Players to Watch - Decliners from 2014 going into 2015

Skype: @TennisRatings

Whilst most people produce lists of players to watch in the coming season from a positive perspective, players they feel are likely to improve (and in the case of @sportdw - a superb, comprehensive preview that is highly recommended, I thought it would be interesting to approach things from a different angle and look at players that are likely to decline in 2015.

My previous research for Pinnacle Sports (  showed that ATP players tend to peak at around 28-32 with most doing so when 30 or 31.  To some extent this was a little surprising, with most people probably thinking that late 20's was the best moment for a player's career.

With trading in mind, I wanted to look at players with declining service hold percentages in 2014 with a view to opposing them more when leading next season.  This was originally triggered by looking at the early season results in 2014 and recollecting that Lleyton Hewitt took the Brisbane title (beating Roger Federer in the final) and thinking how badly the Australian veteran has declined since.  He, and some others, are detailed below:-


Mikhail Youzhny: Rank 48
2013 season service hold 79.7%
2014 season (Jan-Sep) service hold 76.7%

Injuries beset The Colonel in 2014 but with the Russian turning 33 in 2015, it will be very hard for him to regain his previous best.  Keep an eye on him on his favoured indoor hard courts, but on other surfaces - particularly clay - he could be vulnerable to service breaks from 'inferior' players.

Lleyton Hewitt: Rank 50
2013 season service hold 75.7%
2014 season (Jan-Sep) service hold 74.6%

The Aussie legend isn't noted for his serve, and it's getting worse and worse.  Still boasting return stats slightly above average, he won't be dominated by many players, but his 36.1% break lead loss is worse than average, and Hewitt also struggles badly with consistency in matches, with a general inability to win matches 2-0 indicative of that.  Laying Hewitt when a set up and a set and break up looks virtually a mandatory play in 2015.

Alejandro Falla: Rank 88
2013 season service hold 72.8%
2014 season (Jan-Sep) service hold 69.2%

The Colombian can expect to see further decline based on his 2014 numbers.  He's struggled to win matches easily, which is no surprise considering his woeful service hold percentage (around 9% below tour mean) and his 51.7% break lead loss percentage, which is horrific - over 20% above ATP average.  

Nicolas Mahut: Rank 110
2013 season service hold 88.5%
2014 season (Jan-Sep) service hold 81.1%

This 7.4% decline in Mahut's stats is not impressive at all.  Some poor results at the start of the season will see the Frenchman consigned to the Challenger Tour, and with his return stats mediocre at the best of times, the reliance on his serve will be likely to see him very exposed.  As a noted 'serve/volleyer' he has a reputation as a decent server, so the market may give a lot of ticks when he is broken, making opposing his serve even more appealing, even against very mediocre opponents...

Jurgen Melzer: Rank 113
2013 season service hold 77.4%
2014 season (Jan-Sep) service hold 75.5%

The Austrian veteran struggled badly in 2014, dropping out of the top 100.  He made positive noises at the end of the campaign and can probably expect some wild cards in 2015 but is another one in the Falla envelope with a horrific 47.1% break leads lost in 2014.  This makes him a great prospect to lay when leading, and at the age of almost 34, this declining trend is unlikely to improve.  It might not be too long before he joins his wife in retirement...


WTA players tend to decline earlier, for a variety of reasons.  There are currently only 3 players aged over 33 in the top 100 (Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Francesca Schiavone), with Flavia Pennetta, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Klara Koukalova adding to that trio aged over 32.

Serena Williams: Rank 1
2013 season service hold 84.1%
2014 season (Jan-Sep) service hold 82.8%

Calling a world number one declining might be a little disrespectful but it's clear that Serena is far less dominant than she once was.  Her serve has dropped off a little and her return stats (53.9% breaks in 2013 compared to 44.5% Jan-Sep 2014) show she is far from at her peak.  This article I wrote in October explains more.

Kirsten Flipkens: Rank 45
2013 season service hold 67.4%
2014 season (Jan-Sep) service hold 66.4%

Not a huge drop off for Flipkens but her return stats also deteriorated (33.8% breaks to 30.1%).  The 28 year old Belgian will need all of her famed comeback skills to turn this slump around...

Roberta Vinci: Rank 48
2013 season service hold 68.2%
2014 season (Jan-Sep) service hold 65.5%

2014 was a disastrous season for the Italian.  She dropped around 30 places in the rankings and that was down to both her declining service hold percentages and also a 3.9% drop in breaking opponents.  At 31, she will do well to reverse this, and may well focus more of her efforts on solely playing doubles with Sara Errani in the future.

Kaia Kanepi: Rank 51
2013 season service hold 71.7%
2014 season (Jan-Sep) service hold 62.9%

Previous impressive service numbers from the Estonian disappeared in 2014.  Whilst injuries haven't done her many favours, it would be a surprise for her to reach her previous levels into her 30's...

Petra Cetkovska: Rank 58
2013 season service hold 63.5%
2014 season (Jan-Sep) service hold 59.8%

Another player beset by injuries in recent times.  At 29 years of age, this decline will almost certainly be irreversible and with a service hold percentage now around 4% below average, the Czech will be very vulnerable on serve in the future, particularly away from her favoured clay.

Less than honourable WTA mentions also go to Daniela Hantuchova (63), Elena Vesnina (64) and Lourdes Dominguez Lino (112).  These players are also unlikely to be able to reverse declines based on their 2014 stats.
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