Unforced Errors, Forced Errors and Winners – The Differences

Winners, Forced Errors and Unforced Errors are the three ways a point can end in tennis, save the odd net touch or voluntary hindrance, or something like that.
Television networks have, seemingly, been loath to show Forced Errors onscreen, preferring to show Winners and Unforced Errors only. While that might be adequate for the pros, it’s not necessarily an adequate measure of how a junior is performing in a match.


We’ll start with Winners as they’re easy. There’s no subjectivity with a Winner. A statistician doesn’t have to make a value judgement. If one player hits a shot that their opponent doesn’t lay a racquet on before the ball bounces twice, it’s a winner. In serving parlance, it’s an ace (aces still go in the “Winner” column).

Winners include drop shots and net cords, no matter how lucky!

Easy so far.

Difference Between Forced Errors and Unforced Errors

The term “Forced Error” is actually a bit of a misnomer. It makes it sound like an error has been made. In fact, a Forced Error is akin to a Winner rather than an Unforced Error. It’s so named because a player “forced his/her opponent into error” through good play or a good shot.

If a big serve lands on the T-junction and the outstretched racquet of the returner manages to touch the ball as it flies past, it’s a Forced Error rather than a Winner. Even if it goes slamming into the back fence at 120mph, if it touches the returners racquet on the way through, it’s a Forced Error.

Whether an error is Forced or Unforced can be clear-cut a la the serving example above. Some are not so, however, and require a value judgement on behalf of the statistician. I say “value judgement” because it quite often comes down to the perceived playing level of a competitor. A shot that might be an Unforced Error for Roger Federer might be a Forced Error for a 10 year old for example.

When keeping stats, the difference is more about expectation. If your expectation is that a player should have made a shot but didn’t, it’s an Unforced Error.

If, on the other hand, a player misses a shot that you didn’t expect them to get back ie it would have been nice if they did get it back in play, but it wasn’t your expectation, then that should go down as a Forced Error.

To which Player are Errors Credited?

GT Stats treats Forced Errors exactly the same as Winners ie we don’t actually differentiate between the two (see image on this page). The reason? Winners and Forced Errors win points through good play or a good shot (generally) ie a positive. An Unforced Error, on the other hand, is generally poor play costing a player a point ie negative.

Also, the younger the player, the more likely they’ll hit more Forced Errors than Winners simply because they won’t have the same power or spin as someone a few years older.

Lastly, because of the subjectivity of error counting in tennis, what one statistician calls an Unforced Error, another might call a Forced Error. For young players, in particular, it’s probably best to err on the side of positivity and note the marginal calls in the Forced Error column.

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