11 July 2019

Net gains - raising the bar for tennis players

Few things are more fundamental to tennis than the net. But how high should it be and does it matter?

When Roger Federer played his first match at Wimbledon, he was so nervous that 3 or 4 games in, he asked the umpire to check the height of the net. “I couldn’t serve. It was terrible and I thought the net was way too high.” The umpire explained that checking the net before a match (and before each set) was one of those things they did at Wimbledon, but Federer persisted. “I said yes, but would you mind going to check. I can’t serve. It felt super odd.” 

The net was checked. It was correct. Federer calmed down and won the match. 

The height of the net should be exactly 3 foot in the middle.  There was a time when to check you stood one racket on its end, and the other on its side on top of the first. But rackets have changed so much, it’s no longer a reliable guide. But the net height matters. Taller players tend to have faster and more efficient serves which bounce higher. It's such a key part of the game, the ATP calculates just how efficient on a couple of different parameters.

"First serve efficiency" is worked out by taking the number of first serves a players gets in, multipled by the percentage won (ie First-serve efficiency = first serves in percentage x first-serve points won percentage.)

The top five are ranked exactly by height. 


Efficency rating


Ivo Karlovic


211 (6'11)

Milos Raonic


196 (6'5)

Nick Kyrgios


193 (6'4)

Roger Federer


185 (6'1)

Rafael Nadal


185 (6'1)

The ATP’s other and more traditional scale is the ‘Serve rating’. This is calculated by adding the four service metrics percentages (% 1st serves in, % 1st serve won, % 2nd serves won, % serve games won) plus the average number of aces per match and minus the average number of double faults per match. John Isner who stands 6’11 comes top, followed by Raonic (6’5), Anderson (6’8), Federer (6’1) and Kyrgios (6'4).

But should the net be raised to make it more difficult. A couple of years ago, when asked what changes he would like to see in the game, Nadal mentioned the height of the net. “Tennis will need changes. The net is still at the same altitude. People are not the same. People are much more taller now than 50 years ago. So it´s obvious that we’re gonna need some changes in not a very long period of time.” [Image right, ATP]

A higher net would mean slower serves and longer games. But not yet. For now, nets are still 3 foot in the middle. If you want to be sure the height is correct, you can buy an expandable Net Check gadget on Amazon for £5.99. Just don’t forget, if the net is the wrong height, you need to make sure there is also a net winder in place to adjust it.

Wimbledon measuring

Don't forget to bring a measuring device