Most Surprising at Wimbledon 2017

Which players exceeded expectations the most at the 2017 Wimbledon Championships? Which, on the other hand, had the most shocking exits?

When we reflect on the outcomes of a big tournament, we are often drawn to the most surprising results. These can be the players who went deeper than we expected as well as the players who crashed out earlier than we thought they would. In either case, surprise happens when actual results are far from expectations.

With big tournaments and big draws, it can be a challenge to keep track of each player’s results and how they compare with all of the other players in the event. And, for less familiar players, we might struggle to know what they were expected to do. These are all reasons why it would help to have some method to score surprise in a fast and consistent way.

In this post, I’ve used Elo-based predictions to calculate a ‘surprise score’ for each player’s results at Wimbledon. The Elo ratings used are a combination of a player’s career overall and career grass Elo ratings at the start of the event. These ratings are used to set expectations for the outcome of each match. A player’s match surprise score is the difference between the actual outcome of the match and their prediction for the match win.

Exceeding Expectations

Using the total surprise across all of a player’s matches, we can find the players with the most outstanding performance at Wimbledon this year. Starting with the men, Sam Querrey, the first American male to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since 2009, takes the top spot in most surprising results. The biggest contributor to his 2.36 score was his quarterfinal win over Andy Murray, which was +0.9 more than expectation for Querrey.

At the second spot is Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, who got to the round of 16, his best result at Wimbledon since 2011. The third spot goes to finalist, Marin Cilic. As the 7th seed, Cilic wasn’t expected to get beyond the quarterfinal. His quarterfinal match against Gilles Muller was in fact his hardest match before the final and where he gained the most in his overall surprise score (+0.4).

Tomas Berdych lands the 4th spot, helped in large part by Novak Djokovic’s quarterfinal retirement.

Player Surprise Score
Sam Querrey 2.36
Adrian Mannarino 1.95
Marin Cilic 1.81
Tomas Berdych 1.74
Ruben Bemelmans 1.52
Ernests Gulbis 1.34
Benoit Paire 1.14
Sebastian Ofner 1.12
Dudi Sela 1.06
Jared Donaldson 0.94

Although he didn’t get much press during the event, Ruben Bemelmans had the 5th most impressive run at Wimbledon. In reaching the round of 32, Bemelmans took out Tommy Haas and an on-the-rise Daniil Medvedev, both giving him scores of +0.8.

The sixth player in our surprise rankings, Ernests Gulbis, got a lot more attention this year. Gulbis was a top 10 player in 2014, but he has been MIA for much of the past year owing to injury. Reaching the round of 32 showed a Gulbis with the ability and motivation to get back to the top of the sport. He will be a player to watch during the hard court swing.

Benoit Paire, Sebastian Ofner, Dudi Sela, and, a second American, Jared Donaldson, round out the list.

The top pick for the most impressive women’s performance goes to the champion Garbine Muguruza. Although she was one of the few women in the draw with a Grand Slam title going into the event, Muguruza’s history on grass has been hit or miss. Going into Wimbledon, Muguruza had never won a WTA title on grass, though she did reach the Wimbledon finals in 2015.

Expectations for Muguruza were, as a result, mixed at the beginning of this year’s grass-court Major. Over the two weeks, she exceeded those expectations, especially with her wins over Angelique Kerber (+0.7), Svetlana Kuznetsova (+0.5) and her eventual title win over Venus Williams (+0.7).

Cinderella story Magdalena Rybarikova comes in at the second spot. While many were probably unaware of Rybarikova’s impressive run on the ITF tour prior to Wimbledon, her performance at Wimbledon made many stop to take notice. Her second round win over Karolina Pliskova (surprise +0.8) and her quarterfinal win over Coco Vandeweghe (surprise +0.7) showed that Rybarikova has the game to go far this year.

Player Surprise Score
Garbine Muguruza 2.97
Magdalena Rybarikova 2.42
Petra Martic 1.44
Madison Brengle 1.17
Ana Konjuh 1.11
Shelby Rogers 1.09
Polona Hercog 1.07
Maria Sakkari 1.04
Jelena Ostapenko 1.00
Alison Riske 0.95

Petra Martic, Madison Brengle, and Ana Konjuh complete the top 5 most impressive finishes. At only 19, Konjuh’s wins over Sabine Lisicki (surprise +0.5) and Dominika Cibulkova (surprise +0.6) suggest that she is one of the fastest-rising stars on the women’s tour.

In looking over this list, it is interesting to see that three Americans (Madison Brengle, Shelby Rogers, and Alison Riske) and two players from Croatia (Petra Martic and Ana Konjuh) are among the top 10. It is also interesting that French Open Champion Jelena Ostapenko takes the 9th position. Ostapenko’s has exploded onto highest levels of the sport and her grass performance hasn’t really had time to catch up. Her quarterfinal finish at Wimbledon this year will change that and we can expect even better results in her future.

Shocking Losses

In addition to highlighting the most impressive results, we can use the surprise score to identify the biggest loses. On the men’s side, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic’s finished were two of the three most surprising. Both players were marred by fitness issues by the end of their run. This might not make for the fairest assessment of their ability but their drop in form is still a stark contrast from where they were this time last year.

Juan Martin Del Potro’s loss to Ernests Gulbis was a surprise to many and earned the second biggest upset of the men’s draw. The fourth and fifth most surprising came at the hands of Ruben Bemelmans who seemed to come out of nowhere this year.

Player Opponent Surprise
Andy Murray Sam Querrey -0.91
Juan Martin Del Potro Ernests Gulbis -0.91
Novak Djokovic Tomas Berdych -0.88
Tommy Haas Ruben Bemelmans -0.85
Daniil Medvedev Ruben Bemelmans -0.83

Although still in the early part of her return, Petra Kvitova was many’s favorite for winning the title and this made for a big shock when she lost to Madison Brengle in the second round. But, putting numbers aside, the incredible perseverance Kvitova has shown this year has already exceeded all expectations. We can hope that it is just a matter of time for the strength of her game to catch up with the strength of her will.

One of the biggest loses that went under the radar this year was Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s first round crash out to Arina Rodionova. This loss was just slightly more surprising than top seed Karolina Pliskova’s loss to Rybarikova.

More was also expected of Lucie Safarova and Daria Gavrilova, neither of whom got past the second round.

Player Opponent Surprise
Petra Kvitova Madison Brengle -0.91
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova Arina Rodionova -0.86
Karolina Pliskova Magdalena Rybarikova -0.80
Lucie Safarova Shelby Rogers -0.75
Daria Gavrilova Petra Martic -0.72

The surprise score is a way to quantify how performance results compare to expectations. Summarizing the surprise at this year’s Wimbledon backs up some common storylines that emerged but also highlights some less discussed performances. Both properties show that surprise can be a useful and interesting event statistic.

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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