MADRID, Spain - A few more first serves in play can go a long way in our sport.
Petra Kvitova and Svetlana Kuznetsova are both excelling in this same "first strike" area in Madrid, and will play each other in Saturday's Mutua Madrid Open final.
Both players are making right around 3% more first serves for the tournament, which matters more than you might think. The reality in tennis is that the first player to wrestle control of the point typically keeps it, and this positive effect with the very first shot of the rally makes everything that follows it perform just a little bit better.
Kvitova is making 61% first serves for the 2015 season, but is at 63.5% for the tournament, and made 69% in her 6-2, 6-4 upset of Serena Williams in the semifinals.
Making more first serves also has the added advantage of taking pressure off return games, helping them shine as well.
"Yeah, I think she just played well today," Williams said post-match. "I mean, she went for broke on every serve, every return. I hit some second serves, 170, 175, and she just hit them for winners."
The confidence of making more first serves than normal washed over Kvitova's entire game, making everything sparkle.
SAP analytics uncovered Kvitova is winning 72.7% first serve points for the season, and is at 75.5% in the run to the Madrid final. She was at her best against Williams, winning 76% (25/33).
This makes Kvitova so much tougher to break. The Czech is holding 79.7% of the time so far the year, compared to 86.2% in Madrid. Those are career numbers for the No.4 seed that she will be looking to replicate against Kuznetsova in the 5:30pm local final.
The only time these two players competed against each other on clay was at last year's French Open, where Kuznetsova won 6-7(3), 6-1, 9-7 in three hours and 13 minutes.
Kuznetsova is once again showing how tough she is finishing at the end of matches, beating Garbiñe Muguruza, 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, in the second round in Madrid, Samantha Stosur, 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(5), in the round of 16, and Lucie Safarova, 5-7, 7-6(5), 7-6(3), in the quarters.
Kuznetsova then dispatched Maria Sharapova, 6-2, 6-4, in the semis, on the back of another outstanding serving performance.
Kuznetsova is winning 64.5% of her first serve points for the season, but is more than five points higher than that in Madrid at 70%. In defeating Sharapova, that was even better at 74%.
All this results in Kuznetsova holding serve way more than she is used to - from a reasonable season average of 72.9% to an outstanding 84.7% in Madrid.
First serve percentage is going to be the dominant theme in the final for both players, as it will enable other areas of their game to play looser and more relaxed.
Interestingly, both are underperforming on the return side in Madrid, with Kvitova only winning 23% of her return games, compared to a season average of 30%.
Kuznetsova is producing similar numbers, winning only 16.5% of her opponent's service games in Madrid, compared to over 26% so far this year.
The discussion about who will win tomorrow's final begins and ends with who will make more first serves. If both are performing well at the same time, this final promises to go the distance - something Kuznetsova has had plenty of practice doing this week.
Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) is the leading analyst for wtatennis.com throughout the 2015 season, utilizing SAP Data & Insights to uncover the patterns and percentages that dominate the game. Visit Craig's website at www.braingametennis.com for more expert strategy analysis.