Beyond the headlines: 6/2014

An occasional piece focusing on observations from the ATP tour that did not make media headlines. This week, I give you two things: Albano Olivetti and an ongoing trend in 2014: quicker playing conditions, this time in Vina del Mar.

Albano Olivetti

Albano Olivetti, a 22 year old French player ranked 249 in the world, has just had a very successful week on tour: he reached the semi finals of the Montpellier tournament. Qualifying for the event as well, Olivetti won 6 matches, defeating De Schepper (world ranking 82) and Davydenko (60) before falling to Gasquet (9).

I would have said his “most successful week on tour”, but this result ties an appearance at the same stage in Marseille in 2012. On that occasion, ranked 388, he again qualified for the main draw and beat then world number 8 Mardy Fish before losing to Michael Llodra in the quarter finals.

Which naturally raises the question of where he has been for the last two years. Unfortunately an injury to his right elbow took out the first half of 2013 but since then he has made steady progress on the futures and challenger tour. His result this week will take his ranking to somewhere near his previous best of 210.

For a man 6’ 8” tall (203 cm) it is no surprise that Olivetti considers his serve to be his favourite shot nor that it may well be his most effective. This week in 6 matches, Olivetti served 111 aces in 87 service games. For comparison, in the same tournament, Janowicz, a top tier server, hit 51 aces in 32 service games, only a slightly better ratio. In their second round match, Davydenko won only 5 of 57 points off the Olivetti first serve.

Olivetti says hard courts are his favourite surface and he must obviously like playing in France. This week, he plays in a challenger event in Quimper, France. Olivetti clearly has the potential to go far. If he stays fit, we will find out quite how far.

Vina del Mar

There has been much debate about whether the speed of playing conditions has been harmonised across the four surfaces over the last 20 years and whether that is a “good thing” or a “bad thing” for the game. At some point in the future, I’ll dissect the data.

But for now, I want to underline that the trend of the speed of playing conditions is towards quicker conditions. The opening weeks of the year featured quicker than average conditions at both ATP Brisbane and at the Australian Open. To which we can now add last week’s clay court tournament in Vina del Mar.

First of all, regular readers know that I measure the speed of playing conditions using a metric called cross-courts (XC). Please see the explanation of this methodology below. Essentially the higher average XC per tournament the higher the speed of the playing conditions. Not always, but typically.

So, let’s take a look at the historical sequence of XC for Vina del Mar.

2014 presented the quickest conditions since 2002 (and probably since the tournament began in 2001).

Readers should note that the tournament was held in Santiago, Chile, in 2010 and 2011.

Average XC at ATP Vina del Mar 2002-2014

18 Vina del Mar XC

To underline that XC is a decent epithet for the speed of playing conditions, I have also provided a second table below which confirms quicker conditions than average clay court conditions.

The table below features all the players in the 2014 Vina del Mar main draw who played more than 6 clay court matches in 2013. This is 22 players. Here’s an explanation of each of the columns:

  • Column 2. For each of the 22 players, the ATP calculated the average number of aces served per clay court match in 2013.
  • Column 3. The number of matches played by each player in the 2014 edition of Vina del Mar (main draw only).
  • Column 4. The number of projected aces of that player in the 2014 tournament if they served aces at their 2013 ATP-calculated rate, i.e. Column 2 x Column 3.
  • Column 5. The number of actual aces served by the player in Vina del Mar in 2014.

Main draw participants ATP Vina del Mar 2014: projected and actual aces served

18 Vina del Mar

As you can see, the total number of aces served was 229, a 29% increase against the projected number (which is based on ATP data from 2013). Maybe the tournament used a different ball, or layered the clay differently. Regardless, conditions were quicker.

Methodology

It’s easier to hold serve on a faster court than a slower court. Intuition tells you it’s true, so do stats. This from heavytopspin.com: “in 2012, service breaks accounted for 22.0% of games on clay, against 20.5% of games on hard”. Accordingly, on quicker surfaces the score lines of sets are tighter: more tie breaks, 7-5, 6-4 set score lines. We can as a result measure the pace of courts according to a calculation known as cross-courts, a betting market from Sporting Index and others. Under the cross-court markets (hereafter known as XC), the two game scores in each set are multiplied together. So a set that finishes 7-6 scores 42 XCs; 6-4 will score 24 XCs. A match that finishes 6-4 3-6 7-6 will score 84. The higher the XCs, the faster the court: not always, but typically.

Measuring XC is a more reliable indicator of court speed than the total games of matches. There are 23 games each in matches that finish 7-6 6-4 and 6-1 2-6 6-2. But data tells us which one typically comes from a grass court and which from a clay court. In the former score line XC will score 66; the latter 30. Note that in this analysis, I have used the results only from the men’s Australian Open tournament.

3 thoughts on “Beyond the headlines: 6/2014

  1. I find your XC methodology very interesting, but miss one significant factor: weather conditions and especially heat. No doubt average temperatures have risen during the last 5 years, and the Australian Open had an exceptional hot week. That surely influences ball speed?
    Ball speed in Indian Wells was very high thanks to dry air and fast balls, but court relatively slow, which translated in high serve speeds combined with high bounces, perfect for tall guys

    • Hi Klaas.

      I first started writing about court speed but have since amended to talk about “playing conditions” as a whole. As you say desert air, court surface, type of ball – and of course big server vs average server etc – all have an effect on the XC methodology. The interesting thing for me is that there is a clear delineation in XC between the different surfaces – I will be exploring this in a future post.

      Meantime, as you say, that Isner kick serve (both in Miami and in Indian Wells) – ay yay yay. Almagro last night was having to return with a one handed backhand at 2.13m from the ground.

      Thanks for your comment.

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