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Visualizations of Day 11 at the 2016 U.S. Open

The shocks keep coming at the U.S. Open. After Kei Nishikori’s surprising upset of Andy Murray in the quarterfinals of Day 10, Day 11 brought us another massive upset. Today it was Serena Williams’ turn to exit the tournament, as Karolina Pliskova denied her a 23rd major title. After the loss to Roberta Vinci at the 2015 U.S. Open, this makes for back-to-back disappointments for Williams.

With the departure of Williams, a door was opened for Angelique Kerber. A semifinal win would not only give her a chance for a second Major title but would earn her the World No. 1 ranking for the first time in her career. Kerber was able to set aside the pressure of the opportunity before her, beating Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets and becoming the first woman since February of 2013 to take Serena Williams’ position at the top of the WTA rankings. The 2016 U.S. Open is shaping up to be a milestone for a new era of women’s tennis. Below we review Pliskova’s and Kerber’s semifinal victories.

Pliskova Does the Impossible

On Day 11, only Karolina Pliskova stood in the way of Serena Williams road to what has seemed like an inevitable 23rd Major victory. Pre-match predictions for the match were giving Pliskova just a 13% chance of pulling out an upset. But after Pliskova’s thrashing of Ana Konjuh, even Williams had to have some doubt about the semifinal outcome.

The first turning point and sign of things to come came in the first set and third game, when Pliskova was the first to break serve. That break added 10 percentage points to Pliskova’s win chances. The next critical moment was in the fifth game when Pliskova created another break chance but failed to convert. Holding her serve, she kept on the attack in the seventh, breaking Williams at love. The set was in Pliskova’s hands at that point and her win chances for the match were at a high of 40%.

Looking at the point-to-point win chances for Pliskova, it is really interesting to see that, although there is a gradual increase in her favor (especially over the first set), there were only a few occasions when she was in a dominant position, probabilistically. Even after winning the first set, her chances of winning the match hovered between 40-45% for most of the second. Watching the match, it was clear that Pliskova had the upperhand and was perhaps helped by a not entirely healthy Williams. Still, Williams overall win record gave her good chances of turning things around up until the very end.

The match might have gone very differently if Pliskova had been able to hold her serve after winning the first break in the fifth game of the second set. After that, both players save break points to stay on serve and force a tiebreak to decide the set and, possibly, match.

At the first point of the tiebreak, the win chances were dead even. Pliskova took the early advantage with the first point meaning break, at that point her win chances soared to 61%, and, after holding her next 2 service points, hit a match-high of 78%. But Williams wasn’t going to let the match slip away that easily. She won the next 4 points and dropped Pliskova’s upset prospects back to 40%. Pliskova had to act quickly and dig deep to get another mini-break to square her chances again. With both players back on serve, it would be the first to get the next break that could take the whole thing. In the end, it was Pliskova who turned her nose at the odds and beat Williams to the win.

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A New No. 1

Knowing about Williams’ loss and the chance for the No. 1 ranking had to have weighed on Kerber’s mind when she faced Caroline Wozniacki for the last semifinal of the day. If she was nervous, no one could have guessed it from her performance. Kerber went into the match with an 74% chance of a win and she played like the favorite. With back-to-back breaks of Wozniacki’s serve to open the first set, it became clear the Kerber was on a mission and Wozniacki didn’t have a strategy to thwart her. Wozniacki generated only 3 break points over the course of the match compared to Kerber’s 12 chances. It is the kind of aggression that she will need to match Pliskova’s game when the two will face-off on Arthur Ashe this Saturday and the World will see a new women’s champion crowned at the U.S. Open.

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