According to Opta’s Live Win Probability Model, Caroline Garcia is officially the most successful underdog on the Tour this year.
There can be no doubt that the men’s fab three – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – have been a massive boon to the popularity of tennis. Each of them is an all-time great in their own regard, and arguments will rage as to whether any one of them is the greatest male player of all time.
Perhaps the only negative (if you can really call it that) of the trio’s 20 years of dominance, has been a lack of competitiveness in the men’s game.
Federer’s first win at a Grand Slam came at Wimbledon in 2003. Since then, 63 of the subsequent 77 Majors have been won by the big three and only Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray have managed to win two or more Grand Slam titles during that time. On those 14 occasions when one of the big three did not win a Grand Slam title, one of them was part of the final on seven occasions. Put another way, since 2003 there’s been a 90% chance that at least one of the big three would make it to the finals of a Major.
When Federer registered his first Grand Slam title in 2003, Serena Williams registered her sixth Majors title and her second at Wimbledon. She would go on win 17 more titles until her retirement earlier this year. Aside from Serena, not one women’s player registered over 10 Grand Slam titles during this time, with Maria Sharapova’s five the next highest. Since Wimbledon 2003, 31 different women’s players have won a Grand Slam title, compared to just 13 different male players. Over this time frame, women’s tennis has been highly competitive and extremely unpredictable. And that has made it so compelling to watch.
The 2022 WTA Finals at Fort Worth encapsulated this trend perfectly. According to Opta’s Live Win Probability model – designed to quantify current match situations and predict future outcomes – the WTA Finals produced the most upsets of any tournament on the WTA Tour in 2022. Eleven of the 15 (73%) matches played were won by the player who was not the favourite before the match.
Three of the four matches which were won by the pre-game favourite came courtesy of World No.1 Iga Swiatek and the other, a fierce contest between Caroline Garcia and Daria Kasatkina, was won by Garcia in a third-set breaker.
Below is the Live Win Probability plot for that match between Garcia and Kasatkina, the purple shading showing the progress of the French player, with the red showing that of the Russian’s. At the start of the match, Garcia was touted to win, given a probability of 59%. At the end of the first set, which Kasatkina won 6-4, the Russian was now the favourite, given a 70% chance of winning the encounter. However, after Garcia won the second set comfortably (6-1), her probability of emerging victorious reverted almost back to the figure as it was at the start of the game (58%).
In the tenth game of the third set, Kasatkina’s win % reached its peak (81%), with her leading 5-4 and 15:0 against serve. Garcia eventually held her nerve in that game to hold, before pushing the match to a tie break, where she came out on top.
Garcia’s progress through the season has been nothing short of remarkable. At the start of 2022, she was ranked 74, and as the season draws to a close, she is now the world no. 4, equalling her career highest ranking. The 29-year-old won every final she was part of in 2022 and has the second most wins against top 10 opponents in 2022 (8/12).
Impressively, Garcia won 73.9% of the matches she was the pre-game underdog for in 2022 (17/23), the highest percentage amongst players with more than 10 clashes with a pre-match winning probability lower than 50%.
Another player who had an outstanding year was Swiatek. Rising to world no.1, the Polish star won 65 WTA matches, her most in a single calendar year. She won 87% of the matches she was the pre-game favourite for during 2022 (40/46), the highest percentage amongst players with more than 10 matches with a pre-match winning probability of more than 50%.
Overall in 2022, 67.8% of the matches on the WTA Tour were won by the favourite at the beginning of the match (1123/1656). While Garcia won the highest percentage of matches where she was the underdog this year, world no. 7 Cori Gauff only won once as an underdog, with that coming against Paula Badosa in Doha. The American lost 11 encounters against top-10 opponents this year, with only Jessica Pegula losing more such matches (12). The 18-year-old has the lowest winning ratio in 2022 with a pre-match winning probability below 50% (9.1%, 1/11).
According to our model – which has been trained on 10+ years of historical point-by-point data from the WTA – the biggest upset on the WTA Tour in 2022 was Ekaterina Makarova’s victory over Sorana Cirstea at the Internationaux de Strasbourg.
Makarova had a pre-match winning probability of just 7.4%, which dwindled down to just 0.1% after the first set (1-6), meaning her chance to win the match was near to impossible. Even though she was leading the second set 5-3 and 40:15 with two set points in the ninth game, the Russian’s chances were still a meagre 2%. Winning the second set gave the 34-year-old the momentum needed to comfortably win the deciding set 6-2, pulling off the biggest upset of 2022.
Opta’s Live Win Probability model enables us to determine the key moments where a tournament or match is won and lost and predict the likelihood of either player winning a set or game during any given scenario.