© Getty Images

Federer's Focus: Time Is Of The Essence

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers examines how the world’s elite players keep time on their side.

The finish line rushes hard at you when you are losing. Changing anything from tactics, to a racquet, or even changing ends of the court can all be potential ways to wrestle back precious momentum.

In many ways, losing a set, or a match, simply means you ran out of time to unearth a winning strategy. When adversity strikes, the value of time skyrockets.

The best players in the world intimately know the importance of time, making matches last longer when they are under attack, giving them a few extra ticks on the clock to find an answer to their troubles.

An Infosys ATP Beyond the Numbers analysis of tour-level matches played by the Top 10 players in the Emirates ATP Rankings from the 2015 season up to the 2016 Australian Open shows how the various elite players successfully manage the asset of time. As a general rule, you want to play quicker when things are falling your way, not allowing time for any surprises to appear. It’s the complete opposite when the opponent is dominating.

Time Of Set

Roger Federer’s average time winning a set was the quickest of the Top 10 at 36 minutes. He will often breeze through a service game in barely a minute and some change. Federer also led the Top 10 in stretching out adversity, lengthening the sets he loses on average by 10 minutes, to 46 minutes

 Set  Av. Winning
Set Time
 Av. Losing
Set Time
 Roger Federer  36 mins  46 mins  +10 mins
 Novak Djokovic  42 mins  49 mins  +7 mins
 Andy Murray  44 mins  50 mins  +6 mins
 Tomas Berdych  41 mins  45 mins  +4 mins
 David Ferrer  43 mins  47 mins  +4 mins
 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga  41 mins  45 mins  +4 mins
 Richard Gasquet  40 mins  43 mins  +3 mins
 Rafael Nadal  46 mins  48 mins  +2 mins
 Kei Nishikori  42 mins  43 mins  +1 min
 Stan Wawrinka  42 mins  39 mins  -3 mins
 AVERAGE  42 mins  46 mins  4 mins

That’s very clever time management. What’s extremely fascinating is that the average time it takes Rafael Nadal to win a set (46 minutes), is exactly the same time it takes Federer to lose one. Different strokes for different folks. Tennis is such an empowering sport that allows a variety of contrasting game styles the ability to be successful.

Where Federer manages to play longer when losing a set, his compatriot Stan Wawrinka, is in stark contrast. Wawrinka averaged 42 minutes winning a set, which was exactly the same as the Top 10 average, but only 39 minutes when losing a set.

He was the only Top 10 player to play shorter when losing. The Top 10 averaged an extra four minutes longer playing sets they lose – prolonging the finish line four more minutes in the hope of somehow turning things around.

Time Of The Match
Federer earns the distinction of averaging the quickest match times when winning (89 minutes), and also the longest match times when losing (143 minutes).

Federer is clearly in a rush when ahead, but stretches time out when behind, exploring all strategic options.

 Match  Av. Winning
Match Time
 Av. Losing
Match Time
 Av. Match Time
 Novak Djokovic  112 mins  137 mins  113 mins
 Andy Murray  116 mins  131 mins  118 mins
 Roger Federer  89 mins  143 mins  96 mins
 Stan Wawrinka  114 mins  105 mins  112 mins
 Rafael Nadal  112 mins  133 mins  117 mins
 Kei Nishikori  104 mins  107 mins  105 mins
 Tomas Berdych  101 mins  116 mins  105 mins
 David Ferrer  107 mins  115 mins  109 mins
 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga  118 mins  123 mins  120 mins
 Richard Gasquet  105 mins  111 mins  107 mins
 Richard Gasquet  108 mins  122 mins  110 mins

What’s interesting is that the average match time (110 minutes) was only two minutes longer (108 minutes) than the winning average. Time is an omnipotent force that you can’t see or touch, but plays a pivotal role in riding out a storm, or storming to the finish line.

More stories like this in: