Facing Break Point, Nadal Outperforms His Peers

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers shows how the Spaniard raises his level under pressure

You are serving, down break point.

The initial element of a successful hold strategy is to make your first serve. You would think this would come naturally for the Top 20 players in the Emirates ATP Rankings – an innate ability to elevate their games in moments of crisis.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of 13,295 break points against Top 20 players in both the 2015 and 2016 seasons actually showed just the opposite, with this elite group struggling like players at all levels of the game to find new heights when they need them the most.

Only four of the Top 20 in 2016 made more first serves down break point than they did on average during the season, which was even fewer than the seven who did in 2015. The standout this season was Rafael Nadal, who not only boasted the highest overall first-serve percentage of the Top 20 at 70 per cent, but he also doubled down to raise it to all the way to 79 per cent when facing break point.

First serves on break points matter greatly. Nadal has saved substantially more break points behind his first serve than his second serve during the past two seasons.

2016 Nadal Break Points Saved
First Serve = 69 per cent (162/236)
Second Serve = 52 per cent (32/61)

2015 Nadal Break Points Saved
First Serve = 68 per cent (202/298)
Second Serve = 49 per cent (62/127)

The four Top 20 players in 2016 who made a higher percentage of first serves on break point than their season average:

 No.   Player  First-Serve Percentage  First-Serve Percentage Facing Break Point  Percentage-Point Improvement
 1  Rafael Nadal  70%  79%  +9
 2  Kei Nishikori  61%  63%  +2
 3  Roberto Bautista Agut   65%  66%  +1
 4  Richard Gasquet  62%  63%  +1

Nadal and Kei Nishikori were the only two players to be ranked in the Top 20 in the 2015 and 2016 seasons and also make more first serves down break point than their season average. This season, Roberto Bautista Agut and Richard Gasquet both improved one percentage point in their first-serve average on break point.

The seven Top 20 players in the 2015 season to elevate their first-serve performance down break point:

 No.   Player  First-Serve Percentage  First-Serve Percentage Facing Break Point  Percentage-Point Improvement
 1   David Goffin  55%  63%  +8
 2   Stan Wawrinka  66%  69%  +3
 3   Rafael Nadal  68%  70%  +2
 4   Kevin Anderson  63%  65%  +2
 5   Novak Djokovic  66%  67%  +1
 6   Kei Nishikori  60%  61%  +1
 7   Feliciano Lopez  57%  58%  +1

David Goffin and Stan Wawrinka were the standout performers in 2015, with Goffin posting an impressive eight percentage point jump, from 55 per cent to 63 per cent. Nadal and Kevin Anderson bumped up two percentage points, while Novak Djokovic, Nishikori and Feliciano Lopez all improved one percentage point.

Overall in 2016, the Top 20 averaged making 62 per cent of their first serves, but just 61 percent when down break point. The 2015 season also saw a similar one per cent drop, from 61 per cent to 60 per cent. In both 2015 and 2016, the Top 20 made more first serves facing break point in the deuce court than in the ad court.

2016 Season
Deuce Court: 64 per cent
Ad Court: 60 per cent

2015 Season
Deuce Court: 61 per cent
Ad Court: 59 per cent

This kind of analysis helps players from Melbourne to Moscow to Madrid understand the hidden metrics that underpin the most important moments in a match.

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