Diego Schwartzman’s Serve Adjustment

One of the reasons I love tennis is because of players like Diego Schwartzman. The outliers. The ones, who are “not supposed to be there.” As of January 4th, 2021, Schwartzman is ranked #9 in the world, despite:

  • Being listed at 5’7,” while all the other players in the top 10 are 6’1″ or taller
  • Not having a high profile as a junior – his career high ITF World Junior Ranking was #217 – while most of the other players in the top 10 were ranked #100 or better
  • Holding serve less than 80% of the time, while the other players in the top 10 are comfortably over that mark

It’s this last bullet point that will have to change, if Schwartzman is to keep ascending up the ATP rankings: he will have to develop his serve into more of a weapon. He already excels on the return: according to the ATP Stats Leaderboards, he was the 2nd best returner on the tour in the year 2020. Yet when looking at the serve leaderboards, he ranked 48th. With that being said, let’s take a deeper dive into some of Schwartzman’s serve metrics to see where the improvements could come from.

First, this is how Schwartzman’s serve statistics compare to the rest of the top 10. The rankings are as of January 4th, 2021, and all statistics are for the year 2020.

ATP RankNameFirst Serve %First Serve Win %Second Serve Win %% of Service Games Held
1N. Djokovic64.4%75.2%54.1%86.3%
2R. Nadal64.4%73.6%58.6%87.1%
3D. Thiem63.0%73.8%51.7%83.7%
4D. Medvedev59.1%76.8%53.6%83.4%
5R. Federer66.0%74.2%53.0%86.1%
6S. Tsitsipas64.5%76.1%57.8%88.4%
7A. Zverev68.0%76.7%45.9%82.5%
8A. Rublev59.0%78.6%53.4%85.2%
10M. Berrettini62.1%80.2%58.0%91.0%
Mean (no Schwartzman)63.4%76.1%54.0%86.0%
9D. Schwartzman62.7%64.7%50.9%72.9%
Data Courtesy of ATPTour.com

Looking at the columns individually, the first serve percentage is right in line with the rest of the top 10 – there is no need for Schwartzman to get more first serves in play. Similarly, the second serve win percentage is not an outlier either. Schwartzman is about 3% below the rest of the top 10, but his second serve win percentage is better than Zverev’s, and close to Thiem’s, for example.

The reason why Schwartzman holds serve only about 73% of the time, while the rest of the top 10 is at 86%, is that Schwartzman gets way less out of his first serve. And since the majority of points in tennis are played following a first serve – you will rarely see a player with a first serve percentage below 50% – it follows that the low first serve win percentage is the driver behind Schwartzman holding serve less often than the other players in the top 10. The data bears that out – the closest player to Schwartzman’s 64.7% first serve win percentage is Rafael Nadal at 73.6% – about 9% higher.

Knowing that the key to holding serve more often will come from getting more out of the first serve, let’s look at Schwartzman’s first serve patters from 2020 and see if something stands out.

This is Schwartzman serving from the deuce side in 2020:

Below is the same data in a table. I have added a column “Free Point %,” which is just the number of aces and unreturned first serves divided by the total number of first serves hit into that particular part of the box.

SectionDeuce WideDeuce MidDeuce T
Serves Made58.6%12.5%28.9%
Points Won68.4%50.8%76.6%
Avg 1st Serve Speed100 mph101 mph108 mph
Free Point %26.2%5%31.8%
Data Courtesy of ATPTour.com

Looking at this table, the first adjustment I would try to make is to hit more first serves down the T in the deuce side of the court. It has been Schwartzman’s best first serve – hit at the highest velocity, with the highest overall winning percentage, and the highest free point percentage. Yet Schwartzman aimed that way less than 3 out of 10 times.

Let’s look at the same data for the ad side of the court:

SectionAd WideAd MidAd T
Serves Made31.2%9.0%59.8%
Points Won65.9%69.2%59.5%
Avg 1st Serve Speed103 mph100 mph104 mph
Free Point %22.7%21.9%19.4%
Data Courtesy of ATPTour.com

In the ad side of the court, Schwartzman’s favorite serve was the T serve – to a right handed player’s forehand – and he hit that serve about 6 out of 10 times. Yet he had a higher winning percentage, and a higher free point percentage, going out wide. The difference in the ad side is smaller than it was in the deuce side, but it is something worth tracking and paying attention to.

Being one of the 10 best tennis players in the world is an impressive feat in and of itself. Yet if Schwartzman has his eyes set even higher, he will have to find a way to get more help from his first serve. A possible tweak – requiring no technical changes, or getting physically stronger – would be to aim more first serves down the T in the deuce, and out wide in the ad. Of course, it is not as simple as “prescribing” a player a certain serving pattern; the player has to be comfortable with the serve, and trust it in various match situations. But tennis is a game of adjustments, and this one might make holding serve a little easier for Mr. Schwartzman.

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