It’s been a while since the last Key Points Analysis, no? It occurred to me that today’s Shanghai M1000 semifinal between World No. 1 Rafael Nadal and Juan Martín del Potro might be a good opportunity to do this kind of analysis. Why? I didn’t watch the match live, but when I looked at the stats, one in particular popped up at me: Rafael Nadal ended 0 for 6 in break point chances. The match had to be closer than the 6-2, 6-4 scoreline, maybe?
In some ways, it was. And in others, it really wasn’t, as you’ll see.
In the past, I’ve limited these posts to simply creating a narrative around the data that I collected. This time, things will be different. As in recent Return of Serve Analysis posts, I’ll include all the data I collected for this post.
As for the methodology, it’s quite simple: I define Key Points as points that end games, one way or another. The two main categories are Game Points and Break Points, of course. But these two can also double as Set Points or Match Points, and we have the unusual situation of having Set Points and Match Points in tiebreakers, which can’t really be called Break Points (though you could argue that they could be Game Points).
The other thing I do is qualify each point as either an Ace, a Service Winner, a Double-Fault, a Winner, a Forced Error, or an Unforced Error. I then group all of the above, except Double-Faults and Unforced Errors, into one bundle: Point-Ending Shots. The point of this last little maneuver is to highlight just how many of these points are determined by aggressive, purposeful play, and how many are what we usually call “gifts.”
With all of that said, let’s jump into the data. I’ll include some observations along the way.
Full Match Key Points Summary
– The red highlight gives you an idea of the level of execution during this match: I’ve found that this high of a percentage of Key Points being determined by Point-Ending Shots is unusual (it’s usually in the low 60s). Both Delpo and Nadal were playing Key Points rather well.
– Here’s something interesting: the percentage of points won on Point-Ending Shots for the entire match (including all 39 Key Points) was 60% (53 UFEs from 132 total points, per TennisTV’s stats), compared with 82% for just the Key Points. We can infer that both men managed to play the big points with more aggression and precision than “regular” points.
– These last four boxes start to tell the tale of how Delpo managed to overcome Nadal today with such an emphatic scoreline. Simply put, Nadal couldn’t find ways to win Key Points on Delpo’s serve. The World No. 1 went 0-6 on Break Points, and Delpo converted 9 of 11 Game Points (including 4/4 in the 1st set).
Delpo, on the other hand, was far more successful against Nadal’s serve in these situations: he converted 3 of 11 BPs, and limited Nadal to just 6 of 11 Game Points converted.
That’s quite a difference, no?
Watching the match, it seemed to me that Nadal struggled to find consistent depth on his returns of serve (yes, I was also tempted to do a Return of Serve analysis). This translated in the following graph, which appeared during the broadcast:
Del Potro was starting rallies on his serve from a more advantageous position on the court, and his simple gameplan of aggressively hitting into the open court was aided by such beneficial court position. Also, since Delpo did a very good job returning Nadal’s serve (his 11 BPs were created in 4 different service games), he was getting good court position on return games as well.
– I like these boxes because it tell me who was more successful at extending his/her opponent’s service games. As you can see, Delpo had a clear edge here, as 5 more Key Points were played on Nadal’s serve.
Juan Martín del Potro’s Key Points Performance
-The highlighted number is astounding: over 9 out of every 10 Key Points won by Delpo were due to Point-Ending shots. That tells you two things: 1) how aggressive Del Potro played the match (and particularly the big points) and most importantly, 2) how well Juan Martín executed such aggressive shots. He barely missed any!
However, there’s another conclusion to draw after looking at that ridiculous number: look at the number of Key Points handed to Delpo via Nadal UFEs or Double-Faults: just 2. This is what Nadal meant when he said this:
Nadal: I am humble enough to admit that I didn't play a bad match and I lost 62 64. #atp
— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) October 12, 2013
Sure, Rafael didn’t return particularly well (though he still created at least 1 BP in 5 different return games). Sure, he struggled to find depth with his groundstrokes. But he didn’t hand over many UFEs (22 to Del Potro’s 31), particularly during the crucial moments of the match. Del Potro fully earned the win and the scoreline.
– Again, notice how few Key Points won by Delpo were due to Nadal miscues. Just one per set!
– The first arrow shows Delpo’s fantastic performance during Nadal’s service games in the first set. Notice how none of those 5 Key Points won on Nadal’s service games were due to mistakes by the Spaniard.
– The second arrow shows how aggressive and precise Delpo was on serve when dealing with Key Points in the second set. Of these 9 Key Points, 4 were BPs for Nadal, and 5 were Game Points. No matter – Delpo won them all with purposeful play.
– So very few freebies. So much aggression. So much accuracy. Delpo’s win in a nutshell.
Rafael Nadal’s Key Points Performance
– It’s interesting to note that almost a third of Nadal’s Key Points came via Del Potro UFEs.
– The red arrow just highlights something we already knew: Nadal didn’t win a single Key Point on Del Potro’s serve in the entire first set. And those included 2 Break Points and 4 Game Points.
– That highlight kind of says it all, no?
Key Points Log – First Set
Key Points Log – Second Set