Below you see a copy of my article (with necessary corrections), I wrote before the US Open 2011, and placed it on my blog as a page. This year I added two new pages (’12-season & Olympics), in regard of the fact I do not want to change the number of pages under the header, I decided to delete two other pages – “Tie-breaks” and “Match points”. Articles previously included to these pages are attached to the “MTF / links” page, respectively as “Moya’s” and “Lapentti’s speciality”.
This is one of my favorite stats, it really fascinates me how one point can completely turn around a story of a tournament. Sometimes only centimetres make an impact on the final outcome. Great example of it took place at Indian Wells 2003, where in the first round Lleyton Hewitt saved a match point (against Younes El Aynaoui) with a backhand winner, which just clipped an intersection of the baseline and the sideline. The TV replay confirmed the correct decision of the linesman, but it’d been three years before the “hawk-eye” was introduced. If the linesman had called it “out”, Hewitt would have lost the first round match in the tournament which he eventually won (beating “Guga” Kuerten 6-1, 6-1 in the final!) To prepare the stats you see below, I gathered all “match point” battles from ATP & Grand Slam events, plus all Davis Cup rubbers and World Team Cup matches. I’ve been keeping this stats since 1998, but I must admit, there’s a small margin of mistake. I’d say that for players who began careers before 2006, you should adopt a +/- 1/1 error in the win/loss ratio, so for example when you look at Ivan Ljubicic‘s 11-15, you may assume he’s won 10 or 12 matches saving a match point and lost 14 or 16 holding a match point. Of course such a stats was more difficult to generate for weaker players in regard of less information available on Internet… the more successful players, the bigger chance that their stats is perfectly correct. For example, I began to read carefully about Rafael Nadal’s matches as early as he played his first successful tournaments in 2003. Preparing this stats through the years, I’ve been researching available information in different languages. I’d love to know a player who won the most MP-down matches in the Open era, unfortunately it’s rather impossible to find out. I presume it could be around 20 wins, so the current leader of the stats – Juan Carlos Ferrero, probably would find himself in the Top 10 of the Open era. Among players born in the 70’s, whose activity is quite good for the documentation, at least 16 matches of this kind won Pete Sampras, Greg Rusedski, Goran Ivanisevic and Nicolas Lapentti, the latter lost only two matches holding a match point, this in a mixture with his unique 5-set record, places him in the tennis history as an exceptional player in terms of mentality (btw, according to my stats, Pete Sampras is 16-9, Andre Agassi 9-7).
Ferrero had already won 5 MP-down matches in his first 42 main level tournaments, on the other hand, the well-known choker James Blake, needed 138 tournaments to finally win a match being MP-down. It’s good to remember that this stats reflects only the main tour; counting lower levels and all qualifying rounds, we would’ve obtained a different picture. Ivo Karlovic is a good example of it, the Croat in the consequence of his specific style (a lot of depends on pure luck) is very often involved in extremely tight situations, so his 14-5 record looks great, but before he became a regular main level player, he had been playing quite long on lower levels and we can find there many scorelines which would suggest his MP-up collapses, I guess he’d suffered at least six MP-up defeats before he entered main level…
Another interesting issue is connected to players who lose m.p.-up matches rarely, among them I should tick Juan Ignacio Chela, Nikolay Davydenko, Xavier Malisse, Rainer Schuettler and Albert Montanes – all guys have played many main level tournaments (more than 200, Schuettler even more than 300!) with plenty matches under the belt, but have been beaten just a few times having match points. It’s interesting from psychological point of view how some players react on wasting match points, obviously all guys mentioned above, wasted plenty of match points at various stages of matches but are usually able to find a way for the victory. They aren’t comparable to N.Lapentti though, who also didn’t collapse often once getting a match point, but in contrary to them, the Ecuadorian won plenty struggles withstanding match points.
Good ratio of “m.p. matches” obviously doesn’t say the whole story about player’s mentality. I’d argue that sometimes being two points away from victory is a better position to win a match than holding a desirable match point, it happens for instance when a player leads in a crucial set 5:4 (30/0) on serve or 5:2 in a tie-break with two serves to come, in contrary to a situation as a victim leads 5:4 (40/30) on return facing a powerful server. In my opinion to analyze the mental resistance from statistical point of view, “two points away” matches are required as well, and I’ve been collecting those matches for a couple years… for example Philipp Kohlschreiber, who has an impressive 7-2 m.p.-record, doesn’t appear similarly well looking at his “two points away” record, which is 5-8 according to my stats – still gives him a decent 12-10 (54 %) record overall in matches hanging on the edge. John Isner, on the other hand, rather poor in m.p.-matches, is a specialist of winning “two points away” encounters (10-4)
Curiosities considering active players:
I do not know a H2H in which a player has beaten the other one, three times from a match point down (last year it almost happened in Rotterdam). Here are active players who have notched two wins over the same opponent being m.p.-down (in parenthesis the loser): P.Kohlschreiber (R.Soderling), A.Montanes (A.Calleri), A.Seppi (L.Hewitt), N.Massu (A.Calleri), P.Starace (C.Moya), S.Stakhovsky (M.Russell), R.Soderling (J.Gimelstob), JC.Ferrero (F.Mantilla), T.Robredo (F.Mayer) & P.Cuevas (S.Giraldo).
These pairs are tied in m.p.-matches: M.Cilic vs. M.Youzhny, P.Starace vs. A.Seppi, F.Gonzalez vs. J.Tipsarevic, R.Schuettler vs. A.Seppi, J.Melzer vs. V.Troicki & I.Andreev vs. N.Almagro.
Jarkko Nieminen is the only player to win back-to-back m.p.-down matches twice (Basel 2007, Monpellier 2010); N.Davydenko, F.Lopez & S.Querrey managed once to do what Nieminen did twice; guys with two m.p.-down wins within one tournament: D.Nalbandian, G.Muller, G.Simon, L.Hewitt & A.Montanes
John Isner is the only player to win twice matches being forced to save match points in two different sets (Atlanta & Shanghai 2010); other players to win once in these circumstances: I.Karlovic, L.Hewitt, M.Youzhny, I.Ljubicic, X.Malisse, V.Hanescu, R.Ramirez-Hidalgo, O.Rochus & M.Baghdatis
Roger Federer is the only man to win a match saving a quadruple m.p. (Cincinnati 2003)