The ATP World Tour Finals gets under way this afternoon in London, and with the eight top players around the world competing for an $8m prize pool, our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, checks out the opening day schedule...
"Digging a little deeper, it's worth noting that Sock has only created two break point chances across their three head to head matches, so it seems reasonable to assume that he has had great difficulty putting pressure on the Federer serve historically."
World Tour Finals stripped of many top players due to injury
As mentioned in my outright preview earlier this week, the World Tour Finals is one of my favourite events on the tennis calendar, with the O2 Arena a superb stage for the season-ending finale. Typically, the best eight players on the men's tour fight out for the excellent financial and ranking points rewards, but with this year seeing a number of the normal top 10 succumb to injury, it's now the eight best players fit enough to take to a tennis court.
Even in this case, it could be argued that it's seven fit players plus Rafa Nadal, with the King of Clay's fitness extremely questionable following his pull-out from the Paris Masters and subsequent negative press conference. The Spaniard takes on David Goffin tomorrow, in the Pete Sampras group, and I'll be back to preview that match, as well as Grigor Dimitrov's clash with Dominic Thiem, on Monday.
Federer heavy favourite to open tournament with a win over Sock
Prior to this, the Boris Becker group takes centre stage, and what better player to begin the event than the Swiss legend, Roger Federer. At 14:00 UK time, Federer takes on the Paris Masters champion, Jack Sock, who took the last singles berth following that rather shock triumph in the French capital.
Unsurprisingly, Federer is an extremely heavy favourite to open his campaign with a victory, and has been backed into [1.09] on the Exchange. My model made this a touch short, pricing him at [1.13], but obviously my model broadly agrees with the market.
Sock unlikely to pressure the Federer serve
In three head-to-head matches, all played on hard courts - indoor and outdoor - Federer is yet to drop a set, with only one set making a tiebreak. Digging a little deeper, it's worth noting that Sock has only created two break point chances across their three clashes, so it seems reasonable to assume that he has had great difficulty putting pressure on the Federer serve historically.
My projected hold numbers, which give Federer a 91.4% chance of holding serve in each game, demonstrate the task that Sock has in front of him today, and it would be a very ambitious bettor who thinks that Sock can beat Federer in his first ever World Tour Finals singles match.
Market finding it difficult to split Zverev and Cilic
The second match on the schedule, between Alexander Zverev and Marin Cilic, looks considerably closer, however, with the market finding it exceedingly difficult to split the duo. At the time of writing, Zverev is very marginally favoured, available at [1.98] on the Exchange.
Again, my model largely agreed with the market, giving Zverev a slight edge, pricing him at [1.93] and it's interesting to note the surface data between the two in the last 12 months.
Zverev's success built on foundation of key point over-performance
Across both hard and indoor hard courts combined in the last 12 months, which gives us a greater sample size, Zverev has won a higher percentage of matches (70% to 63%) and has held more service games (85.9% to 82.2%), while Cilic has a slight advantage on return, breaking opponents 22.8% of the time compared to Zverev's 21.1%.
However, Zverev's success on both serve and return is dictated by extremely high break point conversion which I would argue is unsustainable - either that or he is insanely good at key points. He's saved 4.2% more break point chances on serve than his expectation (based on service points won) and converted 6.8% more break point chances on return than his expectation (based on return points won).
Zverev's key point over-performance - clutch or unsustainable?
Indoors, Cilic's record is better, winning 3.1% more points on serve and 1.1% more on return - again Zverev's key point performance is stunning - and any lean one particular way would focus on whether someone entering the market would feel Zverev's key point performance is likely to mean-revert in the very near future.
Typically it does, but he seems able to sustain this over a longer period than most, and obviously at 21 years of age, has plenty of age-related upside as well. I'd give more credence to the argument that a young player with high potential, such as Zverev, can sustain such over-performance, as opposed to a journeyman having a randomly successful run while doing so, such as Yuichi Sugita has done this year.
With both players stronger on serve than return, projected hold percentages are high for this match, and I wouldn't expect an abundance of breaks. Given this, and the likely tight nature of the match, perhaps the best strategy would be to back Zverev when losing on serve (0-30/15-40 type scorelines), trading out if he gets to deuce or holds, for profit, or trading out for a loss if he gets broken.
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