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There has been much made in the media and social media about the tendency of Petra Kvitova to play 3 set matches. She’s even been given the affectionate nickname ‘P3TRA’ because of this.
In 2013, the Czech world number 6 played 70 WTA and Grand Slam matches, and an incredible 35 (50%) went to 3 sets. Only Heather Watson (56.0% from 25 matches) and Galina Voskoboeva (51.7% from 29 matches) had a higher percentage when looking at players who had played over 20 WTA matches in 2013.
When you consider the top 100 WTA average for 3 set matches is 33.49%, this is greatly above average, from a decent sample size (only Serena Williams – 80 – and Agnieszka Radwanska – 71 – played more matches in 2013).
Ironically both Williams and Radwanska had two of the lowest percentages of matches going to 3 sets – with them doing so 17.5% and 18.3% respectively. This benefit in decreased accumulated fatigue cannot be underestimated - I’ve already mentioned in several articles that playing two or more matches in the same tournament with 30+ games in them has a severe negative effect on a player’s chances of winning their subsequent match(es), and backing players in those situations has a hugely negative return on investment.
So why does Kvitova participate in so many deciding sets? I used the stats in the WTA Ultimate In-Play Spreadsheet to find out more…
(All stats cover the 2013 season in its entirety)
What we can see is that not one of Kvitova’s stats are better than her world rank, and her mean rank, according to the stats, is 39.55. Whilst it’s not unreasonable to assume her mean rank will be lower than her overall rank, as her opponent ranking will surely be higher than most (participating in the latter rounds of big events and the year-end tour finals in Istanbul ensures that), for it to be so much lower (and for none of her key stats to be better than her world ranking) is highly surprising, and should be of concern to Kvitova.
There are several stats that give some insight as to why Kvitova has a propensity to play three set matches.
Firstly, her second set win percentage (52.2%) is significantly lower than both her first set (68.6%) and third set (65.7%) win percentages. On that basis it can be assumed that she lets a set lead slip much more than average, and the stats on that are fascinating:-
In 2013, Kvitova won the first set 68.6% from 70 matches (48 matches) but then in those 48 matches subsequently lost the second set on 23 occasions (47.92%), and losing the match 10 times from those 48 matches (79.2% win percentage).
Considering the top 100 WTA win percentage when won the first set was 87%, this statistic is incredibly damning, especially when you take into account the fact that Kvitova was also often very heavy favourite pre-match, and hence often priced under 1.10 when she won the first set.
Her stats also show that she struggles in the latter stages of sets, holding serve 66.7% in the late games of sets (compared to her overall average of 69.9%) and breaking 36.0% in late games of sets (compared to her overall average of 37.7%). These stats rank her 39 and 63 in the WTA respectively, and indicate that she gives up break leads much more than she should.
The above assertion that she gives up break leads more often is confirmed by her actual 2013 break lead loss percentage of 44.4% (ranked 35th best in WTA). Whilst this figure is below the WTA average of 47.9% it’s very high for a top 10 player (only Sara Errani and Jelena Jankovic – both much worse servers - have worse). This is despite her overall service hold rank being 17, much higher than her rank for holding onto break leads.
The final area I want to analyse is the tight sets that Kvitova plays, compared to those ranked similar to her. By a tight set I define this as a single break win (6-4, 7-5, or any other one break score in a Grand Slam (e.g. 11-9) or by tiebreak (7-6). Obviously 6-3 can at times be a single break win but purely looking at the results this is impossible to know, so it’s discounted for this purpose.
The following stats show how Kvitova compares to the other players around her (ranked 5-10) in tight sets.
The above stats show that Kvitova played 2.49 sets per match in 2013, considerably higher than those surrounding her in the rankings. Only Jelena Jankovic (2.40 sets per match) came remotely close.
However, Kvitova’s stats for tight sets was nothing worse than average. She played very similar amounts (41.38%) to most of those players surrounding her, and her win percentage of 62.50% in tight sets was actually the best in the sample.
What may be the case is that Kvitova has a tendency to get a break or double break up in the early-mid points of a set, and then make things more difficult for herself than is necessary by giving up some or all of this lead.
It’s also very interesting to see Caroline Wozniacki’s stats. Incredibly she loses more tight sets than she wins (44.68%), and plays tight sets much less than the other top 10 players sampled (34.31%). There would appear to be a serious mentality issue for Wozniacki, and I’m very tempted to assess this further in another article.
It would appear that Kvitova’s main reason for playing three set matches is both her very poor second set record and her very poor record when she takes the first set, as opposed to any in-set issue. I will certainly be looking at opposing Kvitova when she takes the first set in the near future with a view to this trend continuing.
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