Monday, 3 January 2011

Where the Top 5 can improve in 2011

Courtesy: Eurosport

While everyone else was stuffing their faces with turkey and mince pies over the last few weeks, Tramlines instead engaged in its favourite Christmas tradition - gorging itself over the ATP Tour end-of-year stats sheets like the OCD-inflicted nerd that it is.

There are so many dynamics that go into winning tennis matches, but looking at the cold hard numbers can be a good way to identify areas were players can improve just that little bit.
So Tramlines has been looking at the stats for the clear top five players from last year - Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Robin Soderling - and has identified the aspects of their games they could improve upon.

1. Rafael Nadal

Area to improve: Fire more aces

Obviously Nadal had such an outstanding 2010 that his statistics are mightily impressive pretty much across the board, but one thing he does seem to struggle to do is fire aces. In 2010 he averaged just 3.8 aces a match which is the second worst average in the world's top 25 (David Ferrer has the worst - just 3.0). Obviously the huge spin Nadal puts on his serve can make it essentially unplayable (if hittable) but a few extra cheap points wouldn't go amiss. Federer and Murray both average 8.4 aces per game for example, while not surprisingly the leaders in this statistical category within the top 100 are Ivo Karlovic (18.9 per game) and John Isner (17.5 per game).

2. Roger Federer

Area to improve: Exploit his opponent's second serve more

In 2010 Federer had the joint best percentage when it came to winning points on his opponent's first serve (tied with Novak Djokovic on 34 per cent) and yet he won a lower percentage of games against the serve than Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. The stats suggest that he is therefore not winning enough points on opponents' second serve. He won just 51 per cent of these points which is the second lowest in the top 10 - with only Andy Roddick worse. What's more his break point conversion rate of 41 per cent is also the lowest out of anyone in the top five. If Federer can pounce on more of these second serves, more breaks will follow.

3. Novak Djokovic

Area to improve: Second serve

Djokovic doesn't win as many points on his serve as the other members of the top five and the second serve in particular is an area he needs to improve. Certainly double faults have been a problem. All the other top players fire far more aces than double faults but Djokovic's 282 double faults to just 304 aces is an ugly number. Only Fernando Verdasco has a worse double faults per match average than Djokovic in the top 50. Verdasco is also the only member of the top 10 who wins less points on his second serve than Djokovic, and if the Serb can just be more economical with his second serve, extra points are sure to come his way.

4. Andy Murray

Area to improve: First serve percentage

Murray has been talking about how he needs to improve his serve to win a Grand Slam and the stats certainly back up his assertion. He actually won a higher percentage of points on his first serve last year than Nadal, but his first serve percentage of just 54 per cent was well below that of his rivals (Nadal 67 per cent, Federer 62 per cent, Djokovic 64 per cent). In fact, you have to go all the way down to world number 20 Marcos Baghdatis to find a player with a lower first serve percentage than Murray. If the Scot sorts this stat out, his first Slam may finally come his way.

5. Robin Soderling

Area to improve: Mental focus while returning serve

Some people question whether Soderling is quite up to the level of the elite four, Tramlines included, but in most statistical categories he stacks up quite well. However, return of serve is one area where he struggles to do as much damage as the top players. His 25 per cent break of serve percentage is the worst in the top five and he is also behind the top four in points won on his opponent's first serve - only Federer has a worse percentage against the second serve (which we talked about earlier). However, when it comes to break point conversion rate, only Djokovic has a better percentage than Soderling amongst the top 20, so that shows the Swede can be profitable against the serve on the big points. Therefore it could be a case of lack of focus from Soderling; if he could channel his mind to play each return point like it is a break point, then maybe he could improve his statistical edge.

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