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FedEx ATP Performance Zone: Current Tie-Break Records

Nadal© RioOpen/FOTOJUMPRafael Nadal has the best 52-week record in tie-breaks, according to the FedEx ATP Win-Loss Index.

Using the FedEx ATP Performance Zone, this month ATPWorldTour.com takes a look at the players who perform well under pressure when a set enters a tie-break.

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Tie-breaks challenge every facet of a player's game, especially confidence and determination under pressure. They condense the constant strategic battles that players wage into one critical game and are an intense struggle of psychological warfare that can often decide the outcome of a match.

What makes a particular player excel in tie-breaks? Experience is certainly advantageous in closing out a set with little margin for error and can mitigate shortcomings in composure that have the tendency to plague youngsters.

"I'm a little more relaxed because I'm older, wiser and I know what I have to do," the 'King of Tie-breaks' Ivo Karlovic told ATPWorldTour.com. Among active players, Karlovic is second overall in the career tie-breaks FedEx ATP Win-Loss Index with 240, behind only Roger Federer's 343.

While the 6'11" 34-year-old's tie-break efforts are certainly buoyed by his veteran mindset and particularly a mammoth serve, he does not hold the best winning percentage in tie-breaks over the past year, according to the FedEx ATP Win-Loss Index. 

The top three players in the past 52 weeks with the highest percentage, as of 19 February, happen to be three members of the Big Four. Winners of 14 of the previous 16 Grand Slams and all nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events in 2013, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have something else in common: they are exceptional returners.

In an era of big servers, an often undervalued quality of today's tie-break titans is not necessarily their ability to win free points on serve, rather their aptitude in scratching for that pivotal early mini-break which steers momentum to their side of the net.

World No. 1 Nadal leads the way over the past 52 weeks (as of 19 February) with a 23-7 record (.767) in tie-breaks, according to the FedEx ATP Win-Loss Index, while Djokovic is a close second at 22-8 (.733). Reigning Wimbledon champion Murray is not far behind, boasting a 15-5 mark (.727) despite being sidelined late last year to recover from minor back surgery. It's no surprise the trio was also among the Top 5 players with the highest return points won percentages in 2013. 

Big serves make tie-breaks easier to navigate, with free points at a premium, but a strong return game is often just as, if not more, essential.

Karlovic acknowledges this. "[A big serve is] really an advantage but on the other hand I have to return well, which is not my strength so it's a constant battle in my head.

"Every point counts. If you don't do well one point, you can lose the set. That is why there is a lot more pressure."

Following his 7-6(4), 7-6(7) victory over Yen-Hsun Lu in the final of last month's Heineken Open in Auckland, John Isner's comments reflected those of Karlovic. 

"[Tie-breaks] favour me a bit, given I can get free points on my serve," said Isner. "I serve extremely well and I'm a tough player to break no matter who I'm going up against. But at the same time, my advantage on my serve is sort of sometimes a disadvantage in the other areas of my game.

"When it comes down to a situation like a tie-break, I usually have a bit more adrenaline. I'm a little more keyed in on my serve."

Isner, who enjoyed a win streak of 12 consecutive tie-breaks last year from late May to late July, had the sixth-highest winning percentage over the past 52 weeks (.667) and also the most tie-breaks won at 41. 

Sitting at No. 9 on the 52-week FedEx ATP Win-Loss Index is Tommy Haas, whose strong tie-break proficiency (.643) is a testament to the German's strong mental fortitude in negating the effect of nerves. "You have to go into a tie-break with confidence and feel positive," the 35 year old told ATPWorldTour.com in Rotterdam.  

For Haas, a tie-break should warrant the same approach as the previous games. That is, stay aggressive but play within your game. "Assess what worked for you in the set and ensure that you maintain a high first serve percentage in the tie-break," Haas added. "Tie-breaks are decided by one or two points and a player can easily get on a run. Obviously, if you are leading and get a second serve to return you have to be aggressive and take a chance. Winning any tie-break or set gives you confidence."

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FedEx ATP Win/Loss Index

Performance Tie-breakers

Current* Index Career Index
1. Richard Gasquet .750 .525
2. Milos Raonic .725 .618
3. Lukas Rosol .679 .494
4. John Isner .652 .648
5. Gael Monfils .652 .581

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