it to Serena today, I’ve heard a lot of tennis coaches and fans say that Serena played badly. Well, I have a different take on the match and after watching it 3 times – I believe there is a perception issue here. Halep made Serena “look like she played badly”, or did she?
If we look at the DATA, here’s how each game was won in Set 1:
Game 1: Halep Return, Score went to 30-30, Halep wins 2 consecutive points and wins game. 1-0
Game 2: Serena Return, Serena does not win a point, 15-30-40-Game for Halep. 2-0
Game 3: Halep Return, Score went 30-30, Halep wins 2 consecutive points and wins game. 3-0
Game 4: Serena Return, Halep wins first 2 consecutive points 30-0, then they trade points 30-15, 40-15, 40-30, Game Halep . 4-0
Game 5: Halep Return, Halep does not win a point, 15-30-40-Game for Serena. 4-1
Game 6: Serena Return, Score went x2 Deuce, Halep wins 2 consecutive points there and wins. 5-1
Game 7: Halep Return, Halep does not win a point, 15-30-40-Game for Serena. 5-2
Game 8: Serena Return, Score went to 15-15, Halep wins 2 consecutive points 40-15, then loses a point 40-30, then wins the Set. 6-2
As you look closely, every game WITH EXCEPTION of Serena Serving, was won by a margin of 2 consecutive points, I call these Momentum Points. In 50% of Serena Serve games, she won every point! That doesn’t look like “playing badly”, the DATA reveals the reality of what happened in the match. In order to win a game, you must win by a margin of 2 points either at the beginning, middle, or end of the game. Halep was able to win more Momentum points (2 consecutive points) in the 1st Set than Serena.
*Serena won ALL 4 Momentum Points when Serving
Here’s what the DATA shows us in Set 2 with regards to Momentum Scoring:
Game 1: Halep Return, Score went to 30-30, Serena wins 2 consecutive points to win game. 0-1
Game 2: Serena Return, Score went to 30-30, Halep wins 2 consecutive points to win game. 1-1
Game 3: Halep Return, Halep does not win a point, Serena wins x2 consecutive points. 1-2
Game 4: Serena Return, Score went to 15-15, Halep wins 3 consecutive points to win game. 2-2
Game 5: Halep Return, Halep wins 2 consecutive points and goes up 30-0, then wins 2 consecutive points at 15-30 to win game. 3-2
Game 6: Serena Return, Score went to 30-30, Halep wins 2 consecutive points and wins game. 4-2
Game 7: Halep Return, Score went to x3 Deuce, Halep wins 2 consecutive points and wins game. 5-2
Game 8: Serena Return, Halep wins x2 consecutive point and wins Set 2. 6-2
If you watch closely Halep had a strategic plan in mind when Serving and that plan was to take it right to her opponent, to never relinquish a point, to be fully present in every moment. Halep was poised and ready with her First Strike Tactical Sequenced Plan. She only won every game except the last game of the match by only a margin of 2 consecutive points (1) time in each game. The perception is that Halep blew Serena off the court, when the DATA shows that the match was won by a small margin of 2 consecutive points.
The First Strike phase of a point include the first 2 shots of a point. When you are Serving, it’s the Serve and S1 (1st shot after the Serve) and when Returning, the Return and the R1 (1st shot after the Serve). This was no accident, it was intentional for Halep to deny Serena as many Forehands as possible in the First Strike phase of the point, especially when Serena was Returning. Below is the DATA from my new App, Tennis MapPlay.
You can download the App on the Apple Store, Iphone only right now.
The charts below show when Serena and Halep won or lost the point, what 2-shot First Strike Combination they played, and the number of points won or lost when beginning the point with that pattern.
First, let’s look at Simona Halep and her statistics for the Match:
This first piece of Data that you’ll see is that:
68% of the points in Set 1 ended 0-4 shots
75% of the points in Set 2 ended 0-4 shots.
So to say that Halep won the 1st and 2nd Set based on long rallies is a mis-perception and not the reality. Let’s also look at how Halep managed to win more Momentum points (2 consecutive points) than Serena, she did it with combining excellent Serve placement in addition to a solid Return game vs. Serena’s Serve.
Set 1 1st Serve % Won for Halep 78%, and 2nd Return % Won was 75%
Set 2 1st Serve % Won for Halep 82%, that means that Serena only won 18% of Return 1st Serve points in the 2nd Set
Simona attacked Serena’s S1 shot by attacking the 2nd Serve. These two shots are better analyzed when looked at as a 2-shot sequence and not just individual shots. Let’s look at Halep’s First Strike Combinations when Returning.
Halep’s Set 1 First Strike Combinations:
Notice that Halep played “0” BH/BH Combinations when Returning in the 1st Set.
She played 12 points where her R1 (1st shot after the Return) was a FOREHAND.
This is a big deal when Returning Serve! When you place your Return to receive a R1 Forehand, that’s how you dictate the beginning of the point and use your weapon early.
Let’s look at when Halep was Serving:
She played 24 points when the Serve was followed by a Forehand
and 28 points when the Serve was followed by a Backhand.
However, as we see in Serena’s First Strike Analysis below, Simona Halep made Serena play an enormous amount of BH/BH Return combinations taking away Serena’s opportunity to attacked her with the Forehand.
Serena’s Set 1 First Strike Combinations:
Halep made Serena play 12 BH/BH Return First Strike Combinations and here is the staggering statistic….. Serena lost 80% of those points when she was forced to hit this combination at the beginning of the point, and when Serena only hit a BH return because the point ended there, she lost 100% of those points!
That’s tactical execution vs. a player who loves her Forehand and can do major damage if given one. Then, when Halep finally gave Serena a chance to play a FH as her R1 shot, she lost 67% of those points. So, forcing Serena’s to play Backhand Return combinations threw off Serena’s rhythm when she finally saw a Forehand Return.
The idea here is that Halep forced Serena to start off the point the way Halep wanted Serena to begin.
Serena won 4/6 Returns when just playing a FH return only, she was 0/2 when having to play a BH return only.
So, it is clear from the DATA that Halep designed her Serve targets to keep Serena off her Forehand in the First Strike phase and it paid big dividends for Halep.
Also, if you will notice in the Halep First Strike Analysis chart below that she played 30 Cage Serves vs. Serena (16 C/FH and 14 C/BH combinations) to
6 OR (Outside Run) and 14 IR (Inside Run) Serve combinations (30/20 Ratio, or 6 out of 10 points Halep hit a Cage Serve into Serena’s body to force her to move out of the way and play the Return.
The Cage Serve is a Serve into the body of Serena, especially on her left hip forcing Serena to hit more BH Returns.
7 out of 10 points, Serena was forced to play a BH Return!! and she lost 90% of those points.
Halep Set 1 First Strike Combinations:
The main point I’m making is that Halep with precision Serving denied Serena Williams her Forehand within the First Strike phase of the point. Serena will punish you with her Forehand Return if she gets one, but they were few and far between today.
Simona Halep had a different strategy, take away the #1 strength of one of the best player’s in the world and win the shot momentum battle right out of the gate.
Set 2 was no different for Serena, she was forced by Halep to play more BH/BH Return First Strike Combinations.
Serena’s Set 2 First Strike Combinations:
As we look at the Chart above, Serena played once again 12 points with a BH/BH First Strike Return Combination, 4 FH/BH combinations for a total of 16 points where a Backhand was the R1 shot. Halep once again denied Serena the opportunity to play a R1 Forehand only 8 points in the 2nd Set. A 2 to 1 Ratio where Serena was forced to play her secondary weapon, the Backhand.
The Serve game of Halep was absolutely stunning, her precision to dictate the point quickly in the beginning of the point led to Serena losing a lot of points on her Serve. The Rally Length Win/Loss Ratio Chart shows when Serena lost points on her Return.
Set 1 Serena Rally Length Win/Loss Ratio Chart:
Looking at the chart, Serena was negative in Win/Loss Ratio for Returning in Set 1.
Set 2 Serena Rally Length Win/Loss Ratio Chart:
Set 2 was the same story for Serena, Halep forced her to play BH/BH combinations and thus won 9/11 points in the First Strike phase of the point. Serena was -9 differential on Return and R1.
The story of this match is that Halep forced Serena to play her secondary shot in the First Strike phase (0-4) shots, thus not allowing Serena to win easy points in the most important part of each point. Serena was fighting from behind almost every point of this match. Halep used a Cage Serve (body) to distract Serena and then mixed in some Outside and Inside Serves here and there. It was the Cage Serve that caught Serena off guard and thus produced a strong S1 response from Halep to help the point along towards the 5-8 shot rally length where 23% of the points ended (2 out of 10).
Extended rallies (+9 shots) accounted for an insignificant 6% of the total points played in this match. 7 out of 120 points. 94% of the total points ended on or before each player hit 4 shots! So, pay no attention to the “man behind the curtain”, the illusion that this match was won and lost on the long points is just that, an illusion. This match was decided by the fact that Halep played the First Strike phase of the point with tactical precision and surgically removed one of the greatest player of all time’s biggest weapon in the beginning of every point….. Serena’s Forehand.
Congratulations to Simona Halep, a well-deserved and spectacularly executed strategic First Strike plan.
Note: All tennis players are First Strike players as evidenced by the DATA -> 7 out of 10 points end in the beginning phase of the point.