The Strange Talent Of Daniil Medvedev: The Further He Stands Behind The Baseline, The More He Wins - UBITENNIS
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The Strange Talent Of Daniil Medvedev: The Further He Stands Behind The Baseline, The More He Wins

A few statistics on the return position of the Russian during the 2020 ATP Finals. In the match against Zverev, he returned the serve as far as seven (7!) meters behind the baseline.

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Let’s go back to the year-end tournament, the ATP Finals won by Daniil Medvedev, as seen through Craig O’Shannessy’s lens. This analysis compares the Russian’s return position with that of the opponents he defeated and of the players who featured in the 2018 and 2019 editions of the tournament. Here, we complete the analysis begun by Andrea Canella in this article, which focuses on the return and the serve of the Russian.

 

First off, a technical caveat: we do not have access to the full dataset analysed by O’Shannessy, but only to the data the article provides. This includes the interactive screens of Medvedev’s matches against Zverev (round robin) and Thiem (final).  At any rate, the statistics refers to 44 of the 45 matches played in the past three editions of the ATP Finals.

O’Shannessy’s comparison shows that nobody returned serves as far behind the baseline as Daniil Medvedev – he has played eight matches at the 02 Arena, with five of these placing him in the Top 5 of this special ranking.

While the top players returned the first serve on an average 1.9 meters behind the baseline, Medvedev return position was between 4.51 and 5.51 meters off, a record distance registered in his opening match against Zverev, whom he defeated 6-3 6-4. 

Medvedev’s return hit point in the match against Zverev

Medvedev returned so far off the baseline that even the ATP Infosys graphic system struggled to show the dots indicating his position – the Infosys system observe returns up to 5 meters off the baseline. But visual inspection suggests that a few returns happened about 7 meters behind the line: it’s almost the width between football goalposts.

The antipode of the Russian’s approach was Federer’s against Nishikori in 2018, a match won in two sets by the Japanese. Perhaps to save some energies, the Swiss hit 36 returns on the first serve at an average of 22 cm behind the baseline, barely three palms. Federer is obviously a player who contributes to lowering the average returning distance, but despite this, the gap has significantly increased during the 2019 and 2020 editions – not surprisingly, the two years when Medvedev qualified for the Finals. 

Average first serve return distance:

• 2018 = 1.41 meters
• 2019 = 1.73 meters
• 2020 = 2.55 meters

Before we get back to Medvedev, let us take a look at the top-players’ stats concerning the return on the second serve. Needless to say, most tennis players place themselves as close as possible to the baseline (or even inside the court) when returning the second serve. Interestingly, tennis players over the past few years have gradually moved back from the baseline to a point where the average return position of the second serve in 2020 equals that of 2018 – but on the first serve!

Average second serve return distance

• 2018 = 0.23 meters
• 2019 = 1.25 meters
• 2020 = 1.43 meters

In 2018, tennis players returned the second serve having their feet inside the court on average 15 times out of 30 (the ATP Finals have 15 matches, meaning 30 performances in return). In 2020, that number dipped to 6 out of 30. Going into details on second serve returns, O’Shannessy makes a controversial point here, suggesting that tennis players nowadays move further and further back when returning the second serve than the first – usually, things are not like this. However, that was the case in this year’s semi-final between Medvedev and Nadal. Let’s have a look to the detailed data: 

Medvedev

• distance vs Nadal’s first serve = 3.15 meters
• distance vs Nadal’s second serve = 3.85 meters

Nadal

• distance vs Medvedev’s first serve = 3.58 meters
• distance vs Medvedev’s second serve = 4.13 meters

The Russian and the Spaniard both have a natural tendency to need room on their serve returns, partly because they trust their own ability to return a serve this deep, even far off the baseline, and partly because they are inclined to play closer to the canvas than to the court. Both are extraordinarily defensive players, a behaviour reflected in their return positions. Still, we cannot say that they always take a step backwards on the second serve rather than on the first without analysing the data.

Unfortunately, the ATP does not provide these statistics on a seasonal basis, but the link in O’Shannessy’s article specifies that he’s discussing “historical” data, indicating that Medvedev’s distance on first-serve return was 4.07 meters, while the distance on second-serve return was 2.73 meters. We do not know exactly what those data cover, however – it could be this tournament or the whole of 2020, or, indeed, every match played by the Russian in the tournaments which collect this kind of data. But the sample is large enough to raise doubt that Medvedev actually moves further beyond the court on the second serve than on the first serve.

Moreover, as mentioned earlier, the match between Nadal and Medvedev was statistically anomalous for other reasons as well. Proof of the semi-final’s peculiarity, and of Medvedev’s chameleon-like nature, emerges from the numbers of the final against Thiem, where the Russian’s strategy was almost opposite to the patterns shown in the semi-final against Nadal. He moved forward and very close to the baseline on the second serve, returning at an average distance of 85 cm. What’s more, he got progressively closer on the second serve over the three sets (1,11 m – 0,87 m – 0,50 m) while at the same time increasingly moving back in order to return the first serve (2,87 m – 3,34 m – 3,88 m). It would follow from this that Medvedev tried to exploit Thiem’s technical flaws, e.g. pretty wide backswings, which make he finds it difficult to handle the balls returning to him faster than expected after his serve, especially with the lower bounce of indoor play. Furthermore, the Austrian just needs the slightest chance to crush the opponents with his fast pace, and it is likely that the Russian simply tried to obstruct this. 

O’Shannessy emphasises that Medvedev’s tendency to retuning the serve from far behind the court could be an attempt to turn the game into a neutral baseline battle. In this scenario, Medvedev can move like a carp in a freshwater lake (possibly with no fishermen around): “it’s essentially just another groundstroke,” says the expert. 

In conclusion, the analysis is interesting (even if only partial), because it tells us a number of things about Medvedev:

  • he doesn’t need to stay glued to the baseline to win tournaments
  • he moves back and forward on returning depending on game situations and the characteristics of his opponents 
  • because of him (as well as Thiem), the average return-distance at the Finals is increasing.

But the present numbers are not enough to say that tennis players generally return the serve further from the baseline – larger samples are needed to draw firm conclusions – and that they return the second serve further than the first.

Article by Alessandro Stella; translated by Claudia Marchese; edited by Tommaso Villa

Editorial

Black History Month – Chapter 2021

In their Black History Month story Mark Winters and Cheryl Jones bring out that with knowledge and understanding of “all” that history presents, we have the tools that can change the future and leave the past where it belongs – and should have remained.

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Naomi Osaka (@ESPN on Twitter)

For many, the second month of the year is commemorated as being Black History Month. In the US, it is also Heart Month. Not to be overlooked, at the end of the Fifth Century, Pope Gelasius deemed February 14th   St. Valentine’s Day. (Black History Month also takes place in Canada in February. In Great Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands it is celebrated in October. But Valentine’s Day is February 14th, everywhere.)

 

Mindful of the ever-growing problems resulting from modern living, concerns about heart care are an ever-growing concern. Valentine’s Day, for years, has been a day where folks remind their loved ones of their caring with gifts such as roses and chocolate. But February this year should be focused on Black History Month because of the widely publicized events that have awakened a need to recognize that in the US and for that matter, all around the world, that every man and woman are supposed to be created equal. The premise should ring true, particularly, now

When Carter Woodson, a historian, along with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, developed the idea of making the second week of February, “Negro History Week”, in 1926, they hoped it would lead to an awareness that there was a forgotten group of citizens who had a hand in building this country. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass had February birthdays and it seemed like a perfect fit. Lincoln’s birthday was on the twelfth and Douglass’ on the fourteenth. The goal was to broaden understanding about African-Americans and to provide cultural insight that was brushed under the carpet after the Civil War. At the time, it was a tick over fifty years since that war supposedly decided that there should be equality for all.     

At the time, teaching Black History, which was the immediate goal of Negro History Week, was not well received. Nonetheless, the second week of February was duly recognized until 1969 when the Black United Students at Kent State University proposed that the entire month of February become “Black History Month.” A year later, the first celebration was held, at the university. By 1976, as a part of the Bicentennial Celebration, it received an official US government designation.

Last year, the world and tennis were dealt a double dose of devastation. COVID-19 became death’s community calling card  and with it economies were maimed. Everyday stress increased and led to the manifestation of frustration and in some cases, anger. Even worse, occasionally, road-rage like eruptions resulted not only in the US, but internationally as well. 

May 25, 2020 was a personal tipping point for the two of us. The death of George Floyd further opened our eyes to where the world and tennis were in regard to so many things. We have traveled extensively and are long-time tennis journalists so we have “creds” but – We are not African-American. 

More to the point, we well know that more must be done to rid our lives of racial bias. Simply stated – Black Lives Matter…Even More Now. (And let it be known that “all lives matter”, all the time – that’s understood. The point is that there are inequities in the treatment of African-American’s that have never been addressed.)

Naomi Osaka used her face-masks at last year’s US Open to call attention to victims of racism – Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Elijah McClain, Tamir Rice and Breonna Taylor and too many more. Her hope was to increase awareness and have people “see more names”, names of the Black victims of police violence in the US. 

Prior to New York, Osaka had traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota where Floyd was killed and she took part in the peaceful protest that was being held. In July, she co-wrote an article that appeared in Esquire Magazine concerning racism and personally “being all things together at the same time.” After Jacob Blake, an African-American, was shot in the back multiple times by a policeman in Kenosha, Wisconsin, she withdrew from participating in the Western & Southern Open semifinal. Realizing the significance of her decision, tournament officials suspended play at the National Tennis Center for the entire day in support of her social justice expression.

Coco Gauff was another person who was candid in her comments about the importance of Black Lives Matter protests. Frances Tiafoe and Sloane Stephens, as well as James Black and both Serena and Venus Williams, were some of the other prominent players who supported the necessity of the demonstrations. (Fittingly, the US Open, during its final days, featured the works of eighteen artists in “Black Lives to the Front”, an exhibition that was staged on the lower rows of Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.)

February isn’t just about reading a book that extols the life of a famous person of color. It’s a reminder to realize that history is not merely a white world’s diary. What happened in the past doesn’t have to be repeated because we have no internal chronicle of events. With knowledge and understanding of “all” that history presents, we have the tools that can change the future and leave the past where it belongs – and should have remained.

Article written by Mark Winters and Cheryl Jones

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Editorial

Novak Djokovic King For Another Year In Melbourne Park

Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier columnist James Beck reflects on the Men’s Australian Open final.

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Novak Djokovic (image via https://twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

Daniil Medvedev failed the Novak Test in a big way.

 

He wasn’t himself.

He quit before he got started.

Novak Djokovic was more than himself.

He was near-perfect in Sunday’s Australian Open men’s final.

This brief match was decided by two things: Djokovic’s service game; and his net presence.

Medvedev became unglued when he saw Novak at the net. 

ONLY A GLIMPSE OF THE PAST MEDVEDEV

Only in a few games did Medvedev demonstrate the rapid-fire deep forehands and backhands that had taken the skinny Russian to 20 straight victories before the Aussie final. Also only in a few games early in the match did he unleash the powerful serves to the corners of the box that had made even John McEnroe think Medvedev could upend Djokovic.

In short, Medvedev’s entire game was as wild as a bird in the wild. He didn’t even come close much of the time with his serves and ground strokes. When he missed, he really missed. He showed none of his usual rhythm in his game, none of the wind-ups for his patented whip-like forehands.

I’m sure many in the crowd of unmasked Australians that half-filled Rod Laver Arena must have regretted they didn’t party elsewhere.

It was that bad.

MEDVEDEV JUST ALONG FOR THE RIDE

As a result, the King of Melbourne Park did it again, win a ninth Grand Slam Down Under. Medvedev was just along for the ride in a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 humiliation.

Medvedev could only smile at the end as he admired King Novak. There was no reason to break  another racket.

Djokovic started the onslaught with an ace and ended it with a spectacular backward-running, looping overhead motion that produced an overhead that barely cleared the net and fell inside the sideline on Medvedev’s forehand side.

There you have it in a nutshell: the serve; and the net presence of Djokovic. Both were awesome.

Mix in Djokovic’s almost error-free ground game, and it was a short night for everyone concerned.

In the U.S., I could hop back into bed for a few more hours of sleep, just one hour and 53 minutes after the start of the rout. No more alarms to worry about in the middle of the night.

MEDVEDEV SIMPLY WASN’T READY

Medvedev may have thought he was ready for Djokovic, but he wasn’t even ready for himself. Medvedev appeared to be helpless. He even tried to get the fans excited as he motioned to them. He couldn’t even get his own attention. He showed no fire.

The 6-6 former Wonderman appeared to lose any game plan he might have had. Only in the three games that followed a 3-0 start for Djokovic did Medvedev resemble the player that had made young Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas look so helpless two nights earlier in another straight-setter after Tsitsipas had put a similar beating on Rafa Nadal in the last three sets of a five-set quarterfinal.

THE KING PULLED AN ESCAPE ACT

Wow, this was a wild tournament, one suitable for a world slowed down for more than a year by the coronavirus.

Novak Djokovic just escaped it with his 18th Grand Slam title as he heads to the clay courts of Paris in about three months just two Grand Slam titles behind Nadal and Roger Federer. The trip Down Under worked out perfectly for the King of Melbourne Park.

James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com and search for James Beck.

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Editorial

Women’s Tennis’ Best Player Wins Again

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It wasn’t long ago that Naomi Osaka appeared to be a talented young tennis player who had lost her way. On a rather warm April day in Charleston, S.C., in the 2018 Volvo Car Open, the then 20-year-old had had enough. As perspiration streamed down her face while she walked to her bench on
the jam-packed smallish outside Althea Gibson Club Court, Osaka looked at her coach and made the remark that she didn’t want to be there. Of course, she was losing. Osaka finished that round of 16 match, eventually losing to Julia Goerges.

 

NO WORRIES ABOUT PURSE
Obviously, Osaka wasn’t worried about the larger purse she missed by losing that day in Charleston. Money wasn’t that big a deal. Just two weeks earlier, Osaka had earned a $1.34 million check for winning the mega tournament at Indian Wells, Calif. The world was her game.
A few months later, Osaka won her first Grand Slam title at the 2018 U.S. Open. And now the powerful 5-11 native of Osaka, Japan, looks unstoppable with four Grand Slam titles in less than three years. Serena Williams probably is more worried about Osaka matching her record than Serena is
about surpassing Margaret Court in the number of Grand Slam titles.
Osaka is that good these days on the court, while making waves with her politeness and well-spoken interviews.

BRADY NO MATCH FOR OSAKA
Jennifer Brady was no match for Osaka in Saturday’s Australian Open final, falling much the same way Serena Williams had been dominated a couple of nights earlier. Osaka just turned the6-3, 6-4 victory she posted over Williams to a 6-4, 6-3 over Brady and a second straight Australian Open title.
Brady tried to out-hit Osaka. That was a mistake as the 24-year-old former UCLA star couldn’t keep her over-hit balls on the court in the face of Osaka’s meticulously placed, yet powerful serves and ground strokes. Brady fell victim to Osaka’s near-perfect cross-court put-aways from both sides on short balls.

OSAKA WAS A SUPERSTAR IN WAITING
The first time I watched Osaka in person was in the 2017 Volvo Car Open when a red-hot Shelby Rogers (she had just beaten long-time friend Madison Keys) scored a straight-set victory as Osaka watched too many of her shots miss their mark. It was rather surprising even then as a 19-year-old that Osaka was often losing matches. Her game was already spectacularly based on power. She was so talented and good that she was a
can’t-miss future superstar. Osaka is a quicker version of Serena. She has the entire package of talent.

No one in women’s tennis probably has better control of her shots and serves in pressure situations than Osaka. She also must have some of the quickest feet in the game, while being able to fight off her opponent’s hardest-hit shots with her upper body strength. It’s not surprising that Chrissie Evert calls Osaka “the best player in the world.” She may be just that by a long ways.


James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com and search for James Beck.

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