Game tree: Serena’s incredible 2015

Published by Damien Saunder

Serena Williams' incredible year in numbers
We take a look at Serena Williams’ incredible year using innovative data analysis.

Serena Williams was on a mission at the Australian Open in 2015, having not won there since 2010. Her recent Grand Slam form was ominous in the wake of her US Open victory a few months earlier.

However, her run to the final at Melbourne Park was not without its challenges as she overcame the likes of Garbine Muguruza, Dominika Cibulkova, and Madison Keys. World No.2 Maria Sharapova stood between her and a sixth Australian Open title but Serena showed again why she is one of the greatest players ever, winning 6-3 7-6(5).

From that point, Serena dominated the women’s tour like never before, winning 53 out of her 56 matches in 2015. By the end of the season she had won five titles, including three majors (the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon).

To celebrate Serena’s historic season we present her 2015 interactive Game Tree. Serena’s Game Tree allows you to explore the 557 service games she played in 2015.

This point-by-point summary shows where Serena’s historic season was won and (rarely) lost.

How the Game Tree works
Serena How It Works

The Game Tree shows how dominant (or not) Serena was on serve during the 2015 season. This unique visualisation gives us a better understanding of the final score, and how close Serena’s service games were.

Each point in the game tree is colour-coded to reflect the momentum in each of Serena’s service games. A match that was dominated by Serena is highlighted with a thicker, outside flow through the ‘positive’ points of the game tree. More tightly contested service games result in thicker lines through the ‘neutral’ and ‘negative’ points of the game tree.

Click on each line to reveal how many times the player won or lost that point.

Fast facts
• Serena played 557 service games in 2015.
• She won 80.9 per cent of her service games.
• The points from which Serena won her service games were fairly evenly spread. However it was from 40-15 where she had the most success winning 24.2 per cent of games.
• Her most successful point is deuce where she wins 71.2 per cent of the time. Throughout her service games she is most successful at 30-0 winning 70.0 per cent of the points.
• Her least successful point is at 15-40 where she wins 57.8 per cent of the time. Throughout her service games her least successful point is 15-0 where she wins 62.1 per cent of the points.

Matches to look out for
Serena’s win loss ratio was near perfect in 2015. She only lost three matches for the entire season (excluding walkovers) – to Petra Kvitova in Madrid, to Belinda Bencic at Toronto and to Roberta Vinci at the US Open. However at times throughout the season Serena did show signs of vulnerability on her serve.

During last year’s Australian Open final Maria Sharapova was able to put herself in a really strong position a number of times on Serena’s serve. Maria had Serena at 30-30 six times but failed to convert any of these opportunities into breaks of serve.

During the US spring hardcourt season fellow American Catherine Bellis ran into a red-hot serving Serena in Miami, managing to win just two points on the Williams serve for the entire match. Bellis, who was ranked No.211 at the time, experienced first-hand the power and precision of Serena’s serve.

Rising Swiss star Belinda Bencic was on a roll in Toronto late last year, beating Eugenie Bouchard, Caroline Wozniacki, Sabine Lisicki, Ana Ivanovic and Serena on her way to the title. The Game Tree shows us that in her match against Serena Bencic was able to gain control early in each service game, having Serena at 0-30 six times. However Serena was able to wrestle back control of her serve to take the majority of those service games back to 30-30. From there on, it was a tight tussle with Bencic eventually breaking Serena’s serve four times from deuce en route to a 3-6 7-5 6-4 win.

Three To Look Out For Serena

Serena’s three-year reign as world No. 1 looks set to continue in 2016. Her 2015 season was simply superb; so dominant, in fact, that at one stage during the year she had twice as many ranking points as the world No.2. To top it off, Serena was named Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year.

Her dominance is unquestionable but she didn’t always have it her own way. The final score of any match can sometimes be misleading and, of course, is only a small part of a much larger and more complex story and the game tree enables us to better understand that score.

Here we have explored just a few interesting examples of patterns and trends that we may have not have seen using conventional tennis reporting methods. I encourage you to use the interactive Game Tree to take a deeper dive into some of Serena’s memorable matches in 2015 and to see what might have been for some of her closest rivals as they begin their assault to dethrone the undisputed queen of women’s tennis in 2016.

Walkovers not included.

Damien Saunder is a performance analyst who supports elite tennis players and coaches in the area of data visualisation and analytics.

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