Well, we’re officially into the meat of the 2020 WTA season, and with 10 WTA events and one Grand Slam in the books, we have 11 different tournament champions. With an eye towards the rest of the year, these are the WTA players off to the hottest starts in 2020.
Winning Players on the WTA Tour
When I’m analyzing tennis players on the WTA tour, I put them through a test consisting of five different statistical categories. I wish I could say I came up with these five categories, but alas, I did not; they’re from an excellent article written by Jeffery Ruth, where he discounts the serve as the driving force behind winning on the WTA Tour.
The key to victory, according to Jeffery Ruth? The return game. And break points saved, the only one of the five statistics outside the return game.
Five Key Stats to WTA Success
- First-Serve Return Points Won
- Return Games Won
- Break Point Conversion
- Return Points Won
- Break Points Saved
In theory, the woman on the WTA tour leading in these statistical areas should be the players having the most success on the tour, and in turn, the ones most likely to win as the year progresses.
To phrase this another way, ranking or previous tour wins aren’t necessarily the best indicators of future tennis success. The best predictor of future tennis success is the woman who controls the return game… plus break points saved.
One qualifier: Players need at least seven matches to qualify–the lowest total number of matches played by any woman inside the top 20 (throwing out Johanna Konta, with three matches).
1) First-Serve Return Points Won
- Simona Halep, 43%
- Elise Mertens, 41.9%
- Lauren Davis, 41.7%
- Madison Keys, 41.5%
- Saisai Zheng, 41.1%
2) Return Games Won
- Simona Halep, 46.4%
- Elise Mertens, 45.7%
- Caroline Wozniacki, 44.0%
- Marketa Vondrousova, 42.4%
- Nao Hibino, 42.4%
3) Break Point Conversion
- Kiki Bertens, 56.8%
- Belinda Bencic, 56.6%
- Julia Goerges, 54.0%
- Svetlana Kuznetsova, 53.8%
- Ashleigh Barty, 53.4%
4) Return Points Won
- Simona Halep, 47.5%
- Elise Mertens, 47.3%
- Caroline Wozniacki, 47.2%
- Nao Hibino, 46.8%
- Petra Kvitova, 46.5%
5) Break Points Saved
- Serena Williams, 76.7%
- Karolina Pliskova, 76.3%
- Danielle Collins, 71.9%
- Petra Martic, 70.4%
- Naomi Osaka, 66.7%
So, now we have a list of the woman on the WTA tour having the most success in the five most important statistical categories necessary to winning tennis matches. Now what do we do? Well, we rank them, of course.
#1 Simona Halep: She’s #1 in three of the five categories,
#2 Elise Mertens: She’s #2 in three of the five categories, and just behind Halep in each.
#3 Nao Hibino: Placed in the top five twice.
#4 Caroline Wozniacki: Placed in the top five twice.
Players off the Hottest Starts in 2020
Simona Halep, Elise Mertens, Nao Hibino and Caroline Wozniacki. Moving forward, we’ll exclude Wozniacki due to retirement, but I feel it’s worth noting she was having a great year in 2020 before she called it quits (Semifinal at ASB Classic 2020, Round of 32 at the Australian Open). I have a feeling we might see her again at some point.
Going forward, these are the players to watch for the rest of the 2020 WTA season. How have they done so far this season?
Simona Halep: Win at Dubai, semifinal at Australian Open.
Elise Mertens: Round of 16 at Dubai, quarterfinals at Qatar.
Nao Hibino: Semifinal Thailand Open, Round of 16 at Abierto Mexicano.
Look for these players to have great years in 2020. Halep and Mertens are serious contenders to hoist Grand Slam trophies this year. I’d take Halep as an early favorite to win the French Open and Wimbledon (she’s won each once before) and Mertens as a favorite to win the US Open (past Doubles winner, quarters last year). And I wouldn’t bet against Hibino at any tournament; expect her to soar in the rankings this year.