Does Kyrgios have enough return game to consistently be in the top 10?

falstaff78

Hall of Fame
EDIT: updated through end of 2016. (OP written in July 2015.)

Please see this insightful article by Jeff Sackmann, the guy who runs Tennis Abstract. He argues that Kyrgios' return point winning percentage is currently below the minimum viable amount to have a sustained period in the top 10.

http://www.tennisabstract.com/blog/2015/05/31/nick-kyrgios-and-the-minimum-viable-return-game/

So how likely is it that Kyrgios might improve his return game? Do players who end up winning majors make drastic improvements to their return games after their first few seasons on tour?

The table below looks at return points for all the current top 10, and the most successful members of the ATP class of 2013.



The table tells us:
  • There is no period of adjustment when it comes to return games. In their respective first 4 seasons on tour, all active major winners won between 37% to 42% of return points. And all top-10s, except Raonic, won 36-42%
  • Kyrgios is lagging the top 10 and all his peers.
    • Over the first 4 seasons of his career, Kyrgios' return winning percentage of 34% is worse than any of his 2013 peers, and any of the current top 10, bar Raonic.
    • In his 4th year on tour, Kyrgios has the worst return numbers of any of his 2013 peers, and any of the top 10, bar Raonic
This exercise is not exhaustive evidence that Kyrgios will NOT improve his return game. But it does suggest that he is way off track.
 
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Wynter

Legend
I would say however that Kyrgios's serve far outstrips any of his rivals and out of the Top Ten may be the 3rd/4th best (Raonic, Federer, Cilic) As we can see however it made a massive leap from Year 1 and I wouldn't be surprised to see it sitting around 34-36 within 1-2 years which coincidentally is where Federer, Raonic and Cilic sit as well. Unlike Djokovic/Nadal/Nishikori etc; Kyrgios's serve is his most impressive weapon and more difficult for his opponent to break than it is for his to break his opponents with very few exceptions to that rule.
 

falstaff78

Hall of Fame
As we can see however it made a massive leap from Year 1 and I wouldn't be surprised to see it sitting around 34-36 within 1-2 years
Good point. Couple of thoughts though.

First, the 25% is only based on a sample of 4 matches. So we don't really know there was an improvement there. Second, there is no precedent in the current top 10 for an improvement from 32% to 36% or higher.

Of course that doesn't mean it can't happen - but it's going to take some doing.


Kyrgios's serve is his most impressive weapon and more difficult for his opponent to break than it is for his to break his opponents with very few exceptions to that rule.
Jeff makes the point that even if you are Karlovic, you need a return winning percentage of 36% or higher to consistently break to win sets, as opposed to rely on winning tie breaks which is not sustainable.
 

sarmpas

Hall of Fame
He's too distracted by his drama queen antics to make and remain top 10 for any period of time. 'Tram lines' in the hair and cultivating this 'baaaaad Boy' image is making him a lesser player.
 

Sysyphus

Talk Tennis Guru
Bump.

Hadn't noticed this thread before. Kudos, a very interesting stat.

I think there's a lot of truth to the fact that a huge hold-game can only take you so far, at least on a consistent basis. No one can consistently win enough matches without breaking the opponents enough.

This is probably part of the underlying reason why many think Kokkinakis will be a slightly steadier player than Kyrgios. Although I don't think we can discard the fact that Kyrgios on average has played tougher opponents than the other juniors he is compared to there. He has been pretty selective about when he comes to play, both figuratively and literally.

Would have been interesting to see comparable numbers for someone like Sampras, but I don't think they are available.

Anyways, good stuff.
 

Supertegwyn

Hall of Fame
I think there are two parts of this here:

The first is Nick's actual technical return game; I'm no analyst but I've always thought Kyrgios hits his return way too late, especially on the backhand side. He seems to take his split step too late and isn't able to deal with the serve effectively.

Secondly is just his general attitude to the game: Nick goes through stages where he just absolutely tanks games, like that infamous game against Gasquet at Wimbledon. When Kyrgios concentrates I think he is certainly capable of winning more return games, but that's a big uncertainty with his game right now.
 

tennisaddict

Bionic Poster
Stats can be deceiving.

Kyrgios is a big match player. He can get to top 10 / top 20 with great performances in 2 majors and 2 masters and flop for the rest of the year.

Stats would show he hardly broke or lost more matches. Does it matter ?
 

TennisCJC

Legend
I don't like the Nick but I think you've answered your own question. If Raonic can be top 10, so can Nick. I think Nick serves almost as big as Raonic while being potentially better off the ground. I also think Nick is athletic enough that he could improve ROS stats by 2 or 3%.
 

Chanwan

G.O.A.T.
Good point. Couple of thoughts though.

First, the 25% is only based on a sample of 4 matches. So we don't really know there was an improvement there. Second, there is no precedent in the current top 10 for an improvement from 32% to 36% or higher.

Of course that doesn't mean it can't happen - but it's going to take some doing.




Jeff makes the point that even if you are Karlovic, you need a return winning percentage of 36% or higher to consistently break to win sets, as opposed to rely on winning tie breaks which is not sustainable.
On 1), there's evidence of going from 36 on average for the first 3 years to 40 average for a career (Fed, who still these years is around 40 for his career).
I.e. 32 % to 36 % should be doable too.
On 2) the link to the article doesn't work.

One question: why not use return games won rather than RPW, which is an indicator of the former?

Nice stats though. It was Milos' return game that I saw and see as the biggest impediment for him to reach the very top. I hoped he could improve enough on it, but he's stagnated - edit: indeed, dropped down (see below) - possibly due to injuries.
 
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Chanwan

G.O.A.T.
I don't like the Nick but I think you've answered your own question. If Raonic can be top 10, so can Nick. I think Nick serves almost as big as Raonic while being potentially better off the ground. I also think Nick is athletic enough that he could improve ROS stats by 2 or 3%.
I think Nick and Raonic are in two different categories when it comes to the serve. Imo there's Karlo, Isner and Milos and then everyone else. 94 % vs. 87 %
http://www.atpworldtour.com/en/players/milos-raonic/r975/player-stats?year=2015&surfaceType=all
http://www.atpworldtour.com/en/players/nick-kyrgios/ke17/player-stats?year=2015&surfaceType=all
(Raonic's RPW is down from 34 last year to 30 this year though - resulting in a drop from 16 to 12 % in return games won)

That said, I agree that Nick should be able to better his return game enough to come near 20 % (36 % RPW) in return games won. With that, he could possibly be a Roddick like player provided he develops his hold game a notch as well.
 
V

VexlanderPrime

Guest
I think Nick and Raonic are in two different categories when it comes to the serve. Imo there's Karlo, Isner and Milos and then everyone else. 94 % vs. 87 %
http://www.atpworldtour.com/en/players/milos-raonic/r975/player-stats?year=2015&surfaceType=all
http://www.atpworldtour.com/en/players/nick-kyrgios/ke17/player-stats?year=2015&surfaceType=all
(Raonic's RPW is down from 34 last year to 30 this year though - resulting in a drop from 16 to 12 % in return games won)

That said, I agree that Nick should be able to better his return game enough to come near 20 % (36 % RPW) in return games won. With that, he could possibly be a Roddick like player provided he develops his hold game a notch as well.
^ This.

Also, while Nick could mature and see his return stats bump a bit by become mentally strong (doubt it), I just don't see him having the elite athleticism to be a great returner ala Andy/Djoker. Therefore, his margin for error is always gonna be small and dependent on strong serving. Frankly I see him as a poor man's Milos Raonic.
 

Chanwan

G.O.A.T.
^ This.

Also, while Nick could mature and see his return stats bump a bit by become mentally strong (doubt it), I just don't see him having the elite athleticism to be a great returner ala Andy/Djoker. Therefore, his margin for error is always gonna be small and dependent on strong serving. Frankly I see him as a poor man's Milos Raonic.
There's a big difference between being Andy/Djoker (ain't gonna happen) and Roddick or even Sampras like on the return. If he can get to 20+ % (same goes for Milos), he'll be pretty hard to beat on most days. If Milos can get to 20+ %, he'll be close to unbeatable with his hold game.

Verdict is still out imo, but the stats aren't looking that great for Nick right now
 
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VexlanderPrime

Guest
There's a big difference between being Andy/Djoker (ain't gonna happen) and Roddick or even Sampras like on the return. If he can get to 20+ % (same goes for Milos), he'll be pretty hard to beat on most days. If Milos can get to 20+ %, he'll be close to unbeatable with his hold game.

Verdict is still out imo, but the stats aren't looking that great for Nick right now
I'm definitely intrigued by Milos. It at least appears like he's working real hard to improve his ground and return games. Should be interesting.
 

tennisaddict

Bionic Poster
I'm definitely intrigued by Milos. It at least appears like he's working real hard to improve his ground and return games. Should be interesting.
Difference between Milos and Nick is that the former does not lose to players ranked below him. He is clutch in tie breaker and able to get the odd break after that.

Nick did not win a single match last year outside majors last year or something close to that.
 

falstaff78

Hall of Fame
I don't like the Nick but I think you've answered your own question. If Raonic can be top 10, so can Nick. I think Nick serves almost as big as Raonic while being potentially better off the ground. I also think Nick is athletic enough that he could improve ROS stats by 2 or 3%.
I think the point is that milos is top ten based on a tie break record which is untenable in the medium to long term. As it reverts to the mean raonic will regress back to a ranking worse than 10.

Hence the statement that NK will not consistently be in the top ten unless he improves his return game.
 

okdude1992

Hall of Fame
Please see this insightful article by Jeff Sackmann, the guy who runs Tennis Abstract.

http://www.tennisabstract.com/blog/2015/05/31/nick-kyrgios-and-the-minimum-viable-return-game/

He observes that in the last 12 months Kyrgios has been among the worst in the top 50 in terms of return points won, with 32%. (The only comparable player in the top 10 was Raonic, whose success last year depended on a 75% tie break winning record which is unsustainable.)

He points out that most ATP players are above 36%. There is a huge difference between 32% and 36%. If you win 32% of return points you break on average once every 8 return games - i.e. less than once a set. If you win 36% you break once every 5 return games. At 39% it's once every 4 return games, or twice as often as Kyrgios. He concludes that Kyrgios' return point winning percentage is currently below the minimum viable amount in order to have a sustained career in the top 10. Because no matter how much you win on serve, you have to break serve to win consistently. And it's virtually impossible to win more than 60% of tie breaks in the long run.

But how likely is that improvement? Do players who end up in the top 10 really make drastic improvements to their return games after the first few seasons on tour? To answer this I ran some numbers. The table below looks at return points for all the current top 10, as well all for the most promising young talent. It shows
  • the number of full ATP matches played for each of the first 4 seasons on tour
  • the % of return points won by season
  • and the average RPW% for the first 3 seasons of each players' career.


The table tells us:
  1. There doesn't seem to be a period of adjustment when it comes to return games. In their respective first seasons on tour, the current top 10 won between 33% and 41% of return points. For the first 3 seasons their averages were between 33% and 42%. Leave out Raonic and it's 36% to 42%.
  2. Kyrgios is lagging the top 10 and all his peers. Over the first 2.5 seasons of his career, Kyrgios' return winning percentage of 32% is worse than the comparable period for anyone currently in the top 10, and is also the worst of the upcoming crop of players.
Of course this exercise is not exhaustive enough to provide strong evidence that Kyrgios will NOT improve his return game, or eventually be a consistent top 10 player. But it does suggest that he is currently way off track and substantial improvements are required or it's only a matter of time before he's a lost boy too.
Really great to see the stats to back up our opinions. Thanks for this excellent thread
 

racquetreligion

Hall of Fame
always said NKs needs to improve his returns since he burst onto the scene
however this is also an area that is part of the character, he is explosive and
doubt he will improve here. NK has tried to improve by holding back but it
ends up with balls hardly making it to the bottom of the net.
 

Sysyphus

Talk Tennis Guru
updated through the end of 2016
He's coming along, I guess.

Is he getting his numbers (both return and serve) up to the point where he can contend for a slam? Dangerous at Wimbledon this summer? Still lagging 0.9% behind Raobot on RPW over the last 52 weeks, which I suppose isn't the best sign.
 

SinjinCooper

Hall of Fame
Many of the top-ish guys on the list have their numbers artificially inflated because they're such successful clay courters. You can be a really excellent, perennial top ten pro without many deep runs during the spring on the dirt -- and if you do, you're probably in a boat more like Milos up there: you're doing it with the serve on the courts that don't demand clay specialization and footwork, and don't reward the return game like clay.

Return numbers over the course of a season or a career are almost always put into the context of, "how good is this guy's return game?" That's not really what they tell us. They mostly tell us who's good on clay.

Tennis Abstract blows a lot of simple things like this. The Church of Oversimplification.
 

thebigz

Rookie
I would say however that Kyrgios's serve far outstrips any of his rivals and out of the Top Ten may be the 3rd/4th best (Raonic, Federer, Cilic) As we can see however it made a massive leap from Year 1 and I wouldn't be surprised to see it sitting around 34-36 within 1-2 years which coincidentally is where Federer, Raonic and Cilic sit as well. Unlike Djokovic/Nadal/Nishikori etc; Kyrgios's serve is his most impressive weapon and more difficult for his opponent to break than it is for his to break his opponents with very few exceptions to that rule.
  1. His serve is better than Cilic's for sure…… Can paint lines way more consistently. And I will argue his first serve is more lethal than Raonic's too, Raonic win on Second serve probably.
 

Roddick85

Hall of Fame
If Raonic's return game can allow him to sneak his way into a top 3 position last year, then just about anyone's return game can qualify I'm afraid. So Kyrgios certainly qualifies.
 

rockbox

Semi-Pro
I don't watch a lot of Kyrgios matches but from what I've seen, his returns are quite good. I think his biggest weakness is that he gets impatient and loses concentration which make his strokes break down. He just isn't able to grind out points.
 

falstaff78

Hall of Fame
Many of the top-ish guys on the list have their numbers artificially inflated because they're such successful clay courters.
See table below which disaggregates return numbers from first 4 years on tour, by surface. Included in the table are the current top 10, and Kyrgios' peers from the class of 2013.

1) Kyrgios played exactly the average number of matches on clay. Only Wawrinka, Thiem and Nadal were substantially higher than the average.
2) He is comfortably near the bottom on each surface.





Tennis Abstract blows a lot of simple things like this. The Church of Oversimplification.
with all due respect this is a very silly statement. tennis abstract is merely a tool to represent data. the person using the tool decides what to look for, not the tool itself.
 
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