2017 was another frustrating year for British number two Heather Watson. From her highs of the grass season, to failing to qualify for the French Open for the first time in six years, it was another hit and miss year for the Guernsey player. When analysing her game, there is one stumbling factor that comes up every time: her serve. Tom Madden explains how her serve is perhaps better than people think and why there’s cause for optimism ahead of the 2018 season.
Heather Watson has come within touching distance of beating the greats – most notably Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka on the Wimbledon Centre Court and Maria Sharapova at Flushing Meadows. On a few occasions, she has been tasked with serving for the match, but in these instances she succumbed to the pressure of the moment. This is one reason her serve could, and perhaps should, be placed under the telescope.
Too many double faults?
On close inspection, WTA stats show that one of the most inconsistent factors associated with Watson’s serve is the amount of first serves that land in. Watson’s first serve percentage in 2017 was 58.1%, a significant drop from the mid 60 averages she recorded for the 2011 (65.6%) and 2012 (65.4%) seasons.
Further yet, Watson recorded her second highest number of double faults for a whole season last year (136 – only three fewer than her highest total in 2015). This translated to an average of 4.9 double faults per match, which is her worst average in any given season on the WTA Tour. If you compare Watson’s average double faults per match (4.9) to her average aces per match (3.5) it shows that Watson was more likely to ‘give’ her opponents free points, than reap the benefits of a strong ace count.
Despite this, stats show that Watson’s ace count for 2017 ranked 50th on the WTA tour. This is quite impressive considering she played less matches this year on the WTA tour, than she did in 2015 and 2016. The stats also show that Watson’s service game improved in a lot of important areas.
Even with a season-ending ranking of 74 in 2017, Watson recorded her highest season average percentages for first service points won, service points won, break points saved, and service games won. There were also areas where she only marginally dropped small percentages in her service game. For example, Watson’s average second serve points (won) slightly dropped from 45.7% in 2016 to 45.3% in 2017.
On the whole, Watson’s serve is strong, but there are areas that are inconsistent, such as her first serve and DF count, and if those percentages/counts increase, we could see her return to the top 40 and potentially challenge for a top 30 position.
She has started the 2018 season with two strong wins at the Brisbane International, defeating Danielle Lao and Misaki Doi in qualifying. In both rounds Watson recorded great service stats on first serve points won (QR1 – 70% and QR2 – 93%). However, in defeat against Kaia Kanepi, Watson showed signs of her 2018 weaknesses, serving five double faults to four aces. Her first service points won were again encouraging at 78%, but the Brit struggled to get first serves in at just 48%.
With little to defend before the Australian Open, if Heather Watson continues with these first service winning points percentages and subsequently improves her first serve accuracy, then it could be an indicator of good things to come in 2018.
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