STAT PACK: How often do Grand Slam matches go to five sets and how big a difference does it make?

The question of whether or not the men’s singles at a Grand Slam should no longer be best-of-five reared it’s head last week. 

Opinion can be divided, so we thought we would attempt to aid the debate with a stat-pack to try and determine just how much Bo5 matches add to Grand Slams from a purely numerical point of view.

We studied the last six Grand Slam tournaments to be played in an attempt to shed some light on the matter.

Averages (last six Grand Slams)

Matches per Grand Slam to go five sets: 24
Five-set match percentage: 19%
Five-set matches before quarterfinals: 22 (92%)
Occasions Bo5 changed result: 12 (9%)

The first observation is that across the two weeks of Grand Slams, around one fifth of all matches go the full distance. Sometimes it’s slightly more, sometimes it’s slightly fewer, but the figure is pretty consistent.

Of course, that’s not the full story when it comes to this study, as we are interested in whether or not those five set matches are actually adding anything to the tournament in terms of results and, pretty consistently, they did.

Wimbledon Roger Federer backhand

In four of the last six Grand Slams, around half of the matches that went to five sets (Bo5) produced a different winner than if the match had been decided on the first three sets (Bo3).

The two exceptions were at opposite ends of the spectrum. At the 2020 US Open, three quarters (76%) of matches that went to five set saw a player turn the match around and progress. At the 2020 French Open, though, not even a third (29%) of players who would have lost in a Bo3 format were able to win after forcing a fifth set.

Those two tournaments are very closely linked, though, as they had a large bearing on each other. The US Open was immediately after players had a five month pause in the ATP Tour due to the coronavirus. That means there was an increased freshness in terms of fitness which may, along with a decreased match sharpness from players who were leading, have contributed to the elevated figure.

Similarly, the French Open followed the US Open just two weeks later, so players were likely to have been physically jaded from just playing a Grand Slam, and it also meant there was a general lack of preparation for clay court tennis.

Bo5 for second week only

It’s also important to remember the suggestion last week was not to do away with five-set tennis entirely, but to only play Bo5 in the second week of Slams. That, though, would largely see the death of five set tennis.

 

Australian Open Grand Slam general

In the six Grand Slams that we studied, 92% of the five-set matches occurred in the first week. That, of course, stands to reason because there are so many more matches in the first week than the second.

However, in real terms, if tennis was to do away with Bo5 in the second week or Grand Slams, you’d only generally be looking at two five-set matches per tournament.

So what cost?

Speaking from a purely statistical point of view, the cost would be around 90 five-set men’s matches per year. There is obviously no data to study in terms of what would be added, statistically, if women’s matches were made Bo5 for the second week of Slams too, but from the men’s data we can assume it wouldn’t be many.

But the cost does not just boil down to statistics. Players who otherwise struggle financially on Tour would have missed out on vital paydays had they not been able to play Bo5.

It’s very difficult to see what, or who, would benefit from making men’s Grand Slam draws at least partially Bo3. Fans would miss out on entertainment, tournaments would lose out on sponsors as matches would be shorter and command less TV time, and lower-ranked players would miss out on opportunities to earn potentially career-changing sums of money.

Anyway, check out the full study below and make up your own minds.

Wimbledon 2019

Number of matches: 127
Matches that went to five sets: 20
Five-set match percentage 16%
Five-set matches before quarterfinals: 19 (95%)
Occasions Bo5 changed result (listed below): 11 (9%)

Round one

Moutet bt Dimitrov 2-6, 3-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-1
Humbert bt Monfils 6-7, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 3-0r
Cuevas bt Dzumhur 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2
Basilashvili bt Ward 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 8-6

Round two

Verdasco bt Edmund 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4
Pella bt Seppi 6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1
Opelka bt Wawrinka 7-5, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 8-6
Kukushkin bt Isner 6-4, 6-7, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4

Round three

Goffin bt Medvedev 4-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5
Berrettini bt Schwartzman 6-7 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3

Round four

Pella bt Raonic 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 8-6

US Open 2019

Number of matches: 127
Matches that went to five sets: 26
Five-set match percentage: 20%
Five-set matches before quarterfinals: 24 (92%)
Occasions Bo5 changed result (listed below): 11 (9%)

Round one

Chardy bt Hurkacz 3-6, 6-3, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4
Lorenzi bt Svajda 3-6, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-2
Berenkis bt Vesely 4-6, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4
Hoang bt Mayer 3-6, 6-2, 6-7, 6-1, 6-3
Sandgren bt Tsonga 1-6, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 7-5
Chung bt Escobedo 3-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2

Round two

Majchrzak bt Cuevas 6-7, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1
Bublik bt Fabbiano 6-7, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3
Bedene bt Paire 4-6, 6-7, 6-2, 7-5, 7-6
Chung bt Verdasco 1-6, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6

Quarterfinals

Dimitrov bt Federer 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2

Australian Open 2020

Number of matches: 127
Matches that went to five sets: 29
Five-set match percentage: 23%
Five-set matches before quarterfinals: 27 (93%)
Occasions Bo5 changed result (listed below): 13 (10%)

Round one

Bedene bt Duckworth 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4
Anderson bt Ivashka 6-4, 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6
Bolt bt Ramos Vinolas 7-6, 1-6, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4
Herbert bt Norrie 7-5, 3-6, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4
Fognini bt Opelka 3-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6
Hurkacz bt Novak 6-7, 1-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4
Davidovich Fokina bt Gombos 4-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2
Evans bt McDonald 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3

Round two

Fritz bt Anderson 4-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, 6-2
Thiem bt Bolt 6-2, 5-7, 6-7, 6-1, 6-2
Cilic bt Paire 6-2, 6-7, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6

Round four

Wawrinka bt Medvedev 6-2, 2-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2

Final

Djokovic bt Thiem 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4

US Open 2020

Number of matches: 127
Matches that went to five sets: 25
Five-set match percentage: 20%
Five-set matches before quarterfinals: 22 (88%)
Occasions Bo5 changed result (listed below): 19 (15%)

Round one

Carreno Busta bt Uchiyama 4-6, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3
Johnson bt Isner 6-7, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, 7-6
Giron bt Polmans 6-4, 6-7, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2
Garin bt Blanch 4-6, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2
Norrie bt Schwartzman 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 7-5
Coria bt Jung 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 2-0r
Ruud bt McDonald 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2
Khachanov bt Sinner 3-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-0, 7-6
Murray bt Nishioka 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4
Cilic bt Kudla 6-7, 3-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-3

Round two

Coric bt Londero 7-5, 4-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-3
Fucsovics bt Dimitrov 6-7, 7-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1
Tiafoe bt Millman 7-6, 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3

Round three

Shapovalov bt Fritz 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2
Coric bt Tsitsipas 6-7, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6
Pospisil bt Bautista Agut 7-5, 2-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
De Minaur bt Khachanov 6-4, 0-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1

Semi-finals

Zverev bt Carreno Busta 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3

Final

Thiem bt Zverev 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6

French Open 2020

Number of matches: 127
Matches that went to five sets: 21
Five-set match percentage: 17%
Five set matches before quarterfinals: 19 (90%)
Occasions Bo5 changed result (listed below): 6 (5%)

Round one

Sandgren bt Hurkacz 7-5, 2-6, 4-6, 7-6, 11-9
Giron bt Halys 7-5, 3-6, 6-7, 7-5, 8-6
Rublev bt Querrey 6-7, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4, 6-3
Tsitsipas bt Munar 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4
Rodionov bt Chardy 3-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 10-8

Quarterfinals

Schwartzman bt Thiem 7-6, 5-7, 6-7, 7-6, 6-2

Australian Open 2021

Number of matches: 127
Matches that went to five sets: 23
Five-set match percentage: 18%
Five set matches before quarterfinals: 22 (96%)
Occasions Bo5 changed the result (listed below): 12 (9%)

Round One

Moutet bt Milman 6-4, 6-7, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3
Vesely bt Coppejans 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-3
Popyrin bt Goffin 3-6, 6-4, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3
Ymer bt Hurkacz 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, 6-3
Mmoh bt Troicki 7-6, 6-7, 3-6, 7-6, 7-5

Round Two

Fritz bt Opelka 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-2
Kyrgios bt Humbert 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4
Lopez bt Sonego 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4
Fognini bt Caruso 4-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6

Round three

Thiem bt Kyrgios 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4

Round four

Karatsev bt Auger-Aliassime 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4

Quarterfinals

Tsitsipas bt Nadal 3-6, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4, 7-5

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