Mar 21, 2014
Mar 21, 2014

Do the statistics suggest the tennis elite are in decline?

Do the statistics suggest the tennis elite are in decline?

Tennis bettors should be aware of a potential decline amongst elite players this year – with both top seeds failing to win the Australian Open, and a flurry of early exits for high seeds at Indian Wells last week, this article looks at whether there is a serious decline in top 10 players and whether there is a ‘changing of the guard’ at the top of professional tennis.

YHigh ranked players have dominated high level Grand Slam and Masters/Premier Mandatory events in recent years, and with these tournaments offering the highest levels of prize money and ranking points, it’s natural that top players highlight these events in their calendar as opportunities to advance their careers.

The effect of this is that a high level of motivation is ensured, and generally this means consistent wins for the majority of high ranked players, until they begin to meet each other in the latter stages of the tournament.

However, in the two biggest tournaments so far, January’s Australian Open and the Indian Wells Masters/Premier Mandatory event last week, there have been many more surprise results than average, with shock exits for several highly fancied players early, and especially in the women’s event, surprise finalists in Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep.

When reading tennis articles and comments by bettors and fans on social media, there appears to be somewhat of a kneejerk reaction whereby players are written off as ‘finished’ or ‘in decline’.  As always, it’s very important to look at quantifiable information before making such judgments, which may or may not be true.

ATP: Set handicap betting a viable option

The following table illustrates the differences between the 2013 stats and the 2014 season so far for the top 10 in the ATP:


Click the graph to see the full size

We can see from the above table that both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have a decline in their win percentage from 2013 to 2014 – and especially in the case of Nadal, a marked difference in their combined hold/break percentage.  He’s held 2.4% less and broken 5.1% less, and this has made his 2014 combined hold/break percentage just 5th best in the ATP.

Interestingly, Roger Federer marginally edges those combined hold/break stats, with a percentage of 120.1.  As one of the older players in the top 10, his renaissance wasn’t expected by many, and perhaps has come after the appointment of Stefan Edberg as his coach.

The best improver in the top ten was Tomas Berdych, with the Czech’s service hold an incredible 92.5% in 2014.  Not only has he managed to achieve this, he’s also upped his opponent break percentage from 24.5% to 27.5%.  If he can continue to do this, he can be a real threat to the upper echelons of the men’s game.

Despite both Nadal and Djokovic (plus Andy Murray) having lower win percentages in 2014 than 2013, the top 10 average has actually increased from 75.1% to 79.3%.  On that basis, it would appear from the stats that the overall standard of the top ten has improved, and it has become generally more competitive.

From a betting perspective, this may mean that backing lower ranked members of the top ten against Nadal and Djokovic might be a viable proposition.  This could be especially worthwhile on the set handicap – the stats in the table showing that both Nadal, Djokovic and Murray have won their best of three set matches in straight sets less than 50% of the time in 2014.

Finally from an ATP perspective, the table also includes Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  As a long-term member of the top ten, he recently dropped to 11th in the world.  His stats have shown a decline over several years now and his return stats – breaking opponents a mere 17.2% so far in 2014 – are very poor indeed.  His serving stats are still strong but his modus operandi currently seems to be to win tight sets and matches, much like John Isner.

WTA: Evidence of a decline in top players

As with the ATP, the following table illustrates the differences between 2013 and 2014 for the top 10 in the WTA:


Click the graph to see the full size

It is clear that looking at the stats that the top 10 in the WTA has suffered an overall large decline – much worse than the ATP.

The win percentage of the top 10 has dropped from 75.5% in 2013 to 69.4% in 2014, and the 2-0 straight set win score has reduced from 56.7% to 54.2%.

However, this is fairly logical because – as previous articles have identified – the pool of young talent in the women’s game is much stronger than that in the ATP.  The likes of Eugenie Bouchard, Sloane Stephens and Garbine Muguruza are all capable of defeating members of the top ten, and there are few equivalents in the men’s tour.

We can also see that, so far in 2014, there have been big decreases for Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Sara Errani when looking at their combined hold/break stats.

Whilst Williams has seen her service numbers remain consistent, her return stats have declined sharply and stand at the 2nd worst in the top ten currently.  This may be due to injuries, but at 32, age cannot be discounted.

Sharapova has had to contend with a long term injury absence and it’s natural she may well struggle to hit previous levels initially this season.  Her service numbers should be a big worry to her, and the percentage that she wins matches by a 2-0 scoreline has also dropped.

Errani was often considered the weakest member of the top ten despite rankings previously indicating that wasn’t the case, but the stats clearly show she is.  With a combined hold/break percentage under 100, she’s not even showing top 20 form right now and at short prices looks one to oppose on hard courts.  It will be very interesting to see how she fares on her favoured clay courts in the coming months.

Only two WTA top ten players have better stats this year than last.  Na Li, on the back of her Australian Open triumph has rose to number two in the rankings, whilst Jelena Jankovic has shown excellent 2014 form so far. The stats show that both players’ progression are more than justified, with combined hold/break percentages in the top three on tour.

Overall, it’s clear to see that the top ten of both tours have become much more competitive, and the elite players appear to be more beatable now than ever.  Particularly in the WTA, we may begin to see some players drop out of the top ten and be replaced by new, younger players as the ‘changing of the guard’ discussed earlier does appears to be taking place in the women’s game currently.

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