Miami Masters Day 12: Zverev market favourite to deny Isner a first Masters title

John Isner
Will it be fourth time lucky for John Isner in a Masters final when he meets Alexander Zverev on Sunday at Crandon Park?
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Sunday evening sees the final of the Miami Masters, with Alexander Zverev standing in the way of a rather unlikely Masters title for John Isner. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, discusses the prospects of both players...

"On the surface, three head to head wins in the last 18 months would appear to be pretty relevant, but on closer examination, it is very evident that Zverev was not as dominant in these matches as the scorelines would have you believe."

Zverev the first non-elite opponent for Isner in Masters finals

Throughout his career, the almost 33 year old John Isner has never won a Masters 1000 title. The American has gone close on three occasions, losing to Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray in his three Masters finals, but he will never have a better opportunity to win such a high profile event, as he takes on his first non-elite opponent in a Masters final, this time in the shape of Alexander Zverev.

Head-to-head scoreline more dominant than in-depth data

Currently on the Exchange, it's the German youngster who is the favourite to take the title - he's [1.66] at the time of writing - with Isner the underdog at [2.48]. My model made this about right, because it disregarded the 3-0 head-to-head lead that Zverev brings to the match-up.

Many readers may be surprised at this, because on the surface, three head-to-head wins in the last 18 months would appear to be pretty relevant, but upon closer examination, it is very evident that Zverev was not as dominant in these matches as the scorelines would have you believe.

Initially, in these meetings between the two, Zverev's 76.0% service points won percentage, and 95.2% service hold percentage would make it look like he has faced little pressure from Isner, and thus Zverev has held easily.

Zverev with huge break point overperformance in head-to-head meetings

Actually, the opposite is the case, as he's faced 0.31 break point chances per game on his serve, which is actually fewer than Isner has in these head-to-heads (0.29). The reason why Isner has lost these clashes is simple - the big-server has had major issues saving break points against Zverev, as well as converting them.

Across the three matches, Isner has faced 12 break points on serve, saving just four, while Zverev has faced 13 and saved 11. Not only has Zverev faced more break points overall in their meetings, he's also faced more in two of their three matches, so it is likely that there was a large dose of variance and fine margins in Zverev's head-to-head triumphs.

Unsurprisingly, with both players strong on serve, I don't expect many breaks of serve here, and both players have pre-match projected hold percentages well in excess of the ATP hard court mean, according to my model.

Tiebreaks a strong possibility...but accurately priced

This also contributes to around a 35% chance of there being no breaks in the first set (six holds for each player leading to a tiebreak), but with the Sportsbook offering just 11/10 on 7-6 to either player in the first set, there isn't an angle here either.

In truth, it's very difficult to find a pre-match position to take. If you think that the head-to-head meetings are more relevant than I consider, then Zverev would be value as the favourite, but if not, it might be better to look towards in-play options, if they develop, in what will almost certainly be an extremely tight match.

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