Forecasting the Men's 2018 Australian Open

Roger Federer drew the toughest quarter of the 2018 Men’s Australian Open draw but is still the favourite to defend his title. Who else is a contender for the men’s title?

All tennis fans are guessing at who has the best chances at the 2018 Australian Open title. Now that the draw is out, how is the tournament most likely to play out?

One of the most reliable ways to set our expectations of results in tennis are with player Elo ratings. Tennis player Elo ratings measure a player’s strength at any particular time—accounting for a players past results and the strength of their opponents—and are one of the most predictive measures of what a player is likely to do in the future.

In this post, I will apply surface-adjusted hard court Elo ratings, with an injury correction for players who cut their 2017 season short due to injury, to get an even more accurate picture of how players are likely to perform as they make their way through the draw. The ratings used in these predictions are up-to-date with completed matches from all the tour-level warm-up events.

Top 8

The players most likely to reach the quarterfinals include three former champions— Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic— and five players competing for their first Australian Open trophy, including fan favourite Juan Martin Del Potro, local star and Brisbane International winner Nick Kyrgios, and the Next Gen phenom Alexander Zverev.

Roger Federer’s chances to defend his title look promising. Federer, at 38.9%, has the highest forecast to win the event. Despite a shaky 2017, Djokovic’s past performance on hard court still makes him the No. 2 most likely at 20%, nearly half the chances of Federer.

2017 finalist Rafael Nadal is next in line for the title at 8.4% followed very closely by Juan Martin Del Potro. Dimitrov and Kyrgios are the only remaining of the top 8 with more than a 2% chance at a title, making it an improbable but not an impossible scenario for a slamless player to take there first Major win here in Melbourne.

Luck of the Draw

Everyone’s chance at the title is influenced by their draw. Whose path was made easier by lady luck? And whose was made tougher?

To call a draw ‘tough’ should mean that any top seed who got that draw would have a more difficult time getting to the final than if they drew another quarter. We can play out that hypothetical for the top pick in each quarter by asking statistically how that player would have done if they took the top player’s spot in each of the other quarters.

The chart below shows how the semifinal chances of each player most likely to survive each quarter would change if they had draw a different quarter. A positive number means the player would have an easier time of getting through, a negative means they would be more challenged, on average.

It turns out that the easiest to most difficult quarter follows the actual order of the quarters. Nadal’s quarter gives any top 4 the best chances of reaching the semifinal (adding 8.5 percentage points to their chances), while Federer’s quarter would give each the worst chances (dropping their chances by 5 percentage points).

Nadal is only the third most likely quarterfinalist, but those chances would drop 15 percentage points if he had drawn Federer’s quarter, where he would have to contend with two other 2000+ Elo-rated players in Del Potro and David Goffin, compared to his actual quarter with just one 2000+ player, Marin Cilic.

Federer on the other hand, would have raised his odds of reaching the semifinal to 73% if he had been lucky enough to draw Nadal’s quarter.

You might wonder how, with the easier draw, and coming so close to winning the Australian Open title in 2017, doesn’t Nadal have better chances at the title? Even with the luckier draw of the top 4 men, Nadal’s injury struggles and hard court losses at the end of 2017 have given him a lower rating going into the 2018 Australian Open than either Federer, Djokovic, or Del Potro. But a nearly 1 and 10 chance for the title still makes Nadal a massive contender.

Top Picks for First Round

The nature of tennis tournaments means that first round matches of top players aren’t always that interesting. But we can still expect some tight competition elsewhere in the draw. Looking at the expected wins and the combined Elo ratings of the two players involved, here are 5 men’s ‘matches that could be thrillers in the first days of the Australian Open.

Player Opponent Player Win Chance Opponent Win Chance
Andrey Rublev David Ferrer 42.9 57.1
Fernando Verdasco Roberto Bautista Agut 29.7 70.3
Kyle Edmund Kevin Anderson 44.3 55.7
Guido Pella Dominic Thiem 30.6 69.4
Yoshihito Nishioka Philipp Kohlschreiber 41.7 58.3

The data and code for this post can be found here.