The Importance of All Rally Lengths

There’s a lot of talk about how much of tennis is short rallies. You may have heard other analysts and tennis experts talking about how long rallies represent a very small percentage of points in tennis. The implication being that players should practice these short rallies a lot more than long rallies, or certainly more than just hitting forehands cross court to each other.

While that’s partly true, we don’t want players ignoring long rally practice. Developing your best pattern of play in long rallies is as important as developing the shorter ones.

Wimbledon Ladies Final 2021

Rally lengths in the Wimbledon Ladies Final 2021

The rally lengths in the Wimbledon ladies final between Ash Barty and Karolina Pliskova in 2021 are completely unsurprising. We would expect the 135+246 numbers to be around 75% and the longer rallies around 25%.

135 and 246 win percentages from the wimbledon ladies final 2021

Let’s not forget, Ash Barty won this match 63 67 63. Of the 76% of short rallies in the match, Karolina Pliskova won 51.6%. Tennis matches are usually won by no more than that sort of margin. Based on that result, one could be forgiven for thinking Pliskova won the match.

Long rally length win percentages Wimbledon Ladies final 2021

The 7+ rally numbers say it all. Ash Barty, with her coach Craig Tyzzer, had a clear plan for the longer rallies (which we’ll go into another time). Without her win percentage in the 7+ rallies, it’s unlikely Ash Barty would have won Wimbledon.

The "When" of 7+

The second reason we can’t ignore 7+ rally lengths and practicing different patterns of play over longer rallies is something that is generally ignored by proponents of “big data”.

Big data tells us how often a rally length range happens, but it doesn’t tell us the score. 

What we know from 135 research is the following:

On a percentage basis, 7+ rallies occur most often at a score of 30-40. You are least likely to see a 7+ rally at a score of 40-0.

Why? Desperation. At 30-40 both players are desperate to win the point. The server wants to defend his/her service game. The returner wants to take advantage of the break point, knowing that they are much less likely to break from Deuce.

The result, generally, is a point where both players are more conservative than they would be at, say, 40-0. More margin over the net and inside the lines makes for a longer rally.