This year in tennis is been all Djokovic and that winning streak. The narrative of sports is always about who is “the Man”, so therefore, Rafael Nadal must be a spent force.
The Wall St Journal have, they think, proved it. In their piece Nadal Looks Surprisingly Human in Paris they look at the stats of Nadal’s first four matches this year, and compare to the years he has won before.
Nadal’s stats don’t reflect a full-blown disaster. But compared to his first four victories in the years he won here, Nadal is spending on average a half hour longer on court and breaking opponents’ serves far less often. All this despite not playing a single seeded opponent so far.
What’s wrong with this? First off, players who are seeded CAN’T meet another seed until the third round anyway, so that’s hardly stunning. Let’s look a bit more at the stats they cite.
|Serve Game WIN%||RETURN GAME WIN%||GAMES WIN%||SET
|AVG. MATCH LENGTH|
Sources: ATP World Tour, Stats Inc.
His average match length is high, but it was higher in 2006 when he won the title – hardly shocking. The only 2011 stat quoted which is worst in the list is the percentage of return games won – 4 per cent lower than the next lowest. Four per cent, which works out at about 2.5 games on the opponent’s serve that he hasn’t won in 4 rounds – less than a break of serve less per match.
So we have boiled Nadal’s struggle down to about a break less per match from 2006, perhaps two per match from his peak, plus a bit more time on court.
It’s hardly evidence of decline. But stats are like that. They don’t always show what seems evident to watchers and commentators. They don’t show the workrate, the struggle on points, the extra deuces, the attitude. Perhaps those things are there, perhaps we’re seeing what we want to see to fit the narrative. Let’s see what happens from here to the final.