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Gael Monfils reached a career high of No. 6 in the Emirates ATP Rankings this season by drastically improving his return game.

The Biggest Reason Monfils Had His Best Year On Tour

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers shows how the Frenchman was better than ever when returning

It’s one thing to position yourself to win a tennis match. It’s quite another to actually do it.

Gael Monfils enjoyed his best season on tour in 2016, ending the year at No. 7 in the Emirates ATP Rankings after reaching a career-high of No. 6 last month. In 2015, he finished the season at No. 24, and on the surface, not a lot of his metrics changed during the 12-month period. The difference was Monfils was far more efficient at finishing the job he started when returning.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Monfils’ 44-17 season this year showed that when returning and getting to within one point of breaking at 0/40, 15/40 and 30/40, his conversion rate sky-rocketed compared to last year and at any other time during his 14-year career.

The following comparison to the 2015 season identifies that the number of return games Monfils played was almost identical, but the break points created and converted increased dramatically.

Return Games Played
2015 = 654
2016 = 660

Break Points Converted (2005-2015 Average = 40.8%)
2015 = 40.6% (145/359)
2016 = 45.4% (189/416)

It’s a significant success to move the needle one or two percentage points with break-point conversion, but the flamboyant Frenchman improved almost five percentage points, converting 44 more break points (189 to 145) in 2016 than in 2015.

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The following table shows the improvement Monfils made in breaking serve from a specific point score. When the door opened this year, he walked through it.

Monfils' Percentage Chance of Breaking Serve by Point Score

 Point Score Returning  2015  2016  Percentage Point Improvement
 30/40   30%   61.9%  31.9
 0/40   37.6%   63.3%  25.7
 15/40   38.6%  59%   20.4
 15/30   28.1%   46.4%  18.3
 0/30   38.1%  56%  17.9
 0/15   27.4%  43%  15.6
 15/15   16.8%  31.3%  14.5
 30/30   22.5%  34.9%  12.4
 Deuce   25.5%  37.9%  12.4

Monfils converted 16 more break points against first serves in 2016 than in 2015, and similarly converted 28 more break points against second serves, fueling his best season on tour.

Break Points Converted When Receiving First Serves
2015 = 71
2016 = 87

Break Points Converted Receiving Second Serves
2015 = 74
2016 = 102

Monfils finished the 2016 season impressively ranked third on tour in break points converted, but he was the runaway leader on clay courts. He converted a mind-blowing 53.8 per cent of his break points on clay. As a comparison, Rafael Nadal is the career leader at converting break points on clay, at 48.8 per cent.

With the finish line of breaking serve just one point away this season, Monfils crossed it better than he ever has.

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