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This, That and the Other Thing: Stats, Observations, results

Thailand, Tokyo, Serve and Return Stats

October 01, 2011 | 11:30 PM

Joker's return, credited as being a large part of his success, has helped win him 41% of his return games this year. This sets him far above everyone else: Rafa and Murray have each won 36%, the second most, followed by Ferrer with 35%. Two other top 10 players who round out the top 10 list in this category are Berdych and Simon, who've each won 29%, and Federer who is barely in the top 10 with 27%.

The correlation between ranking and return statistics is strong among the top 5, except for Federer.

The top returners:

1st Serve Return Points Won

37% Joker

37% Murray

35% Nadal

33% Federer (tied for 4th with 9 others including Fish)

2nd Serve Return Points Won

58% Joker

58% Nadal

56% Murray

56% Ferrer

31% Federer

Federer ranks 21st in this last category with 27%, but is the only top 5 player to appear near the top of both the 1st and 2nd serve points won lists (he's 2nd to Karlovic's 80% with 78% on 1st serve points, and is 1st in 2nd Serve Games Won with 57% to Rafa and Joker's 56%), as well as in Service Games Won (with 89%, he's 2nd to Isner and Karlovic with 90%; only Joker makes the top 10 tied for 3rd with 87%).

Several questions and observations arise from this.

RE: Joker... He is new to the top 10 list of players holding service games this year, which has been key to his improved success.

RE: Rafa... I believe his position on that list (#17) is lower this year, now that he is behind Tipsarevic, Ferrer, Anderson, and Raonic. Certainly, he was much more dominating on serve in the 2010 Open - his best serving performance ever - than he's been since. As he said after the Open, he knows what he needs to work on.

RE: Murray... He has been near the top of return stats for several years (tied for 2nd with Nadal this year), but languishes way beneath the level of a top 5 player in serve stats, coming in 36th in percentage of service games won, behind the entire French Davis Cup team from the past 5 years (#62 Benneteau, #50 Llodra, #41 Malisse, #16 Gasquet, #14 Monfils, #9 Simon and #8 Tsonga).

WHY does Murray do so poorly holding serve? The stats point to two things. First, his low 1st serve percentage, which is barely in the top 50 at 59%. The only other top 10 players with such a low percentage are Simon, Berdych and Mardy Fish, who makes up for this by having the ability to follow up a very strong serve with aggressive play (in this respect, the player Fish most resembles is Federer, who is at the top of 2nd serve points won; Fish is at #6). Murray hits about as many aces per match as Fish, Federer and Del Potro (7 to 8).

Murray's second problem is winning 2nd serve points, at which he barely makes the top 60 list and trails every top 10 player. To move up and win majors, he'll need to improve his 1st serve percentage and his 2nd serve, and perhaps play more aggressively on points in his service games.

RE: Federer... When he dominated the game completely (from '04 through '07), did he not appear near the top of both serve and return stats with higher return stats than he presently has?

I don't know, but assuming he probably was (because he won such a high percentage of his matches), why is he now winning a significantly lower percentage of his return games than even low ranked players like #24 Chela, #36 Fognini, #37 Andujar and #59 Volandri?

I don't think the serves on the tour have gotten that much better - Karlovic was playing in '04, as were other strong servers - and I doubt his return has gotten more careless relative to others. I think since he had back problems emerge several years ago, Roger can't move as well laterally as before. That movement is essential to playing defense and hanging in points long enough to turn them around. This is not going to change. He will have days where he is striking the ball so confidently on his return and his backhand, that he can beat anyone, as he showed in paris this year. But these will be days, not the two weeks required to win majors.

RE: Others

- Berdych is the highest player other than Joker on both the top 10 list in winning service games (5th) and return games (7th), a sign which bodes well for his remaining a contender.

- Del Potro is tied for 3rd in serve games won and tied for 9th in return games - I believe he will get back to his former level in return games and threaten to return to the top 5 next year.

- Fish, tied for 6th in service games won, is just outside the top 10 in return games won with 25%. He's gone about as far as he can go without somehow improving his return game results.

- Tsonga is tied for 5th in serve games won, but barely in the top 35 in return games. Simon is tied for 7th in return games and is tied for 13th in serve games. Monfils is barely in the top 20 in serve games and tied for 12th in return games.

- Soderling is tied for 6th in serve games and 17th in return games (he's not had a particularly good year, though he's still 10th in the Race).

I wish I could say these kinds of statistics reveal any insight about up and coming young players like #15 Dolgopolov, #27 Raonic or #34 Bogomolov, but at best they appear to have strengths (aces in Dogman's case, as in Raonic's).

As for #42 Donald Young, who beat the #2 seed Monfils today in Thailand to reach his first ATP final along with Murray, the best I can say is that he is playing better matches, not letting the errors in his forward moving, risk-taking game get to his head. He still may have a couple of problems (his father coaching and his mother watching), but the come-back win today featured two tie-breakers in which he controlled play, winning 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5). Murray took out #3 seed Simon in the doppelgangers' three setter (their games are eerily similar, though Murray consistently has at least consistently beaten his own shadow 8 of 9 times on every surface including Wimbledon and Masters 1000 events).

If Donald can beat Murray in a final, he'll get real attention as he did too soon in his career as a teen. He beat Andy in the first round of Montreal this year, and lost to him in the round of 16 at the Open. This will be another new occasion for The Donald, but he's come up 75 spots this year. Can he take it in stride?

As for the women, upsets continued to be the norm when #9 Radwanska bested #4 seed Zvonareva to take the Tokyo title.



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