ATP Tour Finals Day Six: Isner needing to overturn odds for qualification chance
Friday's action at the ATP Tour Finals concludes the group stages and all four players in the Kuerten Group are still capable of qualification. Dan Weston returns with his thoughts...
"In their head to head matches, Zverev has held 94.2% of the time, while Isner has only been able to do so 85.3%, and this difference in data is more applicable to such market pricing."
Federer helps us go two from two this week
As well as ensuring qualification, Roger Federer's straight-set win over Kevin Anderson last night gave us another winner for the week. This time it was from the game handicap, with our record for the event now standing at two from two. With the markets pretty adept at pricing up matches featuring two high profile players, we've been forced to pick our spots this week, but I'd much rather that approach when the situation dictates.
Both players in that match qualified, with Federer topping the group despite defeat in his opening match. Those group positions have the potential to be pretty significant, with Anderson now facing a more difficult semi-final, in the shape of Novak Djokovic, while Federer now is up against the second place in the Kuerten Group.
Isner struggling on return in previous meetings with Zverev
At the time of writing, all remaining players can still qualify - even John Isner, who will be looking to beat Alexander Zverev and register his first tournament victory this afternoon.
For this match, Zverev is [1.41] on the Exchange to get the win, a price that my model completely agrees with. Overall there's not a ton of difference between the duo based on their surface hold/break percentages, with Isner having a big edge on serve and Zverev a gigantic advantage on return. Certainly the difference between the two players, when looking at hold/break percentages, doesn't warrant market pricing.
However, Zverev has taken four of their five meetings - although one was in the Laver Cup - and also possesses a decent statistical edge over the big-serving American. In their head-to-head matches, Zverev has held 94.2% of the time, while Isner has only been able to do so 85.3%, and this difference in data is more applicable to such market pricing.
With both players needing to win to have a decent chance of advancing their cause - although there's some permutations available (I think!) where Zverev can still qualify with a loss - I expect player motivation to be high, and it would be a surprise if this wasn't an extremely tight match. Zverev will need to take his break point chances, while Isner's best chance of set wins will probably be via tiebreaks.
Cilic a heavy underdog to inflict rare Djokovic defeat
The evening match sees the undefeated Djokovic a [1.18] favourite over Marin Cilic, whose chances of qualification will also be influenced by the afternoon match.
As with that earlier clash, I feel that the market prices are about right. Djokovic has much better numbers, both on service and return, on the surface, in all of the short, medium and long term, and Cilic's record against top players - as discussed in this column previously - requires improvement.
This is also evidenced by Djokovic's 16-2 head to head lead over the Croat - although it's 2-2 in the last three years - but across all of these match-ups, Cilic has struggled big-time on serve, holding below the 70% mark, and only winning around 58% of service points.
These numbers give decent insight into Cilic's struggles against Djokovic throughout his career, with the world number one having considerable joy on return against the Cilic serve, and it will certainly take a huge increase in level from Cilic for him to walk off court tonight with a victory.
As for Djokovic, his level in recent months has been stellar, and show he's almost back to his imperious best - a level where he was virtually unbeatable, particularly on hard courts. While I'm not sure he's 100% there yet, his level at the moment is far better than any other player on tour, which should certainly worry his top 10 rivals during the coming off-season.