There has been a paradigm shift in the game of tennis today in terms of athleticism, skills and technique. Now, players have become shrewder, talented and seize every opportunity to ‘call the shots’. In the ATP Circuit, each player has their own approach in tackling different opponents. They come up with their own game plan and try to apply it on court, hunting opportunities to capitalise and get the better off the opponent. One such approach is a strong defence. A good return of serve has the power to put the opponent off balance. Players now have a unique touch to their returns. Upper body rotation by Wawrinka, half volley approach by Dustin Brown, pre movement of the body by Murray, squash shot or even SABR by Roger Federer. Here we have a look at the top 5 ATP returners in the tennis circuit today, with full analysis.
With a tenacious presence on court, Rafa’s return of serves adds a lot more to the pressure. He stands deep behind the baseline and blasts returns with heavy topspin. He is extremely flexible and has good reach on both sides of the court. Standing way behind the baseline, the Spaniard is one of the devastating ATP returners in the game today.
4. Diego Schwartzman
At 1.7 m, Schwartzman, is one of the shortest players on the tour. However, this hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the stand out youngsters this year. With over 56% win rate on second serves, the Argentine leads this year’s leader board on return games. He also has high break point conversion rate. Schwartzman stands fourth on our list.
3. ROGER FEDERER
Be it the squash shot or the half volley, Federer is the lone ranger in coming up with variations in his shots and adding grace and poise to it. The recent addition to the already existing variations in returns is SABR. This new maneuver called Sneak Attack By Roger is a new way to finish a point early, leaving the server perplexed and frustrated at the same time. It is played by moving way inside the court with an attempt to a half volley on the second serve. Chip and Charge and its done! What puts him at no. 3 is the varied technique and exemplary execution of his game plan to pin down the opponent.
2. NOVAK DJOKOVIC
There is nothing better a server can do against the mighty Novak Djokovic. The Serbian not only returns the serves with a lot of power and gusto but also with impeccable accuracy and immaculate placement. He has won over 24000 points in his career on service returns (that accounts to about 40%). He has won crucial matches in the past wherein the returns made all the difference. The famous semi-final of US Open 2011 against Federer is still remembered by tennis aficionados, and is a perfect example of complete turnaround in a match. Federer was up 5-3 in the 5th set. The scoreboard flashed 40-15, match point for Federer and anyone could have placed their bets on him. Djokovic then played some sensational tennis, firing extraordinary returns and destroying the hopes of Federer who beautifully built up the game till then. He played some exceptional return games in the Australian Open finals 2015 as well which speaks volumes about his consistency. His break point conversion is as high as 45%.
Sometimes defence makes all the difference. Andy Murray has the finest return in the circuit helping him to dominate over the best servers in the game. He has over 40% points won on returns. Let’s have a look at what makes him one of the best ATP returners.
Murray has an uncanny talent of reading where the ball is to land on the court, with utmost accuracy. He studies the ball toss and figures out the spin, length and speed of it. He makes subtle changes to his court positions and tactics accordingly.
Pre-movement is essential to hit a good return. It gives momentum and the much required rhythm. Otherwise, if the lower body is unprepared, it directly affects the quality of return.
Murray moves forward while preparing to return and his body is inclined at an angle towards the court, which maintains his body balance. This is started with a hop during which he reads the ball toss and determines the direction, it is then followed by a split step. His racquet comes from below the head level and his follow through is such as to make the swing compact.
Murray has a consistent return, even against top servers. Sometimes, he simply manages to get the racquet to the ball, just enough to land it inside the court by absorbing the pace of the ball. This does the job of neutralising the effect of an extremely good serve and furthermore, dismantling it by dictating the points. It is very effective against players like Ivo Karlovic, John Isner, Kevin Anderson, Jerzy Janowicz and Nick Kyrgios, against whom he has a positive head to head (6-0,5-0,5-2,3-1,4-0 respectively).
He has tremendous reach on both sides of the court thanks to his nimble feet and dynamic flexibility. His figures for both backhand and forehand returns is exemplary. He is also very effective on returning second serves. He remains aggressive and takes a huge step inside the court to take the ball early and adding pressure on the server.
His presence of mind, craftiness, display of acute mental discernment makes him better than the rest in our top 5 ATP returners.