12. Rafa, Novak and a glacier: signature imagery for unbridled dominance vs top 10 players

There may have been 3 grand slam winners in 2013, but, with Andy Murray’s back injury ruling him out of the final quarter of the season, 2013 will be seen as the year that, Wimbledon aside, Djokovic and Nadal dominated. The chasm between them and the rest is frightening, particularly in their performance against top 10 players. Can data in this post be used to qualify assertions about the “depth” of the men’s game?

Rafa and Novak

We know that Nadal won 10 titles and reached 4 finals out of 17 tournaments entered. We know of his jaw-dropping positive head to head record against every player in the top 30. We know Djokovic went 22-0 after the US Open. We also know that with Federer on the slide and Murray out with injury, the dominance of Nadal-Djokovic would be enhanced. Quite how much is scary.

First of all, here’s a table that shows the 2013 win-loss record of each player in the top 50 against a player in the ATP top 10*, broken down by brackets in the ATP top 50.

2013 Win-loss record vs Top 10 players by ATP rankings bracket

12 Rankings bracket vs top 10

Nadal and Djokovic are a combined 50-11 against top 10 players, a record that is more frightening when you take out the 6 matches they played against each other, leaving you with only 5 losses to other top 10 players. Of which:

  • Del Potro was the only man to beat both Djokovic and Nadal in 2013, another sign that he is a top 4 contender in 2014.
  • The other 3 losses to top 10 players were: for Nadal to Ferrer in the Masters 1000 in Paris; and for Djokovic to Murray at Wimbledon and Berdych in Rome.

Playing in front of the Perito Moreno glacier on a recent exhibition tour of Chile does little to dispel the notion that these guys are a different level.

12 Perito Moreno

The next best

  • No other player, not even Murray (5 wins, 6 losses) or Del Potro (6-7), has a better than 50 per cent win percentage against other top 10 players in 2013.
  • Wawrinka (9-12) and Berdych (7-15) have the most wins against top 10 players outside of Nadal and Djokovic. Wawrinka’s wins include 2 against Murray, 2 against Ferrer (as well as two five setters against Djokovic in grand slam tournaments). It will be interesting to see in 2014 if Wawrinka can build upon the belief that he belongs in the top 10.

The horror show

  • In the table above, the rankings brackets make uncomfortable reading for those ranked between 21 and 50. However, these brackets mask more stark discrepancies.
  • Seppi (8 matches), Granollers (7), Verdasco (7), Kohlschreiber (8), Istomin (8), Berlocq (8) and Dolgopolov (6) went a combined 0-52 against top 10 players in 2013.
  • Almagro (1-9), Anderson (1-10), Haas (1-9), Nieminen (1-6), Florian Mayer (1-10), Querrey (1-6) went a combined 6-50.
  • A couple of weeks back, we looked at players on hard courts in 2013, and calculated whether in 2013 they were possible big time contenders or, in the vernacular, journeymen players. Out of the 13 players in the above two bullet points, the aforementioned analysis concludes that only two of the 13 could be considered as contenders in 2013 (Almagro, Berlocq – remember Miami); the remaining 11 falling not surprisingly into the journeyman bucket.

The full table is below.

Depth on the men’s tour

While this post has focused on performance versus top 10 players in 2013, there is a broader point to all of this. Historians, journalists, and observers often make claims as to the depth of the men’s tour in year/generation X as opposed to year/generation y. By depth, we generally mean the extent to which lower ranked players in the men’s game are competitive with those at the top of the rankings. Frequently, there is no data underpinning the various assertions. Depending on how you define “depth” of course, there are a number of data points that can be analysed. Future posts will discuss how you might measure “depth” and look to compare data such as the above across a number if years to see what trends, if any, have emerged.

2013 Win-loss record vs Top 10 players 

12 Top 50 vs top 10 players

* For the purposes of this post, I took the top 10 as at year end, i.e. Nadal, Djokovic, Ferrer, Murray, Del Potro, Federer, Berdych, Wawrinak, Gasquet, and Tsonga. I didn’t include players who were in the top 10 for short periods of time (eg Tipsarevic, who started the year at number 8 but finished at number 36, or Raonic, who was number 10 for a couple of weeks in August).

5 thoughts on “12. Rafa, Novak and a glacier: signature imagery for unbridled dominance vs top 10 players

  1. Pingback: Nadal News » Blog Archive » RafaLint: November 30th

  2. Have you compared these numbers to other seasons? What was it like in 2005 or 2006 or 2010 for example? How different was it then? It would give a better lens to your argument to have a comparison.

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