As part of our data exploration series, we used available datasets, as well as our data to map an increasing trend in height and aces, and a decreasing trend in double faults since 1991.
Available match level data shows that, on average, winners in 1991 served just under .4 aces and .2 double faults per game. In 2015, aces increased to .6 while double faults maintained .2. The losing player also saw these trends at a lower scale. The data also reveals a pattern of the men’s tennis game getting taller, with average winner and loser heights both increasing. Please see our discussion on Serve, Surface, and Stature for a more in-depth discussion on how height can affect outcome.
Height gives the server an advantage by allowing him to hit down into the court, creating a more direct path for the ball to follow. Compared to shorter players, who have to hit up and get the ball to come down, this may give the taller players an advantage in the aces and double faults category. Players like John Isner and Ivo Karlovic typically amass many aces during a match, mainly due to their height. Technology also plays a role to increase aces while maintaining a low double fault percentage. New racquets, materials, and strings give players more power and control. The tremendous amount of spin on the ball allows it to safely land in the service box. This, along with an increase in height, is why the serve has taken such a central role in the modern men’s tennis game.
Height vs. Age
Using available data going back to 1968, we were able to glean insights into winner height and winner age patterns.
Please note, data from 1968 and 2016 is limited. Click here or on the image to view the data interactively
As we can see, the game in 1968-1972 revolved around maturity more than height. The older and shorter players won more often.
However, in the mid-modern game, when Agassi, Sampras, and Federer came on the scene, the trend tended towards younger, taller players winning more often, as can be seen by the slew of data points in the upper left quadrant.
In the modern game post-2013, we are now seeing a trend to taller, more mature players winning more often. This is represented by Roger (185cm), Novak (188cm), and Murray (191cm) being the dominant players. Their heights are right at or slightly above the average men’s tennis height, so they are part of the driving force of the increased height. As training, health science, and technology improve, we will continue to see older players staying on the tour longer, winning longer, and retiring later.