The Numbers Behind Federer Now

Federer: The Obvious Stat Nobody’s Talking About

Much has been made of how Roger Federer “won” almost all the traditional statistical categories—but lost the match—against Novak Djokovic in their epic Wimbledon Final.

It’s been compared to Hilary winning the popular vote but Trump winning the election—an easy analogy because Fed is, in point of fact, more popular than Djokovic.

But because of this emotional connection that Roger enjoys worldwide, fans may be attaching too much weight to certain points, when it’s better to view the match as a whole.

There was one major statistical category that Federer lost—indeed he got pounded—and it’s so obvious, that it seems to be escaping notice. More on that in a moment. First a look at the ways that experts and fans are viewing this match, from a conventional standpoint.

The Two Match Points

It’s so natural to think wistfully of those points, isn’t it?

In the 5th set, leading 8-7, 40-15, Federer held two chances to win Wimbledon. Entire articles have been written on those two points, and books might be as well.

What happened? Federer’s two serves on match point were not as good as the two previous ones had been, and as the points played out, Roger committed forehand errors.

Those are two points. But what if Federer had never needed those particular points in the 5th set—because he’d reached match point much sooner?

Let’s zoom out.

The Tiebreakers

A slightly less micro way of looking at the match is the breakers. Djokovic won all three. Mere points determine tiebreakers. If Federer could’ve just pulled out one of those, surely he’d have won the match, right?

What happened there? It’s been pointed out that Federer won 78% of his net points for the match (51 of 65), but during the three tiebreakers, he only won 1 net point in 2 attempts coming forward. So should Roger have approached more during the breakers? Perhaps, but what if tiebreakers were never even needed in this match?

Let’s look big picture.

The Whole Match

Tennis is a game of errors.

Forced and unforced, this stat makes up over 65% of all points played. Somebody hits it into the net. Point over. Somebody hits it out—point over. Those (at times) very unexciting scenarios play out hundreds of times over the course of a match.

Winners are exciting and memorable—but far less frequent.

And here’s where Federer lost bigtime. From the baseline, Roger committed 95 errors in total, forced and unforced. Djokovic committed just 58, according to data from IBM. 95 to 58. That’s the match right there.

Roger lost the unforced error battle on groundstrokes 52-40. He also lost the forced errors at the baseline 43-18. That means Djokovic asserted his will and got Federer to make lots of mistakes on his groundies.

Errors are best looked at in total anyway, because students and volunteers subjectively decide what’s unforced without any ability to get inside a player’s head. It has been argued that all errors are forced in some way, sometimes simply by psychological pressure.

Either way, forced and unforced, Federer lost the baseline error battle decisively. Knowing that can direct his training from here. 

He’ll need that information, in spite of the other data point that’s been discussed ad nauseam:  The number 37. That’s Federer’s age, and if he continues to play the way he did at Wimbledon, it’s the most meaningless stat of all.