Beyond The Numbers

Tsitsipas' Surprising Secret To Clay-Court Success

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analyses the Greek's clay strategy
May 27, 2023
Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour
By Craig O'Shannessy

Stefanos Tsitsipas has a certain “Je ne sais quoi” on a clay court. Once you study his match metrics on the terre battue, you begin to uncover what it is.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Stefanos Tsitsipas assembling 10 match victories in Monte-Carlo, Madrid and Rome last season identifies the subtleties of clay-court dominance, where power and winners take a back seat to getting the ball out of your opponents’ strike zone to extract errors.

The following five areas of Tsitsipas’ 10 match victories shine a light on the intricate layers of clay-court dominance. The Greek will surely be looking replicate this winning formula at Roland Garros over the following fortnight.

1) Rally Winners & Errors

The first thing to identify is that Tsitsipas won all 10 of his matches in this data set. Surprisingly, he hit fewer rally winners than his opponents.

Rally Winners

  • Tsitsipas = 149
  • Opponents = 169
  • Total = 318
  • Difference = -20

Rally Unforced Errors

  • Tsitsipas = 193
  • Opponents = 231
  • Total = 424
  • Difference = +38

Tsitsipas dominated the larger data set of unforced errors. The only match in which he hit more winners than his opponent was a 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-4 victory over Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals of Monte Carlo. Tsitsipas clubbed 26 winners to the Argentine’s 21. The biggest deficit was hitting only 15 winners to Alexander Zverev’s 24 when he defeated the German 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the semi-finals of the ATP Masters 1000 in Rome.

2) Forehand & Backhand Average Speed

Hitting the ball harder does not always equate to better. Power is just one of the qualities that will force errors or produce winners. You also have consistency, direction, depth, height, spin, court position and taking time away from your opponent to correctly prepare for the shot. As we see below, Tsitsipas was not trying to blow his opponents off the court with raw power.

Average Forehand Speed

  • Tsitsipas = 119 km/h
  • Opponents = 126 km/h

Average Backhand Speed

  • Tsitsipas = 104 km/h
  • Opponents = 116 km/h

Combined Groundstroke Speed

  • Tsitsipas = 112 km/h
  • Opponents = 119 km/h

The data suggests Tsitsipas uses many tools in his bag to claim his clay-court victories.

3) Average Net Clearance

Height is a weapon that takes on more importance on a clay court, as you are able to spin the ball up above your opponent’s strike zone. Tsitsipas is definitely a proponent of using height as one of his many strategic assets.

Average Net Clearance

  • Tsitsipas = 89 cm
  • Opponents = 75 cm

Tsitsipas averaged playing higher than his opponent in all 10 matches in the data set. The highest average was 1.01 metres against Alexander Zverev in Monte-Carlo. Zverev averaged 80 cm above the net. Tsitsipas won 6-4, 6-2 in their semi-final encounter.

4) Backhand Hit Point

Tsitsipas prefers to stay deep in the court to lift his one-handed backhand high over the net to make it land deep on the other side. Some players prefer to step in and rip backhands. That’s not how the Greek goes about his business. He uses his backhand more to push opponents back and get the ball out of their strike zone. Another benefit is that he has now has more time to hit run-around forehands in the Ad court.

Tsitsipas Average Backhand Hit Point

  • Inside The Baseline = 10%
  • Within 2 Metres Of The Baseline = 47%
  • Past 2 Metres = 43%

Opponents Average Backhand Hit Point

  • Inside The Baseline = 17%
  • Within 2 Metres Of The Baseline = 54%
  • Past 2 Metres = 29%

5) Rally Length / Points Won

Tsitsipas shows versatility in his game by dominating both short and long rallies on clay. This helps when playing different game styles that either demand more aggression or patience to get ahead in the point.

Points Won Under Nine Shots

  • Tsitsipas = 686 (55%)
  • Opponents = 562 (45%)
  • Total = 1248

Points Won In Nine Shots Or More

  • Tsitsipas = 102 (56%)
  • Opponents = 79 (44%)
  • Total = 181

Tsitsipas looks at home on a clay court. It offers him the time and space he enjoys to craft an advantage. Harder is not necessarily better. He is a master tactician when using height and depth.

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