Small means Strong!
Lately, four rather “small” players have been doing great results on the ATP tour. David Goffin (180 centimetres) won two tournaments in a row (Shenzhen 250 & Tokyo 500). Adrian Mannarino (180 centimetres) reached the final in Tokyo 500 and the quarter in Montreal 1000. Damir Dzumhur (175 centimetres) reached the final in Winston-Salem 250, won his first title in St. Petersburg 250 and reached another semi-final in Shenzhen. Eventually, Diego Schwartzman (170 centimetres) reached the quarter in the US Open & Montreal 1000 and the semi-final in Tokyo 500. All these players have their best ranking at the moment, they are all ranked in the top 40.
Tennis Profiler wanted to know more about these four players: where do they make the difference against the rivals, what are their strengths & weaknesses, what are their best combos? Thanks to its own database, Tennis Profiler gathered 14’583 points of these four players and will offer you a complete stats analysis.
N°1: THE BACKHAND
When compared with their rivals, the “Smalls” takes their biggest edge with their backhand. They make on average 40% more points and 20% less errors than them. For instance, if the opponent makes 10 points and 10 mistakes in a match with the backhand the “Smalls” will make 14 points for only 8 errors.
The “Smalls” take an edge with the backhand cross and down the line almost in an identical way. It goes the same in the short (between 3 & 4 shots), medium (between 5 & 8 shots) and long rallies (over 8 shots). Their domination with the backhand is complete!
Being smaller than average gives an edge with the backhand because the centre of gravity is lower and that helps to get a better balance. All the players analysed for this study are really confortable taking the ball on the rise close to the baseline in tempo. They can easily absorb or generate pace from this position.
•Small players have also a big advantage with their backhand because of the footwork. Being faster than average allows them to cut the angle off and easily take the ball on the rise. This kind of game pattern is essential to get good results attacking with the backhand. The fast players also follow more often the backhand to the net which increases their ratio of points.
PLAYERS BACKHAND RESULTS
The player in that study that takes the biggest edge against the rivals with the backhand is Diego Schwartzman. Playing close to the baseline with a low centre of gravity, the Argentinian puts so much pace with the backhand cross that his opponents make on average 70% more errors (forced or unforced) with their backhand than usual. It has to be said that Schwartzman also uses the forehand down the line & inside out to wear the rivals’ backhand down and that helps him to get a better result in the backhand comparison. So for Schwartzman, what explains the backhand performance above average is the constant pressure he puts on the rivals‘ backhand until they crack.
The second best backhand result is Adrian Mannarino. Being capable of attacking or counterpunching with the backhand close to the baseline, the lefty gets a double advantage against the rivals by making more points and less errors than them. His effective game plan with the backhand is the following: 80% of the time, he plays the backhand cross with pace and that gives him a high ratio of points & errors. Then, 20% of the time he changes the direction and play down the line to surprise the rivals. He knows perfectly what he has to do in every kind of situation with this shot. So for Mannarino, what explains the backhand performance above average is a clever game plan and a perfect execution of it.
Among the “Smalls”, David Goffin takes the third position with the backhand. The Belgium gets a big edge with this shot against his rivals because he makes on average 80% more points than them for the same ratio of errors. Being so quick around the court, Goffin takes a great deal of backhand on the rise. He also uses the backhand approach in a very effective way, especially on his first shot after the serve. So for Goffin, what explains the backhand performance above average is the constant attacks taking the ball on the rise.
Damir Dzumhur is the player who gets the smallest edge with the backhand against the rivals but he still takes an advantage by making more points than them. Moving so fast around the court, his specialty is the backhand down the line approach. To make that shot, he cuts the angle off and takes the ball on the rise. He makes on average almost 5 times more points with the backhand down the line than the backhand cross. So for Dzumhur, what explains the backhand performance above average is the backhand down the line approach.
N°2 THE FOREHAND
When compared with their rivals, the “Smalls” takes their second biggest edge with their forehand. They make on average the same amount of points but 20% less mistakes. For instance, if the opponent makes 20 points and 20 mistakes in a match with the forehand the “Smalls” will make 20 points for only 16 errors.
The “Smalls” are effective with the forehand in every direction (down the line, cross, inside out & inside in) but surprisingly this is more in the short & medium rallies (between 3 & 8 shots) that they dominate their rivals.
The biggest edge in being small with the forehand is the footwork. Being all the time well-placed, this allows them to make less mistakes than average but also to retrieve much more balls and force the rivals to overplay. That explains why the “Smalls” get an edge mainly by making less errors than the rivals.
The amount of points made with the forehand depends more on the technique than being small, medium or tall. The four players analysed in that study get different ratio of points (low, medium & high) but all together they get results in the average.
PLAYERS FOREHAND RESULTS
The player in that study that takes the biggest edge against the rivals with the forehand is David Goffin. This advantage is mainly taken because the Belgium makes on average 30% less errors than his rivals (for the same amount of points). His good technique gives him a ratio of points in the average and his quick footwork allows him to miss less forehand and to retrieve more balls in (which increases the number of errors of the rivals). So for Goffin, what explains the forehand performance above average is a good technique and excellent movements around the court.
The second best forehand result is Diego Schwartzman. The Argentinian manages to get more points and make less mistakes with the forehand than the rivals. He has this double advantage of hitting strong, winning points and also wearing the rivals down on their forehand. However, in his case I wouldn’t say that the forehand technique is a real element explaining such results (in terms of the number of points made). For me, Schwartzman is a powerful & compact player that is capable of generating pace on every forehand. His low centre of gravity also helps him to take the balls close to the baseline often on the rise. So for Schwartzman, what explains the forehand performance above average is the steadiness close to the baseline and power.
Among the “Smalls”, Adrian Mannarino takes the third position with the forehand. In his case, this edge is taken because he makes less mistakes for the same amount of points than the rivals. His special forehand technique (with very a short take back) helps him strongly to be very solid in the return games where counterpunching is essential. Otherwise, he still manages to get points with the forehand by taking the ball on the rise but he needs pace for that. So for Mannarino, what explains the forehand performance above average is the counterpunching skills and taking the ball on the rise in the tempo rallies.
Once again, Damir Dzumhur is the player who gets the smallest edge with the forehand against the rivals. In the end, he ties with the opponents with this shot. It means that he takes an edge by being more solid but is dominated with the number of points. Footwork & defensive skills gives him that solidity but his forehand technique doesn’t allow him to make more points than that. So for Dzumhur, the forehand is not really the shot with which he makes the difference with the rivals in a match.
N°3: THE RETURN
When compared with their rivals, the third edge of the “Smalls” is taken with the return. They make on average the same amount of points but 30% less mistakes. For instance, if the opponent makes 10 points and 10 mistakes in a match with the forehand the “Smalls” will make 10 points for 7 errors.
Globally, the “Smalls” get a first (32%) & second (53%) serve return points won above the general average of the ATP players. They don’t have any weaker area when receiving first & second serve.
As already seen with the backhand & the forehand, one of the element that helps the “Smalls” in having an effective return is this capacity to take the ball on the rise close to the baseline. This lower centre of gravity make them most of the time well-settled on the floor when hitting the return of serve. As a consequence, the returns have more depths & power.
Then, from the back of the court, the key elements explaining why the “Smalls” get a first & second serve return points won above average is the footwork. Being so quick around the court, their defensive, retrieving & counterpunching skills are above average.
PLAYERS RETURN RESULTS
The player in that study that takes the biggest edge against the rivals with the return is Adrian Mannarino. As we saw previously the Frenchman is capable of counterpunching or taking the ball on the rise and these two aspects helps him strongly to get a high ratio of points with the return. As a consequence, the first & second serve won points are above average. So for Mannarino, what explains the return performance above average is mainly an excellent counterpunching & tempo technique (short take back + good stance).
All the other “Smalls” take an edge with the return against their rivals because they make less errors with that shot than them. As we saw previously, they are all confortable playing close to the baseline in timing and this helps hem to get a low ratio of errors with the return. However, Dzumhur often prefers to stand far away from the baseline in order to put back in play as many balls as possible. So for them, what explains the return performance above average is their retrieving skills with the return and then from the back of the court.
N°4. THE VOLLEY
When compared with their rivals, the “Smalls” tie with the volley. They make on average the same amount of points & errors than them.
However, the “Smalls” charge the net slightly more than the general average of the ATP players. Moving so well around the court, they could optimize their baseline game by coming in when they have an opportunity. They are not only solid baseliners, they developed an offensive side too.
The only player in that study that takes an edge against the rivals with the volley is Damir Dzumhur. He makes on average almost two times more points with that shot than his opponents. His favourite way to come in is with the 1-2 punch approach on the first shot after the serve or during the baseline rallies. He can charge the net with the forehand, the backhand or with a drop shot. This is totally part of his game style to be offensive and that what makes the Bosnian a player so attractive to watch. I honestly love the way he optimizes his game by being an excellent retriever, counterpuncher and off course an outstanding offensive player. He is definitely a good example to follow for a player under 180 centimetres. So for Dzumhur, what explains the volley performance above average is a clever game style optimization, quickness around the court and a good hand at the net.
N°5: THE SERVE
When compared with their rivals, the “Smalls” are dominated with the serve. They make on average 30% less aces/service winners than them for the same ratio of double faults.
Some researches proved that the first serve effectiveness is linked with the size of a player and the “Smalls” are logically penalise. However, it doesn’t mean that these players don’t make a single aces or service winner. However, they must be better than their rivals from the back of the court if they want to win the match.
PLAYERS SERVE RESULTS
The player in that study who is the least dominated with the serve is David Goffin. The Belgium goes for big on his first serve and gets a low first serve percentage (56%) but a high first serve effectiveness (39%).
Damir Dzumhur comes after and his strategy to counterbalance a very low first serve effectiveness (16%) is to return far away from the baseline. This return position allows him to put back in play more first serve than average and decreases his rivals’ first serve effectiveness.
Adrian Mannarino gets a first serve effectiveness just below average (30%) but by standing close to the baseline when he returns, he receives more service winners from his opponents than average.
Diego Schwartzman is the most dominated with the serve. Being only 170 centimetres tall, the rivals make on average two times more aces/service winners than him. However, lately the Argentinian has improved his first serve quality and this is one of the elements explaining why he gets really good results in the last months.
As we could see, the “Smalls” are more effective than average from the back of the court with the backhand & the forehand. However, they are dominated mainly with the serve.
Nonetheless, what I like the most about the “Smalls” is the way they use their size to get an edge against the rivals. All these four players have similarities but also differences. Adrian Mannarino has a very clever way to play the backhand directions, David Goffin uses his speed around the court to get an advantage with the forehand & backhand, Diego Schwartzman developed a game close to the baseline to muscle things up and Damir Dzumhur charges the net to give variation to his counterpunching game style.
Small means Strong if you are capable of optimizing your natural strengths! As we could see, being able to play close to the baseline and taking the ball on the rise is are key elements. However, a small player has to develop a game pattern, a strategy that belongs to him too. There are a couple of examples from the “Smalls” here that could be useful for them. But it’s also up to them to find other ways to be effective! In a couple of weeks, I will write an article on how to optimize a small player step by step.
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