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For my next article I wanted to do something completely different - scouting reports on several players.
If you would like me to do a scouting report on a player, or compare two different players, please let me know via Twitter or by email - email@example.com.
The reason why I picked out these two players is because I feel that one player is ranked well above their ability, whereas the other is quite a bit below...
World Ranking Information:-
Joao Sousa currently stands at a world ranking of 35, which is also his career high. The 25 year old Portuguese has risen from outside the top 100, breaking through this in July 2013 and started the season ranked 49th.
Aljaz Bedene currently stands at a world ranking of 127, a fair bit below his career high of 71 (February 2013). The 25 year old Slovenian - rumoured to be keen to switch nationality to Great Britain - started this season ranked 95th after missing the last two months of 2013 with a wrist injury.
The first comparison I want to make is the hold/break percentages of the two players in ATP matches in recent times:-
There are a number of immediate conclusions we can draw from the above stats - firstly, despite the huge gap of 92 ranking positions between the two players, actually there's not a great deal between the two players with combined percentages ranging from a difference of 1.2% (in 2014) to 4.7% (last 12 months). This would - very basically - price a match-up between the two players to be around 1.90 to 1.70 in favour of Sousa, assuming that both players played opponents of the same calibre.
Therefore it's a given that there's not that much between the two players in terms of ability, and the career stats of the two players also indicate this, with Bedene slightly edging the service stats and Sousa having the better return stats:-
What is worth mentioning at this point is that neither player's stats are particularly impressive - a combined percentage of the low 90%'s is nowhere near top 50 level.
Comparing Hold/Break Percentages with the ATP Tour:-
According to the June Update of the Ultimate In-Play Spreadsheet which covers all top 100 players and some notable others (including Bedene), Sousa's combined hold/break percentage (June 2013 to June 2014) was 94.0% with Bedene's at 88.9%. This would rank Sousa at 93rd in the world on these stats, with Bedene at 114.
Out of interest, Ultimate In-Play Spreadsheet Hold/Break percentages indicate Juan Monaco to be the 35th best player in the world, with a combined percentage of 102.4 - well above Sousa's 94.0...
On that basis, it can be assumed that Bedene's stats are largely in line with his ranking, but Sousa's ranking flatters him in the extreme.
Why would this be the case?
An obvious starting point is if Sousa has an excellent record on a particular surface, which allows him to gain high ranking points on a consistent basis.
The above stats indicate that Sousa is much more comfortable on hard/indoor hard surfaces, as opposed to clay. This is in contrast to many people's (I believe he has also been quoted as saying he prefers the surface) perceptions of him as a clay-courter (his name and nationality also make people think this).
However, with better hold/break stats, and a much better win/loss record, it's without doubt Sousa thrives on the faster surfaces.
Bedene boasts better clay court stats from a smaller sample, and actually looks to be a better player on the dirt than Sousa is. This is borne out by their career stats on clay, as well:-
Whilst Sousa has a much better record on hard/indoor courts than clay, it's not nearly exceptional enough to explain why his ranking is much higher than his stats show it should be.
Something that has been remarked on by smart observers recently is Sousa's ability to pick up 'cheap' ranking points.
By way of explanation, this is by him targeting tournaments (250 events) with weak fields whereby he can win relatively easy matches and get to the latter stages much more regularly than playing in similar level tournaments which are in more 'attractive' locations.
Here we can see that despite 10 relatively early exits, Sousa made the semi-finals twice (90 points each) and won one tournament (250 points) and was runner up in another (150 points). These four tournaments in themselves generated 580 ranking points - over half of his 12-month 1122 ranking points and more points than Bedene has picked up in the entire 12 months...
This now starts to give some answers as to why Sousa has a ranking much higher than his overall ability.
Deciding Set Records:-
Something else I've noticed with Sousa is that he seems very strong at deciding sets, indicating a high level of fitness. This is backed up by the following stats at ATP level (including qualifiers):-
Here we can see that despite a decent last 12 months, Bedene has a much worse overall record in three set matches. Sousa's 22-15 (59%) record is exceptional, particularly when put into context that he's only won 49% of overall sets in his career at ATP level (including qualifiers). Sousa appears to have either significant mental, or physical edge (or possibly both) against many of his competitors in third sets of matches.
The final area that I want to look at is mental strength.
There are several metrics that can be used for this, with break point 'clutch' score comparison and also useful are stats for late games in sets (available via the Ultimate In-Play Spreadsheet).
Just for reference, the average ATP player wins 2.6% more service points than they save break points, and thus convert 2.6% more break point chances than they win return points. Therefore, due to previous dominance in that particular game, the receiving player is more likely to win a break point than they are to win a 'normal' point.
This gives us some more answers. Sousa actually saves more break points than he wins service points, winning 1.0% more. This is therefore 3.6% above the ATP mean (as previously discussed, the average ATP player wins 2.6% less break points than overall) and this figure is very high indeed. On the flip side, Bedene has been awful at key points on his serve, winning 9.2% fewer break points than overall service points - and this figure would be one of the worst at ATP level.
Both players have above-average break point return stats, with Bedene's 6.2% difference highly impressive, and to a minor extent compensates for his failings at key points on his own serve. However, Sousa wins a combined percentage of 101.4 on key points, and Bedene's percentage is much lower at 93.6.
No doubt - this indicates Sousa is very strong mentally at key points, and backs up this theory in his deciding set record.
The final stat I want to look at is how the two players fare in the late games of sets. To clarify here, I consider late games of sets to be any game where either player in the match has won at least four games (so 4-0, 4-1, 4-2, 4-3, 4-4, 4-5, 5-5, 5-6)
Here we can see that both players are better in late games of sets than overall, so show a degree of mental strength - yet another indicator of how strong Sousa is mentally!
To conclude, it is apparent that despite both players being very similar in terms of ability, there are a number of reasons why Sousa is ranked significantly higher (and also much above his ability level):-
1) Intelligent tournament management - targeting weak 250s to win 'cheap ranking points'.
2) High fitness level - enabling him to win a high percentage of deciding sets.
3) VERY strong mentality - witnessed by his deciding set record, break point stats and late game stats.
This shows that it's not just 'ability' that counts in Tennis. A high fitness level, mental strength and intelligent tournament management are crucial facets which are probably under-rated by many, but there is little doubt that is what Sousa possesses and is the prime reason for his current career-best ranking.
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