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Top ten versus top ten is a facet of Tennis that is quite under-researched, and I've mentioned previously that generally the ATP elite players in particular have slightly more breaks of serve against each other than the Tour average.
Something I've also alluded to is the fact that some players are - to use a cricket phrase - a 'flat-track bully'. According to dictionary.com, an exact definition is 'a sportsperson who dominates inferior opposition, but who cannot beat top-level opponents.' I've mentioned that I believe Agnieszka Radwanska is a prime example of this. She regularly gets in excess of 50 wins in a season, but has a horrific 19-31 last 50 match record against her top ten peers and, going back to January 2012, she is 4-16 against top 5 opponents. Sara Errani would be a further example. Interestingly, both of these players lack the power that some of their compatriots boast.
The following table illustrates the records of the top 8 ranked WTA players in the last 12 months against fellow top ten players. I've also included Angelique Kerber, who was a mainstay in the top ten until last month.
*Kerber stats from January 2014 to increase sample size
We can see that Serena Williams is utterly dominant over her top ten opponents. In fact, with a higher win percentage and higher 2-0 win percentage than general matches, it could be said that she ups her game for these big matches, and has a significant point to prove to her rivals. Whilst the world number on is in undoubted decline, backing her to win 2-0 against top ten opponents would still have some merit at this time.
Serena Williams is utterly dominant over her fellow top ten opponents...
Only Maria Sharapova also boasted a win percentage over 50%, with the Russian taking 12 of 17 matches. However, she managed a mere five straight sets wins, and clearly 'took the scenic route' in matches, averaging the most sets per game at 2.53. As should always be considered, backing the world number two from a losing position looks worthwhile against top ten opponents. Sharapova also won 60.5% of sets, and again was the only player to achieve greater than 50% apart from Williams.
Simona Halep and Ana Ivanovic had the 'next best' stats, with set win percentages of 48.0% and 48.7% respectively. Interestingly, they also averaged a high number of sets per match, recording higher figures than the field, with the exception of Sharapova.
Interestingly, Kvitova, Radwanska and Kerber all had very poor match win percentages, and set win percentages. These players all have struggled against top ten opponents lately, and it's of no surprise to see low set per game averages for this trio. They lost a lot of matches by 2-0 scorelines.
The next table delves even deeper into the stats, looking at hold/break percentages for these players against top ten opponents in the last 12 months.
Again this table illustrates just how far Williams is ahead of her rivals in the big matches, holding an incredible 82.1% and also breaking more than the rest, at 44.5% (126.6% combined). Sharapova and Halep again were the best of the rest, with 108.2% and 103.5% combined hold/break percentages, respectively. No other player boasted a combined 100% hold/break percentage against top ten players, with Caroline Wozniacki (99.0%) falling just short of this mark, and Ana Ivanovic also faring above her ranking, with a 92.4% combined figure.
The remaining players all fell short of the 90% mark. It may surprise many that Petra Kvitova struggled so much, with a combined 89.1%, and also the big hope of the WTA, Eugenie Bouchard, also did so (88.6%). Both had very poor return stats, breaking top ten opponents barely a quarter of the time.
The worst player on return was Angelique Kerber, who broke top ten opponents just 19.7% since January 2014. To put this into context, it is around the ATP hard court mean!
Conversely, the worst player by far on serve was Radwanska, who held a mere 54.1% of the time in the last 12 months, 7.8% below Ivanovic, who ranked 8th for this metric. It is clear that the Pole has big issues against stronger players on serve and this weakness is easily exploited by illustrious opponents.
Looking at the set scorelines, Williams unsurprisingly boasted the highest percentage of dominant wins, achieving a 6-0, 6-1 or 6-2 set win 40.7% of the time against top ten opponents in the last 12 months. The American also managed to win all seven sets where the set was decided by a 6-4, 7-5 or 7-6 scoreline, indicating that opponents struggle mentally in close sets against her.
It may interest readers that Halep also managed a strong dominant set percentage, but had big issues in tight sets, whereas Sharapova failed to dominate top ten opponents but was excellent in tight sets. Both Radwanska and Kerber had big issues winning dominant sets, making them worth opposing when a break up or a double break up against top ten opponents.
In the near future, I will also undertake this research for the ATP, and this will be the next article added to the website.
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