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Novak Djokovic remains one of the game's best returners.

Where NOT To Serve To Djokovic, Nadal & Federer

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers shows where the Big Three return their best

You are hitting a first serve to any of the Big Three with the goal of avoiding a deep return. Where is it best to serve: wide or T?

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer's return depth against first serves identifies that serving down the T will draw more short returns than serving out wide. The data set comes from ATP Masters 1000 events and Nitto ATP Finals from 2011 to 2019.

When you combine both the Deuce and Ad Court data, serving down the T brings more short returns back into the service box and fewer returns deep near the baseline from the Big Three.

The three depths of return:
Short = in the service box
Mid-Court = service line to halfway back to the baseline
Deep = Halfway between the service line and baseline, back to the baseline

An initial guesstimate that serving wide would elicit fewer returns deep in the court because of a greater distance the ball has to come back is unfounded.

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A counter-argument may have more weight, that there is more “runway” to land the ball crosscourt, therefore the players are going for more with their return from a wider position. A tennis court is 78' long straight down the middle, but 82’6” from corner to corner.

Djokovic, Federer & Nadal Combined: Return Depth from Wide and T

First-Serve Location

Return Short

Return Mid-Court

Return Deep

First Serve T (Deuce & Ad Court)

27%

50%

23%

First Serve Wide (Deuce & Ad Court)

25%

49%

26%

Novak Djokovic
The World No. 1 hits his deepest returns against a first serve from out wide in the Ad Court with his backhand return, at 29 per cent. Overall, Djokovic’s backhand return from wide in the Ad Court was able to get the ball deeper than any location compared to Federer or Nadal.

Djokovic's First-Serve Returns

First-Serve Location

Short

Mid-Court

Deep

Wide Deuce Court

18%

54%

28%

T Deuce Court

24%

52%

24%

Wide Ad Court

22%

49%

29%

T Ad Court

25%

51%

24%

Rafael Nadal
Nadal stands the deepest in the court to return first serves, and correspondingly hits his return the shortest in the court compared to Djokovic and Federer. The location where Nadal was able to get the return the deepest was from wide in the Deuce Court with a backhand return.

Nadal's First-Serve Returns

First-Serve Location

Short

Mid-Court

Deep

Wide Deuce Court

30%

46%

24%

T Deuce Court

31%

47%

22%

Wide Ad Court

36%

42%

22%

T Ad Court

33%

48%

19%

Roger Federer
Federer’s forehand return from wide in the Deuce Court got the ball the deepest, at 28 per cent. The other three locations were all very even, within a percentage point.

Federer's First-Serve Returns

First-Serve Location

Short

Mid-Court

Deep

Wide Deuce Court

20%

52%

28%

T Deuce Court

26%

51%

23%

Wide Ad Court

26%

50%

24%

T Ad Court

22%

54%

24%

Returning the ball deep is not always possible against an accurate serve to the corners in the service box, but this insight provides a new layer of understanding as to how the Big Three are able to get their returns deep against the biggest shot in our sport.

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