Break Point (noun) [breyk point]
What is a ‘break point’ in tennis?
You might have heard about ‘converting break points,’ or even ‘saving a break point,’ but what does this tennis term mean?
When a player receiving a service game reaches the stage of being one point away from winning that game, they are said to have a ‘break point.’ Let’s give an example.
Roger Federer is serving to Novak Djokovic, but Djokovic has just made the score of the game 30-40 in his favor with a stunning backhand shot. This means that Djokovic is now one point away from winning a game during which Federer is serving – break point.
If Djokovic were to perform even better during this game and make the score 15-40, this would constitute a double break point. This means that Djokovic has two opportunities to convert a break point and win the game against Federer’s serve.
The same logic applies to a situation in which Djokovic makes the score of the game 0-40, and earns himself a triple break point. Also, if Djokovic held the advantage in a deuce game on Federer’s serve, this would also qualify as a break point.
If you aren’t quite sure how players earn scores of 15, 30 or 40, see our article for more information on the scoring system in tennis. It really is pretty simple once you understand that these numbers are just synonyms for one, two or three points!
Examples of ‘break point’ in a sentence
Looks like I’m leading 15-40 against your serve, that means I have a double break point!
Did you know that Andy Murray has converted 43.6% of the break points he has earned during his career?
Do break points really matter?
It’s easy to see why break points could simply be viewed as ‘just another point.’ However, the fact of the matter is that the result of break points can significantly alter the course of a match.
There have even been empirical studies, such as one entitled: “Winning matches in Grand Slam men’s singles: An analysis of player performance-related variables from 1991 to 2008.” This particular study suggested a strong correlation between converting break points and winning a match.
Also, if you take a look at the players towards the top of the ‘break points converted’ statistic, many big names can be spotted. Here are a select few from the ATP Tour official website:
- 3rd: Rafael Nadal, 44.95%
- 7th: Novak Djokovic, 44.36%
- 18th: Andy Murray, 43.6%
- 20th: Andre Agassi, 43.32%
- 45th: Ivan Lendl, 42.4%
As you can see, there are plenty of big fish towards the top of the ‘break points converted’ statistic. Converting a break point can lead to a big momentum shift towards the player who successfully managed to do so, as we will touch upon later.
Let’s move to the server’s side of the net and take a look at the players who manage to save the most break points. This is when a server is one point away from losing a game, but are able to make a comeback to prevent the receiver from securing a break point:
- 1st: Ivo Karlovic, 71.19%
- 2nd: John Isner, 70.64%
- 3rd: Milos Raonic, 69.36%
- 4th: Pete Sampras, 67.9%
- 7th: Roger Federer, 67.31%
The top of the list for ‘break points saved’ isn’t low on tennis greats either, which tells you just how important it can be to protect your own service game and prevent a break point from being secured. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top three players on this list are all well-renowned for their booming serves.
The psychology of break points in tennis
Now we know that break points are important to win, or save, if you want to win more tennis matches. They are often a turning point, and can provide a clear route to winning a set.
As a general rule, you probably want to approach saving a break point with a decisive and attacking, yet high-percentage, first serve. This is why big servers such as Milos Raonic and John Isner make the top three in the ‘break points saved’ statistic.
Also, whether trying to secure or save a break point, it’s a good idea to take a mental note of your opponent’s weaknesses beforehand. For example, if you spot a weak response to lobbed shots during a rally, you could save up a nice lob for when you really need to secure a break point.
Alternatively, if you don’t know much about your opponent, you can choose to focus on remaining patient, returning cleanly, and waiting for a high-percentage opportunity to attack.
It goes without saying that you will come up against some players who will be relying on their strong serve to get them through a match. If you can push these players to a break point on their serve, it will cause them some discomfort.
You can multiply that if you manage to win the break point! Making a quick start to your next service game can gain you a psychological advantage that wins you the match.
We’ve put together some popular suggestions on how to approach important points in a match, whether it be a break point, serving to stay in the match or serving for a set:
- Don’t rush your play: It is common in beginners to rush the beginning of an important point, to get over the feelings of anxiety that go with it. You can be assured that your best chances of success rely on you being able to complete your usual pre-point ritual! Big players such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are even known to slow down before a big point, just to collect their thoughts and make sure they are in the zone.
- Stay consistent: During the point, keep your play consistent with how it has been previously. In juniors and beginners, it is typical to see a forced attempt at a big winner, or something risky like a drop shot.
- Stick to what you know: The best thing you can do during a break point or any other big point, is to stick to what you do best. Continue doing whatever works well for you, and avoid the temptation to speed the point up.
- Play on your terms: Especially if playing against a strong opponent, hoping for an unforced error on their part isn’t enough. You should still execute your plans and approach the point with a fairly attacking mindset, especially if saving a break point. In this scenario, having the serve will allow you to dictate the initial flow of the rally.
The tactic of winning or saving break points by repeating what has worked well for you during the match is a common theme amongst tennis enthusiasts.
So break points are pretty crucial, huh?
Break points can be match-defining moments which indicate large swings in momentum. The most successful tennis players are able to win break points, but also prevent opponents from breaking their service game by keeping their cool and serving with confidence.
As a beginner, the best thing you can do is to maintain composure and avoid rushing when faced with a break point. It’s important to establish pre-point rituals which you do not waver from, even during big points.
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