It’s difficult to believe that we are into the US Hard Court swing once more. It doesn’t seem that long ago that Novak Djokovic had confirmed his place back at the top of the men’s tennis game by lifting the US Open trophy on the Arthur Ashe stadium. Even this was overshadowed though by Naomi Osaka’s maiden Grand Slam title and THAT outburst by Serena Williams in the women’s final.
Yet, here we are again. The Washington Open is just getting underway, the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati are just around the corner, and it is time for the players to get keyed into the hard courts of North America.
Who has the best recent hard-court record?
The question to answer in this edition of The Stats Corner is who will be looking at this part of the season to boost their ranking and maybe win some titles.
The graphic below displays key data from the last 12 months of hard-court tournaments on the ATP tour (players need to have completed 10 matches to have been selected).
The best hard-courters
Unsurprisingly, as in seemingly every aspect of modern tennis, the trio of Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal absolutely dominate the win percentage stats on hard court. It may be a slight surprise to find that Nadal is actually above Federer, but it does show that perhaps Nadal still continues to be underrated on surfaces outside of his beloved red clay.
Further down the list into the mere mortals, we find lots of players who could be characterised as having a power game. Del Potro, Anderson, Zverev, and Medvedev certainly have powerful serves and strong groundstrokes. This is typical of the game of player we traditionally expect to do well on the hard courts, and these statistics bear that out.
Alex De Minaur has already started to make hay in this swing as he dominated the Atlanta tournament, winning it without facing a break point.
More surprising findings
The final two names in the top 10 are worth discussing due to the quirks in the data. Kei Nishikori, a former US Open finalist, has managed to win 69% of his matches on hard court in the last 12 months. However, he has done so having lost over half of the points in the same period.
Roberto Bautista Agut has managed a good win percentage, despite not being able to win any more than a quarter of the tie-breaks he has played in. A lot of tennis observers will tell you that a tie-break is a lottery, but tennis statisticians know that some players, and certain types of players, tend to do well in tie-breaks year-on-year–and being successful at them is a key skill to have, especially on quicker surfaces. Even bearing this in mind, Bautista Agut’s percentage is too low, and it should begin to even itself out, in which case he becomes a very dangerous player on this surface.
A slightly different way to assess the data
I just wanted to change the metric slightly and look at the percentage of points won. This should tell us who are the most consistent players on this surface across serve and return games. Crucially, it won’t tell us who wins the key points, but who may actually have the best game for the surface overall.
Some surprising results
Again, no surprise to see Djokovic’s name atop the ranking, but all change underneath him might be. Juan Martin Del Potro sneaks into second place and a massively surprising name, to the casual tennis watcher, jumps into third: Hubert Hurkacz.
Hurkacz had a great hard court swing earlier in 2019, reaching the final in Canberra before the Australian Open and, arguably more impressively, the quarterfinals in Indian Wells. His sample size is a bit low, and it’s highly likely that the standard of those matches is lower than those names around him (usually playing at the ATP 250 level) but it is still an impressive statistic. It does, however, throw up the question of why he doesn’t win more matches. Without delving into any more depth, it would suggest that Hurkacz hasn’t been as successful in the key points (game points, set points, break points) as his opponents on the day.
Gael Monfils, Dan Evans, and Milos Raonic also come into the top ten in this measure. Monfils and Evans have a small sample size, but both do have historically good hard court games. Raonic does well to make it onto the list as a big server, it shows that his return game has been ok in the last 12 months also.
Players to look out for in the hard-court swing
The men with the big games will be looking to hit the ground running in the next couple of weeks to capitalize on the improved conditions for their games.
It will be interesting to see if Hurkacz can improve his win percentage based on his point win percentage, and he is a player to look out for going forward.
The other players to take out of this are Roberto Bautista Agut, so often labelled a slow court player, Alex De Minaur and, at the very top level, Rafael Nadal.
Main Photo from Getty