Forget the Controversy – Stats Say Serena was Outplayed

Forget the controversy. The stats tell the story of Saturday’s US Open Women’s final between Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams.

Serving Stats

It’s pretty unusual for Serena to be outdone on serving stats, but she was, and by quite a margin. The stats below illustrate pretty clearly that Serena’s first serve percentage was too low. It got better in the second set compared to the first, but an overall first serve percentage of 54.55% vs your opponent’s 72.73% is a marked difference.

It’s even more marked because Osaka’s no slouch on the aces and unreturnables. She served 16 to Serena’s 12. Serena’s cause wasn’t helped by 6 double faults. Two in a row were crucial at 3-1, 30-15 in the second set. That gave the momentum back to Osaka after Williams had fought so hard to break for 3-1.

Using the magnifying glass icon next to First Serve on the Gt Stats’ Stats screen reveals where both players missed their serves. Note how Serena was obviously pushing hard on the first serve. It’s unusual for a professional player to have the majority of their first serves miss wide, as opposed to long or in the net. Osaka’s yellow piece of pie is tiny by comparison.

Stats Off the Ground

Not much was made of the fact that Osaka kept drilling the ball at the Williams backhand. Both players had similar stats off the forehand. Serena’s backhand didn’t fire though. She made 9 unforced errors off that side compared to 4 winners and forced errors. One of those backhand errors came on the back of the two double faults mentioned above. Those three errors in a row completely changed the momentum of the second set.

The Unforced Error Location graph shows that Williams hit 4 of those 9 backhand errors in the net. Another 4 long. She wasn’t going for the same width on her backhand that she was trying for on the first serve.

The other interesting groundstroke stat that we can isolate using GT Stats is Return of Serve. No problem off the backhand wing there for Serena, although she might like to think about going to Osaka’s backhand when serving next time they play.

Controversy Aside

It’s a shame that Saturday’s final will be remembered for the second set controversy rather than the way Naomi Osaka played for the entire match. We’ll never know for sure whether the Game Penalty at 4-3 in the second set cost Williams the match. What is certain is that Naomi Osaka was on top of the stats by a long way and deserved to take out her first grand slam title.

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