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Stefan Edberg always relied on his serve, but his return was invaluable, particularly when returning first serves.

Stefan Edberg: The King Of Returns

Infosys ATP Beyond the Numbers proves the Swede was more than a serve-volley expert in his stellar 1991 season

Stefan Edberg was a masterful server. He was an even better returner.

The 1991 season is a distant 26 years ago, but the numbers the cool, calm and calculated Swede put up that year on the returning side of the game still greatly impress to this day.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Edberg’s 1991 season highlights a player who conquered the year-end No. 1 ranking primarily on the return side of the equation. The 1991 season was the first year complete statistics were recorded in tennis, providing an interesting snapshot of what was going on in our game more than 25 years ago. It is subsequently the initial year recorded in the year-end No. 1s ATP Stats LEADERBOARDS, powered by the Infosys Information Platform.

We remember Edberg as an accomplished serve-volley player who also attacked the net behind his ultra-flat forehand and heavy slice backhand. His pinpoint volleys were majestic, and his stoic, imperturbable demeanor was a delight to watch.

When you compare the analytics of Edberg’s 1991 season against the other 25 years up to Andy Murray’s stellar 2016 season where he finished year-end No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, you get a deeper understanding of what helped Edberg finish 1991 as the best player in the world.

He always relied on his great serve, but his return was invaluable, particularly when returning first serves. The Swede’s 1991 season has stood the test of time in this specific area, ranked second overall in 26 seasons in points won returning first serves at 35.5 per cent. He ever so slightly trails Novak Djokovic’s 2011 season, where the super Serbian won 35.7 per cent of his first-serve return points.

Stefan Edberg: 1991 Season Analysis

Strategy Winning Percentage How It Compares To Year-End No. 1s From 1992-2016
First-Serve Return Points Won  35.5% Second
Break Points Converted  45% Seventh
Infosys Return Rating  168.1 Eighth
Return Games Won  33.3% 10th
Second-Serve Return Points Won 54.3% 12th
Infosys Serve Rating  277.7 24th

Edberg’s ATP Stats LEADERBOARDS Serve Rating, powered by the Infosys Information Platform, has his 1991 season ranked a lowly 24th out of 26, but his return rating sits much higher at No. 10. The Swede also finished seventh overall in break points converted, at 45 per cent, which was higher than banner years of three current champions in our game.

Break Points Converted Comparison

1991 Stefan Edberg 45%
2008 Rafael Nadal 44.5%
2015 Novak Djokovic 44.2%
2005 Roger Federer 44.2%

Edberg sits 35th in career service games won at 83 per cent, but he's ranked a much higher 22nd in return games won at 30 per cent. He was really a great returner masquerading as a serve-and-volleyer.

The Swede won only one Grand Slam event in 1991, defeating six Americans in seven matches to capture the US Open. Significantly, he defeated No. 22 Michael Chang in the Round of 16, No. 3 Ivan Lendl in the semi-finals and No. 5 Jim Courier in the final – all in straight sets to win the $400,000 champion’s paycheck.

Edberg could serve and volley and crash the net with the best our sport has ever seen, but once you dig deeper into the numbers of his great game, we get a much greater appreciation of his returning skills.