The term is available in all flavors, but all are practically saying the same thing. Unforced error is a fault caused by poor judgment or execution from a player.
If we go by the actual rule book from Wimbledon, it says, “An unforced error occurs when a player is not judged to be under physical pressure as a result of the placement, power, or spin of the opponent’s stroke.”
What this means is, ultimately, it’s a subjective call.
Different tournament bodies will have their interpretation of unforced errors. This can lead to some confusion especially if you are watching different tournaments.
What may seem like a clear unforced error in another tournament would be classified as a forced error in another.
For instance, Wimbledon is known to be more forgiving when counting unforced errors.
You will sometimes see unforced errors in the single digit, which is very rare in other tournaments.
Now, you’re probably wondering that if it’s a subjective call, then how exactly do they determine it?
Most Unforced Errors in a Tennis Match – How is It Determined?
Unforced errors in a tennis match are a subjective call which makes it a hard metric to gauge.
The easiest unforced error to check is the double fault, which is when the serving player is the only factor that affects the shot. For returns, it’s trickier.
To put it simply though, an unforced error is an error that is not caused by your opponent, but by your blunder.
As you can probably tell, it’s open to interpretation. But for the most part, scorers are consistent in calling these errors within a tournament.
Who Owns the Highest Number of Unforced Errors in a Tennis Match?
The magic number is 112.
The record belongs to both Yevgeny Kafelnikov during the 2000 French Open, and Nikolay Davydenko during the 2003 French Open.
Another interesting record is the record for double faults. The record belongs to Anna Kournikova with a whopping 31 DFs during the 1999 Australian 2nd round. Now, this is the kind of error that is more objective than subjective.
I’ve watched players with fewer total unforced errors than the 31 DFs of Kournikova.
Other Record Number Unforced Errors in a Tennis Match
One of the most overlooked performances in terms of UEs is by Fernando González during the 2007 Australian Open Semifinal vs. Tommy Haas.
Fernando González ended the game with an impressive 3 unforced errors. He won, obviously.
But even more impressive than this feat is recording 0 UEs. Yes, ZERO.
There’s only been 1 of that, but it’s not viewed favorably by many fans because of the skill gap between the two players.
The 0 UE record belongs to Krittin Koaykul when he beat Artem Bahmen 6–0, 6–0 in Doha ITF.
Another interesting record is held by Roger Federer when he went 105 points without a single error. This is mighty impressive knowing how aggressive Federer plays.
In terms of the number of UEs per set, nothing compares to Daniela’s Hantuchova’s 106 UEs record. This happened in a 3-set match, which is sort of impressive in its own way.
Djokovic also has a three-digit UE outing in his win over Gilles Simon at the 2016 Australian Open. He ended up with 100 UEs.
Factors That Affect Unforced Errors
Skill Level of the Player
The main thing that affects the rate of unforced error is the skill of the player.
The more skilled the player is, the fewer unforced errors he/she is going to commit. A skilled player can return normal shots with ease.
Now, if the shot is coming from a more skilled player, then the shots are harder to return. It is up to the scorers to determine if the errors were forced or not after the shot.
Skill Gap Between the Players
Unforced errors also rely on the skills of your opponent. The wider the skill gap between you two, the more errors you are going to commit, both forced and unforced.
Since unforced errors are subjective, forced errors can sometimes be considered unforced errors. Wimbledon has a reputation for generosity with its players.
What appears to be a bad play for player A would sometimes just be scored a great play by player B.
The goal of your opponent is to force you into a difficult situation by returning the ball strategically. A perfect player can return the ball 100% of the time, but no player is perfect.
One good way of thinking about unforced errors is by imagining yourself returning practice shots. These are situations where you are not forced into a difficult situation, which means fewer errors.
One factor that many players fail to train is the mental aspect of their play.
I’m sure you’ve experienced quite a few mental lapses. Missing a turn, forgetting the milk, losing focus, and anything of that nature, are all considered mental lapses.
Tennis players are also susceptible to the same lapses as we are. They may lose focus on the ball because they’re thinking of the spin they’re going to use for their next serve.
These mental lapses can’t be eliminated. But with good training, you can become better at managing your focus.
The best players have their performance and mental coach to help them navigate their emotions much better.
The record belongs to John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at 2010 Wimbledon.
Can you imagine returning a serve after 10+ hours of rigorous play? Neither can I.
Tennis is one of the most physically demanding sports, which makes conditioning a huge part of it.
Fatigue plays a big factor in the number of unforced errors players commit. The more fatigued they are, the worse they play. Sometimes, it’s just the fatigue that gets them.
So, Are Unforced Errors in Tennis the Player’s Fault?
Well, the short answer is yes, but there’s more to it than that.
In a perfect world where scorers are given all the information accurately and in real-time, unforced errors are accurately assessed.
But that’s not always the case.
Unforced error calls are just judgment calls on the part of scorers.
But this does not mean you need to stop paying attention to this stat. Limiting your unforced errors is one of the first things that you should work on. Regardless of the scorer’s biases, limiting unforced errors is going to pay dividends in your game.
It’s easy to tilt in a game when you see the number of unforced errors you make, accurately tagged or not.
The unforced error metric is an integral part of the game. It does not tell the whole story, but it is still a good representation of how the game went.