Dec 16, 2016
Dec 16, 2016

WTA 2016 Tops & Flops

2016 changes in the WTP Top 10

Top WTA underperformers

Who is expected to outperform their ATP ranking?

WTA 2016 Tops & Flops
The 2017 WTA tennis season starts on the 2nd January, and as with the ATP, tennis expert Dan Weston compares key data for 2016 to determine which players are likely to climb the WTA ranking ladder this year. Read on to find out.

Angelique Kerber’s rise to world number one was the main on-court talking point this year in the WTA. The rise of the German tennis player, who was described as “rather good, but not great” not only shocked bettors but also statistical predictions.

The table below indicates that her combined hold/break percentages are not at the world-class level of over 120% and also that the absence of rivals Victoria Azarenka (pregnancy), Serena Williams (injury) and Maria Sharapova (ban) from the tour created a huge gap at the top of the world rankings that one player had to take, almost by default.

2016 changes in the WTP Top 10

2016 changes in the WTP Top 10

Player

Current rank

2016 Hold %

2016 Break %

2016 Combined &

Azarenka

13

79.8

51.4

131.2

William S

2

80.5

44.3

124.8

Radwanska A

3

70.4

48.7

119.1

Halep

4

70.2

47.9

118.1

Bellis

75

68.5

48.0

116.5

Kerber

1

70.8

43.3

114.1

Kvitova

11

75.6

38.0

113.6

Wozniacki

19

71.0

42.0

113.0

Konta

10

74.9

37.2

112.1

Keys

8

77.7

34.2

111.9

We can see here that Kerber, despite being world number one, was actually sixth on the list of WTA players when sorted for combined hold/break percentage in 2016. The previously mentioned Azarenka and Williams had significantly better data than all other WTA players, whilst CiCi Bellis’ position is something of an anomaly, given her small sample size and poor opponent quality. Having said this, the 17-year-old American prospect is a player of enormous potential and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her in this company in the coming years.

Kerber rose to world number one despite her combined hold/break percentages not being at the world-class level of over 120%.

It is difficult to make a case for Kerber being significantly better than other rivals Halep and Radwanska, who have better hold/break data, and it is likely to be difficult for the German to maintain her position at the peak of the women’s game in the future.

She also only improved her hold/break percentage by 1.5% in 2016, despite rising in the rankings from 10, at the end of 2015, to 1 this year. Unlike the new world number one in the ATP, Andy Murray, it is unlikely that Kerber’s rise is mainly down to her own improvement.

Of the current top ten in the world rankings, Serena Williams (-0.3%) and Garbine Muguruza (-1.5%) showed a drop in their combined hold/break percentage in 2016. Muguruza in particular needs to address her results on hard courts, as well as her general inconsistency. She failed to rank in the top 10 for combined hold/break percentage.

Dominika Cibulkova (8.3% rise) saw her ranking rise from 38 at the end of 2015 to 5 following her Tour Finals triumph, whilst Johanna Konta’s 5.6% improvement saw her go from 48 in the world to 10. As with the ATP, there is a clear correlation between combined hold/break percentage improvement and world ranking improvement.

Major ranking fluctuations in WTA 2016 

Player improvement and decline was more pronounced in the WTA in 2016 than in the ATP. Three players - Elena Vesnina (rank 16), Kiki Bertens (22) and Shuai Zhang (23) are currently ranked inside the top 25 in the world, but were ranked outside the top 100 at the end of 2015, whilst Anna Schmiedlova (ranked 26 at the end of 2015) has now dropped to 227 following a horrific year. 

Alison Van Uytvanck, Teliana Pereira and the injury-hit Mona Barthel were fellow top 50 players at the end of 2015 who are now ranked outside the top 100.

Top WTA underperformers

The table below shows the biggest combined hold/break percentage decliners in the WTA, who were ranked in the top 100 at the end of 2015 (minimum 15 matches).

Hold/break percentage decliners in the WTA

Player

End 2015

Current

Difference

2015 Hold %

2015 Break %

2015 Combined %

2016 Hold %

2016 Break %

2016 Combined %

Combined % Difference

Pereira

46

205

-159

62.8

42.5

105.3

50.2

24.8

75.0

-30.3

Schmiedlova

26

227

-201

64.7

41.9

106.6

46.6

31.2

77.8

-28.8

Maria

74

115

-41

67.3

30.5

97.8

58.9

26.3

85.2

-12.6

Gasparyan

61

117

-56

71.3

37.0

108.3

61.3

35.3

96.6

-11.7

Mattek-Sands

60

176

-116

68.5

34.5

103.0

61.1

30.3

91.4

-11.6

Stosur

27

21

6

76.3

33.5

109.8

69.8

28.5

98.3

-11.5

Barthel

45

183

-138

66.9

34.4

101.3

66.7

25.0

91.7

-9.6

Errani

20

49

-29

55.0

51.9

106.9

52.7

44.7

97.4

-9.5

Safarova

9

62

-53

78.7

29.0

107.7

75.7

22.8

98.5

-9.2

Bencic

14

43

-29

70.1

37.4

107.5

68.1

30.6

98.7

-8.8

Both Pereira and Schmiedlova’s stats drop was significantly more than Hyeon Chung, whose data declined the most in the ATP - although the WTA was different to the ATP in terms of the age dynamic of players whose data worsened the most.

Whilst veterans Tatjana Maria, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Sam Stosur, Sara Errani and Lucie Safarova (who struggled with injury and illness throughout the year) were included in the list, Schmiedlova was one of a number of young prospects who failed to kick on in 2016. Margarita Gasparyan and Belinda Bencic both failed to improve this year. In addition to this trio, another young player, Camila Giorgi, was just outside this list.

Whilst these talented young players still have much of their career to improve, the same cannot be said for the older players listed above. Mattek-Sands is likely to devote more of her time to doubles, whilst Stosur’s false ranking will be discussed later in this article.

Errani, who saw her already poor service hold percentage drop further to 52.7% in 2016, will see her serve come under increasing pressure this year and it’s worth noting that the percentage that Safarova broke opponents in 2016 was the second worst in the current top 100 - behind Naomi Broady - so her return game needs a lot of work.

Top improvers

Below you see the players ranked in the top 100 in 2015 who improved their combined hold/break percentages the most in 2016.  

Improved hold/break percentages in 2016

Player

2015 Hold %

2015 Break %

2015 Combined %

2016 Hold %

2016 Break %

2016 Combined %

Combined % Difference

Rogers

44.8

25.5

70.3

67.1

34.9

102.0

31.7

Bertens

59.9

32.2

92.1

70.7

37.2

107.9

15.8

Azarenka

71.1

45.4

116.5

79.8

51.4

131.2

14.7

Davis

57.5

31.5

89.0

61.5

40.8

102.3

13.3

Zhang S

59.6

31.2

90.8

63.1

40.2

103.3

12.5

Putintseva

60.9

32.3

93.2

63.0

40.0

103.0

9.8

Cepelova

51.9

34.0

85.9

59.6

35.8

95.4

9.5

Vesnina

64.6

30.4

95.0

67.4

37.0

104.4

9.4

Puig

68.4

28.4

96.8

70.7

35.2

105.9

9.1

Babos

70.1

26.8

96.9

70.0

35.9

105.9

9.0


As with the decliners, improvement was very pronounced in the WTA, with Shelby Rogers, Kiki Bertens, Victoria Azarenka, Lauren Davis and Shuai Zhang all recording double-digit improvements in their combined hold/break percentages.

Bertens and Zhang were rewarded with top-25 ranking berths for this improvement, whilst Rogers is now ranked 59 after being outside the top 100 at the end of 2015 and Davis boosted her rank from 88 to 61.

Yulia Putintseva, Jana Cepelova, Monica Puig and Timea Babos were also improvers with years on their side (all are 23 years of age or below) and there is little reason why they cannot continue their rise. It is also worth noting that Olympic champion Puig received no ranking points for her triumph in Rio. 

The previously mentioned top 10 improvers Dominika Cibulkova and Johanna Konta were ranked just outside this list for combined hold/break percentage improvement.

Who is expected to outperform their ATP ranking? 

As with the ATP 2016 Tops & Flops, it is worth looking at players who are falsely ranked with a view to predicting which players are likely to be over-rated or under-rated by the markets in 2017.

The following list of current top 100 players are world ranked considerably lower than their hold/break percentage ranking - indicating that their current world ranking makes them look a worse player than they actually are: 

Who is expected to outperform their ATP ranking?

Player

Current rank

2016 Combined rank %

Rank – Combined % Rank

Lisicki

92

55

37

Pironkova

64

29

35

Jankovic

54

20

34

Lucic-Baroni

81

52

29

Arruabarrena

66

40

26

Ivanovic

63

41

22

Watson

76

56

20

Goerges

53

35

18

Stephens

35

18

17

Davis

61

45

16

All these players had combined hold/break percentages over 100% for 2016, but only Sloane Stephens - who has flattered to deceive for a long period of time - is ranked in the top 50. Interestingly, the majority of these players are tour regulars or veterans and, with the exception of Ana Ivanovic, were not particularly affected by injuries compared to the average player.

Considering this, it would be reasonable to assert that the WTA has quite a streaky and variance-heavy result dynamic and that poor scheduling and players confidence also has a much bigger impact in the women’s game than on the men’s tour. Certainly, it will be interesting to see how many of these ten players improve their end of 2016 ranking in 12 months time.

Underperformers in disguise

The players listed below appear over-ranked based on their hold/break percentages and future decline seems likely to assume for most.

Underperformers in disguise

Player

Current rank

2016 Combined rank %

Rank – Combined % Rank

Stosur

21

74

-53

Dol

40

90

-50

Vinci

18

58

-40

Ostapenko

44

80

-36

Sevastova

34

68

-34

Begu

29

62

-33

Mladenovic

42

70

-28

Errani

49

77

-28

Bencic

43

69

-26

Chirico

68

93

-25

Garcia

24

49

-25

Brengle

73

98

-25

Sam Stosur, who no longer even boasts a combined hold/break percentage over 100%, has not looked like a top-25 player at all in recent months and at almost 33 years of age and woeful hard court stats, it is unlikely that she will be able to make significant future improvements. It would be far from a surprise to see her ranked outside the top 50 in 12 months time.

Misaki Doi is a player who has looked grossly over-rated by the world rankings for around 18 months with my model typically opposing the Japanese player. The Italian veteran, Roberta Vinci, considered retirement at the end of the season, but has committed to at least one further year on tour. Vinci’s former doubles partner, Sara Errani, was already highlighted as a decliner, and these stats also illustrate that Errani will struggle to turn this around in 2017.

Jelena Ostapenko, Belinda Bencic, Louisa Chirico and Caroline Garcia are all aged 23 or below and all look to be ranked higher than their data suggests but they will need significantly better years in 2017 to justify their current ranking on the WTA Tour.

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