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FedEx Reliability Zone: Tie-Break Titans

FedEx Reliability Zone: Current Tie-Break Records

Murray© Getty ImagesAndy Murray is No. 2 overall in 2012 with the best winning percentage in tie-breakers, according to the FedEx ATP Reliability Index

Using the FedEx ATP Reliability Index, looks at current stars with the best tie-break records this year.

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In an era of big servers, you have to work hard and stay highly focused to win tie-breaks. The top three players in 2012 with the best winning percentage in tie-breaks, as of 10 October, according to the FedEx ATP Reliability Index, are 5’10” Steve Darcis, 6’3” Andy Murray and 6’9” John Isner.

Each player differs in height, but possess one or both of the requisites to be great tie-break performers. According to former World No. 4 Gene Mayer, who told, “The best asset for tie-breaks is a big serve to get free points. The next best is a top return of serve to neutralise a big serve.  In an ideal world, you would have both.”

Isner is No. 3 overall this year with a 40-15 record (.727) in tie-breaks (as of 10 October). The American, who has hit 941 aces in 2012 according to RICOH ATP MatchFacts, has the ability and the height to win easy point with his serve in tie-breaks. So how do today’s stars combat serving giants in tie-breaks?

Former World No. 3 Ivan Ljubicic, who retired earlier this year, admitted to, “Many times there's not much you can do on their serve. The key for me was always to focus on my turn and try to win points when I was serving.”

David Wheaton agrees, telling, “Rather than ask, ‘How am I going to winsome points of this guy’s serve?’ focus on winning your own service points, keep the score as close as possible – hopefully getting the lead – and do whatever you can to make a big server get into the point beyond his serve.”

But, for the majority of players worldwide, hitting aces at will isn’t possible. So guile, an ability to hit reliable, aggressive strokes and simplifying your mental focus to one shot and one point at a time come into play.

Andre Agassi admitted to Wimbledon-2012/Andre-Agassi.aspx">DEUCE, in June, that he struggled to come up with a way to beat Goran Ivanisevic in the 1992 Wimbledon final. “The fourth set had an inevitable feel. I was living on the edge, I couldn’t do anything. He was firing a lot of aces and winners. The flood gates had opened and I was up against it.” But Agassi took his chances and won the first of his eight major championship titles.

IsnerBy remaining positive, tie-breaks don’t have to be a mental drain and a series of points where nerves override confidence.

Former World No. 1 Stan Smith told, “Get more first serves in, so you don’t get stuck hitting too many second serves. Play your general game plan, which has been successful during the set and don’t try different tactics all of a sudden, i.e. just push the ball in or go for every shot.”

Ljubicic adds, “Focus on playing point by point and, no matter how the result looks bad, never give up. It happens so often the big turnarounds in tie-breaks.”

Murray ranks No. 20 overall for first serve points won this season, according to RICOH ATP MatchFacts, but the World No. 3 places each delivery effectively. He is able to maintain a positive record in tie-breaks by virtue of a natural aptitude for anticipating his opponent's next move. The Scot, who has a 17-6 (.739) record in tie-breaks this year, as of 10 October, has the ability to capitalise on half chances by jumping on serves and forcing himself to be aggressive. “When somebody is having a great year, normally tie-break results follow,” said Ljubicic.

Smith said of Murray, “I think his return of serve is so strong that he gets a lot of chance on the opponents serve. He is getting a higher percentage of his first serves in, which is critical in the tie-breaks. In general, the player who is more confident wins the tie-breaks. Murray has gotten more confident this year.”

“He gets a high percentage of service returns in play and then his quickness and consistency make an opponent have to hit and extra shot or two or three to win the point against him,” says Wheaton on Murray’s performance in tie-breaks. “Under pressure, his opponents aren't able to execute as well under the do-or-die pressure of a tie-break.”

DarcisIn 2012, World No. 78 Darcis has compiled the best winning percentage in tie-breaks according to the FedEx ATP Reliability Index. The Belgian has compiled a 17-4 (.809) record, but at 5’10” in height he doesn’t win a lot of free points. In 38 matches on the ATP World Tour, he has hit 143 aces.

Darcis targets his serve well enough so he can take the return with his stronger groundstrokes. It is something Rafael Nadal does so effectively with his serve and his heavy forehand, which opens up the court.

Darcis told his key for success. "First I focus on my serve, putting a lot of deliveries into court," he said. "It is very important to hold your serve, especially at the beginning of the tie-break, because they go very fast. Against big servers, I just try to return every serve to make them play a lot and then fight after every return. Every point is important in the tie-break, which is little bit like a lottery so you also need a bit of luck."

As of 10 October, David Ferrer, a winner of five ATP World Tour titles this year, is No. 5 overall this season with a 20-11 mark (.645), followed by World No. 1 Roger Federer and Pablo Andujar at tied-No. 6 on 17-11 (. 607). 

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FedEx ATP Win/Loss Index

Performance Tie-breakers

Current* Index Career Index
1. Gael Monfils .741 .597
2. Milos Raonic .738 .623
3. Marin Cilic .714 .505
4. Stan Wawrinka .694 .477
5. Gilles Muller .690 .565

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