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The 'Toughest Out' In Tennis Is...

Nadal is the most dominant victor on Tour, while ‘Big 3’ rival Federer makes opponents suffer for their wins

Tennis is a 55-45 sport.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of match winners vs. match losers identifies that match winners on average win 55 per cent of points in a match while match losers still accumulate a healthy 45 per cent of total points played. The data set includes 464 players who have competed in 100 matches or more in their career from the 1991 season when official match statistics were first recorded.

When analysing only match winners, Rafael Nadal sits at the top of the tree as the most dominant player in our sport in the past 30+ years. When Nadal wins his matches, he consistently creates a greater margin of victory than any other player. The leading three players with the highest percentage of points won when winning matches are below.

Percentage Of Points Won By Match Winners
1. Rafael Nadal = 56.40%
2. Novak Djokovic = 56.12%
3. Roger Federer = 55.91%

It’s fascinating to see the “Big Three” grouped together at the top of the leaderboard all within one percentage point of each other.

When you look at the other side of the coin at match losers, the player who is essentially the “toughest out” in our sport is Federer. In a losing effort, he has consistently won more points than anyone on Tour.

Percentage Of Points Won By Match Losers
1: Roger Federer = 47.57%
T2: Richard Krajicek = 47.31%
T2: Milos Raonic = 47.31%

Federer leads this list from two big servers in Richard Krajicek and Milos Raonic, who were tied for second place. One assumption that can be made is that being a big server helps you keep matches closer than being a solid returner. That theory gets support when you look at other big servers such as Todd Martin (47.19%), Pete Sampras (47.15%), Ivo Karlovic (47.06%) Andy Roddick (46.91%), Stefanos Tsitsipas (46.88%) and Greg Rusedski (46.85%) in the leading 10 players in this category.

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First-Serve Analysis
Match winners won a dominant 76 per cent of first-serve points, while match losers still averaged a respectable 67 per cent of first-serve points won in defeat. Goran Ivanisevic (85.56%) was most dominant in the match winners column, while Karlovic still managed to win 79.97 per cent of his points when defeated.

Second-Serve Analysis
Aussie lefty, Wayne Arthurs, led the Match Winners table, winning a hefty 60.45 per cent, while the rest of the players in the data set averaged winning 55.12 per cent of their second serves. When matches were lost, only John Isner (50.95%) and Arthurs (50.57%) managed to break the 50 per cent threshold for second-serve points won.

Summary
Defeat in tennis can be disappointing and deflating. Quite often players struggle to even pinpoint where things went off the rails or what part of their game broke down to contribute to the loss. But truth and inspiration can be found in the match analytics, which show just how far you really are away from your opponent.

A good way to think about winning and losing in tennis is each player who walks out onto the court is going to win at least 45 per cent of all points.

The real battle is focused on the remaining 10 per cent.