6. WTA tennis: Data 0.0

This week, Juan José Vallejo, a blogger for The Changeover website, reported on the statistical dominance of Serena Williams on the WTA Tour, the women’s professional tennis tour. The WTA provides limited statistics on a player’s serve and return-of-serve performance. By these criteria – and probably by any other criteria – Serena is extraordinarily dominant, more so than any player on the men’s tour. Statistically, she is the lead player in five of the ten categories provided.

Singular though Serena’s achievements may be, the real story is about the amount and quality of WTA data made available:

  • Paucity: Juan José had to base his post on this one page pdf document of “match facts”. Only the Top 10 in each category are presented (compared to the ATP which publishes the Top 200). What about the other 90 in the women’s Top 100? And outside the Top 100? Serena may be the largest draw card for women’s tennis, but the tour has a large fan base and compelling narratives for Azarenka, Sharapova, Wozniacki, Robson etc. Where can fans find out about (for example) the second serve performance of these players? How do they compare to Serena or other tour leaders in this category? Rivalries and match ups are crucial to sustaining fan interest.
  • Relevance: the tables in the “match facts” document show the information in aggregate. The information is not presented by different court surfaces. But crucial differences are seen in the different surfaces (as demonstrated in this blog). These surfaces are fundamental to the variety of the game; and players typically do not perform to the same standard on each surface. What works on one surface may not on another. Other statistical documents on the WTA website are redundant by the very information they present. One example is here: with a straight face tell me how the world number 528 is a clay court leader in 2013.
  • Location: the one page “match facts” document (point #1 above) was not located in the “Scores and Stats” menu on the WTA website, but hidden within the “Press Center” menu at the bottom of the home page. Data is relegated to an afterthought, an appendix to photos. Data should be considered as an essential tool to helping fans understand why one player might be considered the favourite for a particular match; why players may excel or have difficulties on particular surfaces; and why improvements in areas of a player’s game (eg their second serve) may be linked to a ranking rise. See last week’s post on this blog.

There are different ways of informing and engaging a fan base. You can create narratives around different players and can market different rivalries. These may be enough to drive an initial level of interest. But to sustain and grow that fan base, regardless of sport, fans will want to understand more about what drives results, what the key data points are. In this WTA report on Jelena Jankovic’s resurgence in 2013, statistical support is wholly absent.

Great, but tell me why and how.

Great, but tell me why and how.

The ATP tour generally provides more data and more analysis. It doesn’t provide enough types of data, does not locate the data where it is easy to find, and does not publish as much analysis as it should. But at least I can find some data and analyse it myself.

The WTA on the other hand has struggled with data for some years and has been accused of being in a “statistical stone age”. The tour announced a sponsorship deal with SAP in August 2013. Maybe part of the company’s deal involves an overhaul of the tour’s data.

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