Small margins in tennis – a historical look

Two days back, I’d shared this image of Novak Djokovic’s evolution from a 100+ ranked tennis player to world number 1. The noteworthy relationship in the article is the link between % points won and % matches won.

A tennis point is inherently 50-50 (either the player or the opponent). But, when Djokovic improved his abilities enough to win 52% of the points, he increased his % of matches won to 79%. And, at 55%, we were at an awe inspiring 90%.

A friend followed up with an article that showed these stats for world number 1s in the last ~30 years.

Points: Winning Percentage Year-End No. 1 Total
55% 12
54% 7
53% 4
56% 3
TOTAL 26

It turns out that increasing your ability to win a point by 5% in your favor almost guarantees you a place on top of the worlds rankings.

This is fascinating not just because of the small margins involved (we covered that). The data is also fascinating as it shows how world champions have gotten better and better – the last time we saw a world number 1 with 53% points winning percentage was 2001.

My biggest reflection from these stats is the compound effect of winning a few extra points consistently. In tennis as in life, small and consistent efforts show up incredible well over the long run.