Roger Federer will win Wimbledon, say BCG's data science consultants

09 July 2018 5 min. read

As Wimbledon enters its second week, the competition is heating up. Defending Roger Federer looks in good shape, as do his main rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, with young gun Alexander Zeverev and experienced Argentine Juan Martin del Potro also hoping to displace the Swiss king of tennis from his throne. However, the odds for a surprise are small, according to two experts in data science at The Boston Consulting Group.

Wimbledon 2018 is the 131st edition of the world’s oldest lawn tennis competition. The Championship this year takes place without Andy Murray, with the former world number one still on the comeback trail following a hip operation, although the fans will still have plenty to cheer for thanks to the presence of Roger Federer – arguably one of the greatest players to have ever graced Centre Court. Over the years, Federer’s flair, stamina and sportsmanship have seen him win over Wimbledon crowds, not just as a champion, but a permanent fixture of the tennis scenery.

For Federer, this year’s Wimbledon comes at a cross-roads in the 20 time Grand Slam winner’s stellar career. While “the end of the age of Federer” has been heralded for at least ten years without ever coming to fruition, the 36 year old returning Wimbledon champion has shown signs of slowing down in recent months, having hinted at the end of 2017 that he had retired from Davis Cup action, while also suggesting he will not play another Olympics. While the current men’s world number two has said that the only way he would end his career is outright, fans heading to see him at Wimbledon will be acutely aware that there is a shrinking window in which they will be able to witness Federer at the top of his game.

Roger Federer will win Wimbledon, say BCG's data science consultants

With this in mind, the predictions of two data scientists from the consulting world will be music to many fans' ears as the tournament enters its second week. Data science allows people to predict all kinds of things, not just in the world of business. Sport is no exception to this, and analysis by Laurent Acharian and Martin Pocquet – both at BCG Gamma in France (BCG Gamma is BCG's data science consulting arm) – has shown that Roger Federer is the big favourite to win the tournament this Sunday. Unless he is hit by injury, the analysts anticipate that the Centre Court veteran will triumph at Wimbledon for the ninth time on July 15th, scooping a prize fund of £2,200,000.

To come to their conclusions, the researchers estimated the probabilities of victory through an an algorithm that will calculate the probable outcome of each possible match, and simulate several tables at Wimbledon to know the odds of each. To come to player strengths, they modelled the "skill" of each player, then compare it between two players. This "skill" could intuitively represent the combination of the player's talent and his current state of form.

Ranking the players

Using this method on several Wimbledon 2018 draw simulations, and calculating each player's chances of winning on his 127 potential opponents, also based on their current state of form, we obtain the following final victory probabilities: Roger Federer: 59%, Rafael Nadal: 11%, Novak Djokovic: 8%, Grigor Dimitrov: 4%, Nick Kyrgios, Marin Cilic: 3% (though last year’s finalist Marin Cilic has already exited after a major upset by world number 82 Guido Pella) and Juan Martín del Potro and Alexander Zverev both on 1%.

This year, the defending champion was handed an apparently easy draw, having already navigated first and second round ties with comparative ease. Federer's route to the final features the likes of Borna Coric, Sam Querrey, Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov. In comparison, key rival and fellow Grand Slam magnate and current world number one Rafael Nadal's path to the last weekend looks considerably harder on paper, consisting of stars such as Marco Cecchinato, Fabio Fognini, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev.

BCG’s methodology takes this into account. Roger Federer gets the best average score, followed by Rafael Nadal. The pursuers are  Juan-Martin del Potro, or Alexander Zverev, , in the second round. However, while Federer looks set to take to the court on the final Sunday, the researchers note that he is more susceptible to upsets than Nadal as three of his recent defeats have been against players below the top 100.

Having taken a break of three months – essential for the star’s energy management as he approaches the age of 37 – he resumed a fortnight ago and looks in fine form, having won in Stuttgart and followed it up with a final at Halle.

At the same time, Rafael Nadal, rested in the wake of his eleventh title at Roland Garros. The fault of a wrist pain appeared in the last set of his final against Dominic Thiem in Paris, but his time off was primarily motivated by the need to rest after another prolific, but gruelling, season on clay courts, winning five of six tournaments. He will arrive in London without playing a grass tournament, as he did last year – when he lost in the round of 16 against Gilles Muller, something the Spaniard will be keen to avoid, potentially setting up another chapter in the epic sequence of championship finals between himself and his Swiss nemesis.

Novak Djokovic is on the same side of the draw as Nadal, so only one can face Federer ultimately. The other great rival of Federer is also on an upward incline, however. A quarter-finalist in Paris, the Serb reached the final in Queens, but while he is improving, Djokovic’s game is still not at the level of his imperious best, which allowed him to win the event in 2011, 2014 and 2015.

Related: Infosys and ATP serve up AI tennis technology innovation.