Rally Lengths are Down at the Australian Open

With the prospect of a Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer final at this year’s Australian Open, many are probably wondering if we are in store for the relatively speedy match when they last played here in 2014 or an epic more like their four-hour plus semifinal at the 2012 AO. There hasn’t been much that is predictable about this year’s Australian Open. One had to be clairvoyant to have picked a Nadal-Federer final (if that turns out to be what we get) let alone how long such a meeting could last.

But if there is any consistency with what we have seen so far at the 2017 AO, we can expect points in the second week to be shorter than any time in recent history.

Using data from Tennis Abstract’s Match Charting Project, I’ve charted the average rally lengths (and IQR) by surface for over 10 years of ATP and WTA data. We see that the typical lengths have been between 4.5 and 5.5 shots per rally (including the serve as shot 1), with grass tending to have the fewest shots and clay the most shots.

Interestingly, since 2010, the average shots per point on the men’s tour has been trending down for all surfaces. On the women’s tour, rally lengths have been more stable.

When we overlay rally lengths at the Australian Open, using tracking data from 2012 thru to the 2017 matches that have completed so far, we see that rally lengths tracked hard court surface averages until this year. In 2017, we have seen rally length averages drop an entire shot for both men and women.

Although we have to wait to see if this is an anomaly or part of a general trend we will see at other hard court events, it tells us that we shouldn’t be surprised to see the second week favor fast and aggressive play.