It would be an understatement to say that Nick Kyrgios is a polarizing figure in the world of professional tennis. He is a Grand Slam champion, and one of the most talented athletes in our sport. At the same time, one can never be quite sure what is going to happen when watching one of his matches. Will we see a brilliant performance, worthy of a Top 10 player? Will we see indifference, broken rackets, and arguments with the chair umpire? One is as likely as the other.
In the second round of the Miami Open, we got to see the former. Kyrgios demolished Andrey Rublev, currently ranked #7 in the world, in 52 minutes by the score of 6-3 6-0. During the course of the match, we caught a glimpse of a side of Nick Kyrgios that doesn’t get spoken about very often: Kyrgios the tactician, executing a game plan to perfection.
Going into the match, Kyrgios knew that “…he’s (Rublev) a player who relies on a bit of rhythm, so I just tried to keep the points short and sharp, just play aggressive.” I want to highlight one way that Kyrgios set himself up to do just that.
If there is a knock on Rublev’s game, it is that his second serve is relatively slow. Below is a chart comparing the average serve speeds between Kyrgios and Rublev from their match:
|Average Serve Speed||Nick Kyrgios||Andrey Rublev||Difference|
|1st serve||207 km/h||193.6 km/h||13.4 km/h|
|2nd serve||171.9 km/h||143.8 km/h||28.1 km/h|
Attacking Rublev’s second serve would be a great starting point to keep the rallies short and putting immediate pressure on the Russian. And Kyrgios did just that, with his positioning and impact point. This is the average return position of Kyrgios in the match when returning Rublev’s second serve:
Two meters inside the baseline is about as aggressive as you can be with hitting the return on the rise and taking time away from the opponent. The beauty of this return strategy – when looking at it through the lens of Kyrgios’ overall tactic of keeping the points short – is that there is very little downside. If you hit a quality return, great! You’re most likely ahead in the rally, as there is a high chance that Rublev is rushed and off-balance on the first groundstroke after the serve. If you miss the return – the rally length was 1, and Rublev doesn’t get a chance to get into any sort of rhythm.
The strategy worked beautifully. Rublev won only 4 out of the 19 points played on his second serve (that’s 21%; generally speaking, we would like the server to be around the 50% range). Furthermore, almost three quarters of all points contested in the match were played in the 0-4 rally range:
|Rally Length||Kyrgios Won||Rublev Won||Total||% of Total|
Just for comparison, here is Kyrgios’ second serve return position in his third round match against Fabio Fognini. He still returned from inside the baseline, but he toned down the aggressiveness:
In the round of 16 match, Kyrgios is set to face Jannik Sinner. I would assume that Kyrgios won’t be looking to engage in prolonged baseline exchanges in that match either. His second serve return positioning will give you a hint as to the quality of Sinner’s second serve, as well as the style of match that Kyrgios will want this to be.