The Simon/Monfils 61-Shot Rally: In Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon made the unorthodox decision of extending their warm-up into the first game of the match.  Or somthing.  At 40-40 in the opening game, they counterpunched each other into oblivion, needing sixty-one shots before Monfils finally sent a slice long to end the point.

If you haven’t seen it, or you suffer from insomnia, click the link here.

What might be most remarkable about the rally is that, when Monfils made his error, there was no sign of the point drawing to a close — it isn’t hard to imagine those two hitting another 61 shots like that.  But even at 61, it’s an awfully long point.

So (asks the statistician) … how long was it?  Rally length is not widely available for ATP matches.  But thanks to IBM Pointstream, I do have rally length for each point on a Hawkeye court from the French Open.  (I’ve played around a bit with those numbers.)

From the French Open, we have roughly 20,000 men’s points to look at, which doesn’t count double faults.  About 35% of those points lasted only one stroke: an ace, a service winner, or an error of some sort on the return.  Only 15% of the points went 8 strokes or longer, and fewer than 10% reached 10 strokes.

In the entire tournament, only 12 rallies hit the 30-shot mark–only halfway to the Simon/Monfils level.  You won’t be surprised at most of the names involved in those dozen extreme points:

Mardy Fish    Gilles Simon       38  
Andy Murray   Viktor Troicki     37  
Gilles Simon  Robin Soderling    36  
David Ferrer  Sergiy Stakhovsky  33  
Andy Murray   Viktor Troicki     33  
David Ferrer  Gael Monfils       33  
Rafael Nadal  Pablo Andujar      32  
Tobias Kamke  Viktor Troicki     31  
David Ferrer  Sergiy Stakhovsky  31  
Rafael Nadal  Andy Murray        31  
Rafael Nadal  Pablo Andujar      30  
Andy Murray   Viktor Troicki     30

Both Simon and Monfils make an appearance, with Ferrer, Murray, and Nadal showing up multiple times.  What surprises me a bit are some of the guys who hung in there with the counterpunchers, especially Fish and Troicki.

In any event, 61 shots still stands out as a once-in-a-blue-moon accomplishment.

WTA rally length

Incidentally, you might suspect (as I did) that some WTA players would slug it out even longer.  Again using Pointstream data from the Hawkeye courts at the French, it turns out that ladies only reached the 30-shot threshold twice.  First, Marion Bartoli went to 33 against Olga Govortsova, and Na Li got to 32 shots against Silvia Soler-Espinosa.  The tongue-tying Wozniacki-Wozniak matchup comes in third, with a 28-stroke rally.

Wimbledon rallies

While we’re at it, let’s check the Wimbledon data.  Surprise, surprise–tied for the longest rally of the tournament is a 31-stroke exchange between Juan Martin del Potro and … Gilles Simon.  In fact, that match featured four of the 20 longest rallies of the tournament.

Also notable is Novak Djokovic, who reached 31, 30, and 29 against Bernard Tomic, and 25 (twice) and 24 against Marcos Baghdatis.

The true oddity in the top ten is John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, who somehow took a break from aces and errant groundstrokes to go 25-deep.  It was the  only point of the match that went longer than 12 shots.


5 thoughts on “The Simon/Monfils 61-Shot Rally: In Perspective”

  1. Very interesting – glad you started exploring rally length frequencies. It suggests a couple of thoughts to me (which raise more questions for which the data won’t be available until a Pointstream analyzes Hawk Eye data everywhere:
    1. WHEN in a single match long rallies take place may be more important than how often relative to averages:
    – early in the match, they may function as kind of a mutual extension of warm-up when they are getting used to each other’s ‘ball,’ and testing the other guys nerves at the start
    – on key points, they might reflect the knowledge one player has that their odds in the point improve with every shot; or, they might reflect a mutual lack of confidence in attacking on a pivotal point
    2. If the average length of each player’s rallies was known, that benchmark would offer insight into their tactics in a given match (given surface, opponent, flow of the match, etc); was someone able or interested in attacking more or less than usual?

    How this could help understand how a given player wins or loses, goes on streaks or slumps? Using Djokovic’s 43 wins as one example:
    – did his average rally length per match change during his streak?
    – did the average length of his opponents’ rallies change from their norm and from previous encounters with him?

    Instead of only having data like errors and winners to look at to suggest what might have happened, given that rally length is more INTERACTIVE and therefore more affected by how two players feel and match up on a given day, we’d be a little more inside their heads.

    Rick D.

    1. Yeah, lots of interesting stuff here. At a simple level, I’m curious to know whether rallies get longer as the match progresses — I suspect that in general, they do.

      Also interesting to see, as you suggest, the results of two players interacting. Seems like a Murray, Simon, or Chela turns all opponents into counterpunchers, so in that sense, the longer-rallying player has more influence on the sort of match than the shorter-rallying player, except perhaps in extreme cases like Isner.

  2. I would expect there to be several interacting trends. As the match goes on, both players become more “tuned in” to the opponent’s style, and begin to read his intentions more reliably. That leads to longer rallies if they are evenly matched. But then, after a certain point, tiredness starts to creep in, with the effect of shortening rallies.

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