If Stockholm Open Final, 25 October 2010

Federer d. Mayer 6/4 6/3

When Roger Federer blew three break points in Florian Mayer’s opening service game in the final of the If Stockholm Open last night, you could be excused for heaving a great here-we-go-again sigh. Much has been made of Federer’s poor conversion rate on break points, part of an overarching theme that he no longer plays the big points the way he once did, which is itself one of the arguments buttressing the now widely cherished view that he is in Serious Decline.

Stat ambush!

A quick perusal of the Ricoh Match Facts on the ATP website reveals that Roger Federer is ranked 23rd in the Tour this year for break points converted, at 41%. For the record, Djokovic is 5th (45%), Nadal is 7th (44%), while Murray is 17th (42%). The Tour leaders are Juan Carlos Ferrero, Juan Ignacio Chela, and Michael Llodra, all on 46%. What does this tell us?

Well, for one thing, it tells us that the Break Points Converted stat is a pretty flawed metric for measuring a player’s game. This is reinforced when we consider that Federer is 10th overall for return games won (Djokovic is 1st). Furthermore, since Federer hit form when the US hardcourt season began, his average conversion rate has soared to 44.19%. He has won two tournaments in that time (Cincinnati Masters 1000, and the If Stockholm Open). His conversion rates for those tournaments were 35% and 50% respectively. Lest you need more proof that this is a misleading stat: Federer was 5 of 19 (26%) on break points against Brian Dabul in the first round of the US Open, a match he won easily in straight sets. Do you see a pattern? No, me neither.

It also tells us that for all the talk of Federer’s inability to capitalise on his break chances – or break point opportunities, as commentators insist on calling them – he’s posting pretty similar numbers to the other top players, two of whom are considered to be truly great returners. One day I’ll try to dig up some figures from 2004-2007, and see if Federer was doing any better in his endlessly and noisily missed heyday.

Anyhow, to make this digression relevant: Federer ended up at 3 of 7 (42.85%) on break points against Mayer last night. He totally nailed his average. Actually, average is the word, since this was a pretty routine affair, and one that didn’t stray far from the theme of the week, which was of Federer getting challenged early, before storming home strongly. For his troubles, he got to hang out with the Crown Princess of Sweden, heft the daintiest of trophies, and bask secure in the knowledge that his old pals Bjorkman and Johansson will retain their jobs for another year.

For the record, it was Federer’s 64th Tour level title, meaning that he is now tied with Pete Sampras at 4th on the all time list, behind Connors (109), Lendl (94), and McEnroe (77). The question has been bandied about: Will he pass McEnroe? The answer is no, probably not. For him to get another 14 titles, he would have to start playing more of these little 250 events, at precisely the age when that’s the last thing he should be doing. Not gonna happen.

Here are some random jottings from the week:

  • What the hell is going on with Tomas Berdych? Time was that this kind of slump followed on from actually winning a Grand Slam. I suppose in this era of Federer-Nadal domination, the headcases have to take what they can get.
  • Robin Soderling. I really don’t know what to say.
  • I think Federer looks great in lavender.
  • People profess to see a vague resemblance between Florian Mayer and Fabrice Santoro. I’m not seeing it.
  • I wonder if those net contraptions the ballkids were using will catch on elsewhere?
  • Seriously, that trophy was absurd.

The full match, as well as many others from this tournament, can be downloaded here. As ever, please avoid highlights.

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