Why Zverev’s Win over Djokovic was NOT an Upset

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In the final of the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals, 21-year old Alexander Zverev avenged his round robin loss with victory over World No.1 Novak Djokovic to secure the biggest title of his career. 

No.3 seeded Zverev beat the 5-time champion Djokovic (who is 10 years his senior) 6-4, 6-3, reversing a 6-4, 6-1 loss he suffered to the Serbian earlier in the week. Many pundits have touted this result as a significant upset, as we can see from the predictions of the Sky Sports team before the match.

However, I strongly disagreed with this sentiment. In fact, I thought this was the expected result and a Djokovic win would be an upset. This is because over recent editions of both the ATP Finals and WTA Finals, finals involving players who faced each other in the Round Robin stage usually had the opposite outcome. This can be seen in the table below. (Mobile readers may need to turn their phones sideways to see the table.)

Including this result, the outcome of the Round Robin match was reversed in the Final in four out of the last five occasions where this was possible. This only exception was Grigor Dimitrov beating David Goffin twice in last year’s ATP Finals, but this was understandable given that their playing styles match up so heavily in Dimitrov’s favour (hence a 10-1 head to head record in their past meetings).

Aside from this anomaly, I expect this trend to be one that continues in the years to come. This is because of the slimming gap between the ability of the top players in tennis. In addition, with the increasing amount of prize money available and tournaments (and exhibitions) on offer, players are much more likely to suffer from lack of incentive, complacency, and mental fatigue. As a result players are less likely to get pumped for the same match-up twice within a few days, especially after a long grueling season.

Therefore, if there is a conclusion to be gained from the result of yesterday it is that if there is a repeat match within the same tournament, expect the result to be reversed!