Playing the context – should we be surprised by the number of upsets?


Despite the focus on the world cup this week, there has been much in the sporting press about the number of upsets at Wimbledon in the first week – should we be surprised and is it something unusual?

Well, no, it’s not massively unusual – however, if things went according to the seedings the top 16 should have made it through to the fourth round, by the time all the second round matches were completed six of the top 16 in the men’s draw and seven of the top 16 in the women’s had been knocked out.

In 2013, by the end of the second round seven of the top seeds in the men’s draw, including Nadal and Federer, had been knocked out and nine of the top 16 in the women’s.

So, why do we get this scale of upset at Wimbledon?  There are a number of factors to consider.

  • Wimbledon seed the women according to the rankings, except where there is an exceptional case to be made, e.g. Serena Williams (in at 25 at the expense of Dominika Cibulkova (both still in the draw).  For the men there is a published formula which re-orders the top 32 players in the rankings based upon an adjustment for grass court performance.
  • The grass is reputedly playing a little faster this year
  • Despite the meticulous grooming, grass is a less predictable surface and will, at times, require late adjustments.  Players have to learn to adjust as they do when they move to play on clay.
  • Along with this almost all the players are coming from playing on clay (the slowest surface) to adjusting to play on the fastest and least predictable surface, with a relatively short preparation period ahead of Wimbledon.

At one level it illustrates the depth in both the men’s and women’s games.  More importantly, it  demonstrates the need to adjust to the context in which the game is being played.  Playing too far back may give more time but leaves the player exposed to the angles.

As the upsets have continued (as they did in 2013) the second week will be interesting. 10 years on we may yet have another Federer/Nadal final!

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