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Rafa Nadal celebrates at Australian open 2021

Expert highlights changes Nadal must make to beat Djokovic at Australian Open

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Statistical analyst proves how it isn’t enough for Nadal to just win more break points when playing Djokovic at the Australian Open, he also has to create more opportunities to break

Tennis matches can often be decided by a couple of crucial points, which will mostly be break points. What really makes the best players stand out from the rest, is how well they play these big points. So, it would be reasonable to assume that if you play these break points better than your opponent, that you should be the winner of the tennis match. But, this need not necessarily be true. We also need to consider the frequency that we create break points and how often we face them.

Rafael Nadal played the break points significantly better than Novak Djokovic in their titanic clash in the 2012 Australian Open final. He saved 65% of break points he faced and converted 67% of the chances he created. Djokovic on the other hand saved only 33% of those break points he faced and converted only 35% of the break points chances he created. Yet the Serb was triumphant, eventual winning the blockbuster 5–7, 6–4, 6–2, 6–7(5), 7–5.

If we dig a little deeper, we can quite logically explain why he was able to defeat Nadal. While Nadal played the important points better than Djokovic did, Djokovic created a lot more chances and limited those he faced on his serve. Djokovic created 20 break point opportunities, while Nadal only created 6. Even if you play the important points better, you will eventually succumb, if your opponent is able to continuously create opportunities and limit those you create.

2012 Australian Open Final Nadal Djokovic

If Nadal and Djokovic are to face off in this year’s Australian Open final, Nadal will have to serve at a higher level and put Djokovic under more pressure on his own serve. Should he be able to do this, while still being clinical on these points, he stands a good chance to lift his second title in Melbourne.

Luka Elliott has a B Com in Economics and Statistics from the University of Cape Town. His thesis was titled “Engineering Features for Tennis Match Outcome Prediction in a Statistical Learning Framework”. He now writes for Tennishead focussing on how statistics effect the outcome of ATP matches


Rafa Nadal celebrates at Australian open 2021
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