US Open Elo preview

<i>Novak Djokovic
at the US Open. Image credit: Getty Images</i>
Novak Djokovic at the US Open. Image credit: Getty Images

I’m a little bit late (the first round has already started!), but I wanted to briefly write about the ratings I have for this year’s US Open. These ratings are based on a new variant of Elo I’ve been working on which takes into account surface effects, margin of victory, retirements, the format (best of five / best of three), and slam effects. They’re still a bit experimental, but they seem to improve predictions overall. Of course, with the coronavirus pandemic disrupting most of this season, there is probably even more uncertainty in forecasting than usual, but I am not taking this into account here.

On the men’s side, here are the 16 highest-ranked players. The columns show their hard-court Elo ratings, the estimated slam addition, and their total rating:

  Hard Slam+ Total
1. Novak Djokovic 2201 42 2243
2. Stefanos Tsitsipas 1982 -8 1974
3. Milos Raonic 1916 10 1927
4. Daniil Medvedev 1923 -11 1911
5. Roberto Bautista Agut 1905 5 1910
6. Andrey Rublev 1877 11 1887
7. Dominic Thiem 1832 35 1867
8. Alexander Zverev 1874 -16 1858
9. Diego Sebastian Schwartzman 1802 25 1827
10. Jan-Lennard Struff 1816 4 1819
11. Alex De Minaur 1797 4 1801
12. Filip Krajinovic 1816 -17 1798
13. David Goffin 1791 6 1797
14. Matteo Berrettini 1794 2 1796
15. Andy Murray 1771 23 1794
16. Denis Shapovalov 1776 10 1786

I don’t think there are too many surprises here. Novak leads the field by a large margin and is the clear favourite. He’s almost 300 points clear of Stefanos Tsitsipas, who comes in second. Djokovic and Thiem have the highest slam additions, and Krajinovic and Zverev lose a few points (-17 and -16). Raonic is third on account of his run to the finals in Cincinnati, but Medvedev and Bautista Agut aren’t far behind. I’ve crossed out Diego Schwartzman, who has already lost to Norrie.

Thiem’s ranking is perhaps a little low, but I suspect it’s a consequence of his relatively poor showings at the Rio Open (lost in the quarters) and in Cincinnati (where he lost 6-2 6-1 to Krajinovic). I also discard exhibitions, which I think is generally a good idea, but his performances there have been quite good, which might weigh in his favour somewhat. It could be that the model is reading too much into his last result against Krajinovic.

Overall, it’s going to be Novak vs. the rest. I’m really curious to see what will happen!

Here’s the situation on the women’s side:

  Hard Slam+ Total
1. Serena Williams 1916 125 2041
2. Elise Mertens 1959 54 2013
3. Naomi Osaka 1950 54 2005
4. Garbine Muguruza 1890 89 1979
5. Petra Kvitova 1935 25 1961
6. Karolina Pliskova 1928 -9 1919
7. Aryna Sabalenka 1922 -9 1913
8. Madison Keys 1851 44 1896
9. Anett Kontaveit 1887 8 1895
10. Johanna Konta 1878 15 1893
11. Victoria Azarenka 1846 40 1886
12. Ons Jabeur 1853 29 1883
13. Jennifer Brady 1855 7 1862
14. Kim Clijsters* 1824 27 1852
15. Sofia Kenin 1827 24 1851
16. Karolina Muchova 1821 21 1842

This list has a few more surprises. Firstly, the model estimates that slam effects are considerably larger on the women’s side, which is interesting. This propels Serena Williams to the top of the list. I’m really not sure about this – I’d rate her much lower personally given her recent performances – but it does seem to be consistent with the betting markets, who also have Osaka and Williams as favourites. On the other hand, Clijsters at 14 seems obviously problematic. She’s only played two matches this year, so I think it’s unlikely that the ratings have adjusted enough, and I’m giving her an asterisk.

Unlike the betting markets, these ratings seem to like Mertens’ chances. She did have a good run in Cincinnati and Prague, so I don’t think this is too crazy, and it’ll be interesting to keep an eye on her.

Overall, the field for the women is much more crowded, with no standout favourite. Lots of players come with question marks. Just to list a few: Serena may be rated too highly, Mertens has never won a slam, Osaka retired in Cincinnati, Muguruza hasn’t played since February, Kvitova and Pliskova lost in the first round of Cincinnati… It’ll be fascinating to see who can separate themselves from the rest and win this year.

All in all, I hope you find this quick look at the ratings interesting, and I’m curious to see how well they hold up over the course of the tournament!

Written on September 1, 2020