Match Day Preview: Gentlemen’s Singles Semi-Finals

Today it’s the turn of the men to earn their places in the finals, with Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro first to face off on Centre Court, followed by Jerzy Janowicz and Andy Murray. Both matches pose a challenge for both pundits and IBM’s SlamTracker predictive analytics, though it’s the Janowicz v Murray match that looks particularly tough.

Djokovic and Del Potro have played eleven times in the past, with the No.1 seed winning on eight of those occasions. However, Del Potro won their last match at the Masters, Indian Wells in March to reach the finals, and also beat Djokovic on their last grass court match during the Olympics last year.

The two men are fairly evenly matched on their service games. Del Potro has the higher first serve percentage, at 69% to Djokovic’s 64%, but both have won 81% of their first serve points, and each has served 54 aces in The Championships so far. Del Potro has the fastest serve at 134mph and has held a higher percentage of his service games, but Djokovic has played better on second serve, winning 69% of points to Del Potro’s 57%.

Djokovic has a reputation for being the best returner in the men’s game, and with 38% of first return points won to Del Potro’s 29% and a higher percentage of return games, at 31% to 26%, it’s not hard to see why. However, Djokovic has won a higher percentage of return points on his opponents’ second serve, with 61% to Djokovic’s 52%. As far as SlamTracker is concerned, Djokovic has consistently hit 2/3 and sometimes 3/3 of his keys to the match – the targets defined as pivotal by IBM’s predictive analytics software – while Del Potro has yet to meet more than 2/3. This, and Del Potro’s persistent troubles with his left knee favour the World No.1’s chances, but then who could have predicted that Del Potro would beat David Ferrer on, effectively, one leg?

Meanwhile, Andy Murray faces a huge challenge against Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz. They’ve played twice before, both times on hard courts, and though Murray beat Janowicz in 2009, when the latter was just 18, it was the Polish No.24 seed who came out on top in the Paris Masters last year, beating Murray two sets to one.

Janowicz has an enormous serve, reaching speeds of 140MPH and hitting 94 aces in the gentlemen’s championship so far. 49% of his serves haven’t even been returned, and he has a 65% first serve percentage and has won 84% of his first serve points. Throw in a formidable forehand shot and you have a player who can steamroller his opponent given half a chance. Murray’s serve statistics aren’t too far behind, with a 64% first serve percentage and 81% of first serve points, and he has played better in his return games. Murray has won 32% of points when returning first serve to Janowicz’s 30%, and 58% of points when returning second serve to Janowicz’s 54%.

Both players have hit all their keys to the match targets twice, but Murray has had the harder time in his most recent matches – particularly the five match battle against Spain’s Fernando Verdasco. The big question will be whether Murray can maintain his game and composure against the Polish player’s titanic serves, and whether he can then muster up the strength and guile to break that service.

On Twitter, the expectation is that the match will be tight. “Saw both Jerzy Janowicz and Andy Murray play last week. I wouldn’t want to call it!” tweets @MaireTNC. “Please not another game like the one on Wednesday @andy_murray. Not sure my nerves can take it” posts @DnnaC08. “A Murray-Djokovic final looks inevitable. Delop won’t last physically and Janowicz is inexperienced at this level” tweets @DavidRiand. @MattRFCButler94 disagrees. “As Much as I want Murray to win today, I still maintain Janowicz will win.”

With both men trumpeted as national heroes in their native countries, they won’t be short of support once the big match comes. All we can do is wait.

We’ll return with a full post-match analysis later on.

For a more detailed look at the statistics and what they mean, visit IBM’s Game Changers blog.

Stuart Andrews