The two best returners on the planet in 2019 and the first two months of 2020 were Rafael Nadal and Diego Schwartzman.
An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of their prowess winning points that begin by absorbing and redirecting the power of a serve identifies two key areas that help elevate them above all others:
• Technique - developing their return of serve skill set to the highest possible level.
• Location - growing up in a culture in Spain and Argentina that perennially produces the best returners in our sport.
Nadal and Schwartzman were the only two players to win north of 42 per cent of their return points during the 14-month period, which was significantly higher than the ATP Tour average of 36 per cent.
Return Points Won (Jan 2019 - Feb 2020)
1. Nadal = 42.39% (2499/5895)
2. Schwartzman = 42.07% (2689/6391)
Both Nadal and Schwartzman like to stand well behind the baseline to return, providing the opportunity for the serve to slow down marginally more, which helps them avoid being rushed by the raw power of the biggest shot in our sport.
Did Nadal and Schwartzman have an advantage developing their return of serve by growing up in Spain and Argentina? They absolutely did, as both countries are a perennial hotbed producing the best returners in our game.
Career Return Metrics (1991-2020)
Spain and Argentina account for seven of the leading 10 players in the Career Return Points Won category and 44 per cent of the Top 50. The data set includes players that competed in at least 100 ATP Tour and Grand Slam matches from 1991-2020, excluding Davis Cup ties.
The top four spots are a trade-off between the two countries with Argentina’s Guillermo Coria leading the way, followed by Spain’s Nadal, then Argentina’s Franco Davin, and Spain’s Alberto Berasategui. The three other players ranked in the leading 10 spots from the two countries are seventh-ranked David Ferrer (ESP), eighth-ranked Francisco Roig (ESP), and ninth-ranked Guillermo Perez-Roldan (ARG).
Coria led all players with a career-leading 43.7 per cent (11,139/25,492) of return points won against first and second serves. His metrics at Roland Garros, where he went 17-7, were some of his career best, winning a dominant 48.06 per cent (1217/2530) of return points. Coria reached the final of Roland Garros in 2004, winning very close to half of all return points played for the tournament at 49.85 per cent (333/668).
The 10 Argentine players ranked in the leading 50 players with return points won are listed below.
Argentines - Leading 50 Players Return Points Won
Return Win Percentage
Horacio De La Pena
Juan Ignacio Chela
Nadal was the elite Spaniard, and it is in Monte Carlo where he has posted the best return metrics of his illustrious career. He has won a staggering 49.93 per cent (2369/4745) of return points in the principality. At Roland Garros, Nadal has also been well above his career average, winning an impressive 47.82 per cent (4245/8877) of return points.
The 12 Spaniards in the leading 50 players with return points won are in the table below.
Spaniards - Leading 50 Players Return Points Won
Return Win Percentage
The fifth-placed player, Michael Chang, was one of just three Americans in the leading 50 players, along with Andre Agassi (15th) and Aaron Krickstein (50th). Chang’s best tournaments with return points won (min. 1000 return points) were on hard courts at Atlanta (46.13%), Washington, D.C. (44.69%), and Los Angeles (44.49%). The third-placed country overall was Sweden, with four players placed in the leading 50 returners. They were:
•No. 21 Magnus Gustafsson = 41.44%
•No. 25 Stefan Edberg = 41.28%
•No. 40 Christian Bergstrom = 40.48%
•No. 45 Jonas Svensson = 40.32%
When Spaniards compete against Argentines, you know a crucial sub-plot is to be the best returner on the courtreadfullarticle