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FedEx Reliability Zone: First Set Frontrunners

FedEx Reliability Zone: After Winning First Set Records

Djokovic© AFP/Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic is second overall in the FedEx ATP Reliability Index after winning the first set with a 377-19 (.952) mark.

ATPWorldTour.com looks at the positive effect winning the first set can have on a player's confidence using the FedEx ATP Reliability Index.

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Tennis players like to get off to strong starts, which often settles early nerves. A player’s confidence level can often depend on winning the first set.

A couple of current ATP World Tour stars, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, rank behind Bjorn Borg in the all-time Top 3 according to the FedEx ATP Reliability Index (since 1973), because they have the ability to convert first-set wins into match victories.

Borg compiled a 524-25 record (.954) after winning the first set, better than second-placed Djokovic with a 377-19 (.952) mark. Nadal is third overall on 519-28 (.949).

The top players share the ability to figure out their opponents’ tactics and match conditions quickly in order to play their A-game. By imposing their own game plan early on in best of three or five set matches, they can put their opponents on the back foot.

Philipp Kohlschreiber, who is 213-33 (.866) lifetime after winning the first set, told ATPWorldTour.com, “Djokovic, Nadal and [Roger] Federer, particularly, have shown in recent years, by virtue of their Grand Slam records, that they have the ability to run away with matches. If you want to beat any of the current Top 4, it is important to get off to a good start. That means winning the first set.”

Djokovic and Nadal are joined by Andy Murray – seventh overall – with a 301-22 record (.932) and eighth-placed Roger Federer – 758-56 (.931) – in the all-time Top 10 FedEx ATP Reliability Index list.

Kohlschreiber adds, “Winning the first set gives you a mental advantage and the realisation that your tactics are working. In best of three sets, it is then important to stay calm, maintain your game plan and double your efforts to not let your opponent back into the match. But the momentum of a match can quickly change in best of five sets tennis. You always have time to fight back, if you believe you can.”

World No. 12 Gilles Simon, 197-28 (.876) overall, told ATPWorldTour.com, “Winning the first set is the best way to settle early nerves. You’ve started to figure out the conditions of the court and winning the first set can often free you up and allows you to feel more confident in your strokes. If you have won one set, you know you can win another. For your opponent, doubts may creep into their game.”

Physiologically, it is easy to switch-off mentally after you win a particularly close first set. But that can let your opponent back into the match.

World No. 7 Tomas Berdych explained to ATPWorldTour.com, “The best thing you can do, once you win the first set, is to double your effort to ensure you extend your lead by maintaining your concentration on each point and minimising the errors you make. You know your opponent may attempt to change their tactics and, maybe, their patterns of play. But when an opportunity to break serve does come your way: take it.” Berdych is 299-47 lifetime after winning the first set.

No player can compete at their highest level throughout an entire match, but if you get on top of an opponent by winning the first set, it is essential to try to maintain the mental advantage.

Former World No. 2 Tommy Haas, who beat Federer in the last month's Gerry Weber Open final, told ATPWorldTour.com, “The top players can quickly put a match to bed, mentally, if an opponent lets them. The key is to start strongly, play with confidence and be ready to take your chances –when they come – on the 15/30 and 30-all points. By remembering what you have practised in training, you can convert first-set success into victories.” Haas has a 391-52 (.883) record after winning the first set.

If we look at the rest of the Top 10 after winning the first set, in the FedEx ATP Reliability Index list, Jimmy Connors is fourth overall with a 1076-62 (.946) record, which is slightly better than his great rivals, John McEnroe (773-47, .943) and Ivan Lendl (932-66, .934), in fifth and sixth places. Eddie Dibbs (494-40, .925), Guillermo Vilas (835-70, .923) also rank highly.

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FedEx ATP Win/Loss Index

Performance After winning first set

Current* Index Career Index
1. Bjorn Borg .000 .955
2. Rafael Nadal .962 .952
3. Novak Djokovic .951 .952
4. Jimmy Connors .000 .943
5. John McEnroe .000 .943

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