Beyond The Numbers

Need for return speed! The key to Medvedev’s 2023 Miami success

World No. 4 will defend his title at ATP Masters 1000 in Florida this fortnight
March 22, 2024
Daniil Medvedev is No. 4 in the PIF ATP Rankings.
Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Daniil Medvedev is No. 4 in the PIF ATP Rankings. By Craig O'Shannessy

Daniil Medvedev has a need for return speed.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers breakdown of his 2023 victory at the Miami Open presented by Itau identified a massive speed differential between Medvedev and his opponents when returning first serves back in play.

Medvedev’s average first-serve return speed was 73 mph in his five matches played (one walkover). His opponents only averaged 56 mph when returning first serves, giving Medvedev a sizable 17 mph advantage in this critical part of the rally.

Medvedev won a dominant 37 per cent of his first-serve return points, while his opponents were only able to win 23 per cent. This statistic alone provided Medvedev with a winning strategy that helped power him to the 2023 title.

Average First-Serve Return Speed, Miami 2023
• Final: Medvedev 71 mph/J. Sinner 56 mph
• SF: D. Medvedev 75 mph/K. Khachanov 58 mph
• QF: Medvedev 71 mph/C. Eubanks 60 mph
• R16: Medvedev 79 mph/Q. Halys 49 mph
• R32: Medvedev w/o vs. A. Molcan
• R64: Medvedev 71mph/R. Carballes Baena 59 mph

So, how does Medvedev manufacture such a dominant speed differential and win percentage in the critical first-serve return battleground?

With his ultra-deep return position. The Hawk-Eye graphic below is from his 7-5, 6-3 victory against Jannik Sinner in the final.

Daniil Medvedev: First-Serve Return Contact Point vs. Jannik Sinner

<a href=''>Daniil Medvedev</a>'s Return Position

The yellow dots represent Medvedev's first-serve return contact points. It’s stunning to see that the measurements go to six metres behind the baseline—and he is still further back than that. You can even find him making contact behind the Hawk-Eye graphic at the bottom of the page.

By standing so far back to return serve, Medvedev essentially abandons the idea of hitting a traditional return of serve. This shot is simply a regular groundstroke in disguise. Medvedev’s average first-serve return speed was 73 mph. His average groundstroke speed was 72 mph. Enough said.

Sinner’s return position against first serves is much more traditional, between one and three metres behind the baseline. It’s interesting to note that he tried one really deep return against a first serve in the deuce court but didn’t go back to it.

Jannik Sinner: 1st Serve Return Contact Point vs. Daniil Medvedev

<a href=''>Jannik Sinner</a> Return Position

In this match, Medvedev’s average first-serve return speed was 71 mph, while Sinner’s was just 56 mph. Medvedev won a staggering 41 per cent of his first-serve return points, while Sinner won just 19 per cent.

Medvedev is challenging the norms of where it is best to stand to return first serves. He yields a lot of ground near the court's extremities, making him vulnerable to serve and volley and Serve +1 drop shots. But these two shots are uncommon in today’s game, so Medvedev gets away with his unorthodox return position.

Look for Medvedev to stand ultra-deep once again to return first serves as he seeks to defend his Miami title. Opponents must figure out how to counter his hard-hitting groundstroke, which masquerades as a return of serve.

Medvedev’s return game is mesmerising in Miami. He has all the room he needs to roam far and wide to crush returns and then move up the court closer to the baseline to continue the rally. Opponents must problem-solve this dilemma as the defending champion looks to go back-to-back.

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