This post has been withdrawn due to a mistake in the calculations that seriously affects its conclusions. I am leaving this note here to avoid breaking the link. Look on the bright side–on this site, there’s plenty of tennis analysis in which the mistakes have less serious effects.
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Yesterday in the Delray Beach semifinals, Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Ernests Gulbis upset the top two seeds, John Isner and Tommy Haas. Both are ranked outside the top 100, meaning that the final in Florida will be contested by two players who started the event far outside of contention.
As with most “gee whiz”-type tennis events, it’s not the first time. In fact, there have been at least 59 ATP events since the inception of the ranking system in which both finalists were outside the top 100. (I don’t have ranking data for 1982, so there may be more.)
However, this is the first such final since 2007, when the Houston final was contested between Ivo Karlovic and Mariano Zabaleta. As you’ll see in the overall list, these finalists skew toward the Gulbis’s more than the Roger-Vasselins–while such players might have gone through injury or slumps, they often reached a much higher level at some other time.
Newport has been the most common scene of these sorts of finals. Eight times in the event’s history has the final been played between two men outside of the top 100. In fact, four of the last nine such finals have been at Newport.
Finally, these finals have become progressively rarer as the number of events on the ATP calendar shrinks and more top players compete in a higher percentage of ATP events. (Even Delray Beach, this week notwithstanding.) There were (at least) 25 finals like this in the 1980s, 17 in the 1990s, 10 in the 2000s, and so far just one in the 2010s.
In the last few weeks, we’ve seen some overall serving trends–how righties and lefties perform in the deuce and ad courts, and how successful they are at specific point scores.
The tour-wide results are interesting enough, but there’s much more to discover at the individual player level. Because point-by-point data is only available for 2011 grand slam matches, only a few players have had enough points tracked to allow us to make meaningful conclusions. Fortunately, those are the best players in the game, and there’s plenty to discover.
Let’s start with Novak Djokovic. Much of his success seems to stem from rock-solid consistency: he can attack when returning almost as much as most players do on serve; he is strong on both forehand and backhand, and he rarely shows signs of mental weakness. If there is a player who doesn’t display the typical differences between deuce and ad courts and various point scores, it would seem to be Djokovic.
The first table shows the frequency of different outcomes in the deuce court, in the ad court, and on break point, relative to Djokovic’s average. For instance, the 1.018 in the upper left corner means that Djokovic wins 1.8% more points than average in the deuce court.
OUTCOME Deuce Ad Break Point% 1.018 0.980 0.975 Aces 1.117 0.869 1.046 Svc Wnr 1.101 0.886 0.865 Dbl Faults 1.176 0.802 1.102 1st Sv In 1.028 0.968 1.081 Server Wnr 1.027 0.970 0.815 Server UE 0.973 1.030 0.941 Return Wnr 0.972 1.031 2.125 Returner Wnr 0.832 1.189 1.487 Returner UE 0.927 1.082 1.092 Rally Len 0.938 1.070 1.184
There are some huge differences here. Given the gap between deuce and ad results for many types of outcomes, it’s surprising that Novak wins so many ad-court points. He hits nearly 12% more aces in the deuce court, suggesting that even when he doesn’t hit an ace or service winner, he better sets up the point. Returners are much more likely to hit winners against him in the ad court, and the point requires more shots.
There are even more extreme numbers on break point. It’s unclear from the numbers whether Djokovic consistently goes for more on the serve on break point–more aces, fewer service winners, more double faults, but more first serves in–but it appears he plays much more gingerly, hitting far fewer winners and allowing opponents to hit more than twice as many return winners than average.
Next, this is how he performs on a point-by-point basis. Win% shows what percentage of points he wins at that score; Exp is how many he would be expected to win (given how he performs in each match), and Rate is the difference between the two. A rate above 1 means he plays better on those points; below 1 is worse.
SCORE Pts Win% Exp Rate g0-0 360 70.0% 70.2% 1.00 g0-15 107 65.4% 68.5% 0.96 g0-30 37 59.5% 66.5% 0.89 g0-40 15 66.7% 64.8% 1.03 g15-0 248 66.5% 71.0% 0.94 g15-15 153 69.9% 69.9% 1.00 g15-30 68 67.6% 68.1% 0.99 g15-40 32 68.8% 66.7% 1.03 g30-0 165 67.3% 71.3% 0.94 g30-15 161 70.2% 70.4% 1.00 g30-30 94 77.7% 67.9% 1.14 g30-40 43 62.8% 66.4% 0.95 g40-0 111 73.9% 72.0% 1.03 g40-15 142 76.8% 71.3% 1.08 g40-30 106 67.0% 68.6% 0.98 g40-40 104 72.1% 66.8% 1.08 g40-AD 29 69.0% 66.2% 1.04 gAD-40 75 70.7% 67.0% 1.05
It appears that Djokovic’s caution on break point isn’t hurting him; despite losing a point or two more than expected at 30-40, he gets it back at 40-AD. Novak excels most in the pressure points: 30-30 and 40-40, with strong showings at nearly every point from 30-30 on, with the exception of 30-40–which may just be a fluke–we only have 43 points to work with.
We can go through the same exercises for Djokovic’s return points. The next two tables are trickier to read. Look at them as Serving against Djokovic. Thus, the number in the upper-left corner means that when serving against Djokovic, players win 1% more points than average in the deuce court.
(I’ve excluded return points against lefty servers, including Nadal. Since lefties and righties have such different serving tendencies, limiting the sample to righty servers gives us clearer results, even as the sample shrinks a bit.)
OUTCOME Deuce Ad Break Point% 1.010 0.989 1.023 Aces 1.024 0.974 1.091 Svc Wnr 0.998 1.002 1.105 Dbl Faults 0.994 1.007 0.986 1st Sv In 1.055 0.940 0.957 Server Wnr 1.002 0.998 1.091 Server UE 0.987 1.015 0.964 Return Wnr 1.123 0.867 0.849 Returner Wnr 0.895 1.114 1.124 Returner UE 0.858 1.153 1.069 Rally Len 0.992 1.009 0.959
It seems that Novak goes big on the return in the deuce court, but tries to do more later in ad-court points. The break point tendencies may speak to other players’ fear of Djokovic’s return game: They go bigger with their serve, hitting more aces and service winners, and severely limiting Novak’s return winners. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter: he converts the break points anyway.
Here’s more on Djokovic’s return game, again with numbers from the perspective of players serving against him.
SCORE Pts Win% Exp Rate g0-0 346 58.7% 56.3% 1.04 g0-15 143 53.1% 55.1% 0.96 g0-30 67 52.2% 53.9% 0.97 g0-40 32 53.1% 53.0% 1.00 g15-0 198 62.1% 57.2% 1.09 g15-15 151 54.3% 56.0% 0.97 g15-30 104 45.2% 54.7% 0.83 g15-40 74 59.5% 53.4% 1.11 g30-0 123 60.2% 58.1% 1.04 g30-15 131 51.9% 56.9% 0.91 g30-30 110 60.0% 56.0% 1.07 g30-40 88 54.5% 54.3% 1.00 g40-0 74 64.9% 59.0% 1.10 g40-15 94 61.7% 57.5% 1.07 g40-30 102 53.9% 57.2% 0.94 g40-40 189 50.8% 55.4% 0.92 g40-AD 93 54.8% 54.3% 1.01 gAD-40 96 55.2% 56.4% 0.98
While Djokovic excels at deuce (servers should win 55.4% of those points; they manage to win only 50.8%), the reverse happens at 30-30. There aren’t many clear trends here, which may simply attest to Djokovic’s return dominance, regardless of point score.
Open quarters: Of the eight men left standing in Barcelona, five are seeded in the top eight. The other three are unseeded, but only one needed to pull a major upset to get to the quarters.
That man is Ivan Dodig, who took out Robin Soderling in the 2nd round, allowing the Swede only six games. It’s been a breakthrough season for the Croatian, who will crack the top 50 thanks to his performance this week. He backed up the 2nd-round win with a tough three-setter against Milos Raonic today. Perhaps most impressive, he reeled off seven points in a row to win a first-set tiebreak.
Dodig has an opportunity to go even further, as the man seeded to face him in the quarters was Tomas Berdych, who withdrew. Instead, his next opponent is Feliciano Lopez, who defeated Kei Nishikori today, after upsetting Guillermo Garcia-Lopez yesterday. Thus, at least one semifinalist will be unseeded.
That man will almost certainly face Rafael Nadal in the semis. Nadal, as goes without saying, breezed through his match today against Santiago Giraldo–if anything, it’s surprising that he failed to win 60% of total points. Nadal’s quarterfinal opponent is Gael Monfils, who won in straight sets over Richard Gasquet–a positive result for Monfils, who just scraped by Robin Haase in the second round.
Predictions: There aren’t betting lines yet for all of the quarterfinals, but I have run my algorithm to get percentages for tomorrow’s four matches:
- Nadal vs. Monfils: Oddsmakers have the Frenchman at 30-1, which seems excessive to me. Yes, of course, Rafa is the heavy favorite, and yes, of course, Gael could self-destruct and play no better than Giraldo did today. But on the other hand, Monfils is one of the few men with a game that could–if the stars aligned exactly right–beat Nadal on clay. My system gives Gael a 20% chance, which as I’ve commented before, is just a reflection of how my system doesn’t know what to do with someone so surface-dominant as Nadal.
- Dodig vs. Lopez: After beating Soderling, Dodig will no doubt gain several places in my ranking system, but that won’t happen until next Monday. As it is now, my algorithm isn’t too impressed, especially with Dodig’s potential on clay. It gives Feliciano a 64% chance of reaching the semis.
- Jurgen Melzer vs. David Ferrer: Even after Melzer’s impressive victory over Roger Federer last week, Ferrer is still the favorite here. I have him at 60.5%, while early sportsbook odds set him at 77%.
- Nicholas Almagro vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero: It’s nice to see Ferrero right back in the mix, even if it took some good fortune to get him there. In fact, he just barely got by Simone Vagnozzi today, a result that must have Almagro licking his lips in anticipation. Early sportsbook odds have Almagro at 78%, while my system puts him at 70%.
Streaking southpaw: Thomas Schoorel isn’t letting up–after winning a title last week, he hasn’t lost a set this week, including his opening-round upset of Jeremy Chardy. Tomorrow he’ll face 5th-seed Ivo Minarin the semis.
Another man to watch on the challenger tour is Aljaz Bedene, the Slovenian who won his first title at this level three weeks ago in Barletta. Last week he reached the semifinals in Blumenau, and he’s in another quarter in Santos, where he’ll next face 5th-seed Diego Junquiera.
See you tomorrow!