Clutch Leaders at 2017 Miami Open
With all but the final round of the 2017 Miami Open decided, it’s time to look back at some of the most impressive performances at the second Masters event of the season. Here, we measure impressiveness by how clutch a player was throughout the event.
Clutch performance weighs points with more pressure and more importance to the match more heavily than less important points. This is different from typical match statistics that treat all points as equally important, giving the same weight, for instance, to the first point of the match as the set-deciding point of a tiebreak. But, if we really want to evaluate the quality of a match performance, we ought to give more important points more influence, which is exactly what clutch statistics aim to do.
The first set of clutch rankings for this year’s Miami Open look at the cumulative clutch performance for all of a player’s matches through the semifinals. In a single match, a player who won all pressure points would have a total clutch performance of 100%. Here, we take the sum of clutch percentages on serve, return, and total clutch for all matches played. The “Overall” stat takes the sum of clutch serve and return, which can exceed 100% in a single match. In this way, the “Overall” stat highlights players who perform well under pressure on service or return points.
When we look at the top 10 men on overall clutch, we find Fabio Fognini at number 1 with a cumulative total of 653.7. That put his overall performance ahead of the man who would take him out of the event, Rafael Nadal. But Nadal’s performance thru to the semifinal still put him far in front of the other two semifinalists, Roger Federer and Nick Kyrgios, by more than 50 points on overall clutch. Federer and Kyrgios, who are now in a streak of 6 consecutive tiebreaks played, know a thing or two about pressure and, at Miami this year, they both excelled in pressure moments.
But one of the most surprising performances this year had to be Tomas Berdych who came in number 5 among the men’s clutch leaders. It had to be heartbreaking for Berdych, when his run was ended by Federer in the quarterfinal. But it still a better result than his 2016 season would have predicted and one that should give him confidence going into the clay court swing.
Players can do well on cumulative clutch stats by simply winning more matches. So it is also worth looking at average clutch performance across matches rather than the total sum. This highlights players who had strong performances under pressure even if they didn’t necessarily make it to late rounds of the event. Also, because matches that are a cake walk don’t give players a chance to demonstrate their clutch ability, we focus only on close matches, called “clutch matches”, when we take the clutch averages.
The two headliners for the most anticipated of today’s men’s semifinal, Roger Federer and Nick Kyrgios, are in the 1st and 3rd positions on their average overall clutch performance in the event. Federer has been known to show cracks in an otherwise impenetrable game when the pressure is on, but he has been coll and collected so far at the Miami Open.
Interestingly, Alexander Zverev edged out Kyrgios on average overall clutch making number 2 in this list, thanks in part to winning their 20-point tiebreak in the quarterfinal.
Finalist, Johanna Konta, takes the top position on overall cumulative clutch, with a little over 600 points. Karolina Pliskova wasn’t far behind and actually out-performed Konta on total clutch points won. Caroline Wozniacki was slightly behind Pliskova when considering all of her matches through the semifinals, but she had the momentum against Pliskova in their semifinal meeting and that was enough to get her a spot in the finals.
The other quarterfinalists pepper the top 10. Interestingly, Lucie Safarova edged out Venus Williams in the cumulative clutch rankings, despite Venus advancing one more round beyond Sarafova, helped in much part by her stronger performance when returning on big points.
The only two players to make the top 10 among those who didn’t reach the quarterfinal were Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Risa Ozaki, both of whom were two of the most mentally tough players in the first week.
When we turn to the match averages on clutch in clutch matches, the surprising number 1 is Risa Ozaki, who had an average of 106.5% on overall clutch in two close matches. American Shelby Rogers also was mentally tough in the first week of the tournament, earning a third round meeting with Angelique Kerber. Kirsten Flipkens, Sara Errani, and Christina McHale also had impressive performances in multiple tight matches.
The tennis world will be getting the third meeting of Federer and Nadal in 2017, and with another trophy on the line. Of the two, Federer’s mentality has been tested the most to get to the final, especially the three-tiebreak epic semifinal against Kyrgios. But Nadal’s cumulative clutch stats show that he is a master of consistency under pressure. Who takes the title may come down to whether surviving greater pressure in an event saps or strengthens a player’s will to win.