In many ways, losing a set, or a match, simply means you ran out of time to unearth a winning strategy. When adversity strikes, the value of time skyrockets.
The best players in the world intimately know the importance of time, making matches last longer when they are under attack, giving them a few extra ticks on the clock to find an answer to their troubles.
An Infosys ATP Beyond the Numbers analysis of tour-level matches played by the Top 10 players in the Emirates ATP Rankings from the 2015 season up to the 2016 Australian Open shows how the various elite players successfully manage the asset of time. As a general rule, you want to play quicker when things are falling your way, not allowing time for any surprises to appear. It’s the complete opposite when the opponent is dominating.
Time Of Set
Roger Federer’s average time winning a set was the quickest of the Top 10 at 36 minutes. He will often breeze through a service game in barely a minute and some change. Federer also led the Top 10 in stretching out adversity, lengthening the sets he loses on average by 10 minutes, to 46 minutes
Set Av. Winning
Set Time Av. Losing
Set Time Difference
Roger Federer 36 mins 46 mins +10 mins
Novak Djokovic 42 mins 49 mins +7 mins
Andy Murray 44 mins 50 mins +6 mins
Tomas Berdych 41 mins 45 mins +4 mins
David Ferrer 43 mins 47 mins +4 mins
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 41 mins 45 mins +4 mins
Richard Gasquet 40 mins 43 mins +3 mins
Rafael Nadal 46 mins 48 mins +2 mins
Kei Nishikori 42 mins 43 mins +1 min
Stan Wawrinka 42 mins 39 mins -3 mins
AVERAGE 42 mins 46 mins 4 mins
That’s very clever time management. What’s extremely fascinating is that the average time it takes Rafael Nadal to win a set (46 minutes), is exactly the same time it takes Federer to lose one. Different strokes for different folks. Tennis is such an empowering sport that allows a variety of contrasting game styles the ability to be successful.
Where Federer manages to play longer when losing a set, his compatriot Stan Wawrinka, is in stark contrast. Wawrinka averaged 42 minutes winning a set, which was exactly the same as the Top 10 average, but only 39 minutes when losing a set.
He was the only Top 10 player to play shorter when losing. The Top 10 averaged an extra four minutes longer playing sets they lose – prolonging the finish line four more minutes in the hope of somehow turning things around.
Time Of The Match
Federer earns the distinction of averaging the quickest match times when winning (89 minutes), and also the longest match times when losing (143 minutes).
Federer is clearly in a rush when ahead, but stretches time out when behind, exploring all strategic options.
Match Av. Winning
Match Time Av. Losing
Match Time Av. Match Time
Novak Djokovic 112 mins 137 mins 113 mins
Andy Murray 116 mins 131 mins 118 mins
Roger Federer 89 mins 143 mins 96 mins
Stan Wawrinka 114 mins 105 mins 112 mins
Rafael Nadal 112 mins 133 mins 117 mins
Kei Nishikori 104 mins 107 mins 105 mins
Tomas Berdych 101 mins 116 mins 105 mins
David Ferrer 107 mins 115 mins 109 mins
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 118 mins 123 mins 120 mins
Richard Gasquet 105 mins 111 mins 107 mins
Richard Gasquet 108 mins 122 mins 110 mins
What’s interesting is that the average match time (110 minutes) was only two minutes longer (108 minutes) than the winning average. Time is an omnipotent force that you can’t see or touch, but plays a pivotal role in riding out a storm, or storming to the finish line.