A few days ago, when Grigor Dimitrov beat Milos Raonic, the stat that was making the rounds was this: Dimitrov had managed to win all 26 points played on his first serve. What was my first reaction? Make fun of Milos Raonic, one of the worst returners of serve on the ATP. The Canadian is, after all, the man who failed to break Juan Mónaco’s serve over five sets at Roland Garros last year (think about that “feat” for a second. #neverforget). However, when Dimitrov rolled over Jürgen Melzer and lost just six of the 39 points played on his first serve – 85% – I started wondering if the Bulgarian’s incredible serving stats were not so much a result of facing poor returners, but of an improvement in his serve.
As we know, Dimitrov edged past Baghdatis in the Brisbane semifinals (winning 79% of his 1st serve points), and lost his first ATP final against Andy Murray, even though he served for the first set and was up 4-2 in the second. Still, I thought it would be interesting to compare Dimitrov’s serving stats in Brisbane to what the Bulgarian did in 2012. How much did Dimitrov improve from last year? Thanks to the ATP’s wonderful Top 200 Matchfacts, I could focus on six serving stats: aces per match, percentage of first serves in, percentage of first serve points won, percentage of second serve points won, percentage of break points saved, and percentage of service games won.
I also wondered what Dimitrov’s ranking was in these categories in 2012, and more importantly, where he would stand among his peers if he keeps up his Brisbane numbers throughout 2013. The results were quite interesting – and might foretell the kind of leap Dimitrov could make this year.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the numbers:
This is a huge improvement, no? It’s noteworthy that Dimitrov hit 10 or more aces in four of his five matches in Brisbane (the high mark wasn’t reached against Raonic, but against Melzer: Dimitrov hit 17 aces past the former top 10er). The only match where he didn’t reach double digits was the final, where he faced arguably the second best returner in the world. He still managed to hit three aces past Murray, though.
This is a huge leap. As a reference, Roger Federer hit an average of 8.3 aces per match in 2012. Naturally, this might be one of the toughest categories for Dimitrov to keep up with, as he plays more matches against better returners. Still, it shows what a great week the (alleged) boyfriend of Maria Sharapova just had.
This stat was fascinating for a number of reasons: first, it was the one serving stat where Dimitrov didn’t compare favorably to his 2012 season. However, this was largely due to the Raonic match, where Dimitrov hit just 50% of first serves. In his other matches, his numbers ranged from 63% to 61%, for an average of 62%. What is interesting to me about this is that Dimitrov is essentially serving the same percentage of first serves as he did in 2012, but getting much better results from those first deliveries this year. He hasn’t lowered his percentage in search for more power, which can only be a great sign for him.
Not much to say about this, other than it’s funny how his ranking in this category in 2012 mirrored his actual ATP rank of 48.
This is just an insane leap forward, which will be made even more evident by the following chart:
You read that correctly. Grigor Dimitrov would be tied for the fourth-best percentage of first serve points won if his Brisbane numbers stay constant for the entire year. Naturally, they won’t – but if they stay in the vicinity of 80%, watch out.
This is a modest improvement, but a significant improvement nonetheless. I was particularly impressed that Dimitrov managed to win 58% of second serve points in the final against Murray, who rarely wastes an opportunity to attack a second serve.
See? Dimitrov is already ranked much higher than his actual ranking would suggest in this category – a solid foundation for the future, if you ask me.
This is another significant leap, and it’s organically related to the dramatic improvement in Dimitrov’s first serve efficiency. If you’re feeling a lot better about your first serve, you will naturally be more confident when facing break points.
From barely in the top 30 in this category last year to firmly in the top 10. Saving 70% of break points faced throughout a season is a daunting task, but if Dimitrov’s first serve keeps helping him out, this stat will at the very least improve from the 2012 benchmark.
This is probably the most impressive service stat that came out of Brisbane, particularly when we see this:
Yep – only four people in the world win 90% of their service games. Being in this group can’t possibly be a bad thing. Of course, this is rarefied air for Dimitov: the three people above him would be Milos Raonic (93%), John Isner (92%) and none other than Roger Federer (91%). It’s safe to say Dimitrov won’t keep winning nine out of 10 service games he plays, but again, if he stays around this mark, only good things can happen for him in 2013.
So, what do you think changed for Grigor Dimitrov and his serve? A grip? A new racquet? Different strings? A tweak in his technique? More confidence? I saw very little of Dimitrov’s run, and haven’t seem him play all that much in the past to truly be able to figure out what has triggered this substantial improvement.
Of course, it is possible that this was a one-off: there are instances in the past where someone served at a superior level during an event, only to fall back to their usual levels afterwards (Davydenko in Miami in 2008, Nadal at the 2010 US Open, Ljubicic whenever he played Vienna, etc), but it might just be that Grigor Dimitrov, at 21 years old, is finally making his move up the rankings. If that happens, you can rest assured that the rise will ride, at least partly, on what he continues to do with his serve.