The Hidden Benefit Of Medvedev's Deep Return Stance

  • Posted: Aug 16, 2023

The Hidden Benefit Of Medvedev’s Deep Return Stance

Former World No. 1 is better at defending short returns than any other player… by quite some margin!

Depth is Daniil’s diamond.

Daniil Medvedev’s unconventional, ultra-deep return position often sees him standing six metres or more behind the baseline to return first serves. What looks like a distinct disadvantage at first glance is actually a cleverly disguised trap. Medvedev is a peak performer at winning points against first serves compared to other elite players.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of return depth against first serves from the current Top 10 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings uncovers Medvedev’s paradoxical performance. Standing deep is not hurting him from returning deep, and in fact, he leads the Top 10 in one critical first-serve return statistic.

The data set comes from the Infosys ATP Return Tracker from the 2023 season (prior to Toronto) and focuses only on first-serve returns that land between the service line and baseline. Missed returns and returns in the service box are omitted.

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First-Serve Return Depth
The first thing to understand is that once the first-serve return has made it back past the service line, most of these returns land closer to the service line than the baseline. The current Top 10 average 61 per cent of their first-serve returns closer to the service line and 39 per cent closer to the baseline. Even though Medvedev returns from an ultra-deep location, he was tied for third best in this category.

Returns Landing Closer To Baseline Than Service Line
1. Jannik Sinner = 47%
2. Andrey Rublev = 46%
T3. Daniil Medvedev = 43%
T3. Stefanos Tsitsipas = 43%
5. Frances Tiafoe = 40%
6. Holger Rune = 38%
7. Novak Djokovic = 37%
8. Taylor Fritz = 36%
9. Carlos Alcaraz = 35%
10. Casper Ruud = 24%

It’s interesting to identify that Ruud is the other Top 10 player who stands in an ultra-deep location to return serve but does not average returning nearly as deep as Medvedev.

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First-Serve Return Win Percentage
Establishing that returns typically land closer to the service line than the baseline helps zero in on Medvedev’s first-serve return prowess. This is precisely where he leads this elite group of players with points won.

Points Won: Return Lands Closer To Service Line Than Baseline
1. D. Medvedev = 61%
2. C. Alcaraz = 53%
3. H. Rune = 52%
T4. A. Rublev = 50%
T4. N. Djokovic = 50%
6. F. Tiafoe = 48%
7. S. Tsitsipas = 47%
8. T. Fritz = 46%
9. J. Sinner = 43%
10. C. Ruud = 43%

Medvedev was head and shoulders above his peers with his win percentage in this category with 61 per cent of points won. The Top 10 average was just 49 per cent. Medvedev was eight percentage points clear of second-placed Alcaraz (61% to 53%) and was one of only three players to win north of 50 per cent.

Medvedev’s superior win percentage may very well boil down to his “defensive-ready” court position. When a return is hit shorter (landing closer to the service line), the server will naturally be looking to step in and attack. The returner will, in turn, look to move back to defend. Since Medvedev is already standing deep, he does not get as rushed or pushed onto his back foot as a typical returner who hugs the baseline.

Medvedev has cleverly pre-built in extra time for himself.

When the return did land closer to the baseline than the service line, Medvedev was the second-best performer in the Top 10.

Points Won: Return Lands Closer To Baseline Than Service Line
1. C. Alcaraz = 63%
2. D. Medvedev = 58%
3. N. Djokovic = 57%
T4. S. Tsitsipas = 54%
T4. A. Rublev = 54%
6. F. Tiafoe = 53%
7. H. Rune = 52%
8. J. Sinner = 50%
T9 T. Fritz = 44%
T9 C. Ruud = 44%

Medvedev’s first-serve return prowess defies standard convention. By standing so far back to return serve, he allows the ball to slow down and not rush him. He treats the return much more like a regular groundstroke than his competitors, who typically stand closer to the baseline, looking to rebound the ball quickly to the server to take their time away.

Medvedev shouldn’t be able to regularly return the ball so deep from so far back, but that’s precisely what he does. The vast expanses of Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open are tailor-made for him. He has plenty of room to roam as far as he wants to return.

It seems he is reacting, but he has discovered the art of dictating from the deep. Don’t be surprised to see Medvedev adding a second US Open title in New York this year.

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