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With the Australian Open around the corner, there’s major focus on the tennis tour following a stop-start 2020 season. We took a look at some longer-term player data to try and work out where some potential value could occur as the season progresses.
Following the 2020 season, where five months of the tour were lost to the covid pandemic, there has been more disruption at the start of 2021 with a further break for around three weeks while players travelled to Australia to quarantine in advance of the year’s first Grand Slam event, which starts on Monday.
A look at the data
Despite the truncated nature of the last year or so, there is still some usable player data to study, and back at the start of 2019, we took a look at trying to identify players who were over-rated or under-rated based on their win percentage in conjunction with their combined service and return points won percentage.
While combined service and return points won percentage is not a perfect metric in isolation - because it does not take into account opposition quality - it is still very useful. It is a good measure of a player’s dominance over their opponents - anything over 110% is world class, with 105% around top-10 level. Most players in the top 50 should produce numbers around, or in excess of, 100%. If you are interested in the 2019 article, you can find it here.
From 2019, where are they now?
As time developed, it became interesting to profile the players who were considered to have a win percentage that was inflated based on their combined points won percentage - and six players in particular were highlighted in this regard: Malek Jaziri, Marco Cecchinato, Nikoloz Basilashvili, Martin Klizan, Fabio Fognini and Kevin Anderson.
All six were ranked inside the top 50 at the time (i.e., Feb 2019), and all have had their struggles in the two years since. Both Jaziri and Klizan are now ranked outside the top 150, while Cecchinato and Anderson are currently ranked around the 80 mark - although it’s fair to point out that Anderson has had injury issues.
While Basilashvili and Fognini are still inside the top 50, they endured a troubling 2020 - Basilashvili winning just two main tour matches all season and Fognini only four. If current rankings were based on a rolling 12-month cycle as they were before the pandemic, both would be well outside the top 50 given such poor levels of success on the main tour.
Looking for value in 2021
Back to this year, looking at the top 50 players on the ATP Tour, 44 played at least 15 main tour matches. The likes of Fognini, plus Roger Federer and Nick Kyrgios were among those who didn’t reach that mark, for various reasons. Of the 44 players who played at least 15 main tour matches, 34 had a combined service/return points won percentage of 100% or greater - essentially making them above-average (on the main tour) based on that metric. 10 players did not make the 100% mark, with Alexander Bublik (96.7%) the lowest.
The graph below illustrates the relationship between win percentage and combined points won percentage in ATP main tour matches (main draw only) across all surfaces in 2020.
For most players, there isn’t a huge deviation between where you would anticipate their win percentage to be, based on their combined points won percentage, although there were some exceptions.
The players positioned above the line are denoted as having a ‘win percentage too low’ - essentially, their performance levels look likely to be better than their win percentage. These players - who include Rafa Nadal, Daniil Medvedev, Matteo Berrettini and Taylor Fritz - look to be ones to keep an eye on in 2021 with regards to positive mean-reversion and improving their 2020 win percentage.
... and over-valued
Conversely, those players positioned below the line in the chart - with a 'win percentage too high' - have the potential for negative mean-reversion, and therefore may struggle to maintain their 2020 win percentage in 2021. These players were likely to look ‘clutch’ - strong at key points - in the short term, but the problem is that over the long term (three or more seasons), the overwhelming majority are unable to maintain that ‘clutch’-ability and their ability to perform well in key moments, such as break points and in tiebreaks, also tends to mean-revert towards the individual player’s expectation based on ability levels.
The players below the line who could struggle to maintain their 2020 win percentage include Dominic Thiem, Ugo Humbert, Christian Garin, Reilly Opelka and Richard Gasquet.
It will be interesting to follow this quintet as the season develops - some selective opposition of these players has potential to yield some dividends.
How these players might fare in Melbourne
It may be hard to consider the world No. 2 and No.4 offering more value over time, but that's what the data suggest.
Medvedev is at odds of 5.45 to win in Melbourne, behind only world number one, Novak Djokovic at 2.27. Nadal's odds, presumably reflecting concerns over his back, still place him third-favourite at 7.42.
As ever, odds quoted here are correct at the time of writing, but make sure to check the site for the latest odds. Here's the winners market on all players.
As the best site for bitcoin betting on tennis, Cloudbet is also providing a wide range of outright markets for the tournament, including one on who will go further, Nadal or Medvedev? The odds are equal at the moment at 1.83.
There are also 15 markets on which stage of the competition you think a certain player might bow out - for Berrettini that includes odds of 5.04 for the Fourth Round, or 8.57 in the Quarters.
Thiem's odds to win the first Grand Slam of the season are only slightly longer than Rafa's at 7.50. Perhaps it's no surprise then that he's favoured to go further at the Rod Laver than Stefanos Tsitsipas, the player that sits behind him in the winners odds - though at 16.4, these are more than twice as wide.
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