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Djokovic's Surprisingly Successful Second-Serve Strategy

  • Posted: Dec 14, 2018

Djokovic’s Surprisingly Successful Second-Serve Strategy

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers shows how the Serbian goes against conventional wisdom, with success

Should more second serves be directed to the forehand return?

Second serves are slower than first serves, and forehand returns are more potent than backhand returns, hence the typical match-up of second serves directed to the backhand body-jam location.

While the theory makes perfect sense, the supporting analytics of blindly hitting second serves to the backhand return simply don’t add up.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of players inside the 2018 year-end Top 10 reveals that they overwhelmingly serve more to the backhand with their second serves, but the win percentages are actually superior serving to the forehand.

The data set comes from 2018 ATP Masters 1000 events and the Nitto ATP Finals. It includes 2,368 second serves to the Deuce court and 2,217 second serves to the Ad court, with the general presumption of a right-handed returner. Each service box is broken down into three evenly spaced areas: down the T, at the body, and out wide.

Deuce Court – Top 10 2018 Average
Most second serves went down the T, to a right-handed player’s backhand return, but the highest win percentage was out wide to their forehand return.

Deuce Court – Second Serves Attempted & Won (Bold = Highest)

DEUCE COURT Direction Attempted Win Percentage
53.5% 60.9%
Body  23.1% 59.6%
Wide  23.4% 63.5%

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic hit the most amount of second serves out wide to the forehand (45.1%), and enjoyed his highest win percentage there as well.

Novak Djokovic – Deuce Court Second Serves
T = Made 36.6% / Won 51.9%
Body = Made 18.3% / Won 59.6%
Wide = Made 45.1% / Won 68%

Deuce Court Win Percentage – WIDE
1. Juan Martin del Potro 75% (24/32)
2. Novak Djokovic 68% (87/128)
3. Kevin Anderson 67.6% (48/71)

Ad Court – Top 10 2018 Average
Directing a second serve down the T in the Ad court – to a right-hander’s forehand return – delivered almost the exact same win percentage as going out wide to the backhand. You would expect hitting a kick serve up high and out wide to a backhand return to be vastly superior to hitting a second serve to the forehand, which also pulls the returner into the middle of the court to begin the point. But the win percentages are basically the same.

Ad Court – Second Serves Attempted & Won (Bold = Highest)

AD COURT Direction Attempted Win Percentage
26.2% 60.8%
Body  33.8% 55.1%
Wide  40% 60.9%

The top three performers with second-serve points won down the T to the forehand in the Ad court:

Ad Court Win Percentage – T
1. Novak Djokovic 73.5% (86/117)
Rafael Nadal 63.2% (24/38)
3. John Isner 61.9% (13/21)

Yes, more second serves should definitely be directed to the opponent’s forehand return. A main reason is the surprise factor, as almost all returners are initially sitting on a backhand return against a second serve.

But it’s not all about the kicking it in to the backhand wing and starting the point; it’s actually about attacking the forehand return and catching opponents off guard.

Editor’s Note: Craig O’Shannessy is a member of Novak Djokovic’s coaching team.

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Top Five Grand Slam Comebacks of 2018

  • Posted: Dec 14, 2018

Top Five Grand Slam Comebacks of 2018

ATP World Tour Season In Review: Best Five Comebacks In Grand Slam Matches

Continuing our Season In Review series, looks at the top five comebacks in Grand Slam matches in 2018.

5. David Goffin d. Gael Monfils, Third Round, Roland Garros (Match Stats)
The French faithful were roaring, “Allez! Allez!”; Gael Monfils was striding to his chair, chest out and a set up, and David Goffin was on the other side of the net, left to ponder how he’d come back against Monfils and the Roland Garros crowd.

Read More: David (Goffin) vs. Goliaths

The Belgian had dropped the opener 7-6(7) against Monfils, who looked primed for the third-round party. But Goffin, who at 5’11” often has to look up to his opponents, never lets an early disadvantage sink his fortune. In his injury-shortened 2018, Goffin won eight matches after losing the first set (8-15), and in 2017, he did it a tour-best 14 times.

He broke early in the second set against Monfils, but the Frenchman took the third and a lob at 5-4, 30/15 in the fourth set brought up two match points for Monfils on Goffin’s serve.

Watch Highlights: Goffin Saves Four Match Points Against Monfils

Goffin, however, saved four match points that game, and won the next three games to force a deciding set. For his career, Goffin has won 65 per cent of deciding sets (77-42), and as Monfils seemed tired, relying on drop shots early in points, Goffin looked energised, racing forward, calculating the slide, and angling away winners. He advanced after three hours and 58 minutes, 6-7(6), 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.

The Belgian lost in the fourth round to eventual semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato of Italy, but after missing four weeks because of a freak eye injury earlier in the year, Goffin was pleased to be sliding on the clay with full sight.


4. Diego Schwartzman d. Kevin Anderson, Fourth Round, Roland Garros (Match Stats)
If the score had been reversed, few would have been surprised. But it was Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman, a man whose game was honed on clay, who was trailing South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, whose big-hitting game excels on fast hard courts, 1-6, 2-6 in the Roland Garros fourth round.

Both players were looking to reach their first Roland Garros quarter-final, and both had enjoyed their best starts to a season yet in 2018. Schwartzman won the biggest title of his career at the Rio Open presented by Claro, and Anderson had already reached three ATP World Tour finals (Pune, New York, Acapulco).


But Anderson could not put away Schwartzman. He served for the match at 5-4 in the third and fourth sets but was broken both times, and Schwartzman stole the sets and the match, 1-6, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6(0), 6-2. “It’s definitely one of the most emotional matches that I can say I have played,” said Schwartzman, who had never come back from two sets down.

It was emotional, too, for Anderson, but the South African quickly put it behind him en route to a career year. He made Wimbledon final, the semi-finals at the Nitto ATP Finals and finished at a personal year-end best No. 6 in the ATP Rankings.

3. Marco Cecchinato d. Marius Copil, First Round, Roland Garros
One of the stories of the 2018 season – Italy’s Marco Cecchinato reaching the Roland Garros semi-finals – almost didn’t make it out of the first round. The 25-year-old Palermo native was down 2-6, 6-7(4), 4-5, on serve, against the 6’5” Copil.

Before this season, Cecchinato had only four tour-level wins, but he won his maiden title at the Gazprom Hungarian Open in a comeback effort as a lucky loser (d. Millman), and the best comeback of his career began against Copil as Cecchinato rallied to advance 2-6, 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-2, 10-8.


From there, Cecchinato beat Argentine lucky loser Marco Trungelliti, who drove with his grandmother in tow to make the sign-in deadline, No. 11 Pablo Carreno Busta, No. 9 David Goffin and 2016 Roland Garros champion Novak Djokovic. Cecchinato’s run ended against Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals, but the Italian would show his Paris run was no fluke by finishing in the Top 20 and with 27 tour-level wins, 23 more than he had before 2018.

I think today, all day, on Philippe-Chatrier, every point, [the fans] said ‘Forza, Marco’. So I think this is the best moment for me. Against Dominic Thiem, he is Top 10, and today all the people were for me,” Cecchinato said after falling to Thiem. “[It] was the special tournament for me… I am very, very happy.”

Watch Highlights: Cecchinato Beats Djokovic To Reach Semi-Finals

2. Marin Cilic d. Alex de Minaur, Third Round, US Open (Match Stats)
It was one of those evenings – make that early mornings – that, for those in attendance, will define the 2018 US Open: The night the former champ roared back against the quick-as-hell Aussie youngster. Marin Cilic was striding into gear. Quarter-finals in Toronto and semi-finals in Cincy made the 2014 US Open champion a Flushing favourite again.

But Alex de Minaur had been surprising people all season. The 19-year-old Aussie started the season at No. 208 in the ATP Rankings. By the time the New York fortnight rolled around, the teenager, ranked No. 45, could skip the qualifying and rest up for the main draw.

Read Match Report

There was no downtime against Cilic, however, as the “Demon” sprinted to a 6-4, 6-3 advantage. Cilic was missing, and De Minaur was making him hit everything. For many inside Louis Armstrong Stadium, it was their first time witnessing the speed – and effort – the Aussie brings every match, and few were leaving their seats, even as the clock crept towards midnight.

Cilic, though, is familiar with the New York bright lights that leave many squinting. Before facing De Minaur, he was 7-1 in US Open five setters, and Cilic reduced his error tally and played calmer to force a fifth set. He led 5-2, before De Minaur had another march in him. At last, at 2:22 a.m., Cilic clinched his eighth match point to put the Aussie away.

“It was just an insane atmosphere,” Cilic said. “Incredible fighting spirit. He was fighting his heart out and it was just an insane match. What a comeback he made from 5-2… He played some amazing tennis and really a couple points were taking him from the victory. I was just a little bit luckier today.”

Watch Highlights: Cilic Outlasts De Minaur In New York

1. Kevin Anderson d. Roger Federer, Quarter-finals, Wimbledon (Match Stats)
Roger Federer was playing more like the man who started the season 17-0 than the player who fell in his first match at the Miami Open presented by Itau. At SW19, the Swiss had held 85 consecutive times. He had won 12 sets in a row and had yet to be pushed to a tie-break against Dusan Lajovic (No. 58), Lukas Lacko (No. 73), Jan-Lennard Struff (No. 64) and Adrian Mannarino (No. 26).

But Kevin Anderson had shown he was ready, beating Frenchman Gael Monfils to reach his maiden Wimbledon quarter-final. Before that fourth-round victory, Anderson had captured only one set in five previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings vs. Monfils. Anderson’s biggest Wimbledon stunner, however, was yet to come.

Watch Highlights: Anderson Comes Back To Beat Federer In Quarter-Finals

Federer held match point at 6-2, 7-6(5), 5-4, Ad Out. But Anderson played it aggressively by attacking the net, and Federer’s backhand pass fell short. The South African’s confidence only surged from there.

He pushed Federer behind the baseline with his big forehand and power game – Anderson finished with 65 winners – and fist pumps followed as he forced a decider. The South African had not won a single set against Federer during their four prior FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, but he exhibited no signs of nerves.


Seven times Anderson served to stay in the match in the fifth set, and all seven Anderson held. Instead, it was Federer, the eight-time Wimbledon champion, who cracked, dropping his serve at 11-11 before Anderson served out one of the biggest wins of his career.

The defeat marked only the second time Federer had let falter a two-set lead at Wimbledon (79-2; Tsonga, 2011). In the semi-finals, Anderson outlasted American John Isner 26-24 in the fifth set to reach his second Grand Slam final. Anderson fell to a resurgent Novak Djokovic in the title match.

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Manchester & London on five-city ATP Finals shortlist

  • Posted: Dec 14, 2018

Manchester has joined current hosts London on a five-city shortlist to stage the ATP Finals from 2021.

Singapore, Tokyo and Turin have also made the cut after more than 40 cities expressed an initial interest in hosting the season finale.

Manchester lost out to the Chinese city of Shenzhen earlier this year in its attempt to host the WTA Finals – the women’s equivalent of the ATP Finals.

A decision on the ATP Finals host will be made by March 2019 at the earliest.

London has hosted the event since 2009 and has drawn a cumulative total of more than 2.5 million spectators to the O2 Arena since then.

It extended its current agreement to host through to 2020 in May 2017.

Manchester’s unsuccessful plan to stage the WTA Finals was centred on the 21,000-capacity Manchester Arena, the likely venue if it was successful with the ATP Finals bid.

“It has been a highly competitive process, and the candidate cities on the shortlist deserve huge credit for the passion and creative vision they have shown in their respective plans to continue the growth of our showpiece event,” said ATP president Chris Kermode.

“With the final shortlist announced, we believe we will be well-placed to determine the next exciting chapter.”

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ATP Finals Host City Candidates Announced

  • Posted: Dec 14, 2018

ATP Finals Host City Candidates Announced

London, Manchester, Singapore, Tokyo, Turin bid to host ATP Finals from 2021-25

The ATP, governing body of men’s professional tennis, has announced the final shortlist of candidates bidding to host the ATP Finals. The cities of Manchester, England, Singapore, Tokyo, Japan, and Turin, Italy, have been selected by the ATP to progress and will now be assessed alongside London in the final phase of the bidding process to host the ATP Tour’s crown jewel event from 2021 to 2025.

The announcement of the final shortlist follows an extensive bid application process that began in August 2018 in which more than 40 cities worldwide expressed an interest in hosting the prestigious season-ending event. The final phase of the process will see the ATP visit the candidate cities to further review their respective visions for the ATP Finals, with a decision on the successful candidate to be made not before March 2019.  

Chris Kermode, ATP Executive Chairman & President, said: “The level of interest we have received worldwide throughout the bid application process reflects the rich heritage of this unique tournament, as well as the success of the event at The O2 since 2009. It has been a highly competitive process, and the candidate cities on the shortlist deserve huge credit for the passion and creative vision they have shown in their respective plans to continue the growth of our showpiece event.

“The ATP Finals have never stood still, remaining vibrant and relevant to fans, sponsors and media worldwide at every turn. There’s no question that London has set a very high benchmark and, with the final shortlist announced today, we believe we will be well-placed to determine the next exciting chapter of a tournament that has come to represent the absolute pinnacle in men’s professional tennis.”

You May Also Like: Nitto ATP Finals Welcomes More Than 2.5 Million Fans Across 10 Years In London

The ATP Finals were first held in Tokyo in 1970 and have been staged in some of the major cities around the world, including New York City, Sydney, and Shanghai. The season finale’s longest stay in a single venue was across 13 consecutive editions at Madison Square Garden from 1977-1989. The tournament has been won by many of the all-time greats, including Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Djokovic.

The season-ending event features only the world’s best eight qualified singles players and doubles teams following a year-long Race to qualify, giving the winning city a highly valuable association with an integral narrative that ties together the entire ATP Tour season.

The tournament is to be held through 2020 at The O2 in London, where it has been staged to wide acclaim since 2009. The event has successfully established itself as one of the major annual sporting events worldwide, broadcast in more than 180 territories with global viewership figures reaching an average of 95 million each year.

The ATP is working with The Sports Business Group at Deloitte to manage the bidding process.

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Wimbledon expansion plans set to advance after golf club votes to sell

  • Posted: Dec 13, 2018

Wimbledon’s expansion plans have taken a step forward after a neighbouring golf club voted to sell its land.

The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) made a reported £65m offer to buy the Wimbledon Park Golf Club land.

AELTC says a vote has gone in its favour with the transfer – pending court approval – set to go through on 21 December. The deal will see AELTC’s land roughly triple in size.

Wimbledon Park will continue to operate as a golf course until December 2021.

Seventy-five percent approval was required from members of the golf club, and after a meeting in Westminster on Thursday evening, 82.2% voted in favour in a secret ballot.

Each of the club’s approximately 750 members, which include TV presenters Piers Morgan and Ant and Dec, will now be at least £85,000 better off.

The AELTC already owns the lease to the land, but would have had to wait until 2041 for it to expire.

The new land will also allow for many more practice courts and better facilities for those who currently queue to enter the grounds on the perimeter of the golf club as well as increasing the local community’s access to the site for the other 50 weeks of the year.

AELTC chairman Philip Brook ruled out the prospect of building multi-storey car parks and shopping villages on the site.

“The decision of the Wimbledon Park Golf Club members to vote in favour of the acquisition offer is a hugely significant moment for the AELTC and The Championships,” he said.

“We have achieved what we set out to do many months ago in having certainty in our planning for the future. In many ways, it will be business as usual for the Wimbledon Park Golf Course during the next couple of years, but we will use this time to give careful consideration to our next steps.

“We will work with the local authorities and other interested parties as these plans are developed and I would like to emphasise that we have no intention of applying for change of use, planning permission or other approval to use the land that would be completely out of character for the AELTC and The Championships.”

And Jenny Gaskin, chairman of the golf club, admitted 2018 had been a period of considerable uncertainty.

“This has been a long but thorough process and I and the rest of the board would like to thank all members who participated in and voted either in person or by proxy,” she said in a statement.


Russell Fuller BBC tennis correspondent

The competition among the Grand Slams is intense. All the others stage qualifying on site; the Australian Open now has a roof over three courts; the US Open unveiled a new Louis Armstrong Stadium Court in August; and after years of delay, Roland Garros is currently being both expanded and modernised.

Wimbledon, too, is always moving forward but will be grateful for ways to increase capacity. Centre and Number One Courts are the focal point, but the next biggest court only has room for 4,000 spectators.

There is also a desire to increase the local community’s access to the site for the other 50 weeks of the year.

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Becker: "Sascha Isn't Satisfied Yet"

  • Posted: Dec 13, 2018

Becker: “Sascha Isn’t Satisfied Yet” speaks exclusively to Becker about Zverev

Alexander Zverev earned the biggest title of his career last month at The O2 in London, winning the prestigious Nitto ATP Finals. The last German to capture the season finale before Zverev was former World No. 1 Boris Becker, in 1995. Becker also triumphed at the event in 1988 and 1992. caught up with Becker in a wide-ranging conversation about Zverev, including his victory in London to how he can improve and what the future may hold.

A month ago Sascha earned the biggest win of his career at the Nitto ATP Finals. Now that there’s been some time, how important of a breakthrough do you believe that was for him?
I think it was the biggest win of his career. He did win three [ATP World Tour] Masters 1000 titles before, but this one was bigger, especially beating Roger and Novak in the semi-finals and finals in straight sets. I thought that was the breakthrough that everyone was waiting for.

As you said, he had won Masters 1000 events before. So how key do you think this was compared to those wins?
He’s been touted by most of the experts as a future No. 1 and playing like it. He played the past two years, apart from the Grand Slams [at a high level]. You wait as a young player to take the next step at the biggest of tournaments and at the Grand Slams, unfortunately, he hasn’t made a semi-final yet. But I think the way he performed throughout the whole week against the very best in tennis, looked to be very promising for 2019.

It starts with yourself. If you gain a bit of confidence, if you start beating the best tennis players in the world day after day, you deep down start to believe that you really belong there. That’s why I think it was a big breakthrough.

Speaking of the experts touting him as a future World No. 1, if you do, why do you believe he can be the best player in the world?
First of all, it’s not so easy to achieve. The No. 1 spot is busy, it’s taken right now by Novak, but Rafa had it for most of the year and even Roger was No. 1 for a couple of weeks, so you’re talking about three of the greatest players of all time. Reaching No. 1 for anybody else is very difficult. Plus, he’s surrounded by some of his generation, the likes of Tsitsipas, Khachanov and Shapovalov. They are right behind him and I think it’s just a very difficult feat to do right now in tennis, to overtake everybody, because it’s such a crowded time to play.

How difficult is it to deal with the pressure of people touting you as a possible future No. 1?
Pressure is sometimes overrated and sometimes underrated. I think if Sascha couldn’t cope with the pressure, he wouldn’t be consistently now, the past two years, in the Top 5 [of the ATP Rankings]. So I think pressure is the least of his problems. I think it’s the quality of players. To play Rafa on clay, Novak on hard and Roger on everything else, it’s just very, very difficult. If you can’t handle the pressure, then ultimately you should find another job. But it’s really the quality of the opposition that would be the biggest problem for him and everybody else.

Do you remember the first time you met Sascha or saw him play?
It was funny because when [Zverev’s brother] Mischa was in his early 20s, I supported him with the German Federation. I talked to his father, his mother and Mischa and Mischa said, ‘Yeah, I’m good and everything. But my brother will be much better.’

Little Sascha was about 10 years old, a skinny toothpick. I said, ‘Hopefully you’re right.’ And obviously 10 years later, they were right. He’s come a long way, and he’s not so skinny anymore.

Becker, Zverev

What do you think he’s improved the most over these past few years that has allowed him to consistently stay at this level?
I think it’s his belief and his quality. He understands now that he belongs in the Top 5. He shows a remarkable consistency for someone so young. It’s one thing playing good one tournament, six months a year. It’s far more difficult to come back and defend it.

Everyone knows how you’re playing now, the competition obviously. The locker room never sleeps. So for him to come back this year and confirm his quality, I think it’s his biggest achievement. Of course he’s physically stronger now, the groundstrokes are better, but I think ultimately it’s down to your own confidence and the belief that you belong.

To be in the Top 5, you typically won’t have a true weakness. But do you think there’s a shot or a quality in his game he needs to improve significantly to take another step forward?
I think there’s a big difference [between] consistently playing Top 5 or Top 10. It’s a different quality. So I would emphasise that he’s a Top 5 player. He’s a student of the game. For him to ask Ivan Lendl to improve his quality and performances speaks volumes. He could have said he’s happy with his father and his surroundings, he’s doing well. But no, he wants to be better, he wants to get better. Hiring Ivan, he’s one of the best coaches in the game today, and when their partnership started in September, I was very happy. I knew right away that Sascha isn’t satisfied yet. He wants to get to the very top. I think with Ivan on his side, he can achieve that dream.

Is there something in particular Ivan can bring to his game?
I think the understanding of when to do what. There is one thing to practise the right away, but it’s another thing to prepare to play on the morning of a semi-final, of a final against the very best. It’s strategy, it’s tactics, it’s mindset, it’s attitude and that has nothing to do with any strokes… to understand when to do what against whom. When you coach players, most of them are happy to be in the semi-finals, and they start to relax a little bit and the tournament’s already good. When Ivan is on your side, once you’re in the semi-finals, the tournament has really just started.

Zverev Becker

Of course you’ve spoken to Sascha, so what’s the biggest lesson you’ve tried to impart to him?
Being the head of German tennis, I’ve tried to mentor him for the past two years. As I said to his brother and his family — I’m very close to him — and we often speak about tennis and I give him my thoughts, but he’s like a sponge. He wants to know, he wants to talk, he wants to practise, and I think that’s the most important thing, is that he understands that there are still a lot of things he needs to do overall.

Saying he’s a sponge and a student of the game, is that something that’s always been a part of him?
I have known him a couple years now, and he has this belief and confidence that, without being arrogant or without carrying his nose too high, he feels he’s got something in him that’s special, and I think that’s the most interesting thing that I’ve found about him, that he really believes and he feels that he’s one of the best players in the world and he wants to get to the very top.

Becker Zverev 

What do you think the biggest misconception about Sascha or his game is?
He’s very talkative and I’m talking from a German point of view. He gives wonderful interviews in English, you may remember his winner’s speech after he won at The O2. He was funny, and he made fun of himself and his friends. Sometimes in Germany he doesn’t come across that way. Some of the German media thinks he’s a bit arrogant and he doesn’t care, and he’s a bit cocky and all of that, and there’s nothing further from the truth. I wish he would come across in German the way he does in English.

How important do you think he can be for German tennis on the whole?
He’s now a superstar. Together with Angie Kerber, he can really put tennis back on the map in Germany. Both have gained millions of new fans in the past two years and they want to see him do well.

We’ve been blessed with a couple of good players in the past and some of the other players like Tommy Haas, Rainer Schuettler and others up to Philipp Kohlschreiber, they’re all very good, but I think Sascha is special. I just hope that he can continue to play great, continue to be proud of his country. It goes a long way. He’s only 21 years, so hopefully this thing will go for a long, long time.

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