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Grigor Dimitrov finishes the 2016 season as No. 17 in the Emirates ATP Rankings.

Dimitrov Wins More With Less

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers shows how the Bulgarian made his return to the Top 20 this season

The scoring system in tennis produces a powerful paradox where you can improve on a successful season even by winning fewer points per match on average.

Players want to win every point, but only a slim majority is needed for victory. The stats sheets suggest that just a handful of points make a real difference in a match.

Take for example Grigor Dimitrov’s resurgence this season.

The 25-year-old Bulgarian had his second best year on the ATP World Tour, going 39-27 to improve his year-end Emirates ATP Ranking from No. 28 in 2015, to No. 17 in 2016. Surely, winning more points per match propelled this jump in the rankings. The answer? Yes and no.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Dimitrov’s return to the Top 20 by 2016’s end makes you do a double-take when you look at his key metrics. The following table compares his 2015 and 2016 seasons, which shows improvement in all areas except average points won:

Season Analytics 2015 2016
Year-End Ranking 28 17
Matches Won/Lost 33-22 39-26
Prize Money $968,791 $1,617,502
Points Won 4560 5600
Average Points Won 51.6 per cent 51.2 per cent

These numbers produce three main take-aways for players at all levels of the game on how to improve their own performance:

1. Razor-Thin Margins

In 2016, Dimitrov tipped a 50-50 battle with his opponents a mere 1.2 percentage points in his favor. When you look at the flip side of this dynamic, he averaged losing 49 of every 100 points in regaining a coveted spot in the Top 20. An analysis of the ATP Stats LEADERBOARDS shows the Bulgarian clinching those key points in his return game.

Total Service Points Won
2015 = 66.3 per cent
2016 = 65.2 per cent

Total Return Points Won
2015 = 37.1 per cent
2016 = 37.7 per cent

2. All Points Do Not Weigh The Same

Saving break points was a key metric for the Bulgarian in adding six more matches to his win column in 2016 over 2015. Making more first serves in the Ad court on break point, where they occur at about a 3:1 ratio to the Deuce court, was a significant contributor.

1st Serve Percentage Down Break Point 2015 2016
Deuce Court 67.0 per cent (55/82) 64.9 per cent (61/94)
Ad Court 58.7 per cent (155/264) 63.7 per cent (193/303)
Overall 60.1 per cent (210/346) 64.0 per cent (254/397)

3. Head vs Heart

Your heart says try to win every point you play, so your head needs to understand the reality of a stats sheet, which says the opposite. We play a game of percentages, not perfection. Losing is going to happen a lot, and staying positive against the natural forces of adversity and disappointment is as important as any dynamic in a match.