Tennis is a game of fine margins. Oftentimes, a point here and there can decide a match.
Whilst it may not always seem that this is the case, in reality even a routine victory will have had several pivotal moments that could have turned a game, set or even the match on its head.
Therefore, winning the important points is often more decisive in the outcome of a match than simply the number of points won overall.
Some of the most crucial moments in any tennis match are break points.
They can be hugely influential in the outcome of a match and often cause massive swings of momentum one way or another.
Break points can serve as great opportunities to break an opponent’s flow, turn a match on its head or really turn the screw and run away with a victory.
They can cause upward or downward spirals very quickly and should be treated with as much respect as they deserve.
So, what exactly is a break point and how should you play them?
Well, let’s explore these questions in more detail!
What is Break Point?
Before we discuss how to play a break point, we must first understand exactly what it is.
Break points refer to an opportunity for a player serving to lose their service game, therefore having their serve ‘broken’.
It relies on the returner winning at least 3 points in the server’s service game, giving them the opportunity to break serve on the next point.
If it is 0-40 in the server’s service game, the returner will have 3 break points. This refers to the 3 chances they have to win the next point and win the game.
Whereas, if it is 30-40, the returner will only have 1 break point opportunity before the game goes to deuce.
Since the serve is the only shot a player can fully control in tennis, it is often considered a major strength of most players, particularly in the professional game.
Therefore, having the opportunity to win a game on your opponent’s serve generally does not come around that often.
Why are They so Important?
Break points are often so pivotal in the outcome of a tennis match as they often signal a swing in momentum.
Generally speaking, winning a service game is more straightforward and controllable than winning a returning game.
This is simply down to the fact that the server is in complete control of where they want to serve, and can therefore start the point in whichever way they like.
Additionally, returning serve well is a notoriously difficult thing to do.
The returner ultimately has very little control of the point from the off, as they are at the mercy of the server.
They have no control over the speed, spin or placement of the serve and simply have to react as best they can.
Therefore, earning the opportunity to break serve is a situation that does not come round very often in a reasonably well matched encounter, so it is important to make the most of these chances when they present themselves.
Whilst having break points as a returner is a great opportunity to turn a match on its head, it can be a big pressure moment for the server.
Finding yourself facing break points can be quite a stressful situation.
It is quite common for players that have just broken their opponent’s serve to be broken straight back, thereby nullifying the impact of breaking serve in the first place!
It is therefore important for players to control what they can and focus on looking after their own serve first and foremost.
This is not only important generally throughout a match, but especially when facing break points.
These are pivotal moments that will ultimately determine the outcome of a match and should therefore be treated with more emphasis than say a 0-15 point for example.
This is where both servers and returners need to play their best tennis so they can reap the rewards on the scoreboard.
Break Points – Serving
When you are facing break points as a server, it is important to try to stay calm and collected and take a methodical approach to get out of the situation.
By far the most important factor in saving break points is getting your first serve in.
This is crucial if you want to give yourself the best chance of saving a break point and ultimately holding your serve.
However, this is definitely easier said than done. It can be a uncomfortable situation being break point down, and this can show the nerves a player may be feeling.
If a match is tight and evenly matched, a simple lapse in concentration on a break point can be enough to turn the match in your opponent’s favour.
Therefore, putting pressure on your opponent by making your first serve gives you the best chance of either winning the point then and there, or at least offering up a weaker return that you can step in and put away easily.
Not many players in the professional game can match, let alone exceed their average first serve percentage on break points.
All professionals know the importance of break points and really dial in to make them count.
As a server, you have the power to control whether the point will be played on your terms or your opponent’s.
If you make your first serve, your opponent will likely be rushed, out of position or forced to play a defensive shot.
This swings the odds massively in your favour and gives you a much easier job of saving a break point than hustling and scrambling to stay in a point!
However, if you miss your first serve and are forced to hit a second serve, the likelihood of saving that break point drops off a cliff.
You are now in a defensive position and are probably quite unlikely to take any major risks on that second serve, so this gives your opponent a golden opportunity to pile on the pressure and attack your second serve.
Your opponent can also afford to take most risks and play freely since losing the point from their point of view does not lose them the game.
It is therefore very important to make your first serve when facing break points as a server.
Even if you take a bit of pace off and focus more on placement, you will still be a lot more likely to win the point hitting a first serve than a second serve!
Break Points – Returning
When you have earned break points as a returner, you should adopt a controlled but aggressive approach to the situation.
It is important not to waste this opportunity, as they may not come around very often. But that doesn’t mean you should play passively.
It is important to remember that your opponent is likely going to be feeling more under pressure than you in this situation, so putting them in a defensive position where they are off balance will likely produce a forced or even unforced error.
The most important thing as a returner who has break points is simply to get the return into play.
Oftentimes a good tactic when facing a first serve is to try and block the ball deep up the middle of the court.
This pushes your opponent back but also gives you plenty of margin for error, and will likely offer up a weaker response from your opponent.
If they are hitting a second serve, you can look to hit a more aggressive and powerful shot that takes them out of court and rushes them.
This is a calculated risk worth taking, as the act of simply stepping inside the court and making your presence known can be enough to put your opponent off and even force a double fault.
Therefore, as a returner with break points you should try to be aggressive and put pressure on your opponent but taper your approach.
Remember, the player serving will almost certainly be feeling more pressure than you, so try your best to make them miss!
Overall, break points are the most important points in a tennis match.
They very regularly determine the outcome of a match and can provide golden opportunities for momentum to switch.
Understanding this can help both servers and returners adjust their approach to playing a break point and ultimately try to produce their best tennis at the most crucial moments.
As a server, it is very important to make your first serve as often as you can when facing break points.
If you have to hit a second serve, try to focus on spin and placement and approach it with more of an aggressive than defensive mindset.
If you are returning and have earned yourself break points, remember that your opponent will be feeling the heat so you want to force them to make a mistake if you can.
Don’t waste your opportunity, but be willing to take calculated risks to force the issue and pile on the pressure.