Analysis: Comeback Kings

Not every match goes according to plan for the ATP World Tour’s best. And when it doesn’t, you will not be surprised to find out which players rise to the occasion and find a way to win regardless.

According to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, four players who have reached the top spot of the ATP Rankings, lead active players in the rate of matches won after losing the first set. Kei Nishikori, who has climbed as high as World No. 4, is fifth on the list.

The common misconception is that the best do not face adversity. Take Federer, for example — the Swiss went 92-5 in a historic 2006 season. The right-hander lost the first set nine times that year, but he came from a set down to win eight of those matches. His only loss came 12 years ago this week at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters against Rafael Nadal, who has won the tournament 10 times.

Each member of the ‘Big Four’ has won at least 100 tour-level matches after losing the first set, with them all capturing over 41 per cent of matches in which they stumbled in the opener. Nadal leads the way (42.5%), Djokovic is right behind (42.2%), with Federer (41.3%) and Murray (41.1%) rounding out the Top 4. Their next closest competitor in the category is Nishikori (37.5%), who came back from a set down Monday in Monte-Carlo to oust No. 12 seed Tomas Berdych.

There are many excellent players who have not won nine tour-level titles in their entire careers, but the ‘Big Four’ have all come from a set down at least 10 times in championship matches. Federer paces the group (15) with Djokovic (12), Murray (11) and Nadal (9) all showing their resolve under pressure. The first seven times Nadal lost the first set in a final, he went on to raise the trophy.

‘Big Four’ After Losing First Set In Tour-Level Finals

 Player  Win Rate (Record)
 Andy Murray  40.7% (11-16)
 Novak Djokovic  32.4% (12-25)
 Roger Federer  28.8% (15-37)
 Rafael Nadal  25.7% (9-26)

There has only been one player in ATP World Tour and Grand Slam championship history to win more than they lost despite dropping the first set. That champion is Rod Laver, who triumphed 50.4 per cent of the time (70-69) under the circumstances. And another name you won’t be surprised to hear is Spaniard David Ferrer, who is tied with Jimmy Connors for the most all-time victories after losing the first set (129).

Finding ways to win after a slow start has been especially important over the past year, as illustrated by Federer’s ascent to the top spot of the ATP Rankings before Nadal re-took the position two weeks ago. Federer has thrived after losing the opening set since this time last year, winning eight of those 11 matches to lead the ATP World Tour. Five of the Top 10 in the ATP Rankings are also in the Top 10 in this department.

Winning After Losing The First Set In The Past 52 Weeks

 Player  Win Rate (Record)  Player  Win Rate (Record)
 1. Roger Federer  72.7% (8-3)  6. Kevin Anderson  41.4% (12-17)
 T2. Nicolas Jarry  53.8% (7-6)  7. Juan Martin del Potro  40.9%(9-13)
 T2. Kei Nishikori  53.8%(7-6)  8. David Goffin  39.3%(11-17)
 4. Fabio Fognini  45.5% (15-18)  9. Adrian Mannarino  37.9% (11-18)
 5. Leonardo Mayer  44.4% (8-10)  10. Denis Shapovalov  36.8% (7-12)

But nobody has come out victorious more after losing the opening set over the past 52 weeks than Italian Fabio Fognini, who has done so 15 times at a rate of 45.5 per cent.

So for all players, professional or recreational, don’t get down if you lose the first set. There is still plenty of tennis to be played.

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