The 2019 TTW Awards- Best Return

Best Return?


  • Total voters
    67
  • Poll closed .

papertank

Hall of Fame
According to ATP tour stats it's Nadal followed by Djokovic, then a huge gap, followed by Schwartzman and Medvedev.
 

Gary Duane

G.O.A.T.
Nadal and Djokovic are about even on HC. You have to go by surface. That means that Nadal, who definitely has the weaker service return, is otherwise the best returner, though this year he is close. The two factors cancel each other.

Fed at age 38 is almost neck and neck with Djokovic for points one against 1st serve, returning, and since he can't keep up with Novak in long points that probably means he has the best return in the game when only considering the first shot.
 

daggerman

New User
Nadal and Djokovic are about even on HC. You have to go by surface. That means that Nadal, who definitely has the weaker service return, is otherwise the best returner, though this year he is close. The two factors cancel each other.

Fed at age 38 is almost neck and neck with Djokovic for points one against 1st serve, returning, and since he can't keep up with Novak in long points that probably means he has the best return in the game when only considering the first shot.
Fed's backhand slice return is SO hard to attack. Might be my favorite shot in all of tennis.
 

MichaelNadal

Bionic Poster
So as a single shot then? Gotta be Djokovic then, as much as I'd have liked to vote Nadal
Nadal's is right there too though. I think this legend of him having a "return game" but not a great return itself is overrated. You won't get a chance to play the rally if the first shot isn't good, and Nadal doesn't get enough credit for that :)
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
Nadal's is right there too though. I think this legend of him having a "return game" but not a great return itself is overrated. You won't get a chance to play the rally if the first shot isn't good, and Nadal doesn't get enough credit for that :)
He neutralises well, but he also gets aced a lot, and because of his positioning is rarely able to consistently go on the offence off puffier second serves, so as a single shot for the purposes of this poll it works against his favour.
 

Gary Duane

G.O.A.T.
Fed's backhand slice return is SO hard to attack. Might be my favorite shot in all of tennis.
For me as an observer it is the most frustrating backhand in tennis because he picks and probes and teases. There are other people with a good slice, but he will suddenly come over it at any moment so the moment someone tries to attack he goes from defense to aggressive passer.

I think his one, huge defensive weakness is a career disdain for hanging in there for long, grinding points. You can almost see him get impatient and try to finish points. I believe that's a problem he's had all his career and was most noticeable on clay, and that's probably why he is so much farther down the list for winning 2nd return points.
 
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Bender

G.O.A.T.
For me as an observer it is the most frustrating backhand in tennis because he picks and probes and teases. There are other people with a good slice, but he will suddenly come over it at any moment so the moment someone tries to attack he goes from defense to aggressive passer.

I think his one, huge defensive weakness is a career disdain for hanging in there for long, grinding points. You can almost see him get impatient and try to finish points. I believe that's a problem he's had all his career and was most noticeable on clay, and that's probably why he is so much farther down the list for winning 2nd return points.
??? I think you may have quoted the wrong person?
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
Looks like an extra quote got in there. I don't know how, but I removed it...
That's fine, because I actually wanted to say something about your comment below:
I think his one, huge defensive weakness is a career disdain for hanging in there for long, grinding points. You can almost see him get impatient and try to finish points. I believe that's a problem he's had all his career and was most noticeable on clay, and that's probably why he is so much farther down the list for winning 2nd return points.
That's an interesting way of putting it, because usually the argument that often is made here is that everyone else (most notoriously Murray) is chicken and retreats back behind the baseline instead of coming to net to try finish off the point.

I guess that's as valid a way as looking at it as any--at least to the extent that an opinion can be valid--but Murray unlike the other three does not possess the ludicrous racquet head acceleration on his forehand side to scoop a ball off his shoelaces for topspin winners like the other three (especially Nadal) can. That said, Fed's kinda lost the ability ever since he switched to a full-on eastern grip, and Djokovic is still prone to rolling it over, so both of them (at least as far as the eye test goes) seem to get burned when they're forced forwards more often than when Nadal's forced forward.

So Murray kinda rolling it over and retreating back is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the alternative is to be impatient and get burned.
 

Gary Duane

G.O.A.T.
That's fine, because I actually wanted to say something about your comment below:

That's an interesting way of putting it, because usually the argument that often is made here is that everyone else (most notoriously Murray) is chicken and retreats back behind the baseline instead of coming to net to try finish off the point.

I guess that's as valid a way as looking at it as any--at least to the extent that an opinion can be valid--but Murray unlike the other three does not possess the ludicrous racquet head acceleration on his forehand side to scoop a ball off his shoelaces for topspin winners like the other three (especially Nadal) can. That said, Fed's kinda lost the ability ever since he switched to a full-on eastern grip, and Djokovic is still prone to rolling it over, so both of them (at least as far as the eye test goes) seem to get burned when they're forced forwards more often than when Nadal's forced forward.

So Murray kinda rolling it over and retreating back is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the alternative is to be impatient and get burned.
The bottom line is that if you look at return stats, there are Djokovic and Murray near the top off clay. So the only argument against them doing exactly the right thing to win is that with Murray you could argue that he did not always get as far in events, because getting to finals actually pulls down return stats - and for that matter service game starts. That's the irony of winning everything. It's sort of like looking at games won among the Big 3. It's pretty close to 50% of games and 50% of points when you compare them, one reason I think both games and points would be lower for the touring pros of the 50s and 60s.

This MAY (I have no proof) inflate the serve stats to some extent of someone like Karlovic. But there is an interesting counter-effect, since games are higher in majors than in M500s in early rounds, so who knows?

But in general I think we can accept that in terms of wearing other players down on return, Murray and Djokovic are the best in the business, with Nadal of course best on clay.

Yet we know Fed is fantastic at getting the first shot back, and if we assume that he may have the best return in tennis off the 1st serve, isn't it likely that his stats for 1st serve points won would be even higher if he did better in winning long rallies? The moment a point gets to more than a few strokes I always expect Fed to dump the next shot into the net or drive it over the baseline. That that means to me is that one things get to neutral, Fed is at a disadvantage against the very best grinders because he either knows he can't grind as well OR he doesn't have the mindset to do it.

The service game lends itself to never letting a point get to neutral, whereas Djokovic and Murray made a career out of getting return points to neutral and then outlasting everyone, with Nadal doing it even more on clay.

It seems to me that if you know that in any rally, no matter how long it goes on, you have a better than 50/50 chance of winning it, that's going to be about half the battle on return. However, the other half is getting that first ball back with enough pace, spin and placement to force the rally to neutral in the first place.

That's where I think Rafa gets hurt. He knows once it's neutral, he has a better chance of winning the point than any other player, and I believe that is true on fast surfaces too. But on fast surfaces that first return leaves him so much more vulnerable, assuming of course that he even has a decent play on the ball when he's standing on the North or South pole.
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
The bottom line is that if you look at return stats, there are Djokovic and Murray near the top off clay. So the only argument against them doing exactly the right thing to win is that with Murray you could argue that he did not always get as far in events, because getting to finals actually pulls down return stats - and for that matter service game starts. That's the irony of winning everything. It's sort of like looking at games won among the Big 3. It's pretty close to 50% of games and 50% of points when you compare them, one reason I think both games and points would be lower for the touring pros of the 50s and 60s.

This MAY (I have no proof) inflate the serve stats to some extent of someone like Karlovic. But there is an interesting counter-effect, since games are higher in majors than in M500s in early rounds, so who knows?

But in general I think we can accept that in terms of wearing other players down on return, Murray and Djokovic are the best in the business, with Nadal of course best on clay.

Yet we know Fed is fantastic at getting the first shot back, and if we assume that he may have the best return in tennis off the 1st serve, isn't it likely that his stats for 1st serve points won would be even higher if he did better in winning long rallies? The moment a point gets to more than a few strokes I always expect Fed to dump the next shot into the net or drive it over the baseline. That that means to me is that one things get to neutral, Fed is at a disadvantage against the very best grinders because he either knows he can't grind as well OR he doesn't have the mindset to do it.

The service game lends itself to never letting a point get to neutral, whereas Djokovic and Murray made a career out of getting return points to neutral and then outlasting everyone, with Nadal doing it even more on clay.

It seems to me that if you know that in any rally, no matter how long it goes on, you have a better than 50/50 chance of winning it, that's going to be about half the battle on return. However, the other half is getting that first ball back with enough pace, spin and placement to force the rally to neutral in the first place.

That's where I think Rafa gets hurt. He knows once it's neutral, he has a better chance of winning the point than any other player, and I believe that is true on fast surfaces too. But on fast surfaces that first return leaves him so much more vulnerable, assuming of course that he even has a decent play on the ball when he's standing on the North or South pole.
Informative post as always, Gary.

I should have clarified...I meant when dealing with short balls during a rally (so returns have little to nothing to do with what I was talking about). Federer / Rafa / Djokovic will all follow a short ball to the net--Murray will roll it back and retreat back behind the baseline.

It's actually quite a strange thing to watch because on average Murray probably stands far more aggressively inside the baseline for serve returns (especially on 2nds) than the other three, and yet off a short ball that most would instinctively attack and move in on, he's the only one to backpedal.
 

Gary Duane

G.O.A.T.
Informative post as always, Gary.

I should have clarified I meant when dealing with short balls during a rally (so returns have little to nothing to do with what I was talking about). Federer / Rafa / Djokovic will all follow a short ball to the net--Murray will roll it back and retreat back behind the baseline.

It's actually quite a strange thing to watch because on average Murray probably stands far more aggressively inside the baseline for serve returns (especially on 2nds) than the other three, and yet off a short ball that most would instinctively attack and move in on, he's the only one to backpedal.
That's an interesting point. Murry to me is a puzzler. I often wonder whether he might not have been a different player with a different personality and the exact same physical skills. Self-belief is a huge X factor whose role in winning just can't be measured.
 
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Bender

G.O.A.T.
That's an interesting point. Murry to me is a puzzler. I often wonder whether he might not have been a different player with a different personality and the exact same physical skills. Self-belief is a huge X factor whose role in winning just can't be measured.
To be honest I think Murray's the most technically deficient player out of the Big 4, although as far as physical potential goes he's probably tied with Nadal as having the highest ceiling. The difference is that Nadal's technical skills are pretty much perfect and he is held back by his own rather timid personality, whereas Murray has deficiencies in both his serve and forehand on top of his rather fragile mental strength.

Djokovic and in particular Federer are far more balanced in this regard and it shows in their results.
 

Red Rick

Talk Tennis Guru
Fed's physicality at his peak is highly underrated, but I think his weakness on clay is mostly how integral the slice is to his game and the slice is just all around much less effective on clay.

Fed's 1st serve return is still pretty insane, and it actually benefits from fast courts at this point in his career. The chip return is by far the weakest shot in his game and it's made his 2nd serve return game wholly dependent on winning points from a slightly less than neutral position which makes his stats plummet if he's getting outgrinded.
 

Bender

G.O.A.T.
Fed's physicality at his peak is highly underrated, but I think his weakness on clay is mostly how integral the slice is to his game and the slice is just all around much less effective on clay.

Fed's 1st serve return is still pretty insane, and it actually benefits from fast courts at this point in his career. The chip return is by far the weakest shot in his game and it's made his 2nd serve return game wholly dependent on winning points from a slightly less than neutral position which makes his stats plummet if he's getting outgrinded.
I don’t think Fed’s physicality is underrated. If anything it’s a bit overrated at least on these boards because it’s been so long since his peak years that Fed’s physicality has since become elevated to a near mythical status, and when you look back on the footage now the decline is so obvious you’re inclined to overrate it even more.

No doubt that his 2003-2007 years have been one of the greatest if not the greatest tennis we’ve seen to date though (barring the physicality of Djokovic’s 2011 and Nadal’s nigh comical domination of clay), and a lot of it certainly is due to Fed’s exceptional physicality as an athlete.

But I do get what you mean. Somehow people forget that tennis is a physical sport and dismiss physicality as a brutish thing that has no place in the sport, as if tennis is meant to be a touch-based interpretive dance as opposed to, you know, a sport.
 
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