Forced errors are the forgotten stat of tennis. Have a look at the stat sheet above from an old-ish match between Roger Federer and Xavier Malisse. See a row for forced errors in there?
Yet, do some quick maths and you’ll quickly realize that recording unforced errors and winners ONLY leaves out a fair chunk of the points.
What is a Forced Error?
I won’t delve too deeply into forced versus unforced here. For more information on that topic, please have a look at this article.
A forced error is when player A plays a shot that player B can’t get back into play because it was such a good shot. Sounds like a winner? The difference here is that player B DID get racquet to ball.
It can be as simple as a big serve that touches the edge of player B’s racquet. It can also be a little bit more subjective. If player A’s shot was deep and wide with heavy topspin, for example. Player B may have been able to hit a shot, but it was Player A who forced Player B into error with depth, width and topspin.
In tennis, winners are easy. The two types of errors can be a little more subjective.
The Problem with Tennis Stats on TV
Let’s do the maths on the set between Federer and Malisse. A total of 30 winners and unforced errors for one set that lasted 10 games. That’s an average 3 points per game. There’s quite obviously something missing given it takes at least 4 points to win a single game.
Keep in mind winners, unforced errors and forced errors are the three ways to END a point in tennis. We’re missing out on the end of a whole stack of points in this particular set if we don’t have the forced error count.
The Problem with Omitting Forced Errors, Especially at the Junior Level
In some ways it’s understandable that TV networks omit the forced error count. They’re not as exciting as winners, and unforced errors are the true opposite of winners. It’s a little bit “good cop, bad cop”. Realistically though, is there that much difference between the ace out wide and the body serve that’s impossible to return? Nope.
At the junior level, forced errors should be encouraged over winners. As a coach, I want my junior players to play inside the lines by a fair margin. I want to see them construct a point with depth and width that forces their opponent into error.
If the instruction to juniors is to go out on court and hit winners, I guarantee they’re going to make a load of unforced errors to go with it. Forcing your opponent into error is a much better plan.
Who Should Get the Credit for a Forced Error?
I’ve said it before in the Coach’s Blog, the term “forced error” is a misnomer. The term “error” implies that a player made an error, which is not the case. This is probably another reason why the TV networks don’t report forced errors. It’s a bit too confusing.
The credit for a forced error should go to the player who forced the error. After all, it was their play or shot that won the point. This point is critical in junior tennis. Forced errors should be of equal value to winners for a junior tennis player. They should not be a separate stat or, worse, counted as an error to their opponent.
It’s for this reason that forced errors are given the same weight as winners in GT STATS. That, and knowing how every point ended!