Pete Sampras, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are the only three players that average winning more than 40 per cent of their matches after dropping the first set in a best-of-three-set match.
An Infosys ATP Insights deep dive into how players climb the mountain of winning matches after losing set one initially uncovers that no player wins more matches than they lose after stumbling in the opening set. The data set of 42,909 matches includes players that competed in a minimum of 100 ATP Tour matches in their career since 1991, which is when statistics in tennis were first recorded. The data set also excludes retirements and defaults.
The 241 players in the data set averaged coming back to win the match 21.7 per cent of the time (9301/42,909), making it approximately a one in five chance. Tennis is a sport that rewards getting ahead, whether it’s with points, games or sets. Playing from ahead activates the scoreboard as a potential opponent, oftentimes increasing pressure for the player trailing in the match.
The match win percentages of the three players to break through the 40 per cent threshold are:
1. Pete Sampras = 41.33% (62/150)
2. Novak Djokovic = 41.30% (76/184)
3. Roger Federer = 40.17% (92/229)
Within the data set, Sampras won 62 times after dropping the first set, including the following four finals:
•1994 Miami def. Andre Agassi 5-7, 6-3, 6-3
•1997 Philadephia def. Patrick Rafter 5-7, 7-6, 6-3
•1998 Atlanta def. Jason Stoltenberg 6-7, 6-3, 7-6
•1999 Queen’s Club def. Tim Henman 6-7, 6-4, 7-6
Djokovic has come back to win 76 matches after losing the opening set, including 42 times in an ATP Masters 1000 event, with the most being 12 in Rome at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. He’s twice won the championship match in Rome after dropping the opening set.
•2008 Rome: Djokovic def. Stan Wawrinka 4-6, 6-3, 6-3
•2014 Rome: Djokovic def. Rafael Nadal 4-6, 6-3, 6-3
Federer has won 92 best-of-three-set matches, including nine finals and 16 semi-finals, after dropping the opening set. He has come back to defeat both Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin del Potro four times each after dropping the first set throughout his career.
The other eight players in the data set who managed to push their win percentage to north of two wins out of three attempts (>33.3%) are:
•Lleyton Hewitt = 39.6%
•Rafael Nadal = 39.1%
•Andy Murray = 38.7%
•Kei Nishikori = 35.9%
•Stefan Edberg = 35.6%
•Boris Becker = 35.0%
•Michael Stich = 34.6%
•Jo-Wilfried Tsonga = 33.7%
Losing the first set gives you about a 20 per cent chance of victory. The best competitors in the game can double that ratio to around 40 per cent, but nobody has been able to push it up to a break-even record of 50 per cent. There is a lot to be said for a solid warm-up and being the first to break serve.