This is a guest post by Peter Wetz.
Last week Dominic Thiem fought his way into the finals of the Barcelona Open by winning against Kyle Edmund, Daniel Evans, Yuichi Sugita, and Andy Murray. Three of these four players play for the same flag and Thiem won against each of them. Thiem is not exactly a champion of the current Davis Cup format–he has opted out of playing for Austria several times and has a rather poor record of 2-3 when he does compete–but in Barcelona he has, at least, shown that he can beat several players from the same country over a short amount of time. And that’s what Davis Cup is about, right?
In this post my goal is to put this statistical hiccup into some context. It is not the first time the Austrian defeated three players of the same nationality at one event: In 2016 at Buenos Aires Thiem already beat three players from Spain. However, given that Spanish players appear much more frequently in draws than Britons do, I will take a closer look.
Since 1990, there have only been three tournaments where a single player faced three players from Great Britain. And only one of these players who faced three Britons won each encounter. The following table shows the three tournaments and each of the matches where a player from Great Britain was faced by the same player. Wally Masur is the only player since 1990 who defeated three players from Great Britain in a single tournament. Thiem remains the only player who achieved this in a tournament outside of the island.
Tournament Round Winner Loser Score '93 Manchester R32 Wally Masur Ross Matheson 6-4 6-4 '93 Manchester R16 Wally Masur Chris Wilkinson 6-3 6-7(4) 6-3 '93 Manchester QF Wally Masur Jeremy Bates 6-4 6-3 '97 Nottingham R32 Karol Kucera Martin Lee 6-1 6-1 '97 Nottingham SF Karol Kucera Tim Henman 6-4 2-6 6-4 '97 Nottingham F Greg Rusedski Karol Kucera 6-4 7-5 '01 Nottingham R32 Martin Lee Lee Childs 6-4 5-7 6-0 '01 Nottingham R16 Martin Lee Arvind Parmar 6-4 6-3 '01 Nottingham QF Greg Rusedski Martin Lee 6-3 6-2
Obviously, there are not many chances to face three Britons in a single tournament. And when one of those opponents is likely to be Andy Murray, a player’s chances of beating all three are even slimmer.
Let’s broaden the perspective a bit and take a look at how often a player defeated three (or more) players from the same country without looking only at Great Britain. The following table displays the results of this analysis. The first column contains the country, the second column (3W) shows how often a player defeated three players of this country, the third column (3WL) shows how often a player defeated two players of this country and then lost to a player of the same country, and so on.
Country 3W 3WL 4W 4WL 5W 5WL USA 119 179 19 30 1 4 ESP 98 157 17 18 3 2 FRA 28 45 5 2 1 0 ARG 22 26 5 3 0 0 GER 15 18 1 1 0 0 AUS 13 9 0 0 0 0 SWE 9 16 1 0 0 0 CZE 4 5 0 0 0 0 NED 4 4 0 0 0 0 RUS 4 3 0 0 0 0 ITA 2 3 1 0 0 0 BRA 1 3 1 0 0 0 GBR 1 2 0 0 0 0 CHI 1 1 0 0 0 0 SUI 1 1 0 0 0 0
As we could have imagined, USA, ESP, and FRA come out on top here, simply, because for years they have had the highest density of players in the rankings. These are also the only countries of which a player was faced five times at a single tournament. Facing a player of the same country six or more times never happened according to the data at hand. The following table shows the most recent occasions of the entries printed in bold in the above table (5W).
Tournament Round Winner Loser Score '91 Charlotte R32 Jaime Yzaga Chris Garner 7-6 6-3 '91 Charlotte R16 Jaime Yzaga Jimmy Brown 6-4 6-4 '91 Charlotte QF Jaime Yzaga Michael Chang 7-6 6-1 '91 Charlotte SF Jaime Yzaga M. Washington 7-5 6-2 '91 Charlotte F Jaime Yzaga Jimmy Arias 6-3 7-5 '07 Lyon R32 Sebastien Gr. Rodolphe Cadart 6-3 6-2 '07 Lyon R16 Sebastien Gr. Fabrice Santoro 4-6 6-1 6-2 '07 Lyon QF Sebastien Gr. Julien Benneteau 6-7 6-2 7-6 '07 Lyon SF Sebastien Gr. Jo Tsonga 6-1 6-2 '07 Lyon F Sebastien Gr. Marc Gicquel 7-6 6-4 '08 Valencia R32 David Ferrer Ivan Navarro 6-3 6-4 '08 Valencia R16 David Ferrer Pablo Andujar 6-3 6-4 '08 Valencia QF David Ferrer Fernando Verdasco 6-3 1-6 7-5 '08 Valencia SF David Ferrer Tommy Robredo 2-6 6-2 6-3 '08 Valencia F David Ferrer Nicolas Almagro 4-6 6-2 7-6
Finally, we take a look at the big four. Did they ever eliminate three or more players from the same country in a single tournament? Yes, they did. In 2014 Roger Federer beat three Czech players in Dubai. In 2005, 2008, and 2013 he beat three German players in Halle. In 2009 Andy Murray beat three Spanish players in Valencia. In 2007 Novak Djokovic beat three Spanish players in Estoril. In 2013 Rafael Nadal beat three Argentinian players both in Acapulco and Sao Paolo. In 2015 he even beat four Argentinian players in Buenos Aires. And there are many other examples where Rafa beat three of his countrymen at the same tournament.
We can see that this happens fairly often, specifically for countries where the tournament is organized, because more players of this country appear in the draw due to wild cards and qualifications. If we exclude these cases, Federer’s streak in Dubai stands out, as does Thiem’s streak in Barcelona.
Peter Wetz is a computer scientist interested in racket sports and data analytics based in Vienna, Austria.