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Kei Nishikori stepped up his game on second serves in 2016.

Nishikori Steps Into Second-Serve Success

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers shows how Nishikori improved his game in 2016 and how he can continue to improve in 2017

A traditional coaching drill on practice courts all over the world is to play points with just one serve. It creates instant pressure as players develop their prowess hitting second serves, and also attacking them at will on the return. Coaches may as well name it the “Kei Nishikori Drill”.

Nishikori won more matches in 2016 than in any other year of his illustrious career, going 58-21 and finishing No. 5 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. Dominating the second-serve landscape was his specialty.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the Japanese star uncovered just how much his game elevated when points started with second serves instead of first serves.

Nishikori won 72 per cent of his first-serve points in 2016, only 43rd best on the ATP World Tour. But when it came to second-serve points, Nishikori skyrocketed all the way to seventh best by winning 55.3 per cent of the points that started with his second serve.

The same dynamic unfolded on the returning side as well. The ATP Stats LEADERBOARDS, powered by the Infosys Information Platform, showed Nishikori was 17th best when returning first serves by winning 30.6 per cent of those points. But he leapt all the way to fifth best on the ATP World Tour by winning 54.3 per cent of his second-serve return points.

Kei Nishikori 2016 Season

 Statistic  Winning Percentage  Ranking
 First-Serve Points Won   72.1  43rd
 Second-Serve Points Won   55.3  Seventh
 First-Serve Return Points Won   30.6  17th
 Second-Serve Return Points Won   54.3  Fifth

When serving and facing break point, Nishikori won about 70 per cent of his first-serve points and an extremely high 58.1 per cent (93/160) of his second-serve points. As a comparison on second serves, Nishikori’s metrics were superior to World No. 1 Andy Murray, who saved 55.4 per cent (93/168), and World No. 2 Novak Djokovic, who saved 56.4 per cent (71/126).

When returning serve on break points, Nishikori dominated, winning 58.1 per cent of break points against second serves, which was once again a leading metric compared to his peers in the Top 10.

The one area Nishikori can tidy up in the coming season is not double faulting on break points. In 2016 he double faulted 16 times on break points – up from only seven times in 2015.

The battleground surrounding second serves, both serving and returning, weighs heavier to the outcome of a match and a career than you may think. It would be a wise decision for players at all levels of the game in 2017 to work a little more of the “Kei Nishikori Drill” into their regimen.

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