Jannik Sinner’s Lacking First Serve Factors

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In Sunday’s Miami Open last, Jannik Sinner posted some very odd stats in his straight-set loss to Hubert Hurkacz. He gained a decent 48.4% of his second serve factors–three factors behind the the ATP high 50’s common for the reason that restart–however solely 55.3% of his first serve factors. First serve factors are the bread and butter of the offensive recreation, and Sinner bought solely as a lot out of that as Casper Ruud derives from his second serve.

It’s not that Hurkacz has magical anti-first-serve powers, both–it was solely the second time for the reason that restart that he gained greater than 40% of first-serve return factors. He barely gained 30% in opposition to Denis Kudla within the Miami first spherical.

Sinner’s first serve will not be usually so ineffectual, however that isn’t to say it’s significantly good. Whereas the tour wins properly over 70% of its first-serve factors, the Italian gained solely 63.5% within the quarter-finals in opposition to Alexander Bublik (one other man who would by no means be confused with Andre Agassi), and 64.6% in his semi-final match with Roberto Bautista Agut. In each of these contests, he held on to 57% of his second serves–an excellent mark for a participant’s weaker providing.

I preserve returning to second-serve factors gained and the distinction between firsts and seconds to emphasise that Sinner is doing a whole lot of issues proper. Successful so many second-serve factors means that he understands the ways that go into enjoying service factors when the ball comes again. But he hardly reaps any further advantages from touchdown his first serve.

If it appears like a clay-court specialist…

I calculated the distinction between first-serve and second-serve factors gained–let’s name it WinDiff–for each males’s tour-level player-season between 2000 and 2021 with not less than 15 accomplished matches. That offers us nearly 2,500 knowledge factors. At one excessive is 2019 Sam Querrey, who gained over 80% of his first serve factors however solely 47% of his seconds, for a WinDiff of 33.2 share factors. On the different finish is Juan Carlos Ferrero 2011 marketing campaign, when he gained 65.5% of his firsts and 57.0% of his seconds, for an 8.5-point WinDiff.

Querrey’s season was mediocre and Ferrero’s was fairly good, suggesting that there’s a candy spot someplace within the center. But it’s attainable to have excellent seasons close to both finish of the spectrum. Final 12 months, Alexander Zverev’s WinDiff was 32 (77%/45%), and he gained 28 of 39 matches. And in 2008, a younger Rafael Nadal had a WinDiff of 11.5 (71.9%/60.4%), which was adequate to offer him his first year-end #1 rating.

Discovering Ferrero and Nadal in Sinner’s neighborhood begins to offer us an concept of what sort of gamers have low WinDiffs. Out of two,460 player-seasons, solely 33 had smaller WinDiff’s than Sinner’s 11.4 share factors for 2021 to date, and also you may be capable to establish a couple of widespread traits among the many gamers who posted narrower gaps:

Yoshihito Nishioka, Juan Monaco, Filippo Volandri, Potito Starace, Flavio Cipolla, Albert Montanes, Pablo Cuevas, Diego Schwartzman, Damir Dzumhur

Clay courters, brief guys, Italians… you get the concept. Ferrero and Nadal supply worthwhile profession paths for Sinner, however I’m unsure that “be like Rafa” is sensible recommendation for anybody, irrespective of how proficient.

Room for enchancment?

Once I talked about the intense stat from Sunday’s last in my Anticipated Factors podcast yesterday, I concluded on an optimistic notice. Sinner is nineteen, he simply reached a Masters last, he’ll proceed to work on his first serve, and as we’ve seen, the remainder of his recreation is already top-notch.

However does the info bear out such a rosy outlook? Are there gamers who’ve emerged from the purgatory of a low WinDiff to get extra out of their first serves?

The common WinDiff of the highest 50 for the reason that restart is about 21.5 factors. The unhealthy information is that only some low-WinDiff gamers ultimately attain that stage. The excellent news is {that a} disproportionately weak first serve is seemingly correctable, or–not less than–the stat is noisy sufficient that some gamers regress towards the imply.

Going again to my set of two,460 player-seasons, the fifth percentile was a WinDiff of about 14 factors. 71 totally different gamers had not less than one season under that threshold, and 20 of these guys have performed not less than 10 full seasons since 2000. Drawing the road at a decade’s value of play is a few critical choice bias, but when Sinner doesn’t stick round for an additional 7.5 seasons of 15 or extra matches, that’s in all probability an indication of one thing else gone very fallacious.

The next desk exhibits these 20 gamers. For every, I’ve proven their highest single-season WinDiff since 2000 and the typical throughout their Twenty first-century profession. Keep in mind that tour common is a bit above 20 factors, and Sinner’s 2021 to date sits at 11.4.

Participant                 Seasons MaxWD  AvgWD  
Juan Martin Del Potro       10  24.8   21.2   
Pablo Cuevas                11  22.5   20.0   
Fernando Verdasco           17  23.0   20.0   
Albert Montanes             15  24.1   19.5   
Philipp Kohlschreiber       16  23.9   18.2   
Juan Ignacio Chela          13  22.1   17.7   
Tommy Robredo               15  21.1   17.6   
Jarkko Nieminen             14  21.4   17.4   
David Nalbandian            12  22.2   17.1   
Fabrice Santoro             10  21.0   17.1   
Nikolay Davydenko           14  20.3   17.0   
Dudi Sela                   10  21.9   16.4   
Albert Ramos                10  19.6   16.3   
David Ferrer                17  19.2   16.2   
Juan Carlos Ferrero         13  18.3   15.1   
Mikhail Kukushkin           10  18.0   14.9   
Rafael Nadal                18  17.5   14.8   
Olivier Rochus              12  17.8   14.7   
Filippo Volandri            10  16.2   13.2   
Juan Monaco                 13  15.9   12.7 

Juan Martin Del Potro gives the brightest path, if one can emulate the outcomes with out the accidents. His WinDiff as as 17-year-old tour beginner was roughly 13 factors, however he shortly landed close to tour common. Sinner isn’t practically as tall, so a greater comparability is perhaps David Nalbandian, who didn’t win practically as many first-serve factors as his fellow Argentine, however held on to sufficient. It’s actually simpler to take a look at Sinner and picture a Nalbandian-like future than it’s a Monaco- or Volandri-like one.

One more reason for optimism is that Sinner himself has already posted a 21-point WinDiff season final 12 months, and this 12 months’s weirdness is largely as a consequence of his enchancment in opposition to second serves, not a drastic drop in first-serve effectiveness. Sustaining his 56.5% fee of successful second-serve factors appears unlikely solely as a result of it’s so good. If he can handle that, he can survive with a modest first supply as long as it’s in his typical high-60s vary as a substitute of the mid-50s that proved his undoing in opposition to Hurkacz.

Lastly, the clay-centricity of the listing above is perhaps cause to pause earlier than pegging Sinner as an eventual #1. However it additionally means that {the teenager} is growing precisely the correct of recreation to excel on grime. For the following couple of months, Italian followers could have loads to get enthusiastic about.

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