13. Depth charge: reduced competitiveness on the ATP tour

The gap between the men’s top 5 and the rest has grown over the last 7 years, a trend that is starkly amplified when looking at the gap between Djokovic-Nadal and the rest over the same period. If you want the ATP tour to have more depth or be more competitive, this is a concern. 

Competitiveness has fallen on the men’s tour. My statistical measure of competitiveness is how often players in the top 50 beat players in the top 10. There are other measurements for sure, but you have to start somewhere.

Last week, I took a snapshot of results in 2013 and found that Djokovic and Nadal were so dominant in matches against top 10 players that they were the only 2 to win more matches than they lost against top 10 players.

As ever, without comparison, it was hard to know if this statistic had any significance. So, I ran the same data back 7 years to 2007.

Results

1)     2013 is part of an ongoing trend. Since 2007, Nadal and Djokovic have consistently and aggressively increased their combined win percentage against top 10 players. (Win percentage = matches won divided by matches played.)

2)      In 2009 the difference in win percentage vs top 10 players between Nadal-Djokovic and the remainder of top 10 players was 8 per cent; by 2013 this had risen to a staggering 47 per cent.

3)      Since 2007, the win percentage of players ranked 11 to 50 in matches played against top 10 players, has been cut in half from 30 per cent to 17 per cent. See chart below.

Win percentage vs top 10 players: Nadal-Djokovic, Remainder of Top 10, Top 11 to 50

13 Djodal-R10-11-50

Big Picture

I’ve cut the data slightly differently for this next part. I’ve kept the Top 11-50 bracket but my other two brackets are Top 5 and Top 6-10. I’ve done this so that I can eventually compare data across generations (ie going back to the 1990s and beyond). This is quite a task so for the moment, as before, I’ve run the data back to 2007.

Results

  • Again, the gaps keep widening consistently. See the bold trendlines on the chart below.
  • The headline statistic for competitiveness is that those ranked between 11 and 50 have inexorably lost “market share” to the top 10 in their ability to beat the top 10.
  • 2007 was the most competitive year; 2012 and 2013 the two most uncompetitive years.  In 2007, the gap between the win percentage of the Top 11-50 and the Top 5 was 27 per cent; but over 40 per cent in the last 2 years.
  • In 2007, the year he won three grand slam titles, Federer ’s 19-6 win-loss record vs top 10 players was highest – but at only 76 per cent. Reminder: both Nadal and Djokovic scored over 80 per cent in 2013.
  • In 2007, 11 players in the top 50 won 50 per cent or more of their matches against top 10 players. By 2011 that number had fallen to 6 players; and to 4 players in 2013.

Win percentage vs top 10 players: Top 5, Top 6 to 10, and Top 11 to 50

13 Top5-6-10-11-50 vs top 10 (with text)

I will continue to run the data and see how competitiveness has fluctuated in previous years.

Why?

The more important conversation to have is why this has happened. We can speculate about the genius of Nadal and Djokovic, whose careers are now coinciding with Federer past his best. Perhaps grand slam and Masters 1000 series draws with increased numbers of seeds protects the top players from being “caught cold” by a decent player early in the tournament. Would love to hear your views.

But what we can be sure about is that since rankings were introduced in 1973, two statistics stand out:

1)      Top 50 players in 2013 are on average older than ever before; and linked to that,

2)      Once they make the top 50, they are less likely to fall out of it than ever before.

These generational trends will be the subject of the next post.

But let’s bear in mind the 2 points above. Should they correlate with falling competitiveness, Chris Kermode, the ATP’s incoming president, will be ever more reliant on the “Big [insert number of choice]” for casual fan interest and have his work cut out to reverse a worrying trend.

For the possibility is that the men’s top 50 is older than before, less likely to change than before, and – on this post’s measurement at least – perhaps more uncompetitive than before. Yikes.

2 thoughts on “13. Depth charge: reduced competitiveness on the ATP tour

  1. It’s easy:
    1. Homogenization of surfaces: without surface specialists, top players are less likely to lose to lower-ranked players. If in the late 90s a top 10 could lose in the first round of Wimbledon to a guy like Alexander Popp, such things simply never happen nowadays.
    2. Doping: as anyone with half a brain cell knows, tennis is a lost case regarding doping. Testing is pathetic and top players are protected by the ATP and ITF. They’re rarely caught and when they are, they serve hidden suspensions and not real ones. Since big names are shielded from any scrutiny by anti-doping authorities, they dope more and more every year and their virtually unbeatable, considering how tennis is 90% physical nowadays.
    3. Surfaces, rackets and strings have been changed to favor top 5 players.

  2. I agree. It is interesting to note that at 31 years, David Ferrer found himself at No 3 for a short period and Stanislav Warinkra, who was a top 20 player, has suddenly found himself in the top 10.

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