© Peter Staples/ATP World Tour

Of the 63 points Novak Djokovic won in his first match at the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals, 41 of them came in a rally lasting zero to four shots.

Djokovic, Anderson Keep It Short & Sweet

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analyses rally length during the Nitto ATP Finals

The gap between winning and losing lives in the short rallies.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of matches at the Nitto ATP Finals this week uncovers the real difference between winning and losing is not about being more consistent in the traditional sense.

The analysis is from the following four matches:
Novak Djokovic def. John Isner 6-4, 6-3
Kei Nishikori def. Roger Federer 7-6(4), 6-3
Alexander Zverev def. Marin Cilic 7-6(5), 7-6(1)
Kevin Anderson def. Dominic Thiem 6-3, 7-6(10)

It’s important to note that there were four tie-breaks played in eight sets, showing just how even the competition was. There were 495 total points played in the four matches, with the match winners combining to win 54 per cent of total points.

Total Points Won
• 4 Match Winners = 267 points won.
• 4 Match Losers = 228 points won.
• GAP = 39 points.

The focus of the analysis is that where those 39 points “live” is truly the difference between winning and losing. The answer is crystal clear — they live in the short rallies.

Infosys is employing “second screen” technology at the Nitto ATP Finals, digging deeper into match data than ever before. All rallies are categorised into the following three rally lengths, with short points in the 0-4 rally length being the most dominant:

Rally Length/Overall Percentage Of Points
• 0-4 Shots - 68%
• 5-8 Shots - 22%
• 9+ Shots - 10%

Of the 39 points that exist in the gap between winning and losing — meaning the difference between points won in a rally length between the winner of a match and their opponent — the majority are once again in the short rallies.

39 Gap Points Between Winning & Losing
0-4 Shots = 26
• 5-8 Shots = 8
• 9+ Shots = 5

Twenty-six of the 39 points (67%) that proved to be the difference between winning and losing live in the 0-4 shot rally length. This is valuable information for players to grasp, as it shows more practice needs to be spent on serves and returns than making 40 balls in a row from the back of the court.

It’s interesting to note that all four match winners won more points than their opponent in the 0-4 shot rally length, while only three out of four match winners proved superior in the 5-8 shot rally length, and only two won more points than their opponent in rallies of nine balls or more.

 Player  0-4 Shots  5-8 Shots  9+ Shots
 Novak Djokovic  41  13  9
 John Isner  35  6  3
 Kei Nishikori  38  12  3
 Roger Federer  28  11  7
 Alexander Zverev  60  26  7
 Marin Cilic  55  18  7
 Kevin Anderson  42  8  8
 Dominic Thiem  37  16  4
 Total  336  110  49
 Percentage  68%  22%  10%

Digging deeper into match data will no doubt create a paradigm shift of how we think about our sport. For example, a traditional way of thinking about consistency is making 20 balls in a row, and doing it four times. A new way, enhanced with match data, is to build a game plan around dominating the 0-4 point rallies, and doing that 20 times.

Editors' Note: Craig O'Shannessy is a member of Novak Djokovic's coaching team.