May 4, 2020
May 4, 2020

Comparing Grand Slams and ATP events in tennis (Part 1)

Structural differences between Grand Slams and ATP Tour events

How does this affect the ATP top ten?

The impact of mismatches at Grand Slams

Tennis data, stats and insights

Comparing Grand Slams and ATP events in tennis (Part 1)

An important component of tennis betting is understanding the difference between the three-set matches that take place at regular ATP Tour events and the five-set matches contested at Grand Slams. In the first of a two-part series, Dan Weston analyses the variances between the two and how this can impact player performance and therefore, betting on tennis.

Structural differences between Grand Slams and ATP events

The first part of this study will look at how Grand Slams differ in terms of games per set, overall totals and set scorelines, while the second article will give special focus to the top ten ATP players with a view to assessing how they perform across various tournament types.

Opening round matches at a Grand Slam will likely feature considerable quality and ability differences.

A clear discrepancy between five-set Grand Slam tournaments and three-set ATP events is the standard of opposition in the opening rounds and the seeding system at Grand Slams is a primary contributory factor towards this. The top 32 ranked players are unable to face each other in the opening round, and therefore all face players outside the top 32.

While there is still some formidable opposition amongst the latter group such as top players returning from injury and future stars on the rise, by and large the top 32 players will enjoy a considerable advantage over their opening round opponents. Even after the first round has been completed, the seeding system is structured so that the top players cannot face each other until the latter rounds of a Grand Slam.

This is not the case for ATP events. In Masters 1000 tournaments, the top players often receive a first round bye and enter in the round of 64, therefore having to face a player who has already won a match, while in 500 level tournaments there are often no byes. In 250 level tournaments, the top four seeds generally get opening round byes.

Essentially, this means that opening round matches at a Grand Slam will likely feature considerable quality and ability differences, while this occurs less often at Masters (at which the top players also receive a first round bye) and 250 level tournaments. These early tournament mismatches are exacerbated by the fact that they are contested over the best of five sets as opposed to three – generally in most sports, shorter formats tend to produce less of an advantage for ‘better’ players.

How does this affect the ATP top ten?

A comparison between the mean implied closing line win percentage for the current ATP top ten players in the opening round of Grand Slam matches and other tournaments from the start of 2019 appears to support this argument:

Player

Mean closing line implied win percentage for Grand Slam opening round matches

Mean closing line implied win percentage for opening round matches at other tournaments

Difference

Novak Djokovic

96.91%

92.96%

3.95%

Rafael Nadal

97.30%

92.84%

4.46%

Dominic Thiem

80.38%

77.04%

3.34%

Roger Federer

95.92%

92.01%

3.91%

Daniil Medvedev

89.72%

73.91%

15.81%

Stefanos Tsitsipas

83.59%

76.55%

7.04%

Alexander Zverev

82.15%

77.78%

4.37%

Matteo Berrettini

65.90%

59.62%

6.28%

Gael Monfils

79.43%

69.61%

9.82%

David Goffin

88.88%

65.34%

23.54%

As you can see above, all ten players in the current ATP top ten had a higher mean closing line implied win percentage in their opening round of Grand Slam events than they achieved in the other tournaments they competed in during this time. Daniil Medvedev and David Goffin even produced over a 15% margin of difference on this front.

These numbers would appear to indicate that the format of Grand Slams is stacked in favour of higher ranked players. They are very unlikely to face opposition close to their ability level in the opening rounds, and the five-set format produces fewer shocks. It is thus no surprise that top ten players have a higher implied chance of winning their opening round Grand Slam matches than at lower level ATP events.

The impact of mismatches at Grand Slams

This is also supported by the discrepancies in the stats between the fourth round matches (at which stage there are 16 players remaining) onwards at Grand Slam tournaments and the matches prior to this stage.

The three-set ATP tournaments involve more competitiveness and fewer mismatches in the opening rounds.

In Grand Slam tournaments from 2017 to 2019, matches from the fourth round onwards had 3.69 sets per match compared to 3.61 prior to this stage. The sets themselves were also tighter, featuring an average of 0.21 tiebreaks per set and 0.77 per match compared to 0.18 and 0.64 respectively beforehand.

All of this suggests that it is completely evident that the first few rounds at Grand Slam tournaments feature absurd mismatches and can arguably be treated as virtual byes for the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

By contrast, the three-set ATP tournaments involve more competitiveness and fewer mismatches in the opening rounds, thereby entailing tighter results. This is indicated by the fact that they witness a higher tiebreak per set total of 0.20 for all rounds, compared to just 0.18 at Grand Slams.

In the second part of this series, Dan will continue analysing the current top ten ATP players by looking at their underlying data in Grand Slam tournaments compared to three-set ATP events.

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