After one shocking title winner took the ladies' crown on Saturday at the French Open, the tennis world is abuzz with speculation about whether Stan Wawrinka will be able to deny Rafael Nadal a tenth title when they meet in the men’s final this afternoon?
Nadal already holds the highest record of titles won at Roland Garros, making him the definitive King of Clay. In contrast with Wawrinka, Nadal has also had the much easier course to the final, having not dropped a single set during this year’s ‘event and getting something of a break in the quarterfinal with the retirement of Pablo Carreno Busta. Wawrinka, on the other hand, will enter the final after an exhausting five set marathon win over a resurgent Andy Murray.
All of these factors would suggest that the odds of Wawrinka pulling out an Ostapenko-like upset are very low. But that overlooks Wawrinka’s immaculate record in Grand Slam finals. Of the three Major finals Wawrinka has reached, he has always been the victor making him one of the most clutch slam finals performers in men’s tennis. This suggests that Wawrinka steps up his game as he goes deeper into a tournament, spurred on perhaps by the increasing intensity of competition. If true, our forecasts for a Wawrinka win should be more optimistic.
Can we see any evidence of Wawrinka getting better by round at this year’s French Open?
If we look at the trends in serve and return performance by round, we can get some idea. The chart below shows the adjusted serve and return performance thru the semifinals for both title contenders, which controls for opponent difficulty and puts each player’s stats on an equal footing.
One of the most surprising stats this year is Nadal’s numbers on serve. He has been performing at an average adjusted serve performance of 75.6%. Had he had a complete match against Carreno Busta, that would put him in the No. 1 spot for the event. This is really astounding considering that Nadal isn’t a ‘big’ and he has been known to be quite predictable in the past. That has clearly changed this year and could be a huge weapon going into the final.
Nadal also has the edge on the return with an average of 53.9%. Wawrinka is more than 5 percentage points behind on average. But he has been on an upward trend on return performance, which could be the one sign that he has been gaining steam with each round.
|Rank||Player||Serve Rating||Mean Serve Percentage|
|Rank||Player||Return Rating||Mean Return Percentage|
If we turn to the clutch stats, where we can get more of an idea of how each player has handled pressure in the event, the stats don’t look much better for Wawrinka. Wawrinka has trailed Nadal by several percentage points on average in clutch serve and return situations. But the picture looks much more positive for Wawrinka when we consider that Nadal hasn’t really been tested. He has breezed through the draw with such ease that he doesn’t even feature in the top 10 clutch performances this year.
So how Nadal will handle pressure if Wawrinka finds a way to put him on edge is a bit of an unknown. Wawrinka, on the other hand, has shown that he lifts his game when it matters most. This is not only evident in his Grand Slam finals record but apparent in his clutch differential on serve and return this year, where he has outperformed under pressure by +0.6% and +3.9%. Which means we could be in store for a more even contest than the bookmakers would have us believe.
|Rank||Player||Clutch Serve Rating||Avg Clutch Serve||Avg Differential|
|Rank||Player||Clutch Return Rating||Avg Clutch Return||Avg Differential|