Medvedev Reveals Tennis' New Game Style: Assassin

Tennis has a new game style. Assassin.

It’s easy to identify a serve-and-volleyer, an aggressive baseliner, a counter-puncher, or a pusher. Creating a game plan against them is relatively straightforward.

And then there is Daniil Medvedev – a mercurial master of them all. Take your eye off him at your own peril. There is a much better chance he has you in his sights than the other way around.

His cunning mix of strategies often ends with a surprise attack you didn’t see coming. He obfuscates his game plan by launching attacks from every inch of the court. One moment he is returning serve six metres behind the baseline. The next, he is successfully serving and volleying behind an 84mph second serve facing break point. He spectacularly blurs the lines between traditional game styles to baffle and bamboozle opponents.

The Russian assassin has taken #NextGenATP to next level.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Medvedev’s five victories at the Nitto ATP Finals uncovers five ways that he built control of the point, oftentimes without his opponent being aware that is was happening.

The five matches in the data set are:
Round Robin:
def. Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-4
Round Robin: def. Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-3
Round Robin: def. Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-3
Semi-Final: def. Rafael Nadal 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3
Final: def. Dominic Thiem 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4

1. Backhands Hit Inside The Baseline
Medvedev:
26%
Five Opponents: 12%

Medvedev loves to lean on his backhand and hit it flat as a pancake. In theory, opponents should be able to step forward and attack the spin-less ball at will. The exact opposite happened at The O2. Overall, Medvedev made contact with his backhand inside the baseline 26 per cent of the time. His five opponents combined to hit only 12 per cent of their backhands inside the baseline, less than half of the Russian’s total. In the final, Medvedev made contact with 35 per cent of his backhands inside the baseline. Thiem only managed 12 per cent. Medvedev’s average backhand speed was 67 mph, with his five opponents a few notches lower at 64 mph.

Medvedev’s Backhand Hit Point vs. Thiem

Thiem’s Backhand Hit Point vs. Medvedev

Thiem Hawkeye

2. Aces
Medvedev:
43
Five Opponents: 14

Medvedev completely out-performed his five opponents in this area, hitting more than triple the total of aces. In the semi-final against Nadal and the final against Thiem, Medvedev clubbed 25 aces. His opponents only managed eight.

3. Groundstrokes = Lower, Deeper, Harder

Medvedev’s average net height was 67cm above the net, while opponents were up higher at 74cm. You would think the higher ball over the net would travel deeper, but it wasn’t the case. Medvedev hit 86 per cent of his groundstrokes past the service line, while opponents were at 83 per cent. One explanation for that is that Medvedev played with superior velocity, averaging 72 mph on his groundstrokes to 70 mph for his five opponents.

4. Second-Serve Points Won
Medvedev:
48% (63/132)
Five Opponents: 42% (60/144)

Winning the second serve battle is always critical. Medvedev impressively won this match metric by six percentage points. Rafael Nadal led the ATP Tour in 2020 in second-serve points won at 57.8 per cent (527/912). In the semi-final, Nadal only won 37 per cent (19/51) against Medvedev, who countered by winning 48 per cent (12/25) of points behind his second delivery. The fact Nadal struck 51 second serves to Medvedev’s 25 is yet another small battle won by the Russian.

5. First-Serve Return Points Won
Medvedev: 29%
Five Opponents: 22.5%

Medvedev eclipsed his five opponents in this key area, who on paper should be superior to the Russian in this specific statistic. In 2020, Nadal was rated No. 1, Djokovic No. 3, Schwartzman No. 4, Zverev No. 9, and Thiem No. 11. Medvedev punched in at 16th-best, but he cut all five opponents down to size at the year-end event, winning 29 per cent to 22.5 per cent. Medvedev’s average first-serve return speed for the tournament was 68mph, while his five opponents were significantly in arrears at 57 mph. That’s a testament to how much blocking, chipping and defending they had to do against Medvedev’s lethal first serve.

Medvedev’s match metrics were overwhelmingly superior to his five opponents at the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals. Sometimes it requires a spreadsheet to uncover just how the person on the other side of the net is taken down.

– Hawkeye graphics courtesy ATP Media

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