What actually happened in Roger Federer’s stunning 5-set loss to Grigor Dimitrov? Here's a short excerpt from Fed's interview:
Wednesday, September 4, 2019
G. DIMITROV/R. Federer
3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. What was the medical issue you were dealing with?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, I just needed some treatment on my upper - what is it - back, neck. Just needed to try to loosen it up, crack it and see if it was going to be better.
Yeah, but this is Grigor's moment and not my body's moment, so... It's okay.
End of Interview excerpt
Statistics can often obscure as well as reveal truth. My own belief is that the numbers clearly show that Roger deliberately minimized the effects of his upper back and neck stiffness when explaining what happened in this match. Here are some startling facts which have NOT been highlighted by the tennis media:
In the fifth set, Roger won only one point against Dimitrov’s serve and that was on a double fault. Clearly, something was wrong in a major way.
In the fifth set, Roger did not win any points which lasted more than 4 shots. Once again, this points to some kind of physical problem. In the 5th set of the Wimbledon final, Roger was 14-14 against Djokovic in points lasting 9 shots or over. His overall endurance could not have declined significantly enough to cause such a drop in level.
There is a statistic which I refer to as DOMINANCE. This is the % of point-ending shots, either winners, forced errors, or unforced errors, attributable to a particular stroke. In the Wimbledon final, Fed’s FH DOMINANCE % was 24%. In the Dimitrov match, it was 26.5%. These are statistically equal. But there was a large difference in his FH differential (winners/forced errors minus unforced errors). At Wimbledon, it was -7 (47-54), while at the Open it was -19 (27-46). Fed’s forehand, his signature shot along with his serve, was miserable against Dimitrov. Was this all Gregor or did his physical issue contribute?
The story is similar on Fed’s backhand. His DOMINANCE %’s were virtually the same (13% at Wimbledon and 12% at the Open), but once again his differential weakened to -23 from -17. Both groundstrokes were significantly weaker against Dimitrov. By now, you can guess my conclusion: the injury was significant.
In both matches, Fed’s serving was his best shot. Against Djokovic, his serve had a DOMINANCE of 15% with a +51 differential, while against Dimitrov he had a 14% DOMINANCE with a +37 differential. Fed’s serve is his most consistent and reliable weapon. Once he lost his serve to start the fifth, the match was all but over.
I also tested to see if the average rally length in sets 1-4 was different from that in set 5. If the points in the fifth set were substantially shorter, this would add even more support to the hypothesis that Roger was significantly injured. In fact, the rally length differential in set 5 (2.95 shots) was statistically significant at 95% when compared with the rally length in sets 1-4 (4.00 shots). In general, players shorten points when they are injured, so this is but one more piece of evidence that Roger was far from himself.
I think the above stats, when taken as a whole, present a convincing picture of Fed’s disability during the Dimitrov match. This is actually good news for Fed fans who might be giving up on him. It’s way too soon to be throwing in the towel on Roger!