#11 Break Points

 2012 U.S. Open Analytics 

 Men Return Games Won Winning  % = 20.8% 

 Women Return Games Won Winning % = 35.9% 

Return Games WonTotalsWinning %
Men 953 / 4,56220.8%
Women 926 / 2,57335.9%

13 women won at least 50% of their return games.

No male player won 50% of his service games.

Novak Djokovic – The Leader

This is where you get a look into the engine room of the superb Serb. He is head and shoulders above the field in this critical area and showcases why he is one of the elite players in the world. Novak won an incredible  45.4% (45/99) of his return games which was around nine percent higher than Andy Murray for the tournament who ended up winning 36.5% (45/123).

Also factor in that the average is 20.8% and Djokovic rocks 45.4% = 100%+ better than the field. That’s absurd.

Men – Tournament Leaders

Women Tournament Leaders

 Rafael Nadal @ Roland Garros 

The biggest point in any game is the last one and this is where Nadal has reigned supreme at the French Open.

Nadal has converted 53% (338 of 671) of his break points on the biggest stage which is 8% higher than his career average. Opponents have only converted 31% (105 of 353) of their break points which gives the Spaniard a massive advantage of over 20% in this critical area.

In 2005 in the quarters Nadal held David Ferrer to 2/12 break point chances; Roger Federer to 1/17 in the 2007 final; Soderling to 0/8 in the 2010 final and held Andy Murray to 3/18 in the 2011 semi-final.

Getting to break point against Nadal in Paris is one story – converting it is like playing a whole new sport. In all seven finals combined Nadal got broken even less at 26% (20/78), including a ridiculous 8/53 (15%) in his first five finals.

 2012 Rome Final: Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-3 

The toughest point to win in tennis has once again become break point on Rafael Nadal’s serve.

Nadal saved six of seven break points to defeat Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-3 to win his sixth Internazionali BNL d’Italia Masters title. It is one thing to get to break point against Nadal on clay – it’s an entirely different proposition to convert it.

Nowhere in a match is Nadal’s mental and emotional strength more on display than when his back is against the wall facing break point on his serve. Djokovic was able to break Nadal once in the first set to get back on serve at 3-3, but went 0/6 on break point opportunities in the second set as Nadal simply refused to yield.

What also made it tough for Djokovic was scoreboard pressure as he was already down a break every time he got the opportunity to break Nadal.

Djokovic Break Point Opportunities

#Score ServeResultWhat Happened
1Set 1 3-2 30-402nd WonForehand Error. Nadal got the ball he wanted but netted a runaround forehand in the deuce court.
2Set 2 1-0, 0-401stLostBackhand Return Error. Nadal hit a great wide slider that Djokovic barely was able to touch.
3Set 2 1-0, 15-402ndLostOverhead Winner - Nadal rallies and approaches to the backhand.
4Set 2 1-0, 30-401stLostBackhand Error. Djokovic misses long cross court trying to make Nadal pay for running around his forehand.
5Set 2 1-0, Ad Out1stLostForehand Error. Djokovic sprayed a forehand error long going down the line from very deep behind the baseline.
6Set 2 2-1, Ad Out2nd LostForehand Volley Error. Djokovic approaches to the backhand and Nadal defended low cross & missed a touch volley wide right.
7Set 2 2-1, Ad Out1stLostForehand Error. Djokovic had control but miss-timed a softer forehand standing in the Ad court and put it in the net.


It’s the kind of mental toughness that you would find in the Marines or the Navy Seals. It’s the same mental toughness that is driven by a simple refusal to break under pressure.

On clay especially, Nadal seems to welcome the pressure moments while his opponents tighten up and lose their minds. Nadal’s heavy spin game is ideally suited to clay, but it’s his fierce determination that is his major asset. Nadal’s true edge exists mentally on the big points. He doesn’t panic. He doesn’t play low percentage tennis. He doesn’t run away from the battle.

Nadal was also brutally efficient on break points in the semi-final against David Ferrer, saving 9/10 (90%) break points while converting 4/11 (36%). Nadal only got broken three times for the entire tournament in Rome in five matches, saving 20/23 (86%) break points against his serve. It’s tough to beat him if you can’t break him.

Nadal is ranked #5 in the world this year in saving break points (72%), closely behind the world’s best in Milos Raonic (74%). Consider that Nadal saved 85% of break points in the final and 86% total for the tournament in Rome and you get a clearer understanding of why he is so dominant on clay. It’s his mind.

Nadal now turns to the French Open where he is looking to become the first player in history to win the title for a seventh time.

A major key to Nadal’s success at the French is his ability to save break points where he often proves impenetrable.

In the 2010 French Open final Nadal saved all eight break points he faced against Robin Soderling. In a very similar manner to the Rome final, Nadal saved four break points in his first service game of the second set and broke the will of his opponent. After losing that game, but still being on serve at 1-1 in the 2nd set, Soderling lost 21 of the last 26 points to lose the 2nd set.

After victories this year on clay in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and now Rome, Nadal has mustered the mental strength necessary to win again in Paris. Nadal’s win in Rome, especially saving 15/17 break points in the semi’s and final against Ferrer and Djokovic, gives him the confidence that history can repeat itself in Paris.

Nadal’s true strength on clay exists firstly in his mind, which just received the ideal tune-up in Rome for another deep run in Paris.

 Rafael Nadal @ Monte Carlo 

 Break Points Are Worth Their Weight In Gold

In the nine finals Nadal has broken serve almost more than double the amount of times he has been broken (47 to 26) off almost a third more opportunities.

FinalOpponentNadal Break Points WonOpponent Break Points Won
2013Novak Djokovic3/6 = 100%5/12 = 41%
2012Novak Djokovic 5/8 = 62%1/1 = 100%
2011David Ferrer4/11 = 36%2/7 = 28%
2010Fernando Verdasco 6/14 = 42%0/5 = 0%
2009Novak Djokovic 7/14 = 50% 5/11 = 45%
2008Roger Federer6/7 = 85%4/5 = 80%
2007Roger Federer2/8 = 25%0/3 = 0%
2006Roger Federer7/14 = 50%4/18 = 22%
2005Guillermo Coria 7/20 = 35%5/16 = 31%
TOTAL47/102 = 46%26/78 = 33%

Nadal loves Monte Carlo as much as Monte Carlo loves its king. It provides the ideal playground for him to adapt to clay after the hard court swing and hone his game for upcoming Grand Slam glory in Paris.

 2013 Cincinnati Final: Rafael Nadal def. John Isner 7-6 (8), 7-6 (3) 

Nothing matters more in a tennis match than converting break points opportunities.

Nadal saved all three break points he faced to win back to back hard court titles for the first time in his career.

Crunch time in this match came deep in the first set as Nadal faced two break points at 5-6, 15-40 – which were also two set points for Isner.

15-40 1st Break Point  Nadal hit a 110mph slice down the middle that Isner barely reached. This was the primary deuce ct. 1st serve pattern attempting 22 serves down the T, making 17 and winning 13. Nadal attempted 11 to Position 1 as a Secondary Pattern, made seven and won every one.

30-40 2nd Break Point  The whole world, including Isner, thought Nadal would use his favorite lefty slider to Position 8. He didn’t.  Nadal’s confidence enabled him to hit a 113mph ace right down the middle to Isner’s forehand. Isner, anticipating the serve going the other way, didn’t move as his second set point went right by him. In the Ad court Nadal mixed his first serve location more, attempting 18 first serves down the middle and winning 10 compared to only 12 out wide to his favorite lefty location, where he won eight. One of Nadal’s many strengths is to put his opponent first and get inside their head to figure out what they are anticipating, staying a step ahead with the patterns during the match.

Deuce Surprise Ace  This was clearly evident on the next point at deuce as Nadal served another pressure-packed ace – this time a gutsy second serve out wide to Isner’s forehand, who was headed the other way anticipating it going to his backhand. Isner had been trying to run around second serves all match to upgrade from a backhand to a forehand return so this was the perfect time to catch him at his own game.

Another Level Isner then missed a backhand return long off a first serve on the next point to send the set to a tie-breaker. From 15-40 Isner didn’t get a ball back in the court as Nadal took his game, both physically and mentally, to a much higher level.

2nd Serve Ace Nadal again used the surprise second serve wide to the forehand in the deuce court at 5-5 in the first set tie-breaker as Isner barely got a racquet on it and sliced a forehand return long. Another huge point where he successfully anticipated Isner’s movements and strategy. Isner held his third set point with Nadal serving at 6-7 and Nadal again surprised with a first serve to the forehand which Isner sliced back to Nadal’s forehand and Isner made a backhand error from deep in the court on the next shot. Nadal won the first set with a wicked forehand jam second serve at 9-8 that Isner could not get back over the net.

Third Break Point Nadal saved his third break point of the match at 3-3, 30-40 in the second set when he again jammed Isner’s forehand with a second serve and ended up at the net hitting a deft backhand volley winner two shots later. Nadal was only broken four times from 18 opportunities (22%) for the entire tournament while he was able to break 13 times from 35 attempts (37%).

 Andre Agassi – Summer of 1995 

1995 was the “Summer of Revenge” for Andre Agassi.

Agassi had developed an overwhelming for Boris Becker that fueled one of the greatest U.S. summer hard court runs the game has ever seen.

Agassi amassed an amazing 26-1 record winning Washington, Montreal, Cincinnati and New Haven before finally falling in the final of the US Open in New York. Agassi was put off by comments made by Becker in his Wimbledon post-match press conference following Becker’s semi-final victory over Agassi in four sets.

Agassi used the bad blood between the bitter rivals to focus like never before. In his book, Open, Agassi said he wanted to feel an “endless, all-consuming rage” and he “never wanted anything so much.” It worked. Agassi defeated Becker in the re-match in the US Open semifinals in four sets before falling to Pete Sampras in the final in four sets.

The incredible 26-match winning streak, which was the longest of his career, generated fairly similar analytics to his hard court career with a couple of interesting exceptions.

Agassi was far tougher to break than normal, saving 70% of break points which was 5% higher than his career average.

In 16 of the 27 matches he either got broken only once or not at all. In his first 20 matches (4 tournaments) of the streak he never served more double faults than aces, and it only happened twice during the US Open.

 Serving Statistics

ServingSummer of 1995 Career Hardcourt
1st Serve Percentage62%63%
1st Serve Points Won73%73%
2nd Serve Points Won54%55%
Break Points Saved70%65%
Service Points Won 65%66%
Doubles Faults 70-

 2013 London Tour Finals: Stanislas Wawrinka def. David Ferrer 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-1 

Stanislas Wawrinka had firmly arrived at crunch time.

The match against David Ferrer was slipping through his fingers and along with it any chance to reach the semi-finals of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

Wawrinka led 5-2 in the opening set and was broken twice as he faltered to lose the set 7-3 in the tie-break. Ferrer had easily held his serve to love in the opening game of the second set and Wawrinka was down 30-40 in the following game facing break point and a formidable set and a break deficit loomed large.

You could feel the match was on the line.

Wawrinka rolled the dice and crushed his first serve out wide in the Ad court where he had previously attempted 12 serves in the opening set, made only five but won all of them. This time he delivered a 133mph ace (his seventh) to save the first break point in the crucial game. One bullet dodged. At deuce he missed his first serve out wide and then hit a routine backhand down the line straight into the net.

Wawrinka was immediately back in hot water facing his second break of the game and this time fired a 134mph ace right down the T that was called out but when he challenged the call it was shown by Hawk-Eye to have just caught a little bit of the service line. Wawrinka had previously made seven of 12 serves in the match down the T and won six of seven. Second bullet dodged with a good tactic and even better execution.

Two break points, two aces. Two demons conquered with swift, decisive blows.

These key moments marked a clear diving line in the momentum of the match as Wawrinka grew in confidence and would not face another break point in the second or third sets.

On the other hand not converting those break points clearly frustrated Ferrer as he lost his next service game after holding a game point and broke his racquet in disgust.

The match included 197 points but none carried more weight for Wawrinka than his two bold aces exactly when he needed them.

Wawrinka would end with 14 aces for the match and only two double faults and he would only lose one point (9/10) with his first serve in the third set as he steamrolled to one of his sweetest victories of the season.

You can trace the outcome of nearly all matches back to outcome of one or two points at a particularly crucial moment in time. Wawrinka answered the challenge against Ferrer with guts and precision and two timely aces were worth their weight in gold for the surging Swiss star.

 2013 Roland Garros Final: Rafael Nadal def. David Ferrer 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 

David Ferrer won more break points than anyone leading into the final.

Ferrer led the tournament with 45 service breaks but could only nail 3/12 (25%) break points compared to Nadal’s 8/16 (50%) in a cold and wet encounter that made offense difficult to produce.

Ferrer misfired on his nine unconverted break points, committing three forehand errors while Nadal raised his level with three forehand winners. The other three opportunities went begging when Ferrer put a backhand into the net, missed a backhand return and Nadal crushed a cross court backhand passing shot.

Ferrer played brilliant tennis to reach his first Grand Slam final without dropping a set but Nadal presents his toughest match-up as he has to adjust to playing a lefty and specifically modify his natural Ad court patterns to attack Nadal’s backhand in the deuce court.

Nadal on the other hand was able to play a game style that he felt most comfortable with on a court he may as well call his own as he swept to a record breaking eighth title in Paris.

 2012 Indian Wells Final: Roger Federer def. John Isner 7-6 (7), 6-3 

You never exactly know when your chances are going to come, if at all, to have a chance to beat Roger Federer in an ATP Tour final.

John Isner’s opportunity came only six minutes into the final when he held three breaks points in Federer’s second service game.

Isner went 0/3 and he would not see another break point for the entire match, losing 7-6 (7), 6-3 in cool, blustery conditions.

Isner worked his way to a 40-15 lead in Federer’s second service game when Federer netted a drop shot and then sprayed regulation forehand and backhand groundstrokes.

At 15-40 Federer bombed a first serve down the T and Isner blocked it  deep back to Federer’s backhand corner. Federer ran all the way outside the alley in the Ad court to upgrade his backhand to a forehand and went cross court deep back to Isner’s backhand.

Federer had recovered back to the singles line and Isner saw an open court down the line and pulled the trigger with his backhand – but it found the net.

On Isner’s second break point at 30-40, Federer made his first serve down the T and then hit five straight forehands standing in the Ad court to force another backhand error from Isner.

Isner’s third break at Ad Out again saw Federer making a first serve then dominate with an Ad court forehand and he quickly made his way to the net to finish with an overhead winner.

Three break points gone in a flash.

A close analysis of the three break points reveals the brilliance of Federer and how he plays the big points on his terms.

On the three break points Federer combined he hit seven forehands and an overhead. He didn’t hit a single backhand.

Isner on the other hand hit six backhands and four forehands (including returns), and all were from deep in the court and under pressure.

Federer’s determination to turn backhands into forehands is a hidden strength of his game and enables him to essentially only play half the court (Ad court) while his opponent has to respect and play the entire court.

 2012 Wimbledon Semi: Roger Federer def. Novak Djokovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 

It is uncanny how many times a player at all levels of the game loses serve after failing to convert a break point in the previous game.

It happens in juniors, it happens in college tennis and it absolutely happens on the pro tour – even on center court at Wimbledon.

It’s all about momentum and the mind.

Roger Federer defeated Novak Djokovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 to advance to his eighth Wimbledon final yesterday after coming out on the positive side of one of these situations late in the third set that could have easily seen his chances of winning slip away in a heartbeat. Federer was the better player for most of their first ever grass court encounter as Djokovic seemed to lack his usual mojo and positive body language that made him the most dominant player in the game for almost two years.

Federer ran away with the first set after breaking Djokovic at 3-2, but then lost the second set after dropping his opening service game at 0-1 and wasn’t able to see a break point on Djokovic’s serve for the rest of the set. The third set rolled along on serve until 4-4 and then what would prove to be the biggest point of the match rumbled out of nowhere like a tornado in the middle of the night.

Federer was serving at 30-15 and rifled a first serve down the T to Djokovic’s forehand that was blocked back short in the Ad court service box. Federer ran up to it quickly to take the approach shot as a forehand and had 20 options to hit a winner – and somehow chose the only wrong one. He outsmarted himself and hit a risky drop shot that Djokovic easily ran down and hit for backhand crosscourt passing shot winner.

What should have been 40-15 was now 30-30. What should have been cruise control was now damage control. Federer had the advantage on the 30-30 point, hitting four consecutive forehands but leaked the last one wide through the Ad court to give Djokovic a look at his only break point for the entire set. The break point at 4-4, 30-40 was a gift from nowhere and if Djokovic converted it he would then serve for a two-sets to one lead.

This was Djokovic’s one shot to make it rain – ironically under a closed roof.

Federer hit a 120mph first serve down the T to Djokovic’s forehand in the Ad court and the break, and quite possibly the match, was on Djokovic’s strings. But instead of ripping the return deep as is his modus operandi on big points, he pushed it meekly down the middle of the court with backspin and it floated gently past the baseline with all the venom of a butterfly.

It was very out of character for Djokovic to play such a big point in that way. He may have been surprised by the serve direction or had the wrong grip – but whatever the reason the error was about as passive as it could be given the enormity of the situation.

Federer attacked the forehand return again at deuce with a slider out wide in the Ad court that Djokovic could not catch up to – making the error down the line in the alley. Federer made another first serve out wide in the Ad court that forced a backhand return error and before you could say back-to-back titles, Federer was now leading 5-4 instead of Djokovic.

Federer said in his post-match interview that he thought the match could have easily slipped away from him in the third set. “I thought I missed my chance early on in the third I might pay for it dearly,” Federer said. “Almost did towards the end of the third set when he had breakpoint.” “Now looking back, that was obviously the key to the match.”

By failing to convert the break point, Djokovic had the wind taken out of his sails. He was on the verge of holding all the control, but came away from the opportunity deflated after being so close but not converting. The powerfully invisible force of momentum was so close but now so far.

Federer on the other hand felt liked he dodged a bullet – one he probably could have heard as it whizzed by so close to head. One point, one shot, one opportunity had dramatically changed the landscape and the heart rate of the match. Federer was energized by the close call and started the next game with a backhand and then a forehand winner. Barely a couple of minutes ago he was fighting for his life. Now he was the aggressor drawing blood at will. Serving at 30-40, Djokovic’s passiveness was obvious, letting Federer control the baseline rally with seven forehands and two backhands before Federer finally approached to the backhand to put the third set out of its misery.

Djokovic hit a backhand passing shot then a desperate backhand lob that Federer easily smashed away for a two-sets to one lead. Just like drop shots, lobs should be avoided like the plague when the stakes are so high. These specialty shots are great to hit when there is no scoreboard pressure, but break down all too often when the lights shine their brightest on the biggest stage in the world.

At 2.44pm on yet another rainy Wimbledon afternoon Djokovic failed to seize his opportunity to break Federer and serve for a two-sets to one lead. Six minutes and thirty five seconds later it was Federer who took a choke hold on the match by breaking Djokovic to win the third set. Momentum is a fascinating force that dramatically increases for the player that escapes the tight situations and punishes the player for not seizing it in the brief moments that it becomes available.

 2013 Miami 3rd Rd: Janko Tipsarevic def. Kevin Anderson 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-0 

All points in tennis are not created equal.

Some are necessary building blocks to reach a final outcome and some actually decide it. The biggest point of a match may come early or late in the contest but once it arrives you feel the increased importance and weight of the moment. One point, one moment, one shot – one opportunity.

For Kevin Anderson, the biggest points of his third round match at the Sony Open in Miami came in the middle of the second set when he was looking to put the final nail in the coffin of Janko Tipsaravic’s title hopes. The scoreboard shows Tipsarevic won but what it doesn’t show is Anderson had the match on his racquet around the middle of the second set. Tipsaravic was serving at 2-3 15-30 in the second set and leaped high in the air to hit a forehand approach shot that landed wide in the alley to present Anderson with two break points.

You may as well call them two match points.

At 15-40 Anderson got a look at a second serve and instead of running around the body serve and crushing a forehand he settled for a backhand return. On his fourth backhand of the rally he failed to get his feet organized and fell while hitting, pulling the ball wide of the alley.

At 30-40 Tipsarevic again missed his first serve and Anderson was presented with a middle forehand ball to crush standing right on the baseline. The match was on his racquet but he rallied back down the middle instead of finishing to either side. Tipsarevic would win the point with an overhead after pushing Anderson back with depth.

At deuce Anderson got another second serve and again had a couple of forehands that deserved to be punished but he did not pull the trigger. Instead he opted to end the point with a backhand dropshot standing on the baseline in the Ad court that went into the net. What should have been a runaround forehand winner turned into a deflating random error.

Anderson would have another break point but would miss a backhand return long.

The game had five deuces and Anderson had Tipsarevic at a true breaking point. On the last deuce point Tipsarevic served an ace down the middle but was so out of sorts he slammed a ball out of the stadium when the ball boy offered it for the next point. You don’t usually see a ball put into orbit from a player who just won the point. Anderson’s second golden opportunity to take the match came in the second set tiebreaker when he ran around a second serve and crushed a forehand down the line and finished the next shot at the net to take a 4-2 lead. This is how he needs to conduct the majority of his business. At 5-5 in the tie-breaker he stepped up to the baseline for a short forehand and missed it wide.  He then followed it up with a double fault to gift the second set. Anderson would only win 11 points in the third set.

 2012 Shanghai Final: Novak Djokovic def. Andy Murray 5-7, 7-6 (11), 6-3 

Momentum is an invisible force that can snatch victory right out of your hands without you even knowing it.

Andy Murray held it – indeed he held five match points – but ultimately lost to  Novak Djokovic. Murray served for the match leading 5-4 in the second set and led 30-0 when Djokovic finally found his mojo with a brassy tweener and a deft dropshot that brought a broad smile to his face and delivered the positive energy required to fight his way back from the very edge of defeat.

The crowd erupted after the most spectacular point of the match and Djokovic fed off their enthusiasm to repel the first match point two points later at 40-30 with a forehand winner through the deuce court after an aggressive backhand return that opened up the hole.Djokovic had been battling himself as much as his opponent up to this point of the match and hitting the tweener and subsequently winning the energy-charged point changed his attitude and allowed him to play more freely and aggressively.

Murray will also look back to that point as an opportunity missed as he failed to follow his successful lob to the net – a regulation strategy at all levels of the game. Murray would then hold four match points in a thrilling tie-break at 6-4, 6-5, 8-7 and 10-9 but could not deliver the final blow to his charging opponent. Murray barely missed a forehand winner at 11-11 and Djokovic made his first serve out wide at 12-11 and followed it in for a forehand topspin volley winner then jumped in the air pumping his fists at squaring the match at a set all.

It may have looked even on the scoreboard but Djokovic had taken a stranglehold on the match and would break twice late in the final set to win his seventh Masters title of the year. Murray’s agonizing loss comes on the heels of failing to convert two match points against Milos Raonic in the semi-finals of the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships the week before.

Go Do This

Expect the server to play bigger / bolder down a break point.

Heighten everything you do when these big points roll around. 

All the other points are a dress rehearsal to find the primary patterns to run on these points. 

Men – You will break serve around 20% of the time. Got to maximize these rare opportunities.

Women – you will almost double the guys around 36% on average. Break often and hold to consolidate the break.

Play to win. Don’t expect the point to be handed to you. Got to go and grab these very important points.