French Open ATP Leaders

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
1 Dominic Thiem 430.6 71.8
2 Stan Wawrinka 430.2 71.7
3 Andy Murray 410.9 68.5
4 Rafael Nadal 378.0 75.6
5 Kei Nishikori 324.2 64.8
6 Novak Djokovic 322.4 64.5
7 Karen Khachanov 279.6 69.9
8 Marin Cilic 273.9 68.5
9 Albert Ramos-Vinolas 269.5 67.4
10 Pablo Carreno-Busta 266.4 66.6


Rank Player Return Rating Mean Return Percentage
1 Dominic Thiem 303.7 50.6
2 Andy Murray 283.8 47.3
3 Stan Wawrinka 283.1 47.2
4 Rafael Nadal 269.3 53.9
5 Novak Djokovic 239.4 47.9
6 Kei Nishikori 234.3 46.9
7 Fernando Verdasco 207.6 51.9
8 Albert Ramos-Vinolas 194.8 48.7
9 Marin Cilic 187.9 47.0
10 Pablo Carreno-Busta 178.5 44.6

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
1 Andy Murray 323.1 64.6 -2.3
2 Kei Nishikori 304.6 60.9 -0.4
3 Dominic Thiem 292.7 73.2 -0.7
4 Stan Wawrinka 273.6 68.4 0.6
5 Karen Khachanov 271.9 68.0 -0.2
6 Pablo Carreno-Busta 265.7 66.4 0.9
7 John Isner 225.9 75.3 1.8
8 Kevin Anderson 212.6 70.9 -0.5
9 Kyle Edmund 205.9 68.6 0.3
10 Steve Johnson 202.8 67.6 5.1


Rank Player Clutch Return Rating Avg Clutch Return Avg Differential
1 Andy Murray 251.1 50.2 4.7
2 Kei Nishikori 226.8 45.4 3.1
3 Pablo Carreno-Busta 185.1 46.3 3.8
4 Dominic Thiem 180.5 45.1 -3.0
5 Stan Wawrinka 179.7 44.9 3.9
6 Roberto Bautista-Agut 155.1 51.7 5.6
7 Karen Khachanov 142.6 35.7 2.3
8 Hyeon Chung 135.3 45.1 2.3
9 Fabio Fognini 132.1 44.0 4.6
10 Kyle Edmund 131.9 44.0 4.6
Stephanie Kovalchik avatar
About Stephanie Kovalchik
Tennis Data Scientist at the Game Insight Group at Tennis Australia and researcher at the Institute of Sport Exercise and Active Living at Victoria University.
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