What does the data tell us?
Prior to the quarter-finals, starting today, every player has played four matches in the tournament, allowing us to have a look at each player’s data from the same sample size.
Examining the remaining eight men in the tournament gives us some fascinating insight into the levels exhibited by each player - detailed in the table below (sorted by combined service/return points won percentages).
Who are the top performing male contenders?
Surprisingly, Novak Djokovic (122.5%) has a slight edge over Rafa Nadal (120.3%) when looking at the combined service points won percentages, with Nadal edging the return numbers but Djokovic more solid on serve, winning 76.6% of points on serve against his opponents so far. In addition, Djokovic has spent over two hours fewer on court than Nadal, despite only playing one set fewer. Nadal does have a propensity to play long points, so this is less surprising.
More predictably, however, both players are well in excess of their rivals. Only Roger Federer (117.5% combined) can come close to the duo, with the rest of the field looking far removed from the level that Djokovic, Nadal and Federer - the three elite players in the field - can boast.
How does the rest of the field compare?
Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov look the ‘best of the rest’. Thiem has underperformed on break points (-1.9% based on his serve and return points won expectation) while Khachanov has rather overperformed on these key points, which is illustrated in him having a higher tournament combined hold/break percentage than Thiem, but a lower combined service/return points won percentage.
Khachanov has performed well here, and outperformed expectations so far, but it would be dangerous to over-rate his run here as the season continues, given the likely mean-reversion from overperforming at these key points in matches.
The remaining trio of Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka and Alexander Zverev will need considerable improvement to test the elite players remaining in the draw. Nishikori’s serve (62.8% service points won) is the worst in the field, and with historically poor service data against top-level opposition, he would be expected to struggle in this area as the tournament continues. He’s also spent the most time on court (802 minutes) of all the remaining players in the event.
Zverev’s serve numbers are similar, and the German has struggled to get through to this stage, needing five sets twice against mediocre opposition. He did win the Geneva event immediately prior to the French Open, and this, plus the 725 minutes of court time so far, is likely to mean he’s more fatigued than most left in the draw.
As for Wawrinka, my assessment is that he’s rather flattered to be at this stage. A combined serve/return points won percentage of 105% for the tournament is unimpressive, and we can see why he’s got through some tight matches - he’s overperformed on break points by 13.1%.
This was in evidence against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the previous round (he won with 13 fewer break point chances) and these numbers, in conjunction with a spending over five hours more on court than his quarter-final opponent Roger Federer, and a dreadful 3-22 head to head record against his countryman, means that it would be a massive surprise if Wawrinka progressed to the semi-finals.
Which female contenders have been the most impressive?
Turning our focus to the women’s event, there are rather different dynamics at play. Court time, as evidenced by the table below, is much less of a consideration, with Sloane Stephens (429 minutes) spending the most time on court, just over two hours more than Ashleigh Barty (288 minutes).
We can also see that there is much less of a difference between the player who has exhibited the best combined serve/return points won percentage (marginally Simona Halep) and the lowest (Sloane Stephens), and this continues to give us belief that the women’s tournament (and tour as a whole) is much more of a level playing field compared to the men’s event.
Interestingly, despite leading the field in the serve/return points won metric, Halep doesn’t do so in games won percentage, or combined hold/break percentage either, with below expectation break point performance causing her issues so far in the tournament.
Both of those areas are led by Marketa Vondrousova, with the 19 old Czech left-hander impressing en route to this stage, winning every set competed with the loss of four games or fewer.
Vondrousova faces Petra Martic in the quarter-finals, and it’s worth pointing out that Martic is also well treated on the data above, ranked third for combined serve/return points won and games won percentage, and second on combined tournament hold/break percentage.
Who are the female underdogs?
With Halep, Vondrousova and Martic the most impressive so far in the event, Ashleigh Barty and Amanda Anisimova (who also is yet to drop a set) look like solid ‘tier two’ players based on the table above, but Madison Keys, Johanna Konta and the aforementioned Stephens look less impressive compared to the rest of the field.
Stephens has underperformed badly on break points, but does possess the worst combined serve/return points won percentage in the current tournament compared to the rest of the remaining players - and has spent the most time on court as well. The American faces Johanna Konta in the quarter-finals, and based on the data from the 2019 French Open at least, would be a slight underdog to the Brit.
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