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Rafael Nadal picks up his level when the pressure is on.

Nadal, Cilic Find Their Best Game Under Pressure

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers shows how the Spaniard and Croatian buck the trend amongst Top 10 players

Scoreboard pressure affects us all. You would naturally think that a key indicator for players finishing near the top of the year-end ATP Rankings would be their ability to raise their performance in key moments of a match, such as break points.

We talk about players stepping up under pressure, or being clutch in the big moments, but when you study the numbers, in some categories, it just doesn’t wash out how we imagine.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the 2018 year-end Top 10 identifies that their overall first-serve performance actually dropped on break points compared to their season average.

Below are three takeaways from this season's year-end Top 10, using a data set of 2,255 break points that started with a first serve.

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1. Overall First-Serve Percentage Dropped On Break Point
The Top 10 averaged making 63.5 per cent (31,696/49,880) of their first serves in 2018, but when the pressure elevated on break point, they managed to make only 60.4 per cent (1787/2960) – a 3.2 percentage-point drop.

Only two players from the Top 10 made more first serves on break point than their season average, with Rafael Nadal head and shoulders above his peers. Nadal made 65.8 per cent of his first serves for the season, but that elevated to 69.8 per cent on break point. Marin Cilic was the other player who posted a gain, moving from 59.2 per cent to 59.8 per cent.

2. Ad Court = Majority Of Break Points
More than three out of four break points were contested in the Ad court, with 76.2 per cent (2255) occurring there, and 23.8 percent (705) in the Deuce court. Roger Federer played the highest percentage in the Ad court (80.7%), while Alexander Zverev played the highest percentage in the Deuce court (29.5%).

Nadal led the Top 10 in break points won in the Ad court, at 70.2 per cent (151/215), while John Isner won the most in the Deuce court, at 75.7 per cent (28/37).

3. Deuce / Ad Court Win Percentages Almost The Same
It’s interesting to note that nine of the Top 10 players are right-handed, which may signal a preference to perform better on one side of the court over the other. That simply didn’t happen.

The Top 10 averaged winning 59.9 per cent (422/705) of their break points in the Deuce court, and 60.5 per cent (1365/2255) in the Ad court – just a 0.6 percentage-point difference.

When you see a player elevate his game under pressure, it’s important to understand that it’s is not the norm. It’s actually even more impressive than we ever realised.

2018 Year-End Top 10: First-Serve Performance, Season vs Break Points

Ranking

Player

2018 Break Points: 1st Serves Made

2018 Season: 1st Serves Made

+/- Difference

2

R. Nadal

69.8%

65.8%

4.0

7

M. Cilic

59.8%

59.2%

0.6

1

N. Djokovic

65.8%

66.2%

-0.4

4

A. Zverev

63.4%

64.2%

-0.8

5

J. M. Del Potro

63.8%

65.4%

-1.6

9

K. Nishikori

56.0%

60.3%

-4.3

6

K. Anderson

59.8%

64.6%

-4.8

8

D. Thiem

52.1%

58.7%

-6.6

3

R. Federer

54.2%

62.0%

-7.8

10

J. Isner

61.6%

69.5%

-7.9

-

AVERAGE

60.4%

63.5%

-3.1

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