Australian Open Abstract Part 2: Player Previews – Tour Veterans (Class of 2001-2002)
December 28, 2012 · Print This Article
by: Jack Han
Is there such a thing as statistically rigorous tennis commentary? If such a thing can exist, then this is what we setting out to achieve with this multi-part series. In tennis, until very recently, fans and journalists tend to measure a player’s talent with subjective criteria such as the fluidity of his one-handed backhand or with relatively one-dimensional numbers such as the speed of his first serve. A case can be made that there’s much more to tennis than that.
Part 1: http://tennisconnected.com/home/2012/12/27/australian-open-abstract-part-1-player-previews-the-old-guards-class-of-1996-2000/
Today is the second of four installments discussing the results of the top thirty-two players in the world. By virtue of their 2012 year-end rankings, the players covered here will be seeded at the Australian Open, giving them the best opportunity to advance beyond the initial rounds.
Chances are, one of the thirty-two players we will be discussing in the next four days will be the person lifting the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup in Melbourne. Indeed, the only unseeded player ever to win at the Australian Open was Mark Edmondson back in 1976.
Instead of arranging players by their current ranking, we have decided to present them in the order in which they turned pro, not unlike the way NHL and NFL players are often statistically compared to players in their draft year. Not only does this provide another perspective from which to make sense of the numbers, but it will hopefully uncover some truths about the longevity and consistency of these players relative to those in their age range.
Class of 2001-2002 (11 Players)
Overall 2012 ATP Record: 454-243 (65.1%)
Overall 2011 ATP Record: 459-260 (64.2%)
Overall 2010 ATP Record: 413-234 (63.8%)
It seems that ATP players are hitting their primes relatively later in their careers. While the average player in this group is over 27 and has played at least 10 full years on the tour, their win-loss ratio as well as their title haul has gotten progressively better in the past three years. Note that the numbers for 2012 would have been even better had Rafael Nadal been able to play the second half of the year after his loss at Wimbledon and subsequent layoff.
Tie Break Winning Percentage, 2012: 52.5% (-2.7% compared to top-32 average)
Avg. Tie Break Winning Percentage, 2010-2012: 53.7% (-2.1%)
We can see here that this group, collectively, is not particularly good at playing tie breaks. Surprisingly, baseline grinders like Nadal, Monaco and Tipsarevic lead the class (72%, 59% and 58% respectively), while big-serving Tomas Berdych is just average (55%).
Percentage of Service Games Won, 2012: 81.8% (-1.4%)
Average Percentage of Service Games Won, 2010-2012: 81.0% (-1.0%)
As we have seen with yesterday’s group, the Class of ’01-’02 has gotten better at taking care of their serving games over the past years, but still do not hold as often as their younger cohorts in the top-32. Nadal and Berdych lead with 87% and 86 respectively over the past three years. Despite his good tie break winning percentage, Monaco is last overall with an anemic 76% since 2010.
Percentage of Return Games Won, 2012: 26.7% (+2.1%)
Average Percentage of Return Games Won, 2010-2012: 26.0% (+2.0%)
The Class of ’01-’02 feature some of the best baseliners in the game, so it is not surprising that the group significantly outperforms the mean on return games won. Nadal is first yet again; he manages to break his opponent once every three service games. Kohlschreiber is last in the group with a still-respectable 22% (good for at least one break every set, on average).
Individual Player Profiles – Class of 2001-2001
Florian Mayer (’01)
The lanky German’s game is most accurately described with the word “awkward.” He is not beyond throwing in some forehand slices as a rally shot to get opponents out of their rhythm, and his service motion is funky to say the least. He reached #18 in the world in the summer of 2011 but has fallen back to #28 after a middling 23-26 season in which he won zero titles. He did not play the Australian Open last year, so he will at least be looking forward to gaining significant ground on his immediate competitors with every match win Down Under.
Though four out of Mayer’s five career ATP finals have come on clay, he is somewhat of a grass court specialist, having advanced to the fourth round of Wimbledon on three occasions. The slippery, low-bouncing surface allows him to get some more free points on his serve (73.4% career 1st serve points won on grass as opposed to 70.0% overall), which is not that strong despite the German’s 6’3” frame. Conversely, the high, true bounce of hard courts make them Mayer’s worst enemy (he has only won 55% of career matches on hard courts as opposed to 64% on grass and 59% overall).
Fernando Verdasco (’01)
Despite accumulating just over one million dollars in 2012 prize money, Verdasco currently sits only 24th in the world, down from his high of #7 in the summer of 2009. He made one final in the past season (Acapulco) and has not won a title since 2010, an underwhelming run given the Spaniard’s physical attributes and his heavy left-handed ground strokes.
Two statistical categories where we see a marked downturn are Verdasco’s service games won percentage and his break point conversion rate. In 2012, Verdasco held 81% of the time, down from 85% during his peak season of 2009. Similarly, he won 40% of break points earned in 2012, down from 45% in 2009. Last year in Melbourne, he lost to Bernard Tomic in five sets in the first round, so it won’t be hard for him to improve at least on that front this January, in theory.
Phillipp Kohlschreiber (’01)
2012 has been a banner year for Kohlschreiber, who managed to gain a career-best ranking of #16 in July. Currently #20, he was one of the few players on the tour to surpass 40 match wins (42-24) and one million dollars in prize money. He has performed well in Grand Slams (4R in Australia, QF at Wimbledon and 4R at the US Open) and upset Nadal on grass at Halle the week before Wimbledon.
At 5’10”, Kohlschreiber owns one of the best forehand-backhand combinations on the tour, but the main contributing factor to his rise this year has been his serve. He held 85% of his serving games this year, up from 80% in 2011 and 83% in 2010. Not only is he hitting more aces (9.3 per 100 first serves in compared to a career average of 7.5), but he is also backing up his second delivery with more conviction (55.8% second serve points won versus 53.3% career). He will have a good amount of points to defend at the Australian Open, given his fourth round showing last year, so backing up that result with another run into the second week of competition will surely be on the German’s mind heading into 2013.
Rafael Nadal (’01)
Like Mardy Fish, which we discussed yesterday, Nadal was not able to play more than half of the season due to health concerns. Furthermore, like Fish, Rafa has played well whenever he’s been healthy in 2012. Due to his abbreviated campaign, he suffered less than ten losses in a calendar year for a first time. His 88% winning percentage (42-6) is the best he has achieved since winning 89% of his matches (78-10) in 2010, a year in which he swept the last three Slams of the year in dominating fashion.
For all of Nadal’s strengths, one of his least-heralded qualities is the way he is able to raise his game in tie breaks. Even though he has a poor tiebreak record against Federer (ironic considering his overall advantage in the rivalry), his 72.7% overall winning rate over the past three years is the best on tour, significantly better than Federer (65%), Isner (64.3%) and Raonic (61.3%).
Janko Tipsarevic (’02)
Like David Ferrer, whose recent form we have discussed in some detail in Part 1, Janko Tipsarevic has played his best tennis throughout the 2012 season (though he went out meekly against Gasquet, 3-6 3-6 1-6, in the third round of the Australian Open). Finishing the year at #9, with a record of 57-28, Tipsarevic is finally fulfilling the promise he has shown as the #1 junior in the world some years ago.
Though Tipsarevic is making the most of his opportunities, it’s doubtful that he will be able to rise much higher than his current ranking. He started 2012 ranked 38th in the world before making his ascension to the top-10. Since then, his record against higher-ranked opponent has bottomed out, going from 9-11 (45%) in 2010 to 5-12 (29%) to 2-10 (17%) this year. Unless he does something drastically different in 2013 and add some new weapons to his game, it should be much of the same yet again in the next twelve months.
Stanislas Wawrinka (’02)
Currently ranked #17, Stan has had an unspectacular 2012 season, going 35-20 but not winning any titles. In Melbourne, he knocked off Paire and Baghdatis before bowing out to Nicolas Almagro in straight sets.
While Wawrinka boasts a solid all-around game anchored by a powerful forehand and a reliable one-handed backhand, it’s worth noting that he has the worst tie break winning percentage of any player in the top-32. Last year, he only won 37% of all tie breaks played, a full 18% lower than the average. Over the past three years, he’s 14% off the pace with a better-but-still-woeful 43%. We are not sure why that is. It would be something worth studying more in detail in 2013.
Tomas Berdych (’02)
On the strength of his 61-23 record and two titles won, Berdych finished 2012 ranked a career-high #6 in the world. Apart from a first-round loss to an on-fire Gulbis at Wimbledon, Berdych performed well at the Slams this year (QF at Australian Open, 4R at Roland Garros, SF at US Open) and was an integral member of the Davis Cup-winning Czech team.
While Berdych has been the fifth most effective server, in terms of service games held, over the past three years, he has not been as clutch as other top players when the chips were down. Out of the current members of the top-10, only Richard Gasquet has won a lower percentage of tie breaks played in the past three years. Gasquet is at 51%, Berdych is at 55%, while the top-10’s average tie break winning percentage between 2010 and 2012 stands at 59%. If Berdych can crack 60% tie breaks won in the coming year, perhaps he’ll be able to break through and win a first Grand Slam title. Maybe.
Gilles Simon (’02)
The 28 year-old Frenchman has had a resurgent 2012, finishing 16th in the world on the strength of a 43-25 season and a perfect 5-for-5 record in five-set matches. Though he will be hard-pressed to match his career-best ranking of #6 in the world, achieved back in 2009, Simon actually had a decent 5-6 record against top-10 opponents he faced this year.
“Play to your strength” is a maxim often referenced by coaches, and the theory does hold merit in Simon’s case. While his service games held statistic has been negatively trending since 2010, his overall winning percentage has increased due to a strong upturn in his returning games won category. Only six players (Nadal, Djokovic, Nishikori, Murray, Ferrer and Monaco) have returned better than Simon this past season (29% return games won). All in all, even though the Frenchman seemed to have been neglecting his serve, it didn’t hurt him at all this year.
Richard Gasquet (’02)
Hailed as a potential Slam winner since appearing on the front cover of a French magazine as a five year-old, Richard Gasquet has had anything but an easy life in pro tennis. And just when most people have written him off as a wasted talent, here he is back in the top-10, just barely. His 42 wins and 22 losses in 2012 allowed him to grab hold of the #10 ranking in the final weeks of the season. At the Slams, he got about as far as he was supposed to most of the time, losing to Ferrer twice and Murray once. The exception was at Wimbledon, where he lost in the fourth round to Florian Mayer, but you already know that Mayer is a sneaky-good grass court player.
What’s the secret to Gasquet’s return to form? It seems to be an increased willingness to get out of his comfort zone in terms of scheduling. Though the Frenchman is more at ease playing on clay, he took a gamble and shifted more of his attention to hard courts in 2012, playing 42 total matches on the green-and-blue stuff as opposed to 31 matches in 2011 and 35 in 2010. This adjustment paid off. Gasquet’s 64% winning percentage on hard court this year is the second highest he’s achieved in his career. What was the highest? 69% in 2007, the same year where he made it to his career-high ranking of 7 in the world.
Andreas Seppi (’02)
At age 28, the Italian is playing the best tennis of his life. With a 38-27 record and two titles, Seppi ended 2012 as the 23rd best-ranked player in the world. The year started slowly for Seppi with a first round loss to Gasquet at the Aussie Open, but he managed to find his form during the clay court season, winning Belgrade, making the quarters at his home tournament in Rome (loss to Federer) and reaching the fourth round of the French Open (loss to Djokovic). That run lifted his ranking into the top-30, where he’s stayed ever since.
While Seppi has never had an excessively powerful serve (in fact, it’s one of the weaker parts of his game), whatever technical adjustments he’s made in the last two years have paid dividends. He is now winning more points on his first serve (+2.2% since 2010) and on his second serve (+2.9% since 2009).
Juan Monaco (’02)
Currently ranked #12, Juan Monaco is truly a Jekyll and Hyde type character. While he’s had a career year in every sense of the word, winning four titles and reaching the final of three other tournaments, six out of those seven finals have occurred on clay (Monaco somehow winning Kuala Lumpur, an indoor hard court tournament, on the seventh occasion). He was 25-7 on clay but only 12-10 on hard court in 2012.
Monaco was third only to Nadal and Djokovic in terms of return games won percentage this past year, breaking his opponent on 31% of occasions. He also happens to be the least effective server in the top-32, with a lowly 77% of service games held (he was even worse in the two years prior). All this suggests that he would be much better off playing as many matches as possible on clay. Indeed, he has a very good 194-109 career record on the dirt (64%), while his record on hard court is a mediocre at best (89-88).
Part 3 (Dec. 30th): Seeded Player Profiles – In their Primes
Novak Djokovic (’03)
Nicolas Almagro (’03)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (’04)
Andy Murray (’05)
Marin Cilic (’05)
Juan Martin Del Potro (’05)
Jeremy Chardy (’05)
Part 4 (Jan. 1st): Seeded Player Profiles – Rising Stars
Sam Querrey (’06)
Alexandr Dolgopolov (’07)
John Isner (’07)
Kei Nishikori (’07)
Jerzy Janowicz (’07)
Martin Klizan (’07)
Milos Raonic (’08)
Part 5 (Jan. 3rd): Previewing the Best – The Big Four, Revisited
Djokovic’s Achille’s Heel
Federer’s (Supposed) Decline
What Murray Needs to Be Number One
Nadal, Better Than Ever?
Part 6 (Jan. 5th): Previewing the Rest – Bracket Breakers
Part 7 (Jan. 7th): Conclusion & AO 2013 Predictions