Last week I looked the the players who faced the most pressure at the Grand Slams in 2019. In this post, I ask the next obvious question. Who performed the best under high pressure?
There are numerous ways you can look at pressure and how players perform when the pressure is on. When it comes to winning matches, the players who win more of the higher pressure points are the ones who will win the match 99 times out of 100. So who consistently outclassed their opponents when it came to the pressure win rate (PWR)?
Below is a plot of the total PWR differential (PWR over opponent) on y-axis against the average at the 2019 Grand Slams. There is a clear positive correlation between these two measures, helped by single-elimination tournament designs. It is hard to ignore the obvious the 4 players who have dominated at the majors this year: Daniil Medvedev, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal. Despite having two more wins over Novak Djokovic, Djokovic has a slight edge over Nadal in his average pressure performance for the year. Federer lags behind and it is a bit surprising that his 7 additional wins over Medvedev hasn’t put him at an even more commanding place ahead of the young Russian.
Looking deeper into the plot we can find other interesting things, like Dominic Thiem surpassing Fabio Fognini, for example, despite both having a 7-4 record at slams in 2019. We also see youngster Alexei Popyrin right in the mix with 2019 stars Alex De Minaur, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini. Alexander Zverev’s average PWR% differential of 2% has a lot to do with his 10-4 result at slams this year but also shows the hill he still has to climb to get to Medvedev’s level.
On the women’s side, Serena Williams is in her own stratosphere when it comes to the dominating her opponents under pressure. This is a curious one because Williams didn’t win a single slam title in 2019 (or 2018 for that matter). It is perhaps a clear sign of finals being a barrier for Williams.
It is fascinating that the two men who won slams in 2019 are both the most extreme on total and average PWR. But for the women the slam title/PWR connection is much more complicated, not only for Serena. Barty and Halep, both slam winners in 2019, are two of the top 5 in PWR, but they are right along side Johanna Konta and Elise Mertens, neither of whom made it to a final in 2019.
For Naomi Osaka and Biance Andreescu it is an even more complicated story as many other women’s players surpassed them for the overall slam pressure performance this year. Now, Andreescu can be explained by missing most of the middle of the season due to injury, only coming roaring back during the US hard court swing. Osaka is more of a conundrum. With less seasoned players, like Anisimova, being nearly equal to her on pressure stats that Osaka, by not tuning out the scoreboard, might be doing a disservice to the technical strengths of her game.
On the other hand, the number of players whose pressure stats are clustered around the slam winners in 2019 goes to show how competitive the women’s tour is. If taking advantage of the big moments is a requirement for getting a major win, it looks like there are still plenty of first-slam prospects for 2020.