How to Improve the Accuracy of Your Tennis Serve by 15% “Overnight”

Dr. Jane Danford, PT, DPT

It’s summertime, and tennis season is in full swing. Danford Works is just returning from a trip to Paris to help prepare one of our athletes for the French Open. The French Open, also known as Roland-Garros, is a major tennis tournament held annually at the Stade Roland-Garros in Paris, France. We were simply amazed by the competition. In a sport where winning and losing sometimes hinge on advantages of milliseconds and millimeters, the margins for error narrow even more during these grand slam tournaments.  

One aspect of tennis that comes down to the slimmest of margins is the serve, and we saw some unbelievably surgically-precise serves at Roland Garros last week. That’s why we were so interested to revisit a study from 2015 that evaluated changes in tennis serve accuracy of collegiate tennis players after improving sleep duration.  

Researchers Schwartz and Simon evaluated the serve accuracy of 12 varsity tennis players at a university in Washington during one week of a normal sleep-wake cycle and compared it to serve accuracy during one week of sleep extension. Accuracy was measured by scoring the number of times out of 50 attempts that the participant could place their second serve into a six-foot diameter circular target in the corner of the service box. For the sleep extension phase, participants were asked to get at least nine hours of sleep per 24 hours, including naps. These athletes managed to get an average of 100 minutes of extra sleep per night. Impressively, when tested in a non-competitive setting, their serve accuracy improved 14.3% from pre- to post-intervention.

Despite some obvious shortcomings (e.g. low sample size, short intervention duration, lack of control group, lack of placebo condition, lack of objective sleep measures), a nearly 15% improvement in serve accuracy simply by increasing the amount of sleep is an impressive outcome. Put in tennis terms, that’s three in 20 times you can play off your first serve or avoid a double fault. With 15% better accuracy, you can afford to widen your targets or slightly increase your power.

Another way to highlight the significance of that improvement in accuracy is to consider this: the top 10 male tennis players in the world have on average a first serve percentage of 64%. Even the average of the 91st-100th ranked players is 60%. A 15% decrease from that mark puts a player far out of the professional touring circuit.  

Given these findings, consider turning the lights off an hour earlier the night before your next match and let us know how it goes!

Sign up to get all things Som delivered straight to your inbox.