Jannik Sinner: Lengthening the Battle to Shorten the War

By Siddhant Guru

Jannik Sinner has been on fire in Australia! The Italian upstart has won all six of his matches, dropping just a single set in the process. Only two of the twelve sets that he has won have gone to tiebreaks. The youngster is in a rich vein of form, one that stands in sharp contrast to the tail end of last season when he lost four out of his last five matches before the Davis Cup in late November.

Who or what could be behind this improvement? Sinner has been somewhat coy and mysterious when asked about his coaching team.

The Unforced Error Conundrum

Let’s call our mystery coach “X”. Sinner has been blamed in recent times of being impatient and over-aggressive. He pulls the trigger too early in rallies and that leads to unforced errors piling up. According to Tennis Abstract, Sinner has a career unforced error rate of 16%, i.e. 16% of all his shots are unforced errors.

What we are seeing is that “X” has helped Sinner in cutting down this unforced error rate. It was only 9% vs Steve Johnson in Round 2 and 14% vs Taro Daniel in Round 3 of the Australian Open. In a tight sport such as tennis, that difference of 1-2% could be the deciding factor in a match.

Lengthening the Rallies

In 2021, Tennis Abstract shows that Sinner’s matches had an average rally length of 4.4 shots with the average rally length on his own serve being 4.7 shots and 4.0 on the opponent’s serve. This statistic is a little concerning for Sinner. What this shows is that he’s having to hit more balls on his own serve and is unable to hit as many on his opponent’s serve.

In the 2022 Australian Open, the average rally length is at 4.6 shots. However, it has now flipped around with the average length on his own serve being 4.2 shots while on his opponent’s serve, it’s 4.8 shots. In other words, Sinner is protecting his own serve much better while also being able to lengthen points on his opponent’s serve.

The Move Forward – Net Points

It seems incorrect to think of Net Points as a statistic when we have established that Sinner has been lengthening the rallies. After all, aren’t Net Points shown to be tactics that players use to shorten the points? So, if Sinner is lengthening the rallies, then the frequency of net points in his plays would reduce this year. Right? Guess what, if you think so, you’re totally wrong. What has actually happened is that the frequency of net points in Sinner’s matches has gone up from 8% in 2021 to almost 14% in 2022.

Jannik Sinner punches away a backhand volley winner. Screenshot: Australian Open YouTube Channel

What is happening here? As it turns out, our mystery coach “X” has got Sinner to lengthen rallies and then find a good angle to sneak into the net and finish off the point. It was a tactic that served him really well vs Taro Daniel who was playing a really good counterpunching match. Sinner is not looking only to hit through his opponent now. He has now got the intent to suffer through long rallies until he finds a shot he is willing to go for.

The End Result – What does this mean?

In the 2021 US Open, Jannik Sinner made it to the second week of a hard court major for the first time in his career. He dropped four sets and took nine hours and 49 minutes to win his first three rounds. His average rally length in those matches? Only four shots.

In the 2022 Australian Open, he has dropped only one set in his first three wins. He has taken only six hours and 29 minutes for those wins. His average rally length in these matches? 4.6 shots.

He really is lengthening the battle to shorten the war.

(P.S. – As for who “X” is, the rumors in the Italian Media is that he is a certain seven-time major Champion…)

Siddhant can be found on Twitter @Siddhantguru.

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