Rafael Nadal Novak Djokovic

Expert identifies key stat Djokovic (and everyone else) must dominate if he’s to beat Nadal in Monte Carlo

Rafa Nadal is is the King of Clay mainly because of his dominance in Paris at the French Open, but he’s been equally as dominant in the French principality of Monte Carlo at the Masters. So how could Novak Djokovic, or indeed any other challenger, topple the great Spaniard on his second favourite court?

“Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are on opposite sides of the 2021 Monte Carlo Masters draw. This makes it possible the two could meet in Sunday’s final, in what would be their fifth meeting in Monte Carlo. Previously both players have won twice with their last matchup coming in 2015. If they were to face off again, the key factor in determining the match outcome might well be the first serve.

“In previous Monte Carlo meetings the two players have been evenly matched on serve. Nadal has a slight advantage on first serves, winning 62% of first serve points compared to Djokovic’s 59%. On the second serve is where Djokovic holds an edge. He has won 49% of his second serve points in the previous 4 meetings, compared to Nadal’s 44% percent. The key difference is that Nadal has played better on break points, saving 56% of break points faced, 8% more than Djokovic.

“Which of these 3 tennis metrics will be the most important in determining the outcome of Sunday’s potential meeting? It is often stated that the best players play the big points better. But in 2 of their 4 previous Monte Carlo meetings, the winner has saved a lower percentage of break points faced on serve. This is because one also needs to consider the amount of break points faced on serve. If you face a lot more break points on serve than your opponent, it will not matter much if you are more clinical when you get a chance on their serve. Overall you will still get broken more often.

“Break point chances on serve will be limited by being more effective behind the first and second serve. The first serve especially might hold the key to determining whether Djokovic or Nadal comes out on top. In each of their previous encounters in Monte Carlo the winner has won more points behind their first serve.

“If Djokovic wishes to topple Nadal in the Monte Carlo Masters, he will need to be more effective behind his first serve. Should he be able to do this, he has every chance of beating the King of Clay.”

Luka Elliott has a B Com in Economics & Statistics from the University of Cape Town where his thesis was titled “Engineering Features for Tennis Match Outcome Prediction in a Statistical Learning Framework”. He now writes for Tennishead focussing on how statistics effect the outcome of ATP matches