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Gael Monfils' return of serve is one of the strongest parts of his game.

Against Monfils, Bring More Boomerangs Than Arrows

Frenchman a clear leader in putting first serves back into play

Arrows versus boomerangs.

We tend to think of the serve as like shooting an arrow. A weapon and a target. A one-way trip. It’s much better to strategically visualise the serve as a boomerang and be prepared for the ball returning back to you where it started its journey: back on your racquet.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of first and second-serve returns made from 2018-2020 at ATP Tour events on Hawk Eye courts identifies Gael Monfils as the clear leader in putting first serves back in play and Daniil Medvedev topping the list returning second serves back into the court. The data set includes players that have competed in a minimum of 30 matches on Hawk Eye courts from 2018-2020.

1st Serve Returns Made

Monfils was the only player that was able to put more than three out of four first serves back in the court, making 75.37 per cent from 56 matches. Monfils typically bends over at 90 degrees from his waist as the server bounces the ball ready to deliver his powerful blow. Getting his eye level down to where contact will typically be made in a few seconds time may be a hidden key to his success. The Frenchman then uses a short, abbreviated swing to make contact, essentially rebounding, or “boomeranging” the server’s power right back at him.

The leading 10 players in the data set that put the most first serves back in the court were: 

1. Gael Monfils = 75.37%
2. Rafael Nadal = 72.83%
3. Daniil Medvedev = 72.29%
4. Roger Federer = 72.12%
5. Alexander Zverev = 70.33%
6. Taylor Fritz = 70.32%
7. Fernando Verdasco = 69.99%
8. Stan Wawrinka = 69.91%
9. David Goffin = 69.53%
10. Benoit Paire = 68.89%

Overall, all players in the data set combined to average putting 67.4 per cent of first serves back in play. A good way to visualise the behavior of the first serve is that one of three is an arrow (does not return), while two out of three are a boomerang, coming back into the court for the server to hit another shot.

2nd Serve Returns Made

Daniil Medvedev was third on the list with first serves made and elevates to the top spot with second serves made at 88.98 per cent from 65 matches. The 24-year-old Russian typically likes to stay deep in the court to return both first and second serves, which lets the ball slow down to a more manageable pace and provides more time to get prepared for the return.

The leading 10 players in the data set that put the most second serves back in the court were:

1. Daniil Medvedev = 88.98%
2. Roberto Bautista Agut = 88.82%
3. Filip Krajinovic = 87.41%
4. Rafael Nadal = 87.12%
5. Novak Djokovic = 87.10%
6. Alexander Zverev = 86.92%
7. Gael Monfils = 86.84%
8. Milos Raonic = 86.29%
9. Fernando Verdasco = 85.83%
10. Alex de Minaur = 85.78%

Overall, all players in the data set combined to average putting 83.6 per cent of second serves back in play. Rounding those numbers to eight boomerangs and two arrows clearly shows that the serve is not a shot that exists primarily in isolation, and should be practised as one strategic unit with the first shot after the serve, commonly known as the Serve +1.

Practice courts should be filled with two-shot combination drills, hitting a serve and then a Serve +1 shot. After all, that’s what best mirrors the reality of the match court.

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