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Superior Sinner: Jannik Sinner’s Dominant Start to 2024

By: Sofia Jain


Source: theguardian.com

Introduction


Italian professional tennis player and current ATP world number 1, Jannik Sinner, has completely dominated the start 2024 season. He has won 28 out of 30 matches from January to May of 2024. Even a two-set deficit couldn’t prevent Sinner from winning his first Grand Slam at the 2024 Australian Open. An apt quote to sum up Sinner’s performance comes from another ATP player, Alexander Bublik, who, after losing to Sinner in 2021, told him “You're not human.” Since late 2022, when Jannik hired his coach Darren Cahill, his game has simply improved in every possible facet. In this article I will go deeper into Sinner’s improvements and see where he stacks up against other current ATP players in certain statistical categories. The analysis following the description of Sinner’s rise in ATP ranking involves statistics before Roland Garros 2024 where Sinner lost in the Semi Final to Carlos Alcaraz.


Terminology


Forehand - A racket swing where the palm of the player holding the racket faces the same direction as the hit.


Backhand - A racket swing where the back of the hand holding the racket faces the same direction as the hit.


Break - When a returner wins a game on their opponents serve.


Hold - When a server wins a game on their serve.


FHP/Match - Statistics that “adds, roughly, one point for a winner and one half point for the shot before a winner, and subtracts one point for an unforced error. On a per-match basis, the stat is influenced by the length of the match and the number of shots hit. Because each point can be counted 1.5 times in FHP (one for a forehand winner, one-half for a forehand that set it up), divide by 1.5 for a number of points that the forehand contributed to the match, above or below average.” (Created by TennisAbstract)


BHP/Match - Same as FHP/Match but for topspin backhands (Created by TennisAbstract)


Elo - “The principle behind any Elo system is that each player’s rating is an estimate of their strength, and each match (or tournament) allows us to update that estimate. If a player wins, her rating goes up; if she loses, it goes down. There are two main variables that are taken into account: How many matches are already in the system (that is, how much confidence we have in the pre-match rating), and the quality of the opponent.” (Created by TennisAbstract)


RiP W% - Percentage of points won by the returner when a return was put in play.


RiP W (First Serve)% - Percentage of first points won by the server when a return was put in play.


DR - Dominance Ratio which is the ratio of a player’s return points won to opponent return points won.


Jannik Sinner’s Hot Start to 2024


Not only has Sinner reached his highest career ATP ranking at No. 1, but he has also achieved the highest ranking for any Italian ATP player.

He continued a win streak from the end of 2023 all the way up to 23. His 2024 Indian Wells Final victory, which was his 17th straight win, became the longest win streak for any Italian professional tennis player. Before this stretch of dominance, his highest win streak was 5 consecutive matches. 


Win Percentage

Comparing Sinner’s 2024 January to mid May statistics to those from January to mid May in previous years, we can see he has improved in every category. Starting with his win percentage, a 28-2 record translating to a 93.3% win rate is an obvious improvement, marking a 12% increase from last year.


Examining his performance in three-set and five-set matches, it's clear that winning the Australian Open, the only five-set tournament from January to mid-May, represents significant progress in five setters. He went from winning none of these matches early in his career to winning the tournament this year. Notably, his performance at the Australian Open was poorer in 2023 than in 2022, making this year's victory even more impressive. In 3 setters, there is a noticeable increase in win percentage, with a 16.3% total increase in wins from the start of his career. So in both 3 and 5 set matches from January to mid May Sinner is at a career high.


Serve


Examining Sinner’s serve, both his serve hold and serve points won percentages are higher than in previous years. Sinner and his coach have focused on improving his serve, and their hard work is clearly paying off. After losing to Sinner in the 2024 Australian Open semi-final, the current world No. 3 ATP player Novak Djokovic said “I think his serve improved a lot. He's hitting his corners very well, and I think he upped his speed as well. Serving bigger now and more precise.”

This acknowledgement from Djokovic shows beyond just the percentage increase shown in the graphs, other players are recognizing the newfound dominance in Sinner’s serve.


Return

While not as dramatic of an improvement, Sinner is having more success in breaking his opponents’ serves, with a 3% increase in success rate from 2023. Breaking an opponent's serve is challenging, so a substantial increase in success rate is rare. However, Sinner’s overall trends and the 3% increase from last year demonstrate his ability to gain valuable points and potential games when he isn’t serving.


Dominance Ratio


The last category I compared in Sinner’s January to mid May statistics is his dominance ratio, which is the ratio of return points won to opponent return points won. In 2024, he is currently at a DR of 1.46, meaning he is winning 46% more return points than his opponent. This highlights dominance in Sinner’s return and serve. This DR is a .34 increase from the start of his career , indicating that Sinner has become a more formidable player than in previous years.


Comparisons to Other ATP Players Through May 2024


In the following section, the players included for each category have played 10 or more matches this year and the rankings are averages from the past 52 weeks.

Looking just at 2024, it is useful to see how Sinner stacks up against other top players to assess his dominance this year. We can see he is leading in Elo rating, which can be used as an alternative statistic used to rank players. Elo measures the “strength” of a player where factors like previous matches won or strength of an opponent are taken into account.


According to TennisAbstract, the creator of the Elo stat, a score of around 2500 is extremely high and above 2000 is considered elite. The most important aspect of this statistic is the comparison between players. Using the formula given by TennisAbstract, 1 – (1 / (1 + (10^((difference) / 400)))) and the difference of 70 between Sinner and current No. 3 Djokovic, we find that Sinner has about a 60% chance of winning their next matchup. This can be applied to every other player naked below Sinner; since their Elo rating is lower, he would have higher than a 60% chance of winning.

In two other statistics by TennisAbstract, BHP/Match and FHP/Match, Jannik is currently ranked #3 and #4 in these categories, respectively. His BHP/Match of 4.2 means that, on average, Jannik is winning 2.8 (4.2/1.5) more points on his topspin backhands than with a neutral backhand. This advantage indicates that his topspin backhand is highly effective, giving him an edge over most players ranked below him when he can hit topspin.


His FHP/Match of 9.5 means that, on average, he wins about 6.3 (9.5/1.5) more points on a forehand with topspin than a neutral forehand. Being ranked 4th in this category signifies that his forehand is when he can hit topspin, it is a true weapon against most opponents. The players ranked above him in these categories have a slight advantage, but it's worth noting that all three of these players are within the top 10. The leader in these statistics, Andrey Rublev, is particularly renowned for his exceptionally powerful forehand.


Sinner being ranked high in both of these categories demonstrates that he has strong weapons in both his backhand and forehand when he can hit topspin. This shows he is not a liability or likely to lose points in either area.

Next, Sinner is ranked 2nd in winning percentage on points lasting four and six shots, inclusive and 4th in winning percentage on points lasting ten shots or more. This demonstrates that compared to most of his opponents, when Jannik enters a rally, even a long one, he is consistently winning points. The once again, showcases Sinner’s all-around completeness as a tennis player.

Similar to his prowess in rally, Sinner is currently ranked 2nd in winning net point percentage. The success at the net is another factor contributing to Sinner’s dominant game. A strong net game enables Sinner to employ tactics such as serve and volley or overhead, allowing him to win more points and put his opponents in difficult situations.

Sinner is also ranked 2nd in RiP Win%, which indicates that of points in which he gets the serve back in play, Jannik wins 52.5% of the point. This ability is crucial when he aims to break an opponent’s serve or needs to secure break points when trailing in a set. Therefore, Sinner’s success in returns surpasses that of all but one player currently.

Lastly, Sinner is ranked 1st in RiP W% first serve, indicating that when a return is put in play on Sinner’s first serve, he wins the point 62.6% of the time, the highest among all ATP players.


This ability to win the points even when the return is put in play, particularly on a first serve, underscores Sinner’s proficiency beyond just his serve. He is not flustered when an opponent can return his serve and utilizes strategies like he does in rallies or when at the net to ensure he holds his service games. This was also demonstrated previously in his 2024 service hold rate of 92.9%.


Conclusion


Not only is Jannik Sinner having the best start to a season in his career, but he is also dominating in every facet of the game. His serve has significantly improved, making it challenging for his opponents to break. His returns are successful and he has a very strong forehand and backhand. Sinner is able to enter rallies and win the point, no matter how many shots it takes. His game is impressively well-rounded, including mastery at winning net points.


Sinner’s exceptional performance extends across almost every category of tennis, surpassing the majority of his opponents. Previously known for only reaching quarter and sometimes semifinals without clinching titles, he has now transformed to be the favorite to win every tournament he enters. With his current level of play, it wouldn’t be surprising if Sinner goes on to win one or multiple more Grand Slams titles this year.



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