Australian Open Abstract Part 4: Milos and The Dog (Class of 2006-2008)
January 1, 2013 · Print This Article
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.
Class of 2006-2008 (7 Players)
Overall 2012 ATP Record: 231-129 (64.1%)
Overall 2011 ATP Record: 157-113 (58.1%)
Overall 2010 ATP Record: 109-93 (54.0%)
Only three out of the seven players in this class (Isner, Querrey and Dolgopolov) have been on the tour full-time since 2010. Among them, Querrey had the best good start to his career, amassing four titles in 2010 before spending most of 2011 injured. John Isner is at least three years older than the six others in the Class of ’06-’08 as he played NCAA Division I tennis for four full seasons. The college game prepared him well for the ATP, as Isner amassed 119 ATP Tour wins since 2010 to lead this group (Dolgopolov: 93 wins, Querrey: 88 wins, Raonic: 84 wins, Nishikori: 76 wins, Klizan: 24 wins, Janowicz: 17 wins).
Tie Break Winning Percentage, 2012: 57.1% (+1.9% compared to top-32 average)
Avg. Tie Break Winning Percentage, 2010-2012: 56.9% (+1.1%)
Big servers like Raonic, Isner and Querrey tend have an edge in tie breaks (all three of them average over 60% in the past three seasons). Jerzy Janowicz also chipped in by winning 9 of 12 tie breaks played in 2012. Klizan and Dolgopolov are the only two players under 0.500 (38% and 46% in 2012 respectively).
Percentage of Service Games Won, 2012: 84.7% (+1.5%)
Average Percentage of Service Games Won, 2010-2012: 80.0% (-2.0%)
The big servers come to the rescue once again. Raonic and Isner lead the entire ATP Tour in service games held with 93% and 92% respectively in the past twelve months. In the same time span, Janowicz, thanks to his great run in Paris Bercy, clocks in at an excellent 89%. Querrey, possessing a rocket arm himself, scores a respectable 85%. Dolgopolov has some room for improvement at 81%. Nishikori and Klizan round out the group with subpar serving numbers (78% and 75% respectively).
Percentage of Return Games Won, 2012: 20.3% (-4.3%)
Average Percentage of Return Games Won, 2010-2012: 18.0% (-6.0%)
Mother Nature has a way of evening things out. As good as Raonic, Isner and Janowicz are on serve thanks to their height, that advantage is dampened by their relative ineptness on the return game. Four out of the seven players in this group won less than 20% of their return games in 2012. Their identities are not surprising – Isner: 11%, Raonic: 15%, Janowicz: 16%, Querrey: 18%. For all of his struggles on his service games, the 5’10” Nishikori has proven himself a monster on return games, breaking serve at a 31% clip this past season.
Individual Player Profiles – Class of 2006-2008
Sam Querrey (’06)
In 2007, Querrey appeared alongside Donald Young, Holden Seguso, Tim Neilly, Marcus Fugate, Clancy Shields and Greg Hirshman in Unstrung, a documentary describing these players’ trials and tribulations in junior tennis. Shields, Hirshman and Seguso opted for NCAA Division I tennis instead of turning pro, while Neilly and Fugate never made much of an impact on the tour despite their talent. Out of the seven, only Querrey and Young ended up “making it” on the tour.
Querrey rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011 to post a 37-26 Tour record. This past season has seen marked upswings in Querrey’s tie break winning percentage (61%, up from 46% in 2010, his previous full season). In addition, he was 12-10 in deciding sets (55%), a ten percent rise compared to 2010. His 18% return games won in 2012 leaves room for improvement (only three players scored lower), but it also signifies an opportunity for an adept baseliner like Querrey. If he can raise that number to around 20% and keep holding his serve at an 85% clip or better, he’ll have a great shot at breaking into the top 15 in 2013.
Alexandr Dolgopolov (’07)
Alexandr Dolgopolov, a.k.a. The Dog, is currently ranked #18 and finished 2012 with a 34-25 record. Despite not scoring any large upsets this year, he managed to win a title in Washington and reached two other finals. While he can hit any shot in the book and often does the unpredictable during matches, The Dog has been a model of consistency on a year-to-year, upping his game and his ranking steadily since turning pro in 2007.
The Dog’s service hold percentage has seen improvement in each of the past three seasons, but at 81% for 2012, he is still not getting the most out of his delivery. Despite having one of the most explosive serving motions on tour and a great slice serve in the deuce court, Dolgopolov often makes his own life difficult by not putting enough first serves in the court (53.5%, 50.5% and 54.5% in the last three years). If he can keep that in mind in Melbourne and focus on placement instead of pace, he’ll be more than capable of making a run to the quarter-finals or better.
John Isner (’07)
The top American player on the ATP Tour, Isner is a full three years older (and wiser) than his cohorts in the Class of ’06-’08. His 2012 highlights include winning two titles (Winston-Salem and Newport) and upsetting Roger Federer on red clay in Davis Cup. Last year, he had a good record against top-ten competition (6-3) and was surprisingly reliable on clay (10-7).
While no one will doubt that Isner has a more potent serve than Dolgopolov, the American also puts the odds on his side by getting more first serves in play than anyone else in the top-32. His 68.7% first serve percentage is simply unheard of for a player who does more than just spinning the ball in. As long as Isner can do better at converting break point opportunities (only 31% in 2012) and keep it together in five-set matches (his career five-set record stands at 4-10), the 6’9” Georgia alumni will have another solid season.
Kei Nishikori (’07)
The resurgent Nishikori seems to have fully recovered from his career-threatening wrist injuries and managed to put together an excellent 2012 campaign, winning the title at Tokyo in front of a home crowd and finishing the year at 37-18.
In 2012, only Nadal and Djokovic performed better on return games than the Florida-based Nishikori. His 31% conversion rate is the same as that of Murray and Ferrer. Currently, the number-one ranked Japanese player is only winning 78% of his service games, so that will be something to work on in 2013. A small improvement in that area will have a disproportionate positive effect on Kei’s match results in this coming season.
Jerzy Janowicz (’07)
The 6’8” Pole wrote one of the feel-good stories of 2012 with a fairy-tale run to the final of Paris-Bercy after years of bouncing around in the lower rungs of the professional game. He won’t have many points to defend at the Australian Open, simply because he has never played in the first Grand Slam of the year. Last year, he watched the tournament on TV. In two weeks he will be seeded. What a change!
Because of the low number of Tour matches Janowicz has contested (only 26 matches since 2007), it is hard to draw any definite conclusions on trends influencing his game. If we include his ATP Challenger results, we can see that he definitely played above his usual level at the tail end of 2012. His first serve won percentage, tie break winning percentage and return points won percentage were all significantly above his career averages set in the minor leagues. It will be extremely difficult for Janowicz to maintain that same level of play through a whole season. If Jerzy can keep his wits about him even when losing week after week in ATP Tour events (a.k.a. the Sophomore Jinx) and play well enough to defend most of his 2012 point, then he will be a solid top-30 player, but that is a lot easier said than done.
Martin Klizan (’07)
Like Janowicz, Klizan made a big late-season breakthrough in 2012, beating Tsonga at the US Open and winning St. Petersburg. Unlike Janowicz, however, Klizan is an established winner at the Challenger level (29-25 in 2010, 43-29 in 2011), which gives him a wealth of experience to draw upon as he attempts to translate that success into wins at the Tour level in 2013.
Despite being a 6’3” left-hander, Klizan’s serve is not an overpowering weapon. Indeed, he relies mostly on his cunning baseline game rather than sheet pace to win matches. His first serve percentage is on the low end for a baseliner (55.7% career) and his first serve winning percentage is one of the worst among current top-32 players (67.9% career). He’ll have to improve one or the other in order to stick around in the top-30.
Milos Raonic (’08)
There was no sophomore jinx in Raonic’s case, as he backed up his breakout 31-19 season in 2011 with an even better one, finishing 2012 at 45-20 and winning two titles. At #13 in the world, the twenty-two year-old is both the youngest and the most highly ranked player in this class.
Milos’ success on the tennis court will forever be tied to how well he serves, there’s no denying that. He made the most out of his biggest weapon last year, holding serve a tour-leading 93% of the time compared to 88% in 2011. The same progress hasn’t occurred on the return game, however (15% return games won in 2012 versus 16% in 2011). Milos has a tendency to stand far back and try to out-grind his opponents on return games, which may not be the best idea. Granted, he is good enough to make that strategy work against someone ranked 50 in the world or so, but it’s hard to believe that it can be an effective way to play a member of the top-ten. In any case, if Raonic can somehow get his return games won percentage in line of that of Stepanek or Chardy (21%, which is still just average) and keep serving the way he is now, the possibilities are endless.
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