Making the step up - An assessment of young Challenger Tour Players


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A subject I wanted to focus on for my latest article was the step up from the Challenger Tour to the ATP Tour.

Jack Sock has begun to make a successful transition to the ATP Tour...

Some players, like Federico Delbonis and Jack Sock, and to a lesser extent as an older player, Stephane Robert, have done better than expected against more illustrious opponents.  However, the likes of Ryan Harrison, Andrey Kuznetsov and Alexandr Nedovyesov have not nearly matched their expectation, when their ATP and Challenger stats are compared.

It's actually pretty easy to compare ATP and Challenger stats and to make adjustments to Challenger numbers so that they are relevant to the ATP, and Daily Spreadsheet subscribers will be familiar to this from the vital notes column.

Being able to do this is very useful because - especially in 250 events - there are often players with very small samples of surface stats at ATP level.  This type of analysis is also possible in qualifiers, both in the ATP and WTA Tours.  It almost goes without saying that the vast majority of players will have better Challenger stats than ATP stats, due to the differing standard of opponents.

Generally speaking, the younger ATP players (under 22) tend to be able to make the step up a bit better than those a little older.  My research shows that players under 22 have a better ratio for service hold % and opponent break % from Challenger to ATP stats than older players.  It's also worth mentioning that there was no significant statistical difference between players aged between 22 and 25, and those older than 26, when their Challenger and ATP stats were compared.

Knowing which Challenger players have more statistical potential than others, especially with regard to their age taken into account, is a valuable asset for tennis bettors and traders.  Furthermore, a detailed knowledge of which players have strong or weak serves is incredibly useful when these players make the step up to ATP level, because there will be a large proportion of the market who will be unaware of these tendencies.

The table below illustrates the 12 month Challenger records (correct at 24th July 2014) of certain filtered players.  The following filters were applied:-

1.  Player must be ranked between 100-200.
2.  Player must be aged 24 or below.
3.  Player must not have a great deal of ATP level experience.

Player Age Current Challenger Challenger Challenger Challenger Best Surface Best Surface Best Surface Best Surface Best Surface
Rank W/L Hold % Break % Combined  W/L Challenger Challenger Challenger
Hold/Break % Hold % Break % Combined
(12 month) (12 month) (12 month) (12 month) (12 month) (12 month) Hold/Break %
Bagnis 24 107 29-16 75.8 30.0 105.8 Clay 29-14 76.0 30.9 106.9
Arguello 21 121 44-19 76.4 35.6 112.0 Clay 40-17 75.9 35.9 111.8
Dzumhur 22 122 27-14 73.5 35.3 108.8 Clay 24-11 72.8 36.4 109.2
Kudla 21 123 25-14 76.8 31.8 108.6 Hard 20-7 76.2 35.8 112.0
Gombos 23 131 38-23 77.1 28.9 106.0 Clay 27-16 74.6 33.2 107.8
Krajinovic 22 134 21-13 76.4 26.6 103.0 Clay 17-10 75.4 28.9 104.3
Cecchinato 21 136 28-17 77.8 29.9 107.7 Clay 27-13 78.0 32.9 110.9
Herbert 23 137 22-18 84.3 17.5 101.8 Hard 9-6 83.8 20.3 104.1
Elias 23 143 27-20 76.0 28.3 104.3 Clay 24-18 75.1 29.0 104.1
Evans 24 147 11-11 73.5 26.2 99.7 Hard 10-7 76.0 29.4 105.4
Melzer G 24 148 33-18 80.1 27.7 107.8 Clay 26-15 78.1 28.3 106.4
Moriya 23 151 39-25 71.5 29.0 100.5 Hard 32-18 70.9 31.5 102.4
Bhambri 22 153 17-5 77.1 34.1 111.2 Hard 17-5 77.1 34.1 111.2
Pella 24 154 27-15 76.7 33.9 110.6 Clay 22-12 75.5 37.5 113.0
Andreozzi 22 156 33-20 74.4 32.7 107.1 Clay 27-18 74.4 32.8 107.2
Fucsovics 22 160 25-15 78.7 27.1 105.8 Clay 11-6 77.1 31.7 108.8
Zverev A 18 161 6-6 70.5 25.4 95.9 Clay 6-6 70.5 25.4 95.9
Copil 23 162 17-16 83.3 14.8 98.1 Indoor 8-7 85.8 12.7 98.5
Duckworth 22 164 20-12 83.3 23.4 106.7 Hard 14-7 83.6 24.8 108.4
Saville 20 166 8-11 71.3 25.4 96.7 Hard 7-10 71.3 24.0 95.3
Olivetti 22 168 17-11 88.4 13.9 102.3 Hard 7-4 90.2 11.5 101.7
Michon 23 180 17-20 66.4 30.8 97.2 Clay 15-14 66.7 32.3 99.0
Delic M 20 181 10-7 74.3 27.6 101.9 Clay 10-7 74.3 27.6 101.9
Buchanan 23 184 24-19 75.5 25.0 100.5 Hard 13-8 76.9 26.7 103.6
Zhang 24 187 18-12 75.1 33.9 109.0 Hard 14-8 76.0 36.2 112.2
Martin 24 189 23-23 71.3 32.3 103.6 Clay 18-16 69.6 35.9 105.5
Daniel T 21 190 16-20 72.3 25.2 97.5 Hard 8-6 77.7 28.8 106.5
Pouille 20 191 25-19 74.6 28.0 102.6 Clay 11-9 72.1 32.5 104.6
Londero 20 196 19-18 69.5 32.6 102.1 Clay 16-15 70.1 32.1 102.2
Clezar 21 199 22-20 72.7 29.8 102.5 Clay 21-18 72.0 30.5 102.5
Basilashvili 22 200 13-10 74.6 25.2 99.8 Hard 8-6 74.8 26.1 100.9


Possibly the most obvious thing that can be drawn from the above stats is how many players significantly prefer one surface over the other, playing a very high percentage of matches on one surface. 

That in itself will make it very difficult to make the upper echelons of the ATP Tour, with perhaps only Fabio Fognini being overwhelmingly better on one surface (clay) than the others.

It's clear to see that Facundo Bagnis, Facundo Arguello, Damir Dzumhur, Marco Cecchinato, Gastao Elias, Guido Pella, Guido Andreozzi, Axel Michon, Mate Delic, Andrej Martin, Juan Ignacio Londero and Guilherme Clezar are almost exclusively clay courters and on that basis it's difficult to see them ever having any impact on any other surface at ATP level.

Guido Pella has the best Challenger stats on clay from the sample...

Having said that, Arguello, Dzumhur, Cecchinato, Pella and also Martin Fucsovics have strong Challenger clay stats and at 21 years of age, Arguello and Cecchinato have very strong chances of being solid ATP clay courters at least.  At 20 years old, Lucas Pouille also is a player of high potential, and there is no doubt that Alexander Zverev - who at just 18 made an ATP semi-final last week - is also a player who can achieve a great deal.  Zverev will be discussed in much more detail in a forthcoming article.

Denis Kudla is a player with top 50 potential.  Currently ranked 123 at 21 years old, his overall combined hold/break stats of 108.6% is relatively strong, and his 112.0% on hard court is even more so.  Furthermore, the young American is strong on grass and with there being an extra week on grass from 2015, he is a player I can envisage rising up the rankings.

Denis Kudla can significantly improve his ranking...

Yuki Bhambri is another player worth discussing.  At 22, he boasts very strong combined hold/break stats of 111.2%, and whilst not quite as impressive as Kudla at a slightly older age, he has an excellent 17-5 record in hard court Challengers in the last 12 months, and can improve his ranking of 153 significantly.  With much less ATP experience than Kudla, he is more of an unknown quantity and is a player that I believe could surprise a few lower ranked ATP players in the not too distant future.

Ze Zhang makes up the trio of players with the best hard court stats - with 76.0% holds and 36.2% breaks he will probably be disappointed with his 14-8 hard court record in Challengers over the past year, but with these stats, he could also significantly up his ranking, although at 24, his upside is obviously less than Kudla or Bhambri.

To finish the individual player analysis, I wanted to look at Marius Copil.  The 23 year old Romanian has actually played 10 ATP main draw matches in the last 12 months despite only having a career-high rank of 124.  

In those matches, he got several excellent wins.  Copil managed a victory over Marcel Granollers when priced 4.63 in the Madrid Masters (where he received a wild card) and also took out Gilles Simon (2.99) in Brisbane, where he made the quarter-finals after qualifying.  

However, Copil has very poor Challenger stats and on that basis, it can be assumed that he has been flattered by those wins.  In the last 12 months, he has played 42 matches as a favourite, winning just 24, and returning a very poor -18% ROI in those matches.  There can be little doubt that he is currently very over-rated by the market.

Marius Copil is very over-rated by the market...

The final area I wanted to look at was the service stats for these players.  The 12-month average ATP service hold across all surfaces is 78.9%, but this drops to 74.5% in Challengers.  I would estimate a player would need to hold in the low 80%'s in Challengers to be even close to ATP mean.  

Very few players have done that - just Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Copil, James Duckworth and Albano Olivetti can boast this.  

With service holds below even the Challenger mean, Dzumhur, Evans, Moriya, Andreozzi, Zverev, Saville, Michon, Delic, Martin, Daniel, Londero and Clezar all will struggle to hold at ATP level and this should make them strong trading material should they play ATP matches.  It's highly likely they will have low projected holds and also, if they get enough ATP experience to have reliable in-play stats, a high break lead loss percentage, making them viable to lay in-play when a break up in a match.




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