Alexander Zverev's Evolution on Clay

Alexander Zverev has a chance to bag a second clay-court Masters title for the year having already reached the quarterfinals in Rome. Whether he defends his Rome title or not, 2018 is shaping up to be Zverev’s best career performance on clay so far. How has he managed to raise his game on the red dirt?

As the tour prepares for Roland Garros, Alexander Zverev has already won 15 of 17 matches on clay. That strong win record continues a trend of continual improvement on clay that kicked off in 2015, the first year Zverev achieved a win record over 50% on clay.

At this stage, Zverev seems to have raised his clay game to new heights. How has he done it?

In 2018, one of the biggest skills Zverev has improved is his return ability. The percentage of return points won is up to 45%, that is an increase of 5 percentage points compared to his pre-2018 average.

Looking deeper into his return performance, the stats in 2018 show at least four areas of notable improvement. Zverev has increased his percentage of first serve returns to 38%, a small gain over an average 37% in the past. There has also been a moderate increase in the percentage of forehand returns this year (43% of returns). But the biggest change among these is the depth of Zverev’s return. Zverev is getting 80% of his returns beyond the service box, an increase of 5 percentage points compared to the past. A large proportion of those have been within 2 meters of the baseline (39% in 2018 vs 29% pre-2018).

Zverev also appears to have lifted his mental game on clay. For the first time, Zverev is maintaining an average percent of break points won over 52%. So he is converting more break point opportunities than he is losing.

The 2018 clay stat sheet for Zverev bodes well for his having his best result at Roland Garros. Whether the best of 5 format will make it difficult for him to play to his current 2018 averages will be something that will be especially interesting to follow during the first week of play in Paris.