Thiem vs. Medvedev 2020 US Open
What Really Happened?
This match set up as the most compelling of the 2020 US Open men’s singles. Dominic Thiem, playing as if he truly believes in winning the championship versus Daniil Medvedev, last year’s finalist and yet to lose a set in this year’s Open. Here’s what I texted to one of my students before the match: “Short story: Medvedev will do slightly better with the serve. Thiem much better margin of error on groundstrokes. Thiem called the match 50/50 in his pre-match interview. I pick Thiem by a nose.”
Let’s go straight to Thiem’s call for a 50/50 match and take a look at it. After all, the match was decided in 3 straight sets … not that close for a 3/5 set match. My claim is that the 6-2 first set was an outlier because of the missed “out call” and subsequent disagreement between Medvedev and the chair umpire. IF WE LOOK AT ONLY SETS 2 AND 3, THIEM WON BY 97-94 IN TOTAL POINTS WON. Statistically, this is 50/50, so Thiem was correct in his assessment of his own match. And, I was correct also that Thiem would win by a nose. Next, let’s dive down inside the match and have a look at what the stats have to say.
Medvedev actually did slightly better with his serve winning 35% to 24% with either an ace or a service winner. In terms of the number of points won, Medvedev won 27 points with 4 double faults, while Thiem won 18 with 3 doubles faults. This component gave Medvedev an 8-point margin to the plus side. Both of these stats confirm that Medvedev did “slightly better” winning with just his serve.
What about the second claim that Thiem would do “much better” regarding margin of error on his groundstrokes? Let’s look at backhands first. Thiem had 17 backhand winners or forced errors along with 20 unforced errors. Medvedev’s numbers were 10 winners and 17 unforced errors. This extremely close positive margin of +4 was not enough to give Thiem the win. HOWEVER, WHEN WE LOOK AT THE FOREHAND, THE SECRET TO THE MATCH IS REVEALED! Thiem had 24 forehand winners/forced errors and 21 unforced, while Medvedev had 21 winners and 40 UNFORCED ERRORS. This margin of +22 in Thiem’s favor completely explains the match outcome and certainly falls within the “much better” category.
Rally length is another potentially significant source of information when analyzing what happened in a match. Overall, including all strokes, Thiem won 58%, 45%, and 48% using the conventional 0-4, 5-8, and 9+ rally lengths. He exceled in the shorter points. WHEN WE LOOK AT THE FOREHAND ALONE, THE RESULTS ARE TRULY ASTOUNDING: Thiem won 18 more points than Medvedev on point-ending forehands where the rally length was 0-4! In percentage terms, he won nearly 65% of these points!
I think we can all picture the drills that Medvedev will be doing in the coming weeks!