The Switch Goffin, Nadal Hit When Transitioning To Clay

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers shows how some of the best improve their game from hard to clay

Nothing moves the dial more with the transition from hard courts to clay courts than points won returning first serves.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of the four semi-finalists from the 2017 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters against their own 2017 hard-court averages identifies the biggest improvement in any serve or return category was points won returning first serves.

You May Also Like: Five Players With Surprising Stats In 2018

The four semi-finalists in Monaco last year were David Goffin, Lucas Pouille, Albert Ramos-Vinolas and the champion, Rafael Nadal. The quartet combined to put up positive numbers in all three return categories on the clay, but their combined performance against first serves was the most noteworthy.

2017 Monte-Carlo Semi-Finalists: Combined Monte-Carlo v Hard-Court Averages

Return Statistics

2017 Hard Court

2017 Monte Carlo

Percentage-Point Improvement

First-Serve Return Points Won

29%

40%

11%

Break Points Converted

39%

49%

10%

Second-Serve Return Points Won

54%

57%

3%

Returning first serves on hard courts is best done with a defensive strategy, blocking and absorbing the power of the first serve. The 11-percentage point jump by these four players on clay is born from standing a little farther back to return first serves, allowing them to have a slightly slower delivery to take aggressive swings at.

2017 Monte-Carlo: Four Semi-Finalists

2017 Monte-Carlo
Semi-Finalists

2017: First-Serve Return Points Won Hard

2017: First-Serve Return Points
Won Monte-Carlo

Rafael Nadal

32%

49%

Albert Ramos-Vinolas

26%

40%

Lucas Pouille

27%

36%

David Goffin

29%

36%

Nadal amazingly won 49 per cent (97/199) of his first-serve return points at Monte-Carlo in 2017 against Kyle Edmund, Alexander Zverev, Diego Schwartzman, Goffin and Ramos-Vinolas. Nadal is the career leader in first-serve return points on clay, winning 40 per cent.

In Monte-Carlo last year, Ramos-Vinolas was 14 percentage points ahead of his 2017 hard-court average, with Pouille nine percentage points better, while Goffin enjoyed a seven percentage-point improvement.

The serve may travel through the air just the same on hard courts and clay courts, but once it bounces on clay, the returner can immediately employ a lot more offence against the biggest shot in our sport.