EXCLUSIVE: A US Open Preview Through The Eyes Of A Tennis Data Analyst - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: A US Open Preview Through The Eyes Of A Tennis Data Analyst

Who is Novak Djokovic’s biggest threat in New York? Is Serena Williams the heavy favourite to win the title? UbiTennis speaks with the founder of Sportiii Analytics, Mike James, to find out his forecasts for the tournament.

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The 2020 season has been one of the strangest in recent memory due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so can it be argued that predicting what may happen at next week’s US Open is impossible?

The sport was suspended for five months, with competitive women’s tennis resuming in July and the men’s game following on in August. Evidently, rustiness will be one of the key issues for players as they play within the New York ‘bubble’ – and they could also be more prone to injury should they have to endure long matches in the humid conditions.

 However, thanks to the growing demand for statistical data in the sport, it is still possible to generate some idea of what may occur over the two-week period.

British-based Mike James is the mastermind behind Sportiii Analytics, a company who specialise in providing detailed information on player strategies and patterns to their clients on both the ATP and WTA Tours. Their portfolio includes previously providing information to the coaching team of Stan Wawrinka. James created Sportiii to meet the growing trend and demand in the sport.

At Sportiii Analytics we focus on over 30 Key Performance Indicators with some of the key areas being serve plus one pattern (of play) and return plus one pattern (of play), as well as a player’s final shot court position,” James told UbiTennis.
“We’ve created our model from several years of experience at the Tour level with the help from some of the best coaches on both ATP & WTA Tours.”

There is also the obvious question about how reliable data can be at present due to the Tour break. James, who has a wealth of experience and started this year working with the team of Serbian rising star Miomir Kecmanović, admits it will be a slightly different challenge to normal.

“We have to do our best to get historical data from the first two months of the season. Luckily it was all played on hard courts, which gives us a better judgment,” he explains.
“The Western & Southern Open will be a big help for myself and Sportiii Analytics looking at any new trends or changes in players’ games leading into the US Open.”

Tennis coach and Sportiii Analytics founder Mike James

Looking ahead to New York, James has used his findings to answer a few questions UbiTennis has about the upcoming major as he outlines, among other interesting topics, who Novak Djokovic’s biggest threat is and why.

How does Sportiii Analytics work with players?
A lot of the work we do is confidential but we currently support several top 100 players in both singles and doubles on both Tour’s.
We have two main purposes at this level, the first is gathering the player data and strategy patterns we’re working on in order to help them and their team know their optimum winning patterns. The second is opponent scouting and finding key weaknesses to help support a winning gameplan.

So who are the biggest performers in the men’s game?
Under pressure leaders on hard courts (which is calculated by the ATP by adding the percentage of break points converted and saved, percentage of tie-breaks won and percentage of deciding sets won) gives Novak Djokovic the best numbers. Dominic Thiem is next and – surprisingly to some – Gael Monfils is the highest ranked player behind those two. The in-form Andrey Rublev follows just behind.

Looking ahead to the US Open what is the likelihood of a player outside the top 10 winning?
I think the fact seven of the top 10 females are not playing and there’s no Roger or Rafa make the challenge of players outside the top 10 much greater this year than in previous US Opens. Also, I think having no crowd at the tournament will make the matches more even.

Based on the figures, who are Novak Djokovic’s most dangerous opponents leading up to the Grand Slam?
From a serve perspective Matteo Berrettini, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Thiem lead the way for winning 1st and 2nd serve points on hard courts in the last 52 weeks. The serve will be more important this year as the court surface is quicker than previous years. If I had to pick one player on a hard court to challenge Novak it would be Thiem.

What about Serena Williams, is she really as much of a heavy favourite as many believe?
One hundred percent she is the major favourite. With big players like Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu – who usually gives Serena trouble – not in attendance, this creates a great opportunity for this year’s event. If Serena is focused she will win her 24th Slam.

Looking at the wider picture, should we expect many seeds to fall due to the lack of tennis recently?
The best players are where they are for a reason. I can’t see a trend of top seeds exiting early unless we go back to only 16 seeds instead of 32.

What about the underdogs? Who should we look out for in the coming days to spring a surprise?
On the women’s side I can see Coco Gauff making big strides over the next two weeks. On the men’s side we could easily see Jannick Sinner having his breakthrough tournament.

Let’s put Djokovic to one side for the moment. If we look at the next four highest ranked players taking part (Thiem, Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Zverev) who stands out the most and why?
At the moment Thiem has been the most consistent across the whole season and most active with exhibition events during the Tour break. His experience of reaching Slam [capital ‘S’?] finals gives him the edge over the others.

Who is your money on to win the US Open?
Djokovic and Williams.

You can learn more about Mike James by visiting https://www.sportiiianalytics.com

Grand Slam

Australian Open Considering Switching Women’s Final To Sunday In Future

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The Australian Open could become the first Grand Slam to break away from the tradition of women playing their singles final first. 

According to a report from the Australian Associated Press, tournament chief Craig Tiley is open to making such a move which wouldn’t require any approval from either the WTA or ATP. However, they would likely need to consult with players first and no changes are set to be made in 2025. 

The reasoning for making such a change is due to the women’s final usually being shorter than the men’s best with it being a best-of-three set match. Compared to the men who play the best-of-five. Their thinking is that due to the length of men’s matches increasing in recent years, staging it on a Saturday would enable more people to watch the entire match compred to a Sunday when many are consious about staying up late due to the working week starting on Monday. 

This year’s Australian Open saw Jannik Sinner bounce back from two sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in a epic encounter that lasted three hours and 46 minuites. Meanwhile, Aryna Sabalenka required an hour and 17 mnuites to beat China’s Qinwen Zheng and capture the title. 

Should such a switch take place, it is estimated that the Sunday finale would end at around 10:30pm local time instead of after midnight, which would make it more appealing to fans. Furthermore, it could throw the women’s final more into the spotlight. 

However, there will be obstacles that need to be addressed. The most significant for the Australian Open will be trying to ensure that their 48-hour recovery period between best-of-five-set men’s matches will still be followed. 

This year was the first time in history that the Melbourne major took place over 15 days with play starting on a Sunday. Organisers claimed that the move was done in order to prevent the number of late-night finishes. However, it has little effect on any matches that took place after the first round. 

It is throught that now the event is held over 15 days, it gives more room for organisers to schedule the men’s final for a Saturday. The proposal was discussed during this year’s Australian Open’s official debrief. 

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Grand Slam

It Wasn’t The Same Old Story On Sunday Down Under

Jannik Sinner won his first Grand Slam title on Sunday.

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(@janniksin - Twitter)

It’s been the same old story at the Australian Open for a long time in the men’s game.

One of the greats almost always would take the top prize Down Under. Either Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer or even Stan Wawrinka always prevailed since 2006 at Melbourne.

And then came Jannik Sinner in 2024.

None of the other superstars were still around for Sunday’s final.

A DIFFERENT AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Yes, this time it was a different Australian Open.

But actually Sinner may have written his own story when he upended Djokovic in the semifinals. Without that experience, the slender Italian may not have been able to handle the pressure that Daniil Medvedev sent his way in the final.

Sinner was ready for the finish line after shocking Djokovic in the semifinals. It just took time to get there.

Sinner played within himself most of the last three sets of the final. A first-time Grand Slam finalist, Sinner played as if he belonged there in those three sets.

But, oh, those first two sets when Medvedev dominated play with his backhand from the middle of the court. Backhands usually are reserved for the backhand side of the court, but not with the tall Russian on the court.

SINNER DIDN’T PLAY HIS GAME AT FIRST

In a similar manner as women’s champion Aryna Sabalenka, Sinner followed up a big semifinal win with his own Australian Open title. Only, Sinner had to fight for five sets to accomplish his dream Down Under with a 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Medvedev.

Sinner appeared to play far differently from his victory over Djokovic when he controlled the court with his aggressive play and power.

This time, Sinner started things conservatively with few aggressive winners, repeatedly leaving the corners wide open for Medvedev’s crafty, but hard hit strokes. Medvedev made Sinner  pay a price with a style of play that was just the opposite.

Medvedev played close to the baseline and aggressively hopped on balls with his backhand in whip-lash fashion. He hardly had to move as he conserved energy.

THE STRATEGY ALMOST WORKED TO PERFECTION

Medvedev’s strategy worked like a charm until Sinner served the ninth game of the third set as Medvedev once needed only six points for a possible Grand Slam title. Sinner managed to overcome a deuce score to win that game.

Medvedev fell behind 30-0 serving the 10th game of the set and then Sinner got his first set point. Sinner made it stand up and it was a new game after that.

Sinner didn’t appear to be ready for Medvedev’s game the first two sets, but the Italian then came alive. He became prepared for Medvedev, even after losing the first two sets.

Of course, Sabalenka got her boost from a surprising, but solid win over talented Coco Graff in the women’s semifinals. Sabalenka then was never really challenged by Qinwen Zheng in the final.

Sinner’s final was much different.  He was somewhat lucky to escape with  a win.

Medvedev almost wrapped up the title in the ninth game, but it didn’t happen. As a result, Sinner may have started his own success story in Grand Slam finals.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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Focus

Australian Open Daily Preview: Daniil Medvedev Plays Jannik Sinner for the Men’s Singles Championship

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Daniil Medvedev during Friday’s semifinals (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

The men’s singles and women’s doubles championship matches are on Sunday in Melbourne.

Across the last 10 hard court Majors, Daniil Medvedev has now advanced to six championship matches, half of which have come in Melbourne.  In those finals, Medvedev is a meek 1-4.  However, this is the first time Medvedev is looking across the net at a man not named Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, the two winningest male singles players of all-time at Grand Slam events.

And Medvedev can thank Jannik Sinner for that, who for the third time in their last four meetings, defeated Djokovic in Friday’s semifinals to reach his first Major final.  Since adding Darren Cahill to his team 18 months ago, one of tennis’s best coaches of all-time, Sinner’s game has continually and significantly improved, most evident in his three victories over Djokovic since November.  On Sunday, the most dominant male player of this fortnight looks to break more new ground in his young career.

Earlier on Sunday, in the women’s doubles championship match, it’s Lyudmyla Kichenok and Jelena Ostapenko (11) vs. Su-Wei Hsieh and Elise Mertens (2).  This is a first Major final for Kichenok, and a first in doubles for Ostapenko.  Su-Wei has won seven Majors in doubles, including her first mixed title earlier this week, and is 7-1 at this stage of Majors.  Mertens has won three Majors in women’s doubles, including Wimbledon in 2021 alongside Su-Wei.


Jannik Sinner (4) vs. Daniil Medvedev (3) – Not Before 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Through six rounds, Sinner has dropped just one of 19 sets, which came against Djokovic in the semis.  But even that match was a rather comfortable win for the Italian, who lost only six games in the three sets he claimed.  Jannik has not just been the best ATP player this fortnight: he’s been the best ATP player since the last Major, with a record of 26-2.  The 22-year-old is 10-4 in ATP finals, with this of course being by far the biggest of his career to date.

Medvedev endured a much more complicated path to this final, completing 25 out of a possible 30 sets, which included three five-setters.  Two of those came in the last two rounds, against Hubert Hurkacz and Sascha Zverev.  Daniil has spent six more hours on court than Jannik, and has played for over 11 hours during the second week alone.  He is 20-16 in ATP Finals, with all 20 titles coming at different events.  But Medvedev can be rather streaky in finals: after losing five in a row, he won seven of eight, yet has now lost his last three.

And those last two losses came at the hands of Sinner, who beat him in both Beijing and Vienna.  Jannik also defeated Daniil in the semifinals of the ATP Finals in November, though all three of those recent matches were tight.  Prior to that, Medvedev had dominated their head-to-head 6-0, which includes two finals earlier in 2023.  All ten of their meetings have taken place on hard courts, and this is their first at a Major.

Based on their recent history, as well as their individual form this fortnight, I favor Sinner to win his first Major on Sunday.  While he’ll surely be nervous in the biggest match of his life, and could experience an emotional letdown coming off ending Novak’s undefeated record of 20-0 in Australian Open semis and finals, Jannik will be the much fresher player on this day.  Plus, he will feel confident after those three recent wins over Daniil, who has a lot of scar tissue to overcome in Major finals.  And after facing Medvedev so much within the past year, Sinner is well-versed on how to take advantage of Daniil’s deep return position.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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