What did we learn from the ‘Sunshine Double’?

Published by Game Insight Group

Roger Federer reached the final in Indian Wells before losing early in Miami; Getty Images
As the dust settles on the US swing through Indian Wells and Miami, the Game Insights Group (GIG) has been through the data to bring you five takeaways from the ‘Sunshine Double’.

1. Kokkinakis loss could help Federer

Roger Federer marked the early end of his Miami Open title defence by announcing for the second year running that he will skip the claycourt season.

It certainly worked for him last year, when the Swiss returned to claim a record eighth Wimbledon title.

Twelve months on, at the age of 36, how much work has Federer put in during the opening three months of 2018, compared to 2017?

While the second-round defeat by Thanasi Kokkinakis in Miami left Federer having played a relatively even 19 matches across the first three months of this season, to 21 matches over the same period last year, the Swiss packed in more points and more hours on court in an intense first 80 days of 2018.

By the end of Indian Wells he had spent five more hours on court, playing almost 300 more points – the equivalent of two additional rounds in a Masters event.

Had he gone on another deep run in Miami this time around, the workload might have become an issue. As it is, that loss to Kokkinakis has left the 20-time Grand Slam champion in similar shape to this stage of his stellar 2017.

 

2. Testing times for WTA favourites

Sloane Stephens had to get past three former No. 1s and four Grand Slam winners to take the Miami Open title – but is everyone’s path to a Premier final getting tougher?

The data would certainly suggest so.

If we look at Indian Wells and Miami on a match-by-match basis, it’s getting harder and harder to rely on the favourites coming through.

The median predictions for the favoured players from 2000 to 2018 show a clear declining trend.

In 2000, the median prediction for the favoured players was 73%; in 2018, that dropped to 69%. That decline tells us that the margin separating the winners and losers on the WTA Tour has been shrinking.

And if we look at the later stages, and consider the fourth round onwards, the trends show an even steeper decline. The WTA has had five straight years of a median win prediction under 75% for the ‘Sunshine Double’.

The top events on the 2018 WTA calendar are on track to bring us a level of competition that could be record-making.

3. Collins, the new queen of Clutch

As the competition on the WTA Tour gets tougher and the matches tighter, the ability to produce on the big points is more important than ever. In a word, ‘Clutch’.

GIG has ranked the players across Indian wells and Miami based on the total percentage of Clutch points won, weighting every point played by its leverage for the match: higher leverage means a bigger point.

> EXPLAINER: Quantifying Clutch performance

American Danielle Collins did not win a title but she began Indian Wells ranked 117th and left Miami as the world No.53, impressing with her tough performances.

Collins takes the No. 1 spot on Clutch performance.

Clutch Ranking Player Matches Clutch %
1 Danielle Collins 10 544.2
2 Naomi Osaka 9 511.1
3 Venus Williams 9 484.6
4 Sloane Stephens 8 455.8
5 Victoria Azarenka 8 450.0
6 Petra Martic 8 433.3
7 Angelique Kerber 8 423.4
8 Jelena Ostapenko 8 418.0
9 Karolina Pliskova 8 410.6
10 Maria Sakkari 7 394.9

4. Has the changing of the ATP guard arrived?

As many of the more established names struggle for fitness, a new generation of male players took centre stage throughout the ‘Sunshine Double’.

How can we size up the success of the young guns? And what does their success mean for the rest of the 2018 season?

A useful way to measure any player’s rise over a period is by the points gained in their Elo rating. Unlike the official rankings, with Elo the players gain more points with more wins – and even more points if those wins were unexpected.

> EXPLAINER: How Elo ratings work

From the start of Indian Wells through to the end of the Miami Open, the total improvement using players aged 23 and younger was +338 Elo points. That is the highest improvement among the tour’s youth since 2000.

Interestingly, the only other years with an improvement of more than 250 points among the youngest players were 2004, 2005, and 2007 – when some pretty talented teenagers were emerging on the ATP Tour.

5. Del Potro tops men’s clutch standings

If Collins came out of nowhere to shine on the WTA side in Indian Wells and Miami, it was more a case of ‘finally’ for Juan Martin del Potro.

The Argentine made good on his talent and new-found fitness to end the swing with a winner’s trophy and a semi-final place, while 21-year-old Borna Coric displayed the kind of big-match prowess he had promised since his teens.

Clutch Ranking Player Matches Clutch %
1 Juan Martin del Potro 11 611.2
2 Borna Coric 10 549.0
3 Hyeon Chung 8 465.5
4 Pablo Carreno Busta 8 436.6
5 Kevin Anderson 8 432.6
6 Milos Raonic 8 425.5
7 Jeremy Chardy 8 419.2
8 Alexander Zverev 7 372.2
9 John Isner 7 371.5
10 Fernando Verdasco 6 326.3
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