Six players to surprise us at Wimbledon 2021 - what does the data tell us?
Wimbledon starts Monday June 28th and the tennis world’s eyes go from the red Clay of Roland Garros to the green Grass of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
So, who are the players ranked outside of the top 20 who might surprise us? Who are the players who did well in Paris and who could also do well in London? Meanwhile, who might have shone brightly on the Parisian Clay but might vanish quickly on the Wimbledon Grass?
Shane Liyanage from Data Driven Sports Analytics (DDSA) gives us his insights on some of the players to watch at the 2021 Wimbledon Championships.
Ugo Humbert (seeded 21)
Frenchman Humbert is one of the on form players on Grass right now- the 22 year old defeated other young tennis stars Sascha Zverev, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Sebastian Korda and Andrey Rublev on his way to winning the Halle ATP 500 title.
Humbert has some nice history at Wimbledon - in 2019, he was the only Next Gen player to reach the last sixteen where he was stopped by eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
One shot that will give Humbert an advantage this Wimbledon is his serve. Humbert excels at the two most important serves in grass court tennis-, the T serve on the Deuce side and the wide serve on the AD side. According to Data Driven Sports Analytics, in the men’s game, 4.6% more points are won on the Deuce T than the AD side. On the AD side, wide serves are 3.4% more successful.
DDSA’s Shane Liyanage says that this is an advantage for Humbert who “faults 5.1% less on the deuce T and wins 5% more. He has the same faults on the AD side but wins 3.2% more on the wide ball. Also court dimensions of centre court at Wimbledon provide more space to return out wide than T compared to 2 of the other slams.”
Another reason to expect Humbert to do well this Wimbledon is his mature decision to pull out of Mallorca before his second round match in order to rest for the Championships, which suggests Humbert has his eyes firmly focused on one of tennis’ greatest prizes.
Humbert may find the extra rest very helpful- in the first round, he faces Nick Kyrgios. Earlier this season, the two met in the Australian Open second round with Humbert losing the match after holding match points. Kyrgios has not played since losing in the Australian third round to Dominic Thiem and this Wimbledon first round match could be a good opportunity for revenge for the Frenchman.
Madison Keys (seeded 23)
Keys knows about going deep in a Grand Slam draw- she was the 2017 US Open runner up and has reached seven quarter-finals in total, making the semi-finals four times, and one of those quarter finals was at Wimbledon 2015.
Keys has the big serve and groundstrokes to do well at Wimbledon. According to DDSA, big servers have an advantage on the Wimbledon Grass with the average rounds won by players that win more than 80% of their service points on the serve being 2.2, which is higher than, for example, the French Open’s figure of 1.8.
A big serving, big hitting player like Keys is also going to serve more aces in the early rounds and be able to finish the rallies earlier on the Wimbledon Grass courts (see the infographic below).
(Thanks to Data Driven Sports Analytics for the above infographic which shows the impact of wear and tear on rally length and ace rates on Grass courts at Wimbledon from 2008-2019)
Keys has also found some form in the last month. A key difference in her game recently is her first ball after the serve and her first ball after the return. DDSA’s Shane Liyanage points out that “Keys has cut down unforced errors on those shots by nearly 20%, meaning she is building into the point a bit more, and then choosing the right moment to attack.” One question about Keys is will she have time to build her points as well on the quicker grass courts?
These players reached the second week in Paris unseeded and could get there again in London.
Lorenzo Musetti (unseeded)
In Paris, 19 year old Italian Lorenzo Musetti competed in his first Grand Slam main draw. In the fourth round, he played some brilliant tennis to lead eventual champion Novak Djokovic by two sets to love before an injury meant he retired from the match in the fifth set.
Musetti has all the tools to be successful on grass in the future. He has a good serve, a decent slice and a backhand that can change direction well.
The question mark is whether he is ready to do it this year.
Musetti is both inexperienced on grass and at competing in best of five set matches at slams which means it is hard to see him ready to face seasoned grass court players just yet.
However, Musetti has already shown tennis audiences he is not afraid of the big occasion and he will not hesitate to take any chances that come his way. His draw has been fairly kind- in the first round, he faces fourteenth seed Hubert Hurkacz, who is on a five match losing streak. Further on, he has the eighteenth seed Grigor Dimitrov in round three. Musetti beat Dimitrov in the Acapulco quarter-finals earlier this season and the Bulgarian has a win-loss record of 3-6 since that defeat and had to retire from his first round match at Roland Garros.
Marta Kostyuk (unseeded) Ukrainian Kostyuk is having a consistent last few weeks. The eighteen year old reached the Roland Garros last sixteen where she lost to Iga Świątek and then made the Birmingham last sixteen where she was defeated by eventual champion Daria Kasatskina.
In the Wimbledon first round, Kostyuk is drawn to meet seventeenth seed Kiki Bertens.
These players had their best Grand Slam runs in Paris - what does the data tell us about their chances of stunning favorites again in London?
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (seeded 30)
Fokina did well in Roland Garros- reaching the quarter finals- but it is unlikely he will repeat that run in London.
Fokina had a good draw in Paris, which made his run to the quarter finals a little easier. This time at Wimbledon his draw is more challenging. He will be pleased to get past qualifier Denis Kudla in round one and then Joao Sousa or Andreas Seppi in round two before he faces the nearly impossible task of defeating defending champion and five time winner Novak Djovovic in the third round.
Fokina may not even get that far. DDSA’s Shane Liyanage points out that ”the lower bouncing quicker grass conditions do not suit his baseline dominant game. He needs time on his groundstroke swing and he doesn’t yet possess a high quality slice to deal with the lower bouncing balls to his backhand.”
Tamara Zidanšek (unseeded)
Zidanšek is another player who did well at Roland Garros, upsetting Bianca Andreescu in the first round of Roland Garros on her way to the semi-finals.
However, do not expect to see this rising tennis star repeat her Paris heroics at Wimbledon. According to DDSA’s Shane Liyanage, “Zidanšek is a player that needs time on her groundstrokes and she likes to have the ball in a good hitting zone. Both of these things are not likely to happen at Wimbledon, where she will also be unseeded, so she will struggle to get through the early rounds.”
Unseeded Zidanšek will face the big serving former world No.1 and eighth seed Karolina Plíšková in the first round. However, the draw is not as bad as it might look. Plíšková can be vulnerable to upsets and, while it seems unlikely it is Zidanšek’s time on Grass just yet, if the unseeded Slovenian surprises the Czech star, she could have another decent run at a Grand Slam.
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