I don't think there is any structural advantage. This means, the tie-break is in no way designed such that it benefits big servers. As I said, on a case by case basis, it may be that playing more tie-breaks, which big servers tend to do, can give one more practice in that situation and a greater % of tie-breaks won than tie breaks 'expected'. I am interested Sophocles, in what intuition it is that causes you to think TB's could favour big servers. As in regular sets, the tie-break is a 50-50 combination of serving and returning. I don't even understand what the intuition is that makes some people think there is a structural advantage to the server. Sure, it's nice to have a big serve in a tie-break, but to no greater extent than it's nice to have a big serve when one is playing a tennis match.
I think the intuition Sophocles was referring to (and I as well) is about the idea that it's a good style of play to have on pressure points, as you say elsewhere in the post. But it's not the only game style which is good for that as we also agree on.
As for trying to find a more representative statistic, I have an idea, I'm not sure whether or not Jeff (who writes the HeavyTopspin blog) has measured it. In order to check reliability of serve in TB's vs. in non TB sets, what about measuring first serve % on its own?
it's a good idea
although one of the interesting questions imo (and once again, not only about tiebreaks, many of my wonders are more generally about "pressure points") is : do servers tend too much to look for aces or serve winners on big points ? that is an interesting question imo : quite often they succeed on doing that, but maybe it also has a bad consequence on their first serve % ?
One could try to find other solutions but I think in the end all stats will have limits imo
IMO, the best way to try and test (although this could easily be inconclusive), would be to gather large data in which players were sorted into categories of playing styles (obviously subjective but could probably be done to a reasonably effective degree). Then, using Jeff's stat 'TBOR', see if there are any generalisations to be made. TBOR = Tie Break Out-Performance Rate, which is, for any player, 'tie-breaks over expectation' divided by 'total tie-breaks played' ('tie-breaks over expectation' is derived from % of serve and return points won in the match in question). My hunch is that, should this task be completed, there would be no meaningful patterns at all. Yes, some styles are easier to play under pressure, but by such small amounts that individual differences far overshadow the influence it has. Although the sample is too small to be conclusive, this is the top 20, in order, in TBOR this season up to Shanghai, to me, this as about as random a list (in terms of game style) as can be:
Steve Darcis Jurgen Melzer Andy Murray John Isner Tommy Haas Kevin Anderson Janko Tipsarevic David Ferrer Pablo Andujar Julien Benneteau Radek Stepanek Sam Querrey Andy Roddick Jarkko Nieminen Paul Henri Mathieu Andreas Seppi Jeremy Chardy Philipp Kohlschreiber Denis Istomin
yes, one very hard factor to counter is to take into account the basic ability of a player. The fact that Fed wins more because he's just a great player or the question of "how many tie-breaks should Isner win comparing to Karlkovic just because he's a better player ?" using the % of points they generally win on serve and return is at least a good way to compare players with each other.