by: Phillip G. Pate

Novak Djokovic has looked unbeatable for the past 18 months. With the exception of one afternoon in Paris when Stan Wawrinka was shooting sweet backhand bullets on the red clay no one has come close to beating the Serbian in a Grand Slam tournament since 2014. So naturally, this article will be about picking against Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. And truthfully, I would feel a lot better about it if every round Djokovic’s opponent wore Wawrinka’s color blinding red plaid shorts. Unfortunately Wimbledon’s dress code most likely rules out the fashion forward Yonex sportswear.

Picking Against the Favourite

Novak Djokovic is the obvious favorite to win Wimbledon. Vegas is daring visitors to pick the field. I’m here to tell you it isn’t crazy to pick against Djokovic. To begin, here are a few historical as well as contemporary reasons:

– Not since 1969 has any man won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon in one calendar year.
– No player since Don Budge in the 1930’s has won 6 of 7 slams over 2 calendar years.
– Andy Murray is undefeated against Djokovic on grass (2012 Olympic semi-finals and 2013 Wimbledon finals).
– The draw will feature a maturing field (Raonic, Kyrgios, Thiem), no. 2 in the world on hometown turf, and a rested Federer. This is the tournament for too many of the top players to not consider the field.

Key Stats

The players mentioned above are in the conversation to win Wimbledon. Can any of them beat Novak Djokovic? The Serbian is the clear favorite however there is a stacked field of players that can definitely win and will be fun to support if you’re looking for an “underdog.” Let’s first take a look at some stats.

Note: Statistics include current top-50 players at grass and hard court events in past 52 weeks versus top 50 players. 20 match minimum. All cited statistics in article follow this criterion unless noted. Data as of June 15, 2016. Data provided by

The article’s statistical outlook will focus on the first two shots of every rally (serve and return) given the faster (yet slowing) court speeds and therefore critical nature of the grass court serve. If we take a look at the servers based on ace% and 1st Serve Win Efficiency (total first serve points won including faults) there are some interesting choices. The first set of data above outlines mostly players who will be very likely to advance late into the 1st week or early into the 2nd week almost solely off of a big serve. Karlovic, Isner and Anderson are great examples of players who live off winning service games (they hold 1st, 2nd and 5th most service games, respectively).

However the correlation between winning tournaments and the players who have the highest 2nd serve return win % illustrates how the game has evolved. An effective serve is necessary, particularly on grass, but the versatile athletes have been rewarded in this generation. Nimble defense, crisp passing shots, comfort at the net and a power baseline game in addition to a big serve are critical to win any Grand Slam today. Dissecting the players who are winning in all facets of the game gives a clearer story on how to pick the contenders.

Note: Statistics include current top-50 players at grass and hard court events in past 52 weeks versus top 50 players. 20 match minimum. All cited statistics in article follow this criterion unless noted. Data as of June 15, 2016. Data provided by

Above are the “advanced” statistics that tend to best predict outcomes. If match results weren’t enough these statistics make it clear the “Big Three” (Sorry Rafa) are very good at tennis. The dominance ratio, outlining % of return points won divided by % of service points lost, shows in addition to the “Big Three”, Dominic Thiem’s 2016 surge and Richard Gasquet’s strong 12-month run is driven by a well-rounded game that won large margin victories (a good indicator in basketball as well).

The capitalization score, the % above the average for first serve win efficiency plus the % above the average for 2nd serve return win %, illustrates that Kyrgios and the “Big Three” cash in on difficult service and return situations for their opponents. Capitalizing on these moments particularly in closer contests decide matches. We’ll take a look at these statistics as well as recent results and qualitative viewpoints to pick Wimbledon winners but beforehand let’s take a look at the odds.

Big Board

NB: I think this gives a good idea of how experts think about Wimbledon. Here are a few thoughts on the 2nd and 3rd column (17-48). I like Goffin (DR of 1.17 and most upset wins in the past 52 weeks by a top 20 player) of the 2nd and 3rd column players to potentially make a quarterfinals or better surprise run. It is also worth noting, rather frustratingly, Gael Monfils should be a top of the first column guy but is a mental midget outweighing his physical brilliance (DR of 1.19; CS of 8.7% but just missed the matches played cut off).

The Picks

Just missed: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; Alexander Zverev

5. Richard Gasquet

DR: 5.7%; Wimbledon ‘15: SF vs Djokovic; Grass record since ‘14: 10-6; vs. T5 since ’15: 1-7

The gifted one. Back to 2016, Gasquet’s advanced numbers look fantastic and it shows in his game. His groundstrokes are the signature event. The Frenchman’s high looping, elegant one-handed backhand has become one of the most celebrated shots on tour. Last year’s signature win versus Stan Wawrinka at Wimbledon showcased this memorable rally that made backhand connoisseurs drool.


If Gasquet plays well he should be able to reach the quarterfinals (must avoid Raonic and Thiem in Rd. 4). At that point, he’ll likely face a “Big Three” player. His wins versus Wawrinka and Kyrgios last year outline the game plan. Stepping up his service game will be the only way he wins in “Big Three” matches. His 14.2% ace% versus Kyrgios and his 66.0% 2nd serve W% (vs. his avg. 55%) playing Wawrinka put him over the top in those matches. His recent loss on grass to American Stevie Johnson can be attributed to a challenged service day (0% ace% and 37% 2nd serve win %). Gasquet is not a power server (6.9% ace% vs. 10.0% T50 average) so service location followed by well-constructed points will be pivotal. Gasquet is a beautiful player to watch rally but he will need to bring his full repertoire to Wimbledon.

4. Dominic Thiem

DR: 1.19; CS:-7.7%; Wimbledon ’15: 2nd round vs Verdasco; Grass record since ’14: 9-7; vs. T5 since ’15: 3-7

Right now, who doesn’t enjoy watching Dominic Thiem? He brings a fluid version of the modern hybrid baseline game that offers power and defense. The Austrian’s sophisticated point construction and agile defense is world class. There are certain points when he tracks down a ball deep on the other side of the baseline that remind you of a certain Quidditch Seeker (Can’t wait for the 1st round exit after a H. Potter comparison). Watch the points beginning at 1:11 and then at 2:42 (his only mistake being the bleached blond hair):

Thiem’s biggest short coming is that he doesn’t have the size to play as physically as the “Big Three” however he has overcome this to earn important wins in 2016. The 8th ranked player in the world beat Rafa on clay in Buenos Aires then made the semi-finals at Roland Garros. Now on grass, he has beaten Federer en route to winning Stuttgart. Not to mention he has gone 9-3 in his past 12 grass court matches. One consideration some analysts are mentioning is that Dominic Thiem will not take a break from this incredible 2016 run and may be running on fumes come Wimbledon. However you just don’t leave “a heater.” 22 year-olds should not leave tennis heaters. Dominic Thiem has momentum and is ready to compete.

3. Nick Kyrgios

DR: 1.13; CS: 10.5%; Wimbledon ’15: 4th Rd. vs. Richard Gasquet; Grass record since ‘14: 9-5; vs. T5 since ’15: 3-5

The Australian’s ability is evident within minutes of watching him. His herculean forehand isn’t beautiful but forceful like a bullwhip creating a sonic boom.

Nick Kyrgios currently has an Elo rating of 12 while his ATP ranking is 18 (the biggest spread among T25). It goes without saying that Kyrgios has championship upside but his weak mental game seriously compromises his generational ability (the tennis Boogie?). At 21 years-old Kyrgios has time to harness his potential and winning Marseille and getting to the SF of Miami has shown progress. In my view, he is the most talented grass court player not in the “Big Three” and if the Aussie is in the right headspace for two weeks he could win 7 matches. Perhaps the biggest driver will be Kygrios’ big serve (4th highest Ace% and 9th in 1st Serve Efficiency) which can lead him to victories over top 10 players when he’s at his best. He has also recently demonstrated the ability to leverage his powerful physical baseline game in key moments as reflected in his high Capitalization Score (10.7%).

The issue for the Aussie will be maintaining his focus. Despite great metrics related to service and key points, his Dominance Ratio is just average among the top 50 players. One other issue that some view as a concern is his ranking (18) may create a “Draw of Death.” However, this may be an anti-dote to his tennis ADD and benefit the young Aussie by keeping him focused on beating the top players. Just look at his Capitalization Score vs. Dominance Ratio and it is clear he gets up for the big moments. And that is the key. If the Australian can stay focused and confident by playing and beating top players early he can very well gain momentum and win Wimbledon.

2. Milos Raonic

DR: 1.17; CS: 2.94%; Wimbledon ’15:3rd Round vs. Nick Kyrgios; Grass Record Since ’14:13-5; vs. T5 Since ’15: 4-10

One could contend the Canadian’s methodical and heavy serve is the best in tennis and the facts back that up (Ivo and Raonic are the only players in the top 5 in 1st Serve Efficiency, Held Service Games, Service Points Won ex. Aces/DF and top 10 in ace%). The big man’s game is tailor made for Wimbledon. Except for one real issue that surprised me. Currently Raonic has the longest points played per service game of any player in the top 50. Needless to say I think it is time for the Canadian to become a more willing net player. That stat should be impossible. And this is where things get interesting given the recent addition to Raonic’s team of serve and volley all-time great John McEnroe. If McEnroe can add a more potent volley game to Raonic’s repertoire the Canadian will be very dangerous in July. Early results of Raonic’s relationship with McEnroe are promising as he beat Kyrgios and Cilic at Queen’s last week (losing to Murray after being up a set and a break).

The Canadian’s game was built for Wimbledon. Raonic’s SF appearance at the Australian Open (losing again to Murray in 5; Maybe he’s due?) shows that he can go deep in Grand Slams on fast surfaces. If he continues to serve well, mix in more serve and volley points and take advantage of 2nd serve returns (he is a 45% winner in Top 5 wins compared to a below average low 30’s in most losses vs. Top 5) he can win this tournament.

1. Andy Murray

DR: 1.24; CS: 15.0%; Wimbledon ’15: SF vs. Roger Federer; Grass Court Record Since ’14: 22-3; vs. T5 Since ’15: 8-14

Ivan is the best coach I’ve had. Because in a sport you base how good someone is on results, and the results I had with Ivan were the best.” Andy Murray needs the confidence that his Lendl record provides. Murray already has the physical tools. His grass record is impeccable, he’s a Wimbledon winner and, as previously mentioned, he is 2-0 against Djokovic on grass. However after losing to Djokovic in two straight Grand Slam finals this hire will generate the belief Murray needs.

Further, Lendl will let Murray know what he needs to before and during Wimbledon. As Lendl has explained, the best tennis coaches are those that don’t need the player more than the player needs them. Perhaps self-serving but it make sense. There is probably a reason why Murray is clearly less emotional in games with Lendl as his coach versus others. Also, given the tennis community’s surprise over Lendl’s choice to return, I believe Lendl came back to coach Murray because he sees something that can help Murray get over the top. The reunion worked at Queen’s Club with Murray winning convincingly including a come from behind victory vs. our #2 player, Milos Raonic. This was an important win to prove he can beat a player on a serving hot streak, something he struggled with last year versus Federer in the SF.

The real question is whether he can beat the world number 1. Looking at Murray’s win at Montreal vs. his loss in Australia, here goes my best Lendl attempt:

Use the backhand as a weapon. As the chart below reflects, the Scottish Wimbledon winner needs to mix up his backhand groundstrokes to keep Djokovic on his heels. Backhand cross court and down the line shots will be critical. In Murray’s Wimbledon win over Djokovic, the Scotsman hit 67% of his shots cross court or down the line compared to 20% down the middle.

Limit the long (10+ shots) rallies. At the Australian Open final, 20% of rallies were over 10 shots versus 10% of rallies being over 10 shots at the Rogers Cup final. Murray could kill two birds with one stone by mixing up his backhand and being more aggressive on this side.

Serve to the backhand. Very simply serve to Djokovic’s backhand more often. At Montreal almost 60% of his serves were to Djokovic’s backhand versus 50% of his serves in Australia. This creates a less potent return that oftentimes is shallower. Simplistic yet effective.

Andy Murray is a hall of fame tennis player while also a tennis everyman. When watching his points the effort and desire cannot be more transparent. This July, Murray will be rewarded for his efforts. The Scotsman is playing the best tennis of his career right now, fresh off of his most successful run on clay and another grass court championship last week. With a coach who knows how to maximize his talents and mental capacity there is no better time for Murray to seize the moment. If he continues to return well and mixes up his ground game he will win Wimbledon number two.


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