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FedEx Reliability Zone: Deadly In Deciders

FedEx Reliability Zone: Deadly In Deciders

Djokovic© Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic is the leader among current players with an 82-35 lifetime record (.701), according to the FedEx ATP Reliability Index.

As the clay-court swing gets underway, with 12 ATP World Tour tournaments on the road to Roland Garros, takes an in-depth look at players with superior deciding set records (since 1973), using the FedEx ATP Reliability Index , with exclusive analysis from former ATP World Tour favourites.

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In 908 tour-level matches this year, prior to last week's Davis Cup quarter-finals, there had been 247 deciding sets. Often, the mental strength of a player determines matches, as self-confidence is revealed during tough times. Ultimately, when tension is high and mistakes can be costly, it comes to the crunch: some players are just cooler than others.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is the leader among current players with an 82-35 lifetime record (.701), but Bjorn Borg leads the FedEx ATP Reliability Index overall (since 1973). The Swede compiled a 123-39 mark (.759) in deciders and contemporary Brian Gottfried admitted to, "Bjorn absorbed the pressure. Whatever the score, you could never count him out. He always seemed to pull through."

Jimmy Connors is No. 3 lifetime according to the FedEx ATP Reliability Index, with a 229-99 (.698) record in deciding sets, followed by Nadal (96-43, .691), John McEnroe (161-73, .688), Pete Sampras (188-88, .681), John Newcombe (94-44, .681) and Andy Murray (81-38, .681). Interestingly, Roger Federer is No. 31 overall with a 147-84 record (.636).

Connors, Borg, McEnroe, KriekJohan Kriek, who is No. 9 in the all-time list with a 125-60 (.676) mark, told, "Fitness, speed, tenacity and a 'never say die' attitude were keys to my success. The fact that I always stayed aggressive, playing to win, rather than playing 'not to lose' was a huge factor in my favour." 

So what kind of thoughts run through a player's mind at the start of a deciding set? Whether a player has won or lost the previous set, they must quickly assess the situation from an unemotional and analytical perspective. What has worked strategically and what hasn't? Why has the match turned in your favour or against you?

Current ATP Board member Justin Gimelstob told, "The best advice I ever received, was, when playing a match, and especially at important moments like the beginning of a final set, to focus on patterns that had been successful and change patterns that have not been effective."

Gottfried agrees. "You must re-affirm your game plan, but also try to serve first at the start of a decider to build pressure on your opponent  as the set progresses," the former World No. 3 said. "Fitness is a part of playing, but winning a few deciding sets gets you in the right frame of mind, when you are about to start a third or fifth set."

Kriek, who enjoyed the "mental game" of deciding sets, looked to mix up his tactics. "I made sure that I did not miss any second serve returns and used 'surprise tactics'. Little things can sometimes derail a guy quickly. The main issue for me was not to panic that I was playing a deciding set. I used to smile to myself to relieve some tension and got on with the job. I made it a great mental game. It was actually fun!"

AgassiFormer World No. 4 Brad Gilbert admitted to that "you cannot focus on your opponent. You must focus on what you can do by making little adjustments." Andre Agassi's former coach went onto add, "The day the season ended, Andre switched his focus to training hard. To thinking of potentially playing fifth sets in the heat of Australia. He wanted to be ready for it, so he pushed himself. Andre had an ability to keep points short, but he always made a player suffer if they were tired." Agassi is No. 27 overall with a 175-97 record (.643) in deciding sets.

Momentum plays a great part in tennis matches, but they are won by playing at the right tempo, not by hitting the ball better. Over the course of the next two months, in lengthy matches on the red dirt, we'll find out who is not only physically fit, but also mentally strong in deciding sets.

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FedEx ATP Win/Loss Index

Performance Deciding set

Current* Index Career Index
1. Kei Nishikori .875 .792
2. Bjorn Borg .000 .744
3. Novak Djokovic .941 .742
4. Andy Murray .833 .694
5. Rafael Nadal .444 .693


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