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AO 2017 Nadal Monfils R16

As I write, Andy Murray and Mischa Zverev are battling for a place in the quarterfinals in what has the makings of an epic. Another match we all hope will deliver the same excitement is Rafael Nadal and Gael Monfils’ meeting on Monday, in the marquee night match on Rod Laver Arena.

The last time Monfils and Nadal met here was in the third round of 2014. Nadal won that match in an easy straight sets, a scoreline that would seem surprising given Monfils’ talent and physicality.

But if you have seen Monfils you know that while he excels in potential and talent he can lack focus and consistency. Because of this I was curious what his work output per shot would look like against a player like Nadal and if he would be much less consistent. With the work metric developed by GIG, we can start to get some insight into these questions.

The chart below shows the set by set breakdown in average work per shot. This can be interpreted as the physicality a player brings to each shot in a rally, the higher the number the more effort a player typically exerts. In the first two sets, both players were playing above their average at the Australian Open (shown in the dashed lines), especially Monfils, who has a lower work rate than Nadal overall.

While Nadal was overworking Monfils on most shots in the second set, by the 5th set both players were playing to Nadal’s average. This might be one indication that Nadal was controlling the match.

Another thing I find very interesting about the comparison is the variation. The vertical lines show the upper 25th and lower 25th percentiles of work per shot. A bigger range in those numbers indicates less consistency in the physicality in the set. In the first and third set, we see that Monfils was much more up and down in the amount of work, particularly in the third.

A number of factors could influence that pattern. It can be dictated by the proportion of long rallies, types of shots taken, as well as player overall effort (which is the main interest here). Although we can’t pinpoint one cause, I think the fact that Monfils work rate progressively declined with each set and showed the most variation in the third set both strongly suggest that he was drained by playing above his average work rate.

What does this mean for the R16 this year? Expect Nadal to try to dictate the energy level of the match. If Monfils show signs of struggling to keep up in the early sets, it could be a repeat of 2014.

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