If you picked up only two stats about surprise Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, you probably heard that, first, her average forehand is faster than Andy Murray’s, and second, she hit 299 winners in her seven French Open matches. I’m not yet sure how much emphasis we should put on shot speed, and I instinctively distrust raw totals, but even with those caveats, it’s hard not to be impressed.
Compared to the likes of Simona Halep, Timea Bacsinszky, and Caroline Wozniacki, the last three women she upset en route to her maiden title, Ostapenko was practically playing a different game. Her style is more reminiscent of fellow Slam winners Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova, who don’t construct points so much as they destruct them. What I’d like to know, then, is how Ostapenko stacks up against the most aggressive players on the WTA tour.
Thankfully we already have a metric for this: Aggression Score, which I’ll abbreviate as AGG. This stat requires that we know three things about every point: How many shots were hit, who won it, and how. With that data, we figure out what percentage of a player’s shots resulted in winners, unforced errors, or her opponent’s forced errors. (Technically, the denominator is “shot opportunities,” which includes shots a player didn’t manage to hit after her opponent hit a winner. That doesn’t affect the results too much.) For today’s purposes, I’m calculating AGG without a player’s serves–both aces and forced return errors–so we’re capturing only rally aggression.
The typical range of this version AGG is between 0.1–very passive–and 0.3–extremely aggressive. Based on the nearly 1,600 women’s matches in the Match Charting Project dataset, Kvitova and Julia Goerges represent the aggressive end, with average AGGs around .275. We only have four Samantha Crawford matches in the database, but early signs suggest she could outpace even those women, as her average is at .312. At the other end of the spectrum, Madison Brengle is at 0.11, with Wozniacki and Sara Errani at 0.12. In the Match Charting data, there are single-day performances that rise as high as 0.44 (Serena Williams over Errani at the 2013 French Open) and fall as low as 0.06. In the final against Ostapenko, Halep’s aggression score was 0.08, half of her average of 0.16.
Context established, let’s see where Ostapenko fits in, starting with the Roland Garros final. Against Halep, her AGG was a whopping .327. That’s third highest of any player in a major final, behind Kvitova at Wimbledon in 2014 (.344) and Serena at the 2007 Australian Open (.328). (We have data for every Grand Slam final back to 1999, and most of them before that.) Using data from IBM Pointstream, which encompasses almost all matches at Roland Garros this year, Ostapenko’s aggression in the final was 7th-highest of any match in the tournament–out of 188 player-matches with the necessary data–behind two showings from Bethanie Mattek Sands, one each from Goerges, Madison Keys, and Mirjana Lucic … and Ostapenko’s first-round win against Louisa Chirico. It was also the third-highest recorded against Halep out of more than 200 Simona matches in the Match Charting dataset.
You get the picture: The French Open final was a serious display of aggression, at least from one side of the court. That level of ball-bashing was nothing new for the Latvian, either. We have charting data for her last three matches at Roland Garros, along with two matches from Charleston and one from Prague this clay season. Of those six performances, Ostapenko’s lowest AGG was .275, against Wozniacki in the Paris quarters. Her average across the six was .303.
If those recent matches indicate what we’ll see from her in the future, she will likely score as the most aggressive rallying player on the WTA tour. Because she played less aggressively in her earlier matches on tour, her career average still trails those of Kvitova and Goerges, but not by much–and probably not for long. It’s scary to consider what might happen as she gets stronger; we’ll have to wait and see how her tactics evolve, as well.
The Match Charting Project contains at least 15 matches on 62 different players–here is the rally-only aggression score for all of them:
PLAYER MATCHES RALLY AGG Julia Goerges 15 0.277 Petra Kvitova 57 0.277 Jelena Ostapenko 17 0.271 Madison Keys 35 0.261 Camila Giorgi 17 0.257 Sabine Lisicki 19 0.246 Caroline Garcia 15 0.242 Coco Vandeweghe 17 0.238 Serena Williams 108 0.237 Laura Siegemund 19 0.235 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 17 0.230 Danka Kovinic 15 0.223 Kristina Mladenovic 28 0.222 Na Li 15 0.218 Maria Sharapova 73 0.217 PLAYER MATCHES RALLY AGG Eugenie Bouchard 52 0.214 Ana Ivanovic 46 0.211 Garbine Muguruza 57 0.210 Lucie Safarova 29 0.209 Karolina Pliskova 42 0.207 Elena Vesnina 20 0.207 Venus Williams 46 0.205 Johanna Konta 31 0.205 Monica Puig 15 0.203 Dominika Cibulkova 38 0.198 Martina Navratilova 25 0.197 Steffi Graf 39 0.196 Anastasija Sevastova 17 0.194 Samantha Stosur 19 0.193 Sloane Stephens 15 0.190 PLAYER MATCHES RALLY AGG Ekaterina Makarova 23 0.189 Lauren Davis 16 0.186 Heather Watson 16 0.185 Daria Gavrilova 20 0.183 Justine Henin 28 0.183 Kiki Bertens 15 0.181 Monica Seles 18 0.179 Svetlana Kuznetsova 28 0.174 Timea Bacsinszky 28 0.174 Victoria Azarenka 55 0.170 Andrea Petkovic 24 0.166 Roberta Vinci 23 0.164 Barbora Strycova 16 0.163 Belinda Bencic 31 0.163 Jelena Jankovic 24 0.162 PLAYER MATCHES RALLY AGG Alison Riske 15 0.161 Angelique Kerber 83 0.161 Flavia Pennetta 23 0.160 Simona Halep 218 0.160 Carla Suarez Navarro 31 0.159 Martina Hingis 15 0.157 Chris Evert 20 0.152 Darya Kasatkina 18 0.148 Elina Svitolina 46 0.141 Yulia Putintseva 15 0.137 Alize Cornet 18 0.136 Agnieszka Radwanska 90 0.130 Annika Beck 16 0.126 Monica Niculescu 25 0.124 Caroline Wozniacki 62 0.122 Sara Errani 23 0.121
(A few of the match counts differ slightly from what you’ll find on the MCP home page. I’ve thrown out a few matches with too much missing data or in formats that didn’t play nice with the script I wrote to calculate aggression score.)