Tennis: Power servers not a new phenomenon

MEN'S TENNIS at Wimbledon is no more dominated by big servers than it was 20 years ago. That is the claim of researchers who have carried out a study of results and match characteristics of the Championships since the Second World War.

"For the first time we've been able to analyse the men's game at Wimbledon objectively and say something concrete that isn't just based on guesswork and supposition," said Keith Sohl, the tennis consultant of IBM, the official suppliers of information technology to the All England Club.

He explained: "The analysis we have done of tie-breaks and long sets which are widely regarded within tennis as indicators of service dominance shows it is no more prevalent than 20 years ago."

IBM's researchers have examined the records of every singles match played at Wimbledon between 1946 and 1998, and another surprise conclusion is that those games, statistically at least, are no more competitive than 20 years ago.

Sohl said: "Although over a period of 50 years the game has certainly become more competitive, it appears to have stabilised during the last 20."

The evidence, according to IBM, is reflected in the increase of tie-breaks and long sets and a marked decrease in very one-sided sets.

Stability seems to have come with the start of the open era in 1968, when professionals were first allowed to enter, and the widespread development of racquet technology. The figures say that in the last 20 years tie-breaks average around 20 per cent of sets played and 6-0 and 6-1 sets average between 10 and 11 per cent.

John Barrett, the BBC commentator and former Davis Cup player, is surprised by the findings but adds: "It is good for tennis that this type of information is made available as it can increase our understanding of trends in the game."

The research also indicates, among a myriad other conclusions, that left- handed players no longer have the same level of advantage over right-handers. Between 1946 and 1959 left-handed men beat the right-handers 65.9 per cent of the time. The figure has now slipped to 47.9 per cent.

That is probably no consolation to Greg Rusedski, Britain's most famous tennis "leftie" after his four-sets Wimbledon exit against Mark Philippoussis.

n Jelena Dokic was yesterday named in the Australian team for this month's Fed Cup World Group play-offs in Amsterdam from 21 to 24 July.