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

Outlook Positive For French Open But Rules Could Change Again, Warns Government

There is growing hope that a significant number of spectators could be allowed to attend but it can’t be guaranteed.

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A recent announcement concerning the number of spectators allowed to attend this year’s French Open should be met with caution, according to a senior government official.

 

Recently the French government outlined their plan for lifting the national lockdown which includes allowing fans back to sporting events. Under their current guidelines, the Grand Slam is set to welcome 1000 spectators per day initially with that number increasing to 5000 in the last five days. The reason for the increase is because the tournament takes place during the same time the country enters ‘phrase three’ of their plans which allows bigger public events providing attendees have been vaccinated or can provide a negative COVID-19 test.

The decision has brought delight to the French Tennis Federation (FFT) who delayed the start of the tournament by a week in hope they would be able to welcome more fans. Furthermore, L’Equipe has reported that up to 12,500 people could be allowed to attend the tournament should it get a ‘test event’ status.

“I am delighted that the discussions with the public authorities, the governing bodies of international tennis, our partners and broadcasters, and the ongoing work with the WTA and ATP, have made it possible for us to postpone the 2021 Roland-Garros tournament by a week. I thank them for this,” Gilles Moretton, president of the FFT said in a statement on the Roland-Garros website.

However, the FFT are not celebrating just yet amid a warning that it is still possible that rules relating to spectators could still change in the coming weeks depending on the COVID-19 pandemic. Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu has told Reuters it is possible that the latest roadmap out of lockdown could be adjusted.

“Something that may be decided today may change a week before the event, or two days before the event, depending on the evolution of the health crisis,she said.
“If we offer this visibility to the participants and organizers today, they know that this visibility can be modified according to the evolution of the transmission of the virus.”
I hope that there are no last-minute changes (in the health situation) and that we can work on these protocols sufficiently in advance to know where we stand,” Maracineanu added.

As for players attending the Grand Slam they have been ‘strongly advised’ not to visit any ‘Bright Red’ countries leading up to the event. In a recent email sent to players from the ATP, anybody arriving from India, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and South Africa will be required to go into a 10-day quarantine.

France’s daily Covid infection fell to an almost two-month low on average on Monday but hospitalizations increased by 132.

The French Open will start on 30 May and run until 13 June.

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Ash Barty Ready To Embrace Wimbledon Bubble But Konta Hopes For Rule Change

The two top 20 players speak out about the rules that will be enforced at the grass-court major this year.

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MUTUA MADRID OPEN DE TENIS 2021 FOTO: A.NEVADO/MMO

Women’s world No.1 Ash Barty says the new restrictions being implemented at this year’s Wimbledon Championships are worth it if she gets to play at the Grand Slam again.

 

The grass-court major is set to take place this year with players facing the strictest rules in the tournament’s history due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All participants will be required to stay within a biosecure bubble at approved hotels. Private housing will not be allowed and even those who may have a house in the city will not be allowed to stay there during their time at Wimbledon. Anybody who breaks the rules faced being disqualified from the event, as well as a fine of up to £14,000.

“It will be strange, without a doubt. But to be a little bit strange, to still be able to play Wimbledon, is certainly my preference,” Barty said following her first round win at the Madrid Open on Wednesday. “It would be a shame to not be able to play that incredible tournament.”

Last year’s Wimbledon Championships got cancelled for the first time in the Open Era due to the pandemic. Unlike the other majors it had the luxury of a pandemic insurance which helped cover the costs. Chairman Ian Hewitt said the total insurance payout amounted to £180 million.

This year there is no pandemic insurance available and officials are planning for a 25% capacity. The tournament is set to start a week after the UK is scheduled to end all of their national restrictions related to the pandemic. Although the timeline could change in the coming weeks depending on case numbers.

“We’re still a couple months away yet. Hopefully in the UK things can settle down, and some sort of normality outside would be brilliant for everyone,” Barty commented.

Konta holding on to hope

MUTUA MADRID OPEN DE TENIS 2021. FOTO: A.MARTINEZ/MMO

Britain’s top player Johanna Konta is less enthusiastic about the prospect of entering another bubble at her home Grand Slam. The world No.18 reached the semi-finals back in 2017 when she became the first British woman to do so since 1978.

“I’m still very hopeful that that might shift and change. As of now I’m just holding onto that hope,” she said about the prospect of having to stay in a hotel instead of her home.

Another blow to the grass season this year is the fact it’s duration has been cut by a week due to the French Open. The French Tennis Federation announced a seven-day delay in a move to maximise their chances of opening their event up to the public. France is currently in a national lockdown.

“I definitely don’t think it’s ideal for the build-up. Wimbledon has obviously lost that week, hopefully just for this year,” Konta admits. “However, I think everyone is just trying to do what’s best for themselves but overall best for the events being put on.”

Earlier this week Wimbledon conducted their annual spring press conference where they revealed plans to introduce play on the middle Sunday. AELTC chief executive Sally Bolton also played down the chances of their bubble plans being changed.

The minimised risk environment we created for the players is a requirement from the government to bring athletes without them going into quarantine upon entry into the UK,” Bolton told reporters.

The Wimbledon Championships will start on June 28th.

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Wimbledon Abolishes Middle Sunday From 2022, Update On 2021 Championships

Wimbledon will become a 14 day tournament from 2022 as a minimum 25% capacity is expected at the Championships this year.

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Wimbledon has announced that there will be no more Middle Sunday from 2022 as they look to have spectators for 2021 Championships.

 

One of Wimbledon’s main traditions will be gone from 2022 onwards as Middle Sunday will be eliminated therefore expanding the tournament to 14 days.

Middle Sunday has been a tradition which has allowed a day’s rest for competitors allowing the grass courts some time to recover for the second week.

However in 2022 there will be play on Middle Sunday as Chairman Ian Hewitt hinted that new technology was the reason for this, “Thanks to improved grass court technology and maintenance over the past five years or so and other measures, we are comfortable that we are able to look after the courts, most particularly Centre Court, without a full day of rest,” Hewitt said.

“This provides us with the opportunity, at an important time, to enhance the accessibility, reach and fanbase of Wimbledon, and tennis, both in the UK and globally. It will also ensure greater resilience and fairness of the tournament programme for our competitors, and enable us to create a different kind of atmosphere on the Middle Sunday, with a strong focus on the local community in particular.”

Moving onto this year’s tournament there is speculation about what capacity will be present in 2021, with all of the UK’s lockdown restrictions being eased a week before the Championships begin.

Chief Executive Sally Bolton has hinted at a 25% capacity to begin with but there is hope that could be increased if Britain’s roadmap out of lockdown is executed successfully, “We very much hope 25% is a minimum position from which we can build – it is our absolute desire to enable as many people as possible to safely attend The Championships this year,” Bolton said.

“At the heart of our thinking is the intention to create the mix of spectators for which Wimbledon is known, while also working hard to protect the financial performance of The Championships, including the surplus that we deliver for the benefit of British tennis.”

Other announcements in the press conference included that Wimbledon had received 180 million pounds due to pandemic insurance, ticket prices will stay at the 2020 level, prize money will be announced in June nearer to the Championships and that each player can only bring a maximum of three members of their entourage.

Despite some restrictions still being in place excitement is building ahead of Wimbledon’s return to the tour, “I would like to say how excited we are that Wimbledon will be back this summer, with the best tennis players in the world competing on our grass courts, in front of our passionate spectators,” Hewitt added.

“While it will, necessarily, be different from Wimbledon as we know it, we are full of enthusiasm and totally committed to our return following last year’s cancellation.”

Wimbledon will take place from the 28th of June until the 11th of July with the defending champions being Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep.

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