Calculating Young Player Improvement - Why Nick Kyrgios won't be world number one by 25


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The Tennis world has been awash with speculation that a new player is about to take the Tour by storm and soar towards the top of the men's game.  That name is Nick Kyrgios.

Every time I check Twitter I see incredible speculation about the brash 19 year old's career.  Future world number one and Grand Slam winner are conservative predictions, whilst some even go as far as asserting that he will win a Golden Slam (all four Slams and Olympic Gold).  

A good proportion of these predictions are from journalists, and people in the media.  I must admit that I find it hard to disguise my disgust for the overwhelming majority of these commentators, who make ludicrous comments with no statistical basis, but because they are in a high powered writing role, or are an ex-player, people take what they say as absolute gospel truth.  That's useful for us, from a betting/trading perspective (the more people that believe them, the better) but also highly irritating as they are richly paid for these mistruths, lazy research (their idea of statistics is a 2-1 head to head lead meaning something) and poor understanding of basic mathematical concepts.

If you know what you are looking for, it's pretty easy to calculate the likely improvement for young players.  Players adapt from the Challenger Tour to the ATP at an overall general rate, where you can multiply a players Challenger hold/break stats by a certain ratio (less than 1.00) depending on their age.  Naturally, players improve and adapt at different rates, but these figures hold broadly true over a large sample of players over a number of years.  Generally speaking, players under 23 adapt to the ATP Tour from Challengers slightly better than players over 23.

It's this data that has allowed me to previously confidently predict that Borna Coric will be a top five player (and probably even better) in his career.  At 17 years of age, he has already shown the level required to make this future transition.

Borna Coric has a huge career ahead of him...

Moving back to Kyrgios specifically, we can look at the various improvement metrics for players to ascertain where he might go in the future.

The following table illustrates player improvement from 19 to 24/25, for the top ten ranked players that I can get data for both the ages of 19 and 25.

Player

All-Surface

All-Surface

All-Surface

All-Surface

All-Surface

All-Surface

Difference %

Improvement


Service Hold %

Break Opponent %

Combined %

Service Hold %

Break Opponent %

Combined %


Ratio


At 19

At 19

At 19

At 25

At 25

At 25












Nishikori

77.4

24.4

101.8

85

28.1

113.1

11.3

1.11

Raonic

79.3

16.4

95.7

90.7

15.6

106.3

10.6

1.11

Cilic

82.8

22.1

104.9

84.6

23.7

108.3

3.4

1.03

Gulbis

83.6

19.6

103.2

85.6

20.4

106

2.8

1.03

Goffin

65.9

24.3

90.2

77.5

26.8

104.3

14.1

1.16

Klizan

62.2

28

90.2

78.3

23.8

102.1

11.9

1.13

Janowicz

73.6

14.5

88.1

79.6

18.2

97.8

9.7

1.11

Sousa J

58.9

30.5

89.4

71.6

19.5

91.1

1.7

1.02

Young

64.7

27.2

91.9

77.6

21.1

98.7

6.8

1.07

Struff

64.6

18.8

83.4

80.3

18

98.3

14.9

1.18


As can be seen from the table, there are varying degrees of player improvement, and all players did indeed improve.

Joao Sousa (1.7% increase, leading to an improvement ratio of 1.02) had the slowest level of improvement, whilst Jan-Lennart Struff (14.9%, 1.18 ratio) edged David Goffin to the title of the most improved player.  

It can also be seen that both Marin Cilic (despite his US Open triumph) and Ernests Gulbis have not made the most of their early potential.  Both had a better combined hold/break percentage at 19 than Kei Nishikori, but the Japanese player has significantly eclipsed their overall stats (and ranking) by 25.

This overall data is highly useful.  We can now see a low and high improvement for both hold/break combined percentage, and improvement ratio.  

Currently, Kyrgios' stats read 86.5% holds and 13.0% breaks from 20 main tour matches (99.5% combined).   This means that interestingly, Kei Nishikori, Marin Cilic and Ernests Gulbis were all better at the age of 19 than Kyrgios.

If we assume that his improvement follows the mean, he will improve his combined hold/break stats by 8.7% at the age of 25, or by 1.10 ratio.  This would give him a combined hold/break percentage 108.2%, if we look at the difference, or 109.0% if we use the ratio.  Clearly both figures are very similar and this allows us to make a confident prediction of his stats in 5-6 years time.

At this point, I'm expecting Kyrgios' supporters to say 'What if he improves at the rate of Struff?'.  Let's hypothetically assume that he has this very high rate of improvement, and we can boost his stats by 14.9% or a ratio of 1.18.

This would lead to combined hold/break stats of 114.4% based on the difference, or 117.4% based on the ratio.  Clearly this is better and would mean that he'd be slightly better than Nishikori at the age of around 25.  For all his talent, the Japanese player is still only ranked at number five currently, and that was after a significant ranking improvement in the last six months.

Looking at the current stats of the ATP top ten (across all surfaces) gives us a further insight towards how much Kyrgios needs to improve to reach world number one.

Player

Rank

12 Month

12 Month

12 Month



Service Hold %

Break Opponent %

Combined %






Djokovic

1

88.5

32.5

121.0

Federer

2

91.0

26.2

117.2

Nadal

3

85.7

34.9

120.6

Wawrinka

4

86.7

21.6

108.3

Nishikori

5

85.0

28.1

113.1

Murray

6

81.4

32.3

113.7

Berdych

7

86.9

26.8

113.7

Raonic

8

90.7

15.6

106.3

Cilic

9

84.6

23.7

108.3

Ferrer

10

79.7

33.0

112.7


Even allowing for maximum improvement, Nick Kyrgios is highly unlikely to be world number one by the age of 25...

This data allows us to see that if Kyrgios improves at the maximum (Struff) level he will be worse than the current versions of Djokovic (who has been extremely consistent with his hold/break stats in recent years) and Nadal (whose stats have previously been even better, but has had a very poor year by his standards, probably due to injury), by around 3-4% (which is highly significant at these levels), and at best would be around the current Federer level, which clearly isn't nearly as strong as the Swiss legend at his peak.

This acceleration would no doubt give him a very good career, and a decent shot at winning a Slam or two, but would see him struggle to make world number one.  This would be the absolute best scenario for Kyrgios.

Average improvement gives him a combined hold/break percentage of between 108.2% and 109.0%.  This would make him a solid top ten player, in the ilk of Wawrinka or Cilic.  Both have won Slams (arguably fortunately) so again, Kyrgios could win a Slam with average improvement, but it's worth noting that statistically better players than Wawrinka and Cilic - Nishikori, Berdych and Ferrer - have not claimed a Slam title at the time of writing.  

Furthermore, there is nothing to say that he won't improve slower than average, and follow similar career paths to Cilic and Gulbis, for example.  If his career improves at the mean Cilic/Gulbis improvement (3.1% and 1.03 ratio) then his combined hold/break percentages would read 102.6% (for the difference %) and 102.5% (for the ratio).  This would make him around a top 20-25 player.

Even with maximum career acceleration, talk of Kyrgios winning a Golden Slam is clearly ludicrous, and talk of being world number one also highly unlikely to prove correct in the next 5-6 years.  





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