AO 2016 Retrospective

This weekend we closed the chapter on the first Grand Slam of 2016. As all our news feeds overflowed with the photos of the tournament champions Novak Djokovic and first-time major winner, Angelique Kerber, in the hours that followed their victories, each snapshot was a reminder of how much can happen in just two weeks time.

Thinking back on the events at Melbourne Park, I had the sense that the Open was a particularly surprising one for the women’s singles. While the men’s side, especially after the disappointing exit of Milos Raonic in the semifinals, seemed to have played out, by and large, as we might have expected.

Having a thing for stats, I thought it would be interesting to see if some numbers would back up my impression. So I turned back to Elo predictions that I had made at the beginning of the tournament and updated them for each round of the draw.

Most Surprising Matches

What was the biggest win at the AO? We can get some insight into the possible answer to this question using the table below (“Elo Head-2-Head”). Sorting on the win prediction at the beginning of the match from the least to most likely and looking for the underdogs who actually won, we find that unseeded Qiang Wang’s win over Sloan Stephens in the first round had only an 11% chance before the match. Angelique’s win in the final over No. 1 Serena Williams was the third most surprising win of the tournament, having only a 13.3% chance before the players walked onto Rod Laver Saturday night. (For easier scrolling of these tables, visit this page.)

Most Surprising Run

In addition to individual matches, we can ask who had the most impressive outcome at this year’s AO. To do this, I looked at the chance that each player was expected to reach the round that he or she actually reached. Here, the chance is the product of the Elo-based chance each player had of advancing to each round, given the opponents the player got in their draw.

Sorting on the “Chance of Round Reached” for the WTA singles, China’s ‘Shuai Zhang was the true Cinderella story of the tournament. Zhang had only a 0.1% chance of reaching the quarterfinals based on her tournament Elo rating and the ratings of the opponents she defeated in the first four rounds. Interestingly, Zhang lost in the QF to the next most impressive player in this year’s open, Johanna Konta, whose run to the semifinal was—at a 2% likelihood— unexpected, but still 20 times more likely than Zhang’s result.

By reaching the finals of the tournament, Kerber was also fairly high on the results list. But actually winning the title put her result as the third most surprising of all the female players, there being only a 1.7% chance that she would make it to the finals and deny Serena Williams of a second chance at her 22nd Grand Slam.

On the men’s side, there were not many players that made a surprising deep run. However, the first round win of American teenager Noah Rubin, could be a promising sign of things to come. Aussie John Millman had the most spectacular run to go beyond the second round— reaching the third round against odds of 9 to 1.

At the end of the day, Milos Raonic rightly deserves the most improved award among the men at this AO. Winning with command against five tough opponents and giving No. 2 Andy Murray a close call in the finals was one of the most statistically and subjectively impressive stories of the tournament. I, for one, hope that the injury that prevented him from closing out his semifinal match will not impede his progress as the next phase of the season gets underway.


Stephanie Kovalchik avatar
About Stephanie Kovalchik
Blog Founder, Senior Data Scientist at the Game Insight Group at Tennis Australia, and researcher at the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University.
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