Category Archives: Tennis

Tennis stats engine

Just found a tennis stats engine – You can search for a player, or it has reports like:

  • ATP Stats Leaderboard: And they say tennis has an analytics problem.
  • ATP H2H Matrix: Head-to-head records of the ATP top 15.
  • ATP Rankings reports: Age groups | Countries | Lefties
  • ATP Rankings: All 2000+ players with at least one ranking point.
  • ATP Player Consistency: Who has surprised us the most, and the most often.
  • The Best ATP Players Who…:  haven’t won titles, reached main draws, and more.

Am looking forward to having a play!

Federer’s statistical weakness – Simpson’s Paradox

Federer doesn’t come out too badly in most statistical analyses, but it turns out he’s awful in “Simpson’s Paradox” matches. These are games where the winner actually accumulates fewer points overall than the loser, which happens in nearly five percent of men’s matches. And in this type of match, some players have an excellent record (Nadal wins 70% of them), while Federer is terrible – just 14%.

In the Metro article there’s some interesting speculation as to why that might be, and some cool infographics. There’s also the original article by Ryan Roderberg.


Roger Federer is statistically rubbish at tennis – because he tries too hard
17 Jan 2014

The reasons for Federer’s record are two-fold, according to Dr Rodenberg. On one hand, he fights to win every point. The other factor is his opponent, who typically adopts a high-risk strategy in an attempt to beat Federer, often dropping a few cheap points along the way if needs be. If that gamble pays off, Federer will end up winning more points, but not the match.

‘There is a possibility that other players, especially during his heyday from 2003 to 2007, just knew that he was so good that if they were just to play their normal tennis game, they would lose,’ said Dr Rodenberg.

‘So they adopted a high-risk, high-reward strategy. So they might be more aggressive on their serves, they might go for broke on returns or if they get down in certain games, they might say, “Okay, I need a rest now to get ready for the next game”, and take a few games off. Federer would still be winning more than half the points, but they would be winning the key games.’

Australian Open Tennis Final 2009: Federer vs Nadal

Unbelievable quality, these highlights. If you only watch 10 seconds, pick the rally at 11’00”, but there are so many others.

Men’s vs women’s tennis forehands

A long (27 mins) technical comparison of the top players’ forehands from the Men’s tour (ATP) and the Women’s (WTA). The author of the vid, Christophe Delavaut, is not the most exciting speaker, but he knows his stuff.

Fascinating parts are, for example, at 4’30”, where Nadal (flipped around to be right-handed) is superimposed on Wozniacki, so you can really see the differences clearly. At 23’00” you see the same done for Sam Stosur and Djokovic, showing the one current woman who hits it the way the men do. At 23’30” you see the now retired Henin (one of my favourite players), who also hit the men’s way, explaining how she managed to live with much bigger power players on court.

And in fact, since we mention Henin, here’s some of her practice hitting. Beautiful rhythm, and man – what a sound on contact!

Why Federer can’t beat Nadal, but Djokovic can

I post this as Nadal and Djokovic take each other on in the French Open semi of 2013!

Some stats:

Nadal has now beaten Federer more times than he has any other player
Tennis X
May 19th, 2013

With his emphatic win today at the Rome Italian Open final, Rafael Nadal improved his head-to-head record over rival Roger Federer to 20-10 and 13-2 on the clay courts. The 20 wins over the Swiss are also the most victories Rafa has over any player in his career – it’s also the most Roger has lost to any one player.


Some opinions:

Why has Nadal’s game always troubled Federer, but not Djokovic?
Yahoo answers

Djokovic has learned how to take his two-handed backhand down the line with a lot of pace. Remember, Rafa’s game is based around his heavy topspin forehand to the opponent’s backhand. He will then wait for the opponent to give him a weak shot and then crush an inside-out forehand

Before 2011, Djokovic would have trouble against Rafa for two reasons:

1. Djokovic’s forehand was not penetrating enough to prevent Rafa from stepping into his backhand. Now, with added pace and precision, Rafa is forced to go to the slice with his backhand, has he did a number of times in the final. Rafa’s slice isn’t nearly as good as Federer’s, because it sits up more. So Djokovic gets a fairly easy ball.

2. Djokovic’s backhand was a great crosscourt shot, but he didn’t have the down-the-line shot under his belt yet. Now that he has that shot, he can take Rafa’s loopy forehand and crush it down the line to Nadal’s backhand.

Essentially, these new components of Djokovic’s game have allowed him to find Nadal’s backhand, which is 10 times harder to find than any other player’s backhand. Federer continues to have problems with this because he can’t generate enough pace with his one-hander down the line to prevent Rafa from hitting an inside-out forehand. If you have a one-hander (like I do), you know how difficult it is to take a high ball down the line consistently. It is much easier to hit crosscourt, which plays right into Rafa’s forehand.


Tennis stars’ training routines

Djokovic in a fascinating squash-on-a-tennis-court routine:

Andy Murray: ‘My body feels like a machine’
7 July 2012
Andy Murray talks about his training regime, his body and the strengths of some of his opponents from Roger Federer’s athleticism to Novak Djokovic’s ability to do the splits

Federer on court, training with & without racket in hand (for an explanation of some of these moves, see A Comprehensive Roger Federer Training Routine):

Tennis stats

Unlike some sports, most notably cricket, tennis is poorly served* by both commentators** (how often does a tennis commentator tell you something that isn’t obvious?) and stats, but the latter’s improved somewhat with a couple of interesting stat resources I’ve recently found.

The first is Tennis rivalries on Wikipedia. This shows head-to-head scores for the main rivalries in tennis history, demonstrating how unprecedented Federer’s dominance is of many of his contemporaries (24 Grand Slam matches against Hewitt, Roddick, Murray & Davydenko, no losses yet), Nadal being the great exception of course.

You also reflect that although Murray’s been exceptionally unlucky to face Federer (3 times) and Djokovic (once) in his four losing Slam finals, there were a lot of good players around in earlier eras too. Mind you, the three current greats all had a much easier time winning their first slam final, doing it against Philippoussis (Federer), Mariano Puerta (Nadal) and Tsonga (Djokovic).

Then there’s the FedEx ATP Reliability Index. This shows amongst many other things (go play around) that Borg tops the all-time, all-surface Slam winning match % list at 89.8%, with Nadal (87.7%) and Federer (87.1%) currently in the next two slots. Murray (77.5%) is by far the highest of those who haven’t won a Slam.

*no pun intended
** Wilander the great exception

Is Murray’s grip the problem?

The piss-poor standard of tennis commentary constantly annoys me, especially as TV tennis commentary seems easy compared to many sports – it’s not particularly complex to explain what’s going on, and there are plentiful breaks between points & games. (Radio tennis commentary seems very hard, in fact the game is simply too quick to describe every shot in real time).

Yet how often do you ever hear something from the expert commentators that isn’t blindingly obvious? Hardly ever, apart from the superb Mats Wilander. Having said that, Jim Courier isn’t bad, and here he makes an interesting comment on Murray:

ITV has assembled a very able squad of tennis buffs of which Jim Courier has been the major signing. … Twice a winner of the French championship himself, of course he speaks with considerable authority and his analysis this week of Murray’s play was enlightening. Courier admits Murray is able to adapt his game to cope with most opponents even after apparently being near to quitting with back pain but when it comes to the big guns, “he simply does not have the ‘killer’ shot which will damage them.”

Courier reckons Murray can’t hit a ‘down-the-line’ winner with maximum power because of his very orthodox grip on the racket. It means he ‘spoons’ the ball, rather than hitting it flat. It is effective across court but, for down the line, the shot is limited and Courier tells us that the ‘big three’ know it.

If this was cricket they’d have video analysts swarming all over it, showing super-slow-mo and split screen comparisons between players. But as it’s tennis, the thought will probably disappear and never be mentioned again.

Three phenomenal points: Djokovic v Tsonga, 2011 Wimbledon semi-final

Henman: Federer’s serve is the best in the business

This reminds me of the most unreturnable serve I’ve ever seen, Ivanisevic, where the returner used to crouch & wiggle and then just stand up and walk to the opposite service box without even having twitched as the ball whistled past. The point is that he served fast, but wasn’t the absolute fastest, so it must have been the disguise.


Henman: Roger Federer’s serve is the best in the business
Mark Hodgkinson
22 Jun 2011

Judging someone’s serve simply by looking at the speed-gun is too simplistic, Tim Henman has said, with the Englishman arguing that Roger Federer’s placement and variation makes his delivery the trickiest to return in the men’s draw.

Henman, who appeared in four Wimbledon semi-finals, contended that Federer’s serve was the most underrated part of his game. “The foundation of Federer’s game, and the first strike, is his serve, and at times people don’t quite give Federer’s serve the credit it deserves,” Henman said.

“Someone like Andy Roddick, who’s serving at 10mph or 15mph faster than Federer, is probably easier to return. I’m not saying that someone like Roddick should look for variation. Speed is one of the biggest assets for him, but with Federer, his variation and placement are second to none. People look at the speed-gun, and they don’t see 135mph or 140mph, but it’s his variation and his placement which is important. I watched a lot of his matches at the French Open, and so many times on big points he was cleaning the lines,” said Henman.

Federer’s unpredictability is hugely important. “There isn’t one serve he always goes for on big points, and that’s the best thing about it. There are no patterns. He hits so many different serves with so many different ball tosses.

“Maybe on the deuce box, if the ball toss is a little bit further to the right, you might think he’s going to go out wide. But it doesn’t work like that. He might throw it out to the left, and you might think he’s going to hit it down the middle, then he hits it wide. He might not serve the most aces, but the reply that he gets often sets up his forehand, and his forehand would be the one I would have,” Henman said of Federer, who plays Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in the second round today.

When Federer is serving well, the rest of his game tends to work. “It opens up a lot of opportunities. When he is hitting his spots, it’s very difficult for his opponent to be aggressive on the return, and if you can’t get the ball away from the middle of the court, Federer is going to be dominating with his forehand on the second shot. That is his classic one-two punch,” Henman said.

“With his serve, the motion and the technique are so sound. He’s got amazing elevation, he uses his legs so well. I would like to see him incorporate serve-and-volley a bit more. Maybe once a game, just to put some more doubt into a returner’s head. He has so many options. He’s looking pretty good.”

Henman said that the conditions under a closed Centre Court roof would help Federer. “Roger plays well in the wind, but when the roof is closed and the conditions are still that favours him more. It helps all parts of his game. He’s able to play more aggressively and closer to the lines. When you’re playing in the wind, you have to give yourself more margin for error, and that’s not his game. He likes to take the ball on and go for it,” said Henman.

“The one thing that really helped Federer in Paris was the ball. The Babolat ball there definitely seemed as though it was quicker through the air, and the Slazenger ball used here is heavier, so he might not get the same penetration with the serve. But the surface helps him a bit. I don’t see Federer having any real problems against Mannarino. The Frenchman is a solid baseline player, but he hasn’t got the weapons to hurt Federer.”

In Henman’s opinion, the best approach when returning Federer’s serve is to be aggressive. “If you get into the mindset of chipping and blocking it back, you’re being too defensive and you’re going to let him dominate.

“You have to try to attack any second serves. When you get that second serve, you have to take advantage. You won’t get many of them, as his first-serve percentage is high, but you have to look to put the pressure on.”