Men's Serve and Return Grass Leaders

The most storied of tennis championships gets underway this week in the serene English borough at SW19.

Now that the draw is out and first round matches only hours from getting underway, many tennis fans will be wondering which competitors will be entering the tournament with the best form and biggest hopes for a strong showing. In this post, I take a look back at the grass court events leading up to the 2017 Wimbledon Championships and rate the top 10 seasons on serve and return.

Serve

Having reached the final at Stuttgart and taken his first title at Queen’s, 19th seed Feliciano Lopez has to be soaring high going into the first week at Wimbledon. When we look at the cumulative adjusted serve performance (adjusted for opponent ability) over the 2017 grass court season, Lopez takes the top spot— maintaining an average percentage of service points won of 74.9% across 10 matches.

Lopez is in No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic’s quarter of the draw, which could make Djokovic’s path to the quarterfinal especially tough.

Marin Cilic takes the No. 3 spot among the serve leaders. Interestingly, Cilic, with 80%, has the highest average adjusted serve performance in the group, though he hasn’t had the same consistency as Feliciano Lopez or Daniil Medvedev.

Cilic is the second highest seed in Rafael Nadal’s quarter of the Wimbledon draw, which could setup an interesting quarterfinal test for Nadal. The Spaniard choose not to play on grass before Wimbledon this year, so he might have one of the harder first weeks among the top seeds.

The Zverev brothers take the No. 5 and 6 spots among the serve leaders, each serving at averages of 71%. Roger Federer is also in the +70% club, with an average serve percentage at 73%, though his first grass court match loss to Tommy Haas at Stuttgart brings his overall rating down and gives him the 11th spot in the serve leaderboard. However, the command Federer showed in his title-winning match against Alex Zverev in Halle last week showed that he is back to his usual impeccable form.

Federer is seeded 3rd this year, putting him on the opposite side of Rafael Nadal, the man he can’t seem to avoid in 2017. But Federer could have to face the No. 1 Djokovic in the semifinal to setup the second Nadal-Federer Grand Slam final of the year.

Return

On the return side, we see the same players landing the first 3 spots of the top of the leaderboard, though Medvedev edges out Feliciano Lopez having a greater than 5 percentage point lead over Lopez on the average adjusted return performance.

Big man Marin Cilic’s has been returning at an average of 41%, which is one of the most impressive numbers in this group, as only 4 in the top 10 can claim such high returns. Two in that group include Richard Gasquet and Roger Federer.

If Cilic and Federer can maintain these averages on serve and return at Wimbledon, we can expect them to be some of the biggest threats in the men’s draw. Whether they can live up to those expectations at a Grand Slam, where steadiness is king, will have a lot to do with match-to-match consistency.

Stephanie Kovalchik avatar
About Stephanie Kovalchik
Tennis Data Scientist at the Game Insight Group at Tennis Australia and researcher at the Institute of Sport Exercise and Active Living at Victoria University.
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