The 2018 WTA Season is in the books. Now to synthesize what just happened over the last 11 months. WTA Insider breaks down the season's return statistics.
How important is the return game on the WTA Tour? Statistically, a player's success rate in return games is a better indicator of their success compared to their serving numbers. Of 2018's Top 10 players in return games won percentage, the Top 4 - Simona Halep, Daria Kasatkina, Sloane Stephens, and Angelique Kerber - are in the year-end Top 10 rankings. Taking into account Caroline Wozniacki and Kiki Bertens, who ranked at No.9 and No.10 in return games won this year, and that's six of the WTA Top 10 represented in this season's list of the tour's 10 best returners.
While most of these players may not have a reliable cannon-like return of serve, they each have the incredible physical and tactical ability to quickly neutralize the server's advantage and win points through the rally.
In contrast, only one Top 10 player - Naomi Osaka - features as one of the best servers this year, with Osaka sitting behind Julia Goerges and Ashleigh Barty in third for service games won percentage in 2018. In all, four Top 10 players feature in the list of Top 10 servers this season, with Elina Svitolina, Petra Kvitova, and Karolina Pliskova sitting at No.7, No.8, and No.9, respectively
World No.1 Simona Halep was the best at breaking serve in 2018, winning a tour-leading 49.6% of her return points and breaking 48.5% of the time. Already one of the tour's best returners in her 2017 season, Halep improved her break-rate in 2018 by more than 6% in 2018.
"I'm very confident [on my return games]. Okay, I don't say that it doesn't matter [if I am broken]I will break now. But I feel confident and I feel secure there.
"So also now I improved my serve, so I don't feel a big difference between those two. But I'm pretty confident when I return, and I feel like if I stay there, focused and concentrated on every point, I can win games."
The Romanian also ranked 3rd in breakpoint efficiency, converting 50.1% of her break points. She was one of just three women, along with Jelena Ostapenko and Naomi Osaka, who converted over 50% of their breakpoints this season.
Right behind Halep in return points won and return games won was 21-year-old Daria Kasatkina. The Russian, who finished her season by making her Top 10 debut, won 48.3% of her return points while breaking serve 46.3% of the time.
"I feel more confident in the return, just from my nature," Kasatkina said. "I never work, like, hours and hours on the return. Of course I'm working on it, but not crazy, like I said, like hours per day. I just feel where to go, how to go. That's it."
No.2 Angelique Kerber began the 2017 season ranked No.1 and struggled through a sub-par season, finishing the year at No.21. Significantly, she struggled through her return games last season, winning just over 30% of the time. The German's resurgence in 2018, which saw her kick off the year with a title-run in Sydney and go on to win her third major at Wimbledon over the summer, was sparked in large part to the improvements made in her return games. Kerber's efficacy in her return games improved over 12% in 2018.
Similarly, No.6 Sloane Stephens, who successfully consolidated her abbreviated 2017 season, improved her threat on return by over 11% and solidified herself as one of the best returners in the game.
Stats and information provided by SAP Analytics.