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Why I am fascinated by data in sport

Novak Djokovic Novak Djokovic saved two match points in the 2019 Wimbledon final (Credit: Wimbledon)

January 1, 2020

In the 2019 Wimbledon final, where Novak Djokovic outlasted Roger Federer in four hours and 57 minutes, one statistic did the rounds on social media.

Federer had won 218 points in the match, compared to Djokovic's 204. How can you lose a tennis match when you won more points than your opponent? On the face of it, that statistic makes you question everything about tennis but as with many numbers in sport, it doesn't tell you the whole story.

There were three tiebreaks in the match and since they come at the end of a set and dictates a winner or loser, points in a tiebreak are often high in importance and high in pressure. In those three tiebreaks on Sunday 14 July, the Swiss made 11 unforced errors which is not a bad ratio at all, across the 33 points. The next statistic was missed by many on social media, but shows a key reason why Djokovic won.

The Serb made no unforced errors in those three tiebreaks. So the 12 points won by Federer in those three tiebreaks were either winners from his Wilson racket, or forcing errors from Djokovic's Head racket.

It is statistics like this that I am fascinated by, and every week from now (not realistic, but as with every New Year's resolution, let me say it in hope) I will try and explain some events or athletes in sport through statistics and see whether data can help us make better sense of what we saw, or what will come.

Hope you enjoy :)