There might not be a more satisfying feeling in tennis than hitting an ace past an opponent. Players at all ages strive to hit that perfect serve, and it can help dictate a match when it’s pulled off at the right time.
While most people might think they know everything about this winning shot, the term “Ace” is thrown around incorrectly too often.
What is an ace in tennis? An ace in tennis is when a server hits a legal serve inside the service box, and it is not touched at all by the receiver.
What is it called if the returner touches the ball, but it doesn’t go into play?
People often incorrectly call these serves an ace as well, but the correct term is to label these service winners. The opponent still found a way to get a racquet on it, even by a little bit, so it is no longer an ace.
Service winners can happen based on a return that misses a line by an inch, or if a player barely nicks the ball off the side of their racquet. The name isn’t quite as catchy as hitting an ace, but is equally effective from a scoring perspective.
How Do Servers Hit Aces?
A server in tennis gets two opportunities to get a serve in at the start of each point. That’s why the vast majority of aces happen on the first serve, because players can go for a bit more to try to hit a great shot. With that being said, there are really just two ways to hit an ace against a quality opponent.
Tennis players love hitting a first serve with a lot of pace if they can. At the professional level, serves can sometimes get up to 150 mph. A fast serve gives an opponent very little time to adjust, which increases the chances of a serve being unreturnable.
Even if a serve is not located perfectly, pace puts pressure on the returner. A serve with a lot of pace can generate quite a few service winners. Serves into the body, in particular, make it very hard for even the best players to hit a quality return.
You can read more about how fast pro players serve in this post.
A serve does not have to be hit particularly hard if it is in just the right place. In fact, some people believe that placement is much more important than pace, especially at a level where everyone is not intimidated by speed.
Players try to go for the corners of the service box on the first or second serve for the best placement. Sometimes, a player can be leaning one way or the other, and hitting it in the opposite corner can almost guarantee an ace. If it’s hit with just a little bit of pace, it can end up being successful. Even slower serves might actually do the trick.
Obviously, a combination of pace and placement makes it a nightmare scenario for any player trying to hit a quality return. The best servers in the game can do this with a decent level of consistency, but there is a high margin of error.
This video shows 103 different examples of aces in tennis.
How Frequently Do Players Hit Aces?
- Bad server: 0-2 /Match
- Average Server: 2-6 /Match
- Good Server: 6-15 /Match
- Serve Bot: 15+ /Match
A lot of factors go into how many aces are hit in a match. If it’s two players known for outstanding serves, it can be once ace after another. Two players who are more defensive-oriented, while also not having particularly great serves, might only see a couple of aces throughout multiple sets.
Another thing to keep in mind is the playing surface at the time. On grass courts or fast hard courts, it’s much easier to ace an opponent than slow hard courts and clay. During the first couple of days at Wimbledon, ace numbers are usually very high at the professional level.
If a player hits more than 10 aces in a match, it’s considered a very strong showing. Tennis players are getting very good at being able to at least get a piece of a serve in an attempt to keep the point going. Aces are great to hit, but not always required to win a point easily.
Are Aces Becoming Too Easy in Tennis?
There’s been a rise of professional tennis players, especially on the men’s side, who rely very heavily on their serve. They are usually taller players who cannot only hit the ball hard, but they can hit them at angles that make it a nightmare for players to get back.
Combine a physical advantage with outstanding racquet and string technology, and aces are becoming more overpowered than ever.
With that being said, these players have not dominated tennis and turned into world number one players, so it’s not out of hand just yet. There might be an adjustment made in the near future if it gets more and more out of hand, but tennis will adapt if necessary.
Who Hit The Most Aces in Professional Tennis?
Two players in men’s professional tennis have dominated the talk about aces being hit way too often. These also happen to be two of the tallest players in the game. John Isner and Ivo Karlovic own plenty of records, and their serve has contributed to much of their success.
- Ivo Karlovic: 13,728 Aces In 694 Matches
- John Isner: 13,060 In 707 Matches
- Roger Federer: 11,478 In 1462 Matches
Most Aces In a Match:
- John Isner: 113
- Nicolas Mahut: 103
- Ivo Karlovic: 78
Isner set a record for most aces in a match in 2010 when he hit 113 against Nicolas Mahut. He did have the luxury of playing a very long five-set match with a memorable fifth set, but he obliterated the previous record by 35.
Who owned that previous record? Karlovic, as he had 78 aces in a five-set match in 2009. The Croatian recently wrapped up his professional career, and he retired as the career leader with 13,709.
On the women’s side, Kristyna Pilskova has emerged as the best in the game in hitting serves. She is relatively tall for the women’s tour, standing at 6’0″. She’s been able to have moderate success on tour, reaching as high as #35 in the world. However, she owns first and second place all-time from most aces in a match. Her record of 31 came in a three-set match at the 2016 Australian Open.
What is the Future of Tennis Aces?
Are tennis aces set to be a problem in the future? Most believe that there’s still a decent amount of balance right now. Players are getting more precise than ever, which is definitely bad news for returners.
However, some of it evens out thanks to outstanding balance, good scouting, and racquet technology to make some amazing returns. Throughout the history of tennis, the ace has never become too overpowered. Despite the pace and placement improvements, that’s still not the case.