It all starts and ends with the return landing back in the court.
An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of return points won by the year-end Top 10 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings when the return was successfully put back in play highlights a key strategic advantage that Novak Djokovic enjoyed over his closest rivals.
Djokovic was the peak performer at winning both first and second serve points when his return was put back in play. The data set comes from the ATP Serve & Return Tracker and includes 13,215 first and second serve returns from the 2022 season.
First Serve Return Points Won When Return In Play (Top 10 Average = 45.9%)
Imagine an opponent making a powerful first serve and Djokovic successfully blocking it back in play. Who is now favoured to win the point?
Incredibly, Djokovic is.
Djokovic (50.3 per cent) was the only Top 10 player to break through the 50 per cent threshold and win more points than he lost when returning first serves back in play. This statistic helps explain what makes him one of the greatest returners in the history of our sport.
Andrey Rublev, who recently reached the semi-finals of the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin, was in second spot, followed by current World No.1, Carlos Alcaraz, in third position. Djokovic won more than 50 per cent of first serve return points when the return was put back in play in five of the past 10 years. His most successful year was 2015, when he won a staggering 53.2 per cent.
Second Serve Return Points Won When Return In Play (Top 10 Average = 54.2%)
Djokovic was even more ruthless at winning second serve points when his return went back in play, winning 61.8 per cent of points. It’s incredible to think that when his opponent makes a second serve and Djokovic successfully returns the ball back in play, the server is only going to win four out of 10 points on average. Alcaraz was the only other Top 10 player to break through the 60 per cent barrier, at 61.4 per cent.
2022 was the second-best season in the past 10 years for Djokovic when it came to winning second serve return points when the return was put back in play. His best season was 2014, when he won 62.2 per cent.
Combined 1st & 2nd Serve Return Points Won When Return In Play (Top 10 Average = 49.3%)
Djokovic topped the table when combining first and second serve return points won when the return was put back in play. The four players to win more points than they lost were Djokovic (55.1%), Alcaraz (53.8%), Rublev (51.3%) and Rafael Nadal (50.1%).
2022 was the fourth best season in the past 10 for Djokovic in terms of combined first and second serve return points won. His best season was 2016, when he won 61 per cent.
Djokovic went 42-7 in 2022, winning five titles and amassing almost US$10 million dollars in prize money. Putting a prodigious amount of first and second serve returns back in play is the engine room of his winning ways.
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