EXCLUSIVE: Fabrice Sbarro Explains The Tiny Percentage That Separates The Big Three From Everybody Else - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: Fabrice Sbarro Explains The Tiny Percentage That Separates The Big Three From Everybody Else

According to Daniil Mevdev’s former data analyst the success of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic is incredibly no more than 2% greater than their rivals when it comes to one specific area of their tennis careers.

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Written by Federico Bertelli

 


The second and final instalment of our interview with Fabrice Sbarro, who was part of Daniil Medvedev’s team as data analyst, during his successful summer season of 2019. After telling UbiTennis how Sbarro managed to convince coach Cervara (Medvedev’s coach), we broaden the field of analysis to the whole world of tennis. How important is that famous ‘1%’ difference, which at most becomes 2%? Considering such a slim margin can mark the difference between multiple Grand Slam winners and the rest field, maybe it’s something worth investigating…

CHAPTER 3 – SMALL TALKS AND FUTURE PERSPECTIVES

We were talking about that 1% of extra-success; considering the level of competition in man’s tennis, that makes sometimes winning or losing a match a little more than a toin coss, everything that can give an edge is surely interesting. The conversation continued on this topic.

Q: Maybe it is still not that clear the difference it makes that 1%. What do you think Fabrice?

A: 1% is not a tiny difference. Djokovic, Nadal and Federer in their careers scored a percentage of points won around 54%. Maybe people think that these great champions, because of their successes, have simply wiped out their opponents. But the reality is different and even for them the margins are narrow, they won around 54% of points played in their career. I’ll tell you more: Gasquet in his career won around 52% of the points. On one hand, the Big Three has won dozens of Slam titles, while the Frenchman has only reached the semi-finals in a Major. In short, my idea is to help athletes to reach that 1%, to provide a competitive advantage that can allow them to step up a gear and reach new heights. Daniil was at the same level as Gasquet at the beginning of 2019, standing at 52% of points won. During the period from Montreal to Shanghai, in which we collaborated, this figure jumped to 54% (on the levels of the big 3).

Q: Can you tell us how your collaboration with Gilles and Daniil developed?

A: In the period from Montreal to Shanghai 2019, I helped Gilles in the preparation of the matches and we were completely on the same page, sharing thoughts at all level. And it was incredible, because usually the coaches hardly trust 100% and tend to discard most of the proposals. But with Cervara it was different, he was really believing in what we were doing. He liked the concept. And I could check it first hand, because in that period Daniil actually translated our indications on the field at a rate of 70-80%; obviously there is also the opponent on the field and obviously a lot of factors are involved in a success story, also luck. For example, at the Us Open Daniil was clearly injured and was lucky to get away with it. But after Shanghai another very important aspect emerged: psychology.

Q: What does it mean?

A: After Shanghai, a tournament in which Medvedev had beaten Zverev in the final, Daniil’s status had changed, he had now become a superstar, no longer just a good player, but one who rivalled the best and could compete at a Slam level. And arguably, from an emotional point of view it was not easy to manage. After all, Daniil was coming from an exhaustive ride, both mentally and physically. Maybe, the fact of having ascended to a completely different status was also carrying more pressure: maybe this kind of pressure plus all the physical and mental toll was an excessive burden to manage. After Shanghai he felt the need to play in a certain sense alone, without the aid of statistics, despite the fact that coach Cervara was fully supportive of the new approach. Basically, Daniil wanted to test himself and do his own thing. Despite this turnaround, the relationship of trust with Gilles was not harmed, he continued to pay me in order to have my analysis: my work after Shanghai had a different perspective, aimed at developing the game of Daniil in a broader sense and not just focus on tactical pre match advice. In other words, even if we no longer did the statistical preparation of the matches and therefore no longer took care of the tactical aspects, we worked in terms of post-match analysis, in order to understand what was working and what not. It does not mean that Daniil’s refusal to rely on the statistical approach is definitive, simply for now we are exploring other ways, even if it is  arguably a shame.

Let’s consider the rematch with Wawrinka at the Australian Open. I had studied the game of Wawrinka and I realized that although for most of 2019 the backhand of Stan was going wild, in the last few weeks before the happy Slam, things had changed: already in Doha, I noticed that the shot had returned solid. I knew that Vallverdu (Stan’s coach) had focused on that shot; so even if the backhand is a shot that Daniil plays very well, me and Gilles had suggested that going to much crosscourt on the backhand would not be a good idea; instead, would have been better to go down the line earlier in the rally. Unfortunately, it did not go that way. Since numbers don’t lie, at the end of the match I reviewed the match and noticed that Daniil had played 85% of his backhand crosscourt. Obviously, we will never know what could have happened with a different tactic. But certainly, it was a hard-fought game that could have gone either way. And when the matches are so contested small details make the difference.

From an outside perspective, it seemed that after Shanghai Medvedev had lost the magic that had led him to sniff victory against Nadal, in one of the most dramatic Grand Slam victories of the Spaniard. And quickly Daniil was going back to the level he had at the beginning of 2019. Once again tennis proved to be a sport in which climbing to the top is a process made of steps that costs time and effort; progress that can be reverted very quickly. In such a competitive world, where statistics are not yet handled by most of the players and coaches themselves, mastering data can give an even more significant competitive advantage. And speaking of tennis players who have made a great leap forward, one cannot avoid talking about Matteo Berrettini, named “Most improved player” in 2019.

Q: Talking about Matteo Berrettini, what are your thoughts Fabrice?

A: I think that all the players who worked with data experts got results and Berrettini is a good example: he started 2019 around number 50 and managed to close the season in the top 8 and go to the Finals. And he worked with Craig O’Shannessy. With all due respect it was not expected to end at number 8! Being a top ten means more or less winning 52% of the points, a performance that was not the standard for Berrettini. Berrettini: top 30 / top 50, won about 51% of the points. Once again: we are talking about a difference of one percentage in terms of point won, but precisely, this is the difference between a good player and the absolute elite. I am absolutely convinced that Craig O’Shannessy was crucial in Berrettini’s quantum leap. In the end, it’s about small details, like serving strategies, being a little more aggressive and looking a little bit more for the net, or using the slice a little more. In the end, this is what we are talking about and this is the role of a statistics expert who interprets the data in order to suggest tactical adjustments. In short, data is coming!

Q: Do you think many players are already benefiting from these small adjustments?

A: Definitely, and a good example is surely Murray: I know for sure he has benefited from this type of support. Andy was certainly a top player but probably not at the level of the other three, and the fact that he managed to say a word in that contest is amazing. Maybe what I say is completely wrong, but in my opinion, he was an excellent top ten, like Berdych for example, who really was only one step away from being a Grand Slam champion, also reaching the final in Wimbledon. Murray instead won Slams, the Olympics and had a completely different career. While the other three were sitting above 54% of points won, Murray remained slightly above 53%, but still better than 52% which is the top ten mark.

Q: A part from Medvedev, did you have other important collaborations in 2019?

A: Yes, I collaborated with Nicolas Mahut, who told me that he was interested in my job and wanted to have a try. And the occasion when we started to get serious was the 2019 London Masters. During that tournament we made preparations for each match. It was a great effort because I had never dealt before with doubles and so I built a database of matches in order to chart the style of all the competing couples of Mahut and Herbert at the ATP doubles finals in London. But in the end, they didn’t lose a single set in the whole event and considering the quality of the opponents it was a great result. Of course, this is not to say that statistics was the reason of the success. But maybe, it was not only a matter of Herbert and Mahut being unbeatable in their good days, as some sceptics say. Anyway, building from that result, I decided to start following even the double, but only the best 20 couples in the world in order to provide my services only to the best in class.

Interviews

(EXCLUSIVE) Mats Wilander on Sinner’s Chances of Beating Alcaraz, Kyrgios’ Antics At Wimbledon

Ubitennis caught up with the former world no.1 for a brief chat on Sunday morning.

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Mats Wilander says changes should be made to the rules following a controversial third round meeting between Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas at Wimbledon. 

 

The Saturday night encounter was marred by controversy with the Australian arguing with the umpire and swearing. Meanwhile, his Greek rival received a point penalty for hitting a ball into the crowd out of anger. Following their clash, Tsitsipas sensationally accused his rival of bullying. 

Wilander spoke about the incident during a discussion with Ubitennis’ founder Ubaldo Scanagatta where he also previewed Jannik Sinner’s clash with Carlos Alcaraz at SW19. 

The full interview can be read below:-

UBITENNIS: What do you think about the chances of Jannik Sinner against Carlos Alcaraz?

WILANDER: First of all, I thought Jannik was going to have a much bigger problem with John Isner. Then I saw his match and he is playing unbelievably well. He’s incredibly aggressive and doesn’t make mistakes. 

UBITENNIS: But Alcaraz is also very agressive?

WILANDER: Yes, he is serving well and moving better than Jannik. But Jannik is older and we don’t know what the thing is between them. Just like Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios. We don’t know what it was when they were like 10,11, 12.. in practice. 

Maybe Jannik use to beat Alcaraz all the time in practice? This psychology is way more important than tennis (in their upcoming match), in my opinion. 

This is exactly what happened with Tsitsipas and Kyrgios, Zverev and Kyrgios. He (Kyrgios) beats them almost all the time because they have this respect and he is a couple of years older. 

UBITENNIS: Carlos has more variety than Sinner

WILANDER: He is more inconsistent, he is a little bit faster and has more options. But more options are not how Novak Djokovic won Wimbledon. The fewer options you have in big matches the easier it is to play your game. So for Alcaraz, can he get the drop shots right? Can he get the serve and volley right? Can he hit the right forehand at the right time? 

(But) Jannik goes in at the right time. So if Alcaraz played great he’s the favorite but when have we seen him play great in a big match (at Wimbledon)? We don’t know yet that he has only played two-out-of-three set matches. Maybe he did against Tsitsipas at the US Open but this is a different level.

UBITENNIS: Who was right in the Tsitsipas and Kyrgios argument? 

WILANDER: They both have a point, to be honest. Kyrgios said that Stefanos must be a bit soft mentally if he gets that bothered by him being himself. 

I would say the one to blame is the officials. They are playing within the rules we have now so you can’t blame them, they are trying to win a tennis match. This is what Kyrgios plays like, this is what he does. If you fall for it, then you need to improve your mental stability. At the same time, I would have also felt as Stefanos did. 

I think (the problem) lies with the official situation. I am not saying they could have done anything (during the third round match) but we need to put rules in place so they can’t do this. We don’t have tennis matches that look like that. I know the crowd loved it but tennis needs to be a sport where you can take your five-year-old and not worry about them getting hit with a tennis ball or hearing a player swearing loudly 20 times. The sport needs to be like that otherwise the sport is becoming entertainment and that is not what tennis is. it is a sport, it’s educational and inspirational more than entertainment. 

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ATP

(EXCLUSIVE) Ricardas Berankis’ Coach On Wimbledon Showdown With Rafael Nadal

Dirk Hordorff speaks to UbiTennis about the world No.106 and his chances against the second seed.

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Ricarcas Berankis at Wimbledon (image via http://www.yonex.co.uk/_assets/)

Ricardas Berankis is no stranger to Wimbledon as he marks the 12th anniversary of his first-ever main draw win at the tournament after coming through three rounds of qualifying.

 

A stand-out player in his younger years, the Lithuanian topped the world junior rankings and won the US Open boys title back in 2007 when he defeated Jerzy Janowicz in the final. Transitioning to the pro level was never straightforward for Berankis who is now 32-year-old. Nevertheless, he has made his impression on the Tour with runs to two ATP Tour finals in 2012 (Los Angeles) and 2017 (Moscow). He also won the 2015 US Men’s Clay Court doubles title in Houston alongside Teymuraz Gabashvili.

Today Berankis is ranked 106th in the world, which is 56 places below his career-high. His best performance on the ATP Tour so far this season was in Abu Dubai when he came through qualifying to reach the quarter-finals before losing to Denis Shapovalov. He also reached the final of a Challenger event in Lille.

At Wimbledon this year he started his campaign with a straight-sets win over former semifinalist Sam Querrey. Making it only the fourth time in his career he has won a main draw match at the tournament. His reward is a showdown on Thursday with the formidable Rafael Nadal who is seeking a historic 23rd major title and his third in a row. Nadal defeated Francisco Cerundolo in his opening match.

So can Berankis trouble Nadal on the grass?

The best person to ask is Germany’s Dirk Hordorff who coaches Berankis. The veteran coach has also previously collaborated with the likes of Rainer Schuettler, Lars Burgsmüller, Yen-Hsun Lu, Kristian Pless, Sergiy Stakhovsky, and Vasek Pospisil.

During an email exchange with UbiTennis, Hordorff shared his thoughts about Berankis’ upcoming clash with Nadal.

UBITENNIS: It wasn’t until Melbourne this year that Ricardas played Nadal on the Tour for the first time. He lost the match 6-2, 7-5. What did his team learn from that experience?

HIRDORFF: I was not in Melbourne, but I coached unsuccessfully in a lot of matches against Rafa. He is next to Novak (Djokovic) over so many years as a true champion and a great person outside the court. You learn every match against him and Ricardas is ready for this match.

UBITENNIS: When it comes to playing a member of the Big Three, how do you as a coach go about dealing with Berankis’ mentality?

HIRDORFF: Ricardas played a good first round against Sam Querrey. Nevertheless, to play Rafa is a different issue. You need to concentrate on your abilities and not worry about history.

UBITENNIS: Nadal was sternly tested during his opening match. Does this in any way give a confidence boost towards Berankis or do you think it is irrelevant?

HIRDORFF: Every match starts at zero. What Rafa played yesterday doesn’t affect Ricardas’ match. Anyway, Rafa won his first round quite solidly against a good upcoming player.

UBITENNIS: Whilst the odds might be against Ricardas, it isn’t impossible that he could defeat Nadal. What will the key areas be for him to focus on during their match? (e.g. return position, use of slice etc).

HIRDORFF: Ricardas needs to focus on his abilities and take his fine form from the first round in this match. Rafa is a complete player, so you need to perform well in all aspects of the game.

UBITENNIS: What is the most difficult thing about playing Nadal on the tour?

HORDORFF: He is a complete player with a lot of special strengths. Strong serve, good backhand, fast, perfect coordinate and no weak parts in his game.

UBITENNIS: Ricardas might be 32 but he has shown some good results on the Tour (runner-up at a Challenger event in Lille and QF in Dubai). Given the trend of players playing later into their careers, is his best yet to come?

HIRDORFF: Ricardas had to deal with a lot of health problems. I am sure that the best part of his career is yet to come for him.

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Interviews

EXCLUSIVE: Ana Ivanovic On Wimbledon Memories, Players To Watch And Her Admiration For Williams

The former world No.1 takes part in a special Q&A with UbiTennis ahead of the Wimbledon Championships.

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Former world No.1 Ana Ivanovic (image via https://twitter.com/anaivanovic)

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Ana Ivanović’s best-ever run at the Wimbledon Championships.

 

Just weeks after reaching her first major final at the French Open, Ivanović scored back-to-back wins over Nadia Petrova and Nicole Vaidišová (who she saved three match points against) to reach the semi-finals. She was eventually knocked out of the tournament by Venus Williams who went on to clinch the title. In total she played in the Wimbledon main draw 12 times and achieved a win-loss record of 24-12.  

Throughout her career Ivanović won 15 WTA titles, including the 2008 French Open. She also reached the final of another eight events. She holds the honors of being the first woman in history to win a major title whilst representing Serbia and the only player from her country to have held the No.1 position on the WTA Tour. Ivanović’s period of 12 weeks at the top is a longer streak than Williams, Garbine Mugurza and Karolina Pliskova.

This December marks the sixth anniversary of when Ivanović announced her retirement from tennis at the age of 29 following a series of physical issues. At the time WTA CEO Steve Simon hailed her as a “true champion and a great ambassador for the sport of women’s tennis.”

Leading up to this year’s Wimbledon Championships, UbiTennis managed to catch up with the former world No.1 who is married to former football star Bastian Schweinsteiger and has two young children. Through an email exchange, she speaks about life as an ex-player and gives her views on the upcoming Wimbledon Championships. She also reveals her desire to remain connected with tennis in the future but would she consider a coaching role on the Tour?

UBITENNIS: This December will mark six years since you announced your retirement. What do you miss the most about playing on the Tour?

IVANOVIĆ: To be honest the most I miss is the excitement of playing at the big courts in front of the fans and crowds. I have many special and unforgettable memories. I miss a lot that feeling. Besides that, the traveling and competing in different countries was always something I enjoyed.

UBITENNIS: Since retiring, how closely do you follow the sport now?

IVANOVIĆ: I still follow – obviously not as close as when I was playing – but I still have some friends on tour, so I like to see how they are doing, and I like to see new faces and to see new exciting players.

UBITENNIS: Wimbledon begins on Monday and you played in the main draw 12 times during your career. What are your happiest memories of the tournament?

IVANOVIĆ: Of course, my happiest memory of Wimbledon is reaching semifinal there, that was definitely a very special year for me. But also, I do remember one very special match for me, I played against Nadia Petrova, we had 7 rain delays, and we played from 11 in the morning until 7pm, and we manage to finish just before another rainstorm. That was definitely a unique experience and something I will always remember.

UBITENNIS: What was the biggest difficulty for you when it came to switching from playing on the clay to grass within such a relatively short time?

IVANOVIĆ: The biggest difficulty for me personally when it comes to switching from clay court to grass court were the movements. Clay court was always my favorite. I have enjoyed moving on clay and sliding which let me feel free. On the grass you sometimes feel like you didn’t have as good grip – at least me personally, so I think that kind of adjustment of timing of the movement was for me the most difficult.

UBITENNIS: This year’s women’s draw is headed by Iga Swiatek who is currently on a 35-match winning streak. How impressed are you by Swiatek and who do you think is her biggest threat at Wimbledon?

IVANOVIĆ: I think Iga has been playing really well, and she is also very composed, I think she handles her nerves well. As we all know, Tennis – or actually every sport – is becoming more and more mental game next to the physical and talent game.

I think maybe Serena has a chance, Ons also, because she uses lots of drop shots, on the grass, that can be tough to play against. As well as Angelique Kerber she loves to play on grass, she won Wimbledon before, so I hope she does well.

UBITENNIS: Wimbledon will see the return of Serena Williams to the tournament. How impressed are you that she continues to play at the age of 40? Has this ever given you the temptation to return to competitive action as you are six years younger than Serena?

IVANOVIĆ: It is amazing to see Serena back, I know she loves to play on the grass. I really admire her for everything she achieved and to still compete at the high level of sport at the age of 40 – it is incredible. I am really looking forward to see how she will do this year. For me personally to come back to competitive sport I don’t see myself in that direction. I have other visions and dreams and something that I want to do, to also give something back to society.

UBITENNIS:  As for the men’s draw, who are you most excited about watching? Do you think anybody other than Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic could win?

IVANOVIĆ: Novak and Rafa are both playing really well. I think Novak enjoys playing on grass more than Rafa does, and he is defending his title. Obviously, it is always exciting to watch them as they already have so many Grand Slams, and competing for more.

Others than them, there are many interesting players at the moment and I always say that new upcoming players can surprise the top players in early rounds while they are still kind of warming up. Players like Novak and Rafa gain more confidence and strength when they come further and further in the tournament, so it is more difficult for younger players to take them out in the semis or finals especially when it is played best of five sets at the Grand Slams.

UBITENNIS: You had such an impressive career as a tennis player, are you ever tempted to pass on what you learnt to others in the future as either a coach or advisor on the Tour?

IVANOVIĆ: I don’t really see myself as a coach on tour, but I do want to stay involved, because Tennis has been my life. I have been playing since I was five. I am happy to share my experience and give advise but definitely not as a coach.

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