Two weeks ago, I previewed this year's edition of the Australian Open as one of the most interesting tennis tournaments ever from a sport psychology perspective and with all the restrictions, lockdowns and quarantines, this tournament definitely turned out to be unique. The best illustration of just how crazy these last two weeks have been, was when in the middle of a game, the stadium's PA announced that a new lockdown would be in effect starting at midnight and that all spectators had to leave immediately so they could be home in time. Before the tournament, I openly speculated about the possible impact that the unusual preparation could have on different players and converted them into some hypotheses. Now that the tournament is over, we can use statistics to answer some of these questions. I have compared the statistics of the 2021 tournament with those of the 2020 tournament to see what the impact of Covid was on the players. To measure performance I used the % of games won (different from matches won). The statistics might not be perfect, but they can give a great insight nonetheless. If you are interested in tennis statistics, you can find all the data I used here.
Hypothesis 1: Experience will be more important so older players will do better than normal.
Because the amount of preparation time is limited, experience might be a more important factor compared to normal. Experienced players need less time to get back to their level and maybe rely less on physical abilities and more on strategy to win their matches. We can test this hypothesis by comparing the performance of players who are older than their opponent in 2021 and 2020. If the hypothesis is true, we should see a higher number of wins for older players in 2021.
If we look at the numbers, this hypothesis does not hold up. In 2020, players who were older than there opponent (vs. Younger) won on average 49.1% of their games. In 2021, that number dropped to 44.5%. In reality, it turns out that being older was actually a disadvantage in this current situation. This could be explained by younger players needing less time to physically prepare or maybe strategy and experience don't matter if your opponent is physically a lot stronger that you are.
Hypothesis 2: Top 10 players will do better
Before the tournament started, some players complained that the lockdown regulations were unfair because players with more money could afford to stay in better facilities and would therefore be able to prepare better for the tournament. In general, the higher you are on the ATP World Ranking, the more resources (money) you have available to you. Therefore, let's look at the difference between the performance of top 10 player against players ranked outside of the top 10. If it is true that more resources were a bigger advantage this year, you would expect that top 10 players perform better against opponents outside of the top 10 this year.
If you look at the data however, it shows that there is no difference at all between the performance of top 10 players against lower ranked opponents. It might be that the hotels were less comfortable, or that the quarantine was more difficult and restrictive for lower ranked players, but that doesn't seem to have impacted performance. Something to keep in mind is that having more money and resources is always a big advantage, Covid or no Covid. Therefore, there wasn't a bigger advantage this year compared to any other year, even though it was still a big advantage.
Hypothesis 3: Australians will do better this year.
When I was reading about all the restrictions for athletes, I immediately thought, this must be an advantage for Australian players. They will not have to do all the things that all the other players will have to do. In essence, they will have a normal preparation while everyone else won't. Therefore, I predicted that Australian tennis players would do better this year compared to last year.
However, if you look at the numbers again, you see no difference at all. Australians won 49% of their games last year and 49.5% this year, a change that can be neglected. Possibly, the fact that several preparation tournaments were hosted meant that the preparation in terms of amount of games played, didn't differ that much between Australians and non Australians.
Although this edition of the Australian Open might have felt different to normal, the difference in the performance of several types of athletes was actually tiny. In that regard, the winner, now 9-time champion Novak Djokovic, shouldn't come as a surprise. It could be that the addition of preparation tournaments made a big difference to the preparation of foreign athletes or perhaps the fact that we are almost one year into the pandemic means that athletes have learned how to remain flexible, be ready whenever and generally optimize their performance in this difficult environment. It is hard to say why something that looks and feels so different, in fact isn't. In my opinion, I think it shows just how professional all of the players competing in the tournament are and how good their support staff is at preparing them for competition. These players work incredibly hard to perform at the highest level possible and have clearly found a way to be at their best despite difficult circumstances.
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Let me know if there are any particular stats you would like me to look at if you feel like I missed something. Also all the statistics were based on the male singles tournament only because the website I used doesn't seem to have any statistics for women (at least I can't find them). If I had access to the statistics for the women's tournament, I would have included those too. I don't expect the numbers to change much between men and women though.