28 Responses

  1. Siddhant
    Siddhant January 29, 2013 at 2:43 pm |

    Brilliant article!!
    It’ll be amazing if you could do the same analysis for the other 3 members of the BIG 4.

  2. anna_tennisfan
    anna_tennisfan January 29, 2013 at 3:06 pm |

    Two points that caught my eye:

    – First of all, the last chart is probably pointing us to the right direction – I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that his low percentage today is a direct result of playing tiebreaks against the top4. What I’d like to see is the numbers of tiebreaks won/lost vs top4/others – all in the same bar graph. Or, perhaps more simply – which percentage of the tiebreaks he lost each year is vs the top 4 players?

    – 2011. It’s pretty obvious why he played fewer tiebreaks that year – he was busy collecting “6-0 6-1″ matches, and rarely was taken as far as a tiebreak. Interestingly, most of those tiebreak sets (12 out of 19) were played in Slams: 3 at the AO, 2 at RG (both vs Federer), 2 at Wimby (both vs Tsonga), 5 at the USO.

  3. anna_tennisfan
    anna_tennisfan January 29, 2013 at 3:08 pm |

    And, of course – very interesting analysis!

  4. mat4
    mat4 January 29, 2013 at 6:15 pm |

    Excellent post — as always.

    As a Novak fan, I watched many matches he played since 2006, and, although my opinion is probably of little, value, I will try to add some of my observations to complete those revealing and interesting stats and theories.

    Two TBs are illustrative of his game before 2009: the one in the last set against Tsonga in the AO final, and the another, in the final of the Queens, against Rafa. The first thing we should note is that Novak’s serve was very efficient then, especially his second serve (PHM said, after their match at RG, that his second ball went 190 kmh; he certainly overstated a bit, but in the last few months we have glimpses of the way he used to serve his second balls). It gave him some free points here and there. Then, he already returned exceptionally well when focused, and it allowed him to keep many balls in play. At the time, his Wilson allowed him already to play his usual left/right one/two game, but he could flatten his shots and accelerate suddenly. He didn’t have enough depth on his FH, but the ball flew fast, and he usually forced long BH to BH rallies. Guy Forget, commenting the match, said that in the TB: “Djokovic ne lache rien”. He just didn’t make mistakes, and could always rely on a good serve, certain that his second serve would be good enough.

    So when he faced Rafa at the Queens, I was certain he would win the TB. But, strangely, he lost it: Rafa played the same game, but he wasn’t only playing long and waiting for an error, he was the more aggressive player.

    Later, the situation change dramatically. First, he lost his serve, especially his second serve after switching the racquet. He couldn’t make the difference there. Then, his FH started sailing long, and he had to play it with much more top spin: he couldn’t hit through any more. So, he had to rely much more on his defense, his ability to rally close to the lines, and against players like Federer, Nadal, Murray, it wasn’t good enough, or some big servers, it wasn’t good enough.

    In 2011, the situation changed again, and the happy few that make it to the TB played or served all exceptionally well.

    This year, I think the situation will change again: watching the AO, I got the impression that Djokovic improved hugely his second serve (he improved his first serve too): the kick seems very effective. His stats on the second serve against Murray, Ferrer (who was very tired and probably slower than usual) and Berdych (who very decently return serves) are telling. He still has to find confidently his range with the new racquet on the FH, but I believe that he will play better than ever in a few months already.

  5. mat4
    mat4 January 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm |

    Sorry for the many mistakes.

  6. MattV
    MattV January 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm |

    Really cool article! I think its a combination of all of those factors…But being a Serb myself, I know Djokovic shares a trait we have almost uniformly: the word is “inat” in Serbian, and its akin to the combination of “spite” and “defiance”.

    I’ve noticed Djoko has a tendency to unleash only when pressured, out of “spite”, a typically Serbian thing. Maybe as a younger player he feared losing the breaker so much he focused insanely, but know knows it will only get his “inat” working?

    Im also over thinking here….

  7. Michal
    Michal January 29, 2013 at 6:25 pm |

    Very interesting analysis.

    I’ve decided to look at Djokovic’s 5-5 sets in general. It turns out that the ratio of the sets Novak won 7-5 to those he lost 5-7 has been inversely proportional to his tiebreaker W/L ratio. As a result, Djokovic’s 5-5 sets won percentage had been very steady until 2012, when it suddenly dropped (remember his scorelines against Murray?). 59.3% in 2005, 71.1% in 2006 and then between 60.5% and 65.5% in 2007-2011. In 2012, it was just 54%, but I’m not sure we should read too much into that just yet.

    In 2008 (when his success rate in tiebreakers decreased), the number of 5-5 sets when Djokovic was able to avoid the tiebreaker increased by 9% and has stayed in the 40’s until today (with the exception of 2011, when he played very few 5-5 sets in the first place).

    While Djokovic has won 62.8% of all of his 5-5 sets, he’s managed to win 71.1% of the final sets that went to 5-5. Yes. The guy is clutch. However, his final set tiebreaker record is consistent with his overall tiebreaker percentage.

    Interesting fact: In 2011, Djokovic had 29 5-5 sets and didn’t lose 5-7 even once.

    For anyone interested in much more sophisticated tennis stats analyses, I’d recommend Jeff Sackmann’s amazing http://heavytopspin.com/about/

  8. Ophelia
    Ophelia January 29, 2013 at 7:13 pm |

    Very interesting stats! I thought at first that it might just be due to natural variance, but then I took a look at the other Big 4 members’ yearly tiebreak records and noticed that Roger Federer won at least 70% of his tiebreaks in all the years he finished at No. 1 (and he got into a LOT more of them than Djokovic did!), including an astonishing leap from 62% in 2003 to 81% in 2004, and that his TB rate was lower than 70% in all other non-No. 1 years.

    So why does Federer’s TB record so accurately reflect his degree of dominance while Djokovic’s TB record very much doesn’t? The most obvious answer is that Federer excels at serve more than return and hence that he’s more likely to get into tiebreaks and win them than Djokovic who gets into fewer tiebreaks due to being better at return but has a harder time winning them. But maybe confidence does play a factor in it: if Federer finds himself in a tiebreak, it probably indicates to him that he succeeded in not being broken at any point (as his best play often includes a lot of 1-minute love holds), whereas if Djokovic finds himself in a tiebreak, it might frustrate him more because he “should” have broken his opponent’s serve somewhere along the way.

    In any case, it really is fascinating that a player considered one of the most clutch players on tour has a so-so TB record. But then again, Djokovic’s clutch moments have typically involved winning sets by 7-5 and not forcing TBs (well, except for his 2011 Rome SF against Murray and 2012 French Open QF against Tsonga).

  9. dollymix
    dollymix January 30, 2013 at 10:16 am |

    I think the part about “the Big 4 Problem” is getting to the point. Between 2006 and 2011, Djokovic went from being a very good player with good chances of beating almost anybody on tour to a fantastic player who was a heavy favorite against almost anybody on tour. As such, a lot of the players he was playing tiebreaks against in 2006, he’s now beating in sets with scores like 6-2 or 6-3.

    The best way to normalize would be to separately look at Djokovic’s tiebreak record against a) guys in the top 4, b) #5-#10, c) #11-#20, d) #21-#32, e) everybody else. My guess is that his winning percentage in each group has remained relatively constant, but the number of tiebreaks against players in groups A and B has increased much faster than the number against players in groups D and E. Assuming his winning percentage is lower the better the opponent, that would help account for the stats you’re showing.

  10. MattV
    MattV January 30, 2013 at 10:34 am |

    …Also, i think your wifes theory is spot on for the TB he just lost to Murray in the AO- you could see his frustration at all those missed break points spill into the TB and ruin it for him.

  11. Glen Hill
    Glen Hill January 31, 2013 at 11:42 am |

    Fantastic article. Great read, and nice work.

  12. Orangeball
    Orangeball March 23, 2013 at 11:49 am |

    Hi JJ, it could be more interesting if you can compile his stats with sets ended with a 7-5 scoreline

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