March 23, 2023

Andrey Rublev hides one of his biggest weapons in plain sight: Prowess returning first serves.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the eight players competing in the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin this coming week identifies Rublev as the leader winning first-serve return points once the return has been put back in play. The data set comes from the first 10 months of the 2022 season.

Rublev’s Turin opponents will be probing both corners of the service box in the Deuce and Ad court, looking for a soft spot in his strong return game. They will quickly find that one doesn’t exist.

The Infosys ATP Stats Serve and Return Tracker uncovered that Rublev led all eight players in Turin with first-serve return points won to the four corners in both service boxes. Overall, Rublev averaged winning 51.7 per cent of first serve returns from serves to the corners that were returned in play. The only other player to break through the 50 per cent threshold was Novak Djokovic, winning 50.6 per cent.

Deuce Court Wide
Serving wide to Rublev in the Deuce court was a losing proposition for opponents if he could get the return back in play. Rublev won 53.4 per cent of these points, driving 67 per cent of them back cross through the Deuce court and 33 per cent down the line to the Ad court. The leading three players at this location were:

  1. A. Rublev = 53.4%
  2. N. Djokovic = 50.6%
  3. F. Auger-Aliassime = 49.2%

Deuce Court T
The gap between Rublev and Djokovic at the top of the table was only one 10th of a percentage point, with Rublev managing to slightly edge the Serb. Rublev modified his return strategy with the ball now coming to him down the middle of the court. He hit 60 per cent of returns to the Ad court and 40 per cent to the Deuce court, immediately targeting his right-handed opponent’s backhand wing. The leading three players returning at this location were:

  1. A. Rublev = 51.0%
  2. N. Djokovic = 50.9%
  3. R. Nadal = 49.4%

Ad Court T
This location is where the Rublev return game shined, winning the highest percentage of points when the first serve was struck down the T versus the other three locations. He won an eye-opening 55 per cent, with Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas also nudging above 50 per cent. The leading three players returning at this location were:

  1. A. Rublev = 55.0%
  2. N. Djokovic = 53.8%
  3. S. Tsitsipas = 50.2%
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Ad Court Wide
This was the only location where Rublev won below 50 per cent, but no other Turin competitor was above 50 per cent either. Rublev directed 70 per cent of his backhand returns back through the Ad court and 30 per cent down the line to the Deuce court. The leading three players returning at his location were:

  1. A. Rublev = 47.3%
  2. N. Djokovic = 46.9%
  3. D. Medvedev = 45.9%

The data set from the Serve Tracker provides excellent insight into where these leading players perform best returning first serves.

Turin Players: First-Serve Return Points Won When Return In Play

  1. Ad Ct T = 48.1%
  2. Deuce Ct Wide = 46.6%
  3. Deuce Ct T = 46.1%
  4. Ad Ct Wide = 42.7%

The first thing that stands out is that the two leading locations are to a right-hander’s forehand return wing. Rublev is in the Red Group in Turin and will play Djokovic, Medvedev, and Tsitsipas in round-robin play, with his first match scheduled on Monday.

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