Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tennis and the Big Four

I'm a big fan of tennis so have been following the major tournaments as well as some of my favorite players (Federer, Murray, any Canadian). This year's clay court season did not go entirely as expected and questions were raised as to the consistency of the Big Four (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray). This got me thinking about which one of these players was more consistent during the period when they became a dominant player. A bit of number crunching later and I have the results.

I didn't want to take their entire career because some of them spent a longer time than others on the tour before they had their big breakthrough and I wanted to compare them once they became a top-class player. For Federer I chose starting from 2003, for Nadal 2005, Djokovic 2007, and Murray 2008 (he didn't win a grand slam that year but did make the finals of the U.S. Open and won two Master 1000 tournaments).

Also, the statistics only include tournaments that the player attended. If the player did not go to a tournament it was left out of the statistics. These stats include tournaments up to and including the recent 2014 Rome Masters.

The statistics are cumulative, so when I do the percentages for a player getting to at least the quarter-finals that means if the player reached the quarters, semis, finals, or won the tournament then it counts. The percentage is basically the odds of the player reaching that stage of the tournament.

Finally, for the sake of comparison of just how dominant the Big Four are, I provide the statistics for what is likely the next-best player in terms of consistency, David Ferrer. Ferrer has pretty much been a fixture in the top 5 since 2011 so I did up statistics for him starting from that year.

So let's see their record first on the year-end ATP tournament.

Federer Nadal Djokovic Murray Ferrer
ATP - Win 54.5% 0% 42.9% 0% 0%
ATP – at least final 72.7% 33.3% 42.9% 0% 0%
ATP – at least semis 90.9% 66.7% 57.1% 60% 25%

Federer must really love this tournament, his results are head and shoulders above everyone else. For whatever reason Nadal struggles a bit more in this tournament, especially when you compare it to the percentages from Grand Slams. Murray also doesn't make many inroads but still does far better than Ferrer.

Now for everyone's favorite, the Grand Slams:

Federer Nadal Djokovic Murray Ferrer
GS - Win 37.8% 39.4% 20.7% 8.3% 0%
GS - at least final 53.3% 57.6% 41.4% 29.2% 7.7%
GS – at least semis 75.6% 66.7% 72.4% 54.2% 38.5%
GS – at least quarters 86.7% 77.8% 89.7% 75.0% 76.9%

Federer and Nadal are pretty close in terms of wins/finals, with Djokovic third, Murray definitely fourth, and Ferrer not even close. Interestingly when you get into the semis and quarters Nadal’s percentages start to drop when compared to Federer and Djokovic becomes second. It seems to indicate that Nadal is slightly more likely to go out in earlier rounds but if he can reach the later rounds he's more likely to reach the finals. Djokovic has great percentages until the semis then he struggles, likely because he loses frequently to Federer and Nadal. Murray is pretty solid reaching the quarters but then is more likely to lose than the other Big Four players. Ferrer’s percentages are decent for getting to the quarters but then his numbers drop considerably.

Finally, I analyzed the nine Masters 1000 tournaments. Theoretically the percentages should be higher because the field is slightly weaker (not every 1000 tournament has all four Big Four playing), it's three sets rather than five, and in most cases the Big Four get a first round bye so don't have to play as many matches to reach the quarters.

The results are surprising:

Federer Nadal Djokovic Murray Ferrer
1000 - Win 24.4% 37.0% 30.2% 17.0% 3.8%
1000 - at least final 41.5% 54.8% 46.0% 22.6% 19.2%
1000 – at least semis 58.5% 74.0% 63.5% 32.1% 30.8%
1000 – at least quarters 72.0% 86.3% 81.0% 54.7% 61.5%

Federer’s numbers dropped considerably! It seems that Federer, for whatever reason, rises to the occasion at the bigger events. His ATP Finals and Grand Slam numbers are way better than the 1000 tournaments. Even his odds of reaching the quarters dropped 14%. Nadal’s numbers improved at quarters/semis and dropped slightly at wins/finals while Djokovic was the reverse, his quarters/semis numbers dropped slightly but his wins/finals improved slightly. While Federer and Nadal had similar Grand Slam numbers for the 1000 tournaments Nadal breaks away and leaps to the top with overall the best results. Murray’s numbers are also generally lower, his quarters drop is 20%, and he is still clearly fourth of the Big Four. Again David Ferrer has good numbers reaching the quarters, but then they taper off. That said Murray's numbers are only slightly better but Murray is way better than Ferrer at winning a final if he reaches it.

But, but, but, say the tennis pundits . . . CLAY! Clay courts favour Nadal! It's Murray's worst surface! There are no grass court Masters 1000 tournaments which would favour Federer yet three clay ones for Nadal! It’s not a fair comparison!

Yeah, yeah, I have statistics for just the non-clay tournaments as well. I'll post them next time.

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