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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

What to expect from Wimbledon this year

What style of play will dominate this year? A crowdsourced database of professional matches offers some pointers

The Match Charting Project is a crowdsourced effort to collect shot-by-shot data of professional tennis matches. Started by sports statistician and test preparation entrepreneur Jeff Sackmann, it contains detailed shot-by-shot information on more than 2,000 tennis games.

The database includes most Grand Slam singles (both men’s and women’s) games played since 2011 (until this year’s Australian Open), and can help us analyze what to expect in this year’s Wimbledon tennis championship, which starts on Monday, 27 June, especially in comparison with the other three majors.

1. Longer matches: When we talk about long matches at Wimbledon, the first thing that comes to mind is the match between John Isner and Nicholas Mahut at the 2010 championship, which lasted three days, with Isner finally prevailing 70-68 in the final set.

The tradition of Wimbledon playing host to long games has continued from 2011 as well, with the championship hosting the longest games across Grand Slams, in both men’s and women’s singles. While the lack of tiebreakers in the fifth set might be one reason games at Wimbledon are longer, this feature is shared with the French and Australian Opens as well.

While Wimbledon has the longest games by points, it plays host to the shortest games in terms of time. The average men’s singles game lasts 147 minutes, while the average women’s singles game lasts 94 minutes. In other words, time per point at Wimbledon is much lower than at other majors.

2. Shorter points: It has become a common lament that the serve-and-volley tradition in Wimbledon is on its way out, with baseliners succeeding on the grass courts as well (read Dilip D’Souza’s eulogy to the Becker-Edberg series of the late 1980s here. While the Match Charting Project doesn’t have complete data on rally length at Grand Slam tournaments, there is a time stamp attached to each point, which helps us use time taken for each point as a proxy for rally length (we ignore the first point of each game in order to ignore the time taken for changeovers, etc.).

The Match Charting Project data show the time taken per point at Wimbledon is the smallest among the four majors, for both men and women, and has decreased over the last five years. A more robust analysis by Sackmann based on actual rally length, however, shows that over a longer time period, rally length at Wimbledon has indeed gone up.

3. More aces: While the grass courts at Wimbledon might have slowed down over the years, the tournament still comfortably leads other Grand Slams in terms of the number of aces. Interestingly, though, the Australian Open seems to be catching up with Wimbledon on this count.

4. Serve and volley: While the aces continue to rain down at Wimbledon, fewer players are coming to the net nowadays. In 2011, over 20% of servers (among men) would come to the net to play the point, a number that has gone down to 17% in 2015. Yet, this is far higher than other Grand Slams. The lamentors for the serve-and-volley game do have a point, though. Players receiving serve elect to come to the net far less frequently (though only about 6% of players receiving serve play at the net, and this is consistent across the men’s and women’s game, and across tournaments).

5. Fewer breaks of serve: On an average, 64% of all points in Grand Slam men’s singles games are won by the server, while players serving win 57% of all points in women’s singles games. Both these numbers are higher at Wimbledon, compared with other majors, though the difference is small. When we look at a break of serve (where the player receiving wins a game) at the game level, however, the difference between Wimbledon and other majors is stark.

Less than 17% of men’s games and 31% of women’s games at Wimbledon see the receiver winning; both numbers are about 5 percentage points lower than the corresponding numbers for other majors.

It will be interesting to see what style of playing will come out dominant at this year’s championship.

Graphics by Naveen Kumar Saini/Mint.

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