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Rafael Nadal and the world's other elite players know exactly what to do when facing 15-30.

How Nadal And The World's Best Win At 15-30

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers explains what you can learn from how the top ATP World Tour players handle the 15-30 scoreline

You bounce the ball before serving. One, two, three…

The score is 15-30. You are down but certainly not out. Is it a time to go for an ace, or simply make a first serve and play percentage tennis? At 15-30, you are still favored to win the game, but the consequences of this point are significant. The gap in win percentage for the next point (30-all or 15-40) is the largest between any scoreline.

It’s a balancing act. Risk versus reward. Offense versus consistency. Do you aggressively go for a winner, or cleverly probe for an error?

An Infosys ATP Beyond the Numbers analysis of 15-30 sheds light on the tactics that players at all levels of the game would be wise to employ. Don’t let the emotions of the moment guide your strategy; let numbers drive your decision-making.

From the 2015 season through the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters this year, the top players in the world held serve 63 per cent of the time from 15-30. The alarm bells are not quite ringing yet, but the finger is certainly close to the button.

If the server won the point and reached 30-all, players held on average 79 per cent of the time. But if the server lost the point (15-40), their chances of holding plummeted to 35 per cent.

Ranking   Player Holding from 30-all Holding from 15-40
 1  Novak Djokovic 84% 34%
 2  Andy Murray 75% 34%
 3  Roger Federer 86% 41%
 4  Stan Wawrinka 79% 40%
 5  Rafael Nadal 71% 36%
 6  Kei Nishikori 79% 36%
 7  Tomas Berdych 79% 30%
 8  David Ferrer 76% 30%
 -  Average 79% 35% 

The cavernous gap between the two possible outcomes provides the roadmap for the best strategy. Because the risk of losing the game skyrockets if the 15-30 point is lost, high-percentage patterns are definitely the order of the day.

That ace you were thinking of going for down the middle T? Take a couple of steps back, take a couple more deep breaths and take charge of the point with a higher-percentage plan.

Serve Placement
At 15-30, you absolutely, positively must get your first serve in play. When Roger Federer has gotten his first serve in play this season, he has won 79 per cent of the points. Behind his second serve, though, he has won only 56 per cent of the time.

The primary pattern is to target your opponent’s backhand, where he is less likely to hit a penetrating return. The key here is gain initial control and build on it during the next couple of shots.

Serve +1 Forehand
The natural angle for the backhand return at 15-30 is cross-court, so the right-handed server will be looking to immediately hit a run-around forehand. At the 2015 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, Rafael Nadal defeated Stan Wawrinka 6-3, 6-2. During the match, Nadal hit a forehand as his first shot after the serve 89 per cent (33/37) of the time.

The primary focus of this shot is DEPTH. Try to hit it behind the returner who likely will be running to the middle of the court. Hitting behind opponents is a trademark ploy of the world’s elite.

Approach & Volley
If the Serve +1 forehand is deep, the ensuing backhand will typically land around the middle of the court – a perfect ball to approach behind. At the 2016 Australian Open, players standing at the baseline won the point fewer than half of the time. But from the net, players won nearly seven out of every 10 points.

The best way to approach is with a big forehand to the backhand. An analysis of Roger Federer’s approach patterns shows he comes in behind his forehand almost 75 per cent of the time he approaches. He wins nearly 80 per cent of those points. When he follows a backhand approach, however, he wins the point about half the time.

Summary
Around 70 per cent of all points in tennis end before the fifth shot, and around 70 per cent of points also end in errors. So gaining early control with a first serve and a dominant forehand is the perfect play at 15/30.

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