The luckiest of the Big 4 revealed

The US Open draw is now complete and, as usual, there are lots of discussions ongoing on who has the toughest draw and who was lucky.

This year it’s only Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal competing in the final Grand Slam of the year but to end the debate we looked at the past Majors and will answer the question: Generally, who of the Big 4 has the luckiest draw?

Tennis match at the US Open

Definition of Lucky

There might be a lot of definitions for a lucky draw, but in the end the results show how lucky a draw was. Our analysis is based upon a very simple logic: starting from the 3rd round, if a player’s opponent isn’t the highest possible seed player, the player is considered lucky in this match.

To better understand this, let’s look at a concrete example. We picked the last Grand Slam, Wimbledon 2017 where Roger Federer managed to win his 19th Major title. His matches to the trophy:

Round  Tournament Seeded Opponent Opp. Seeded
First Roger Federer 3 Alexandr Dolgopolov
Second Roger Federer 3 Dusan Lajovic
Third Roger Federer 3 Mischa Zverev 27
Fourth Roger Federer 3 Grigor Dimitrov 13
1/4 Roger Federer 3 Milos Raonic 6
1/2 Roger Federer 3 Tomas Berdych 11
Final Roger Federer 3 Marin Cilic 7

Based on the definition, we only start looking at the matches from the third round, as it’s the first chance two seeded players can meet. Mischa Zverev was seeded, so we don’t consider it lucky. Next, Dimitrov in the last 16 was the highest possible seed for the round, so this isn’t lucky either. In the QF, Federer met Raonic, who was seeded 6, so again, not lucky for Roger because he met someone from the top 8 seeds. 

The semi-final against Berdych was however lucky, as Berdych wasn’t among the top 4 seeds. Similarly, his draw in the final was lucky too, as Cilic was ranked 7 (and not 1 or 2).

Luck Rate

If we continue to look at the example above, we can define “Luck Rate” by simply dividing the number of his lucky matches with all the matches taken into account. For this year’s Wimbledon, Federer’s Luck Rate was 0.4, as only 2 of his 5 matches is considered lucky. (The higher the number, the luckier the player was.)

Now, that we clarified the basics, let’s get to the exciting part… who is the luckiest of them all? Federer, Nadal, Djokovic or Murray?

We dug deep and analysed all Grand Slam matches of the Big Four, and this is what we got:

Player No. matches No. lucky matches Luck Rate
Rafael Nadal 157 89 0.567
Roger Federer 242 126 0.521
Novak Djokovic 178 89 0.500
Andy Murray 142 69 0.486

So, we’ve got the answer: the luckiest player is Rafael Nadal. Out of his 157 matches played at Grand Slams after the second round, he evaded the highest possible seed 89 times which means that his Luck Rate is 0.567 (he was lucky in 56.7% of the matches).

Federer is the second luckiest with Luck Rate 0.521, then Djokovic, being lucky in exactly 50% of his matches. Andy Murray seems to get the toughest draws with Luck Rate down at 0.486.

Luckiest Grand Slam Wins

Now, you might wonder who was the luckiest on the way to his Grand Slam titles… We took a look at this too. 

Let’s first see the luckiest wins, where Luck Rate was 0.8 or 1.0 (oh yes, there was one Major win with the winner being lucky in all his matches).

Player Tournament No. Matches No. Lucky Matches Luck Rate
Rafael Nadal 2017 French Open – Paris 5 5 1
Andy Murray 2016 Wimbledon – London 5 4 0.8
Novak Djokovic 2014 Wimbledon – London 5 4 0.8
Rafael Nadal 2010 French Open – Paris 5 4 0.8
Rafael Nadal 2010 U.S. Open – New York 5 4 0.8
Rafael Nadal 2013 U.S. Open – New York 5 4 0.8
Roger Federer 2003 Wimbledon – London 5 4 0.8
Roger Federer 2006 U.S. Open – New York 5 4 0.8
Roger Federer 2009 French Open – Paris 5 4 0.8

Yes, you guessed it right. Nadal is the only player of the Big 4 ever winning a Grand Slam by always evading the highest seed. This was Nadal’s path to his 10th French Open title:

Round Player Evaded Player Met
Third Simon (31) Basilashvili
Fourth Sock (14) Bautista Agut (17)
¼ Raonic (5) Carreno Busta (20)
½ Djokovic (2) Thiem (6)
Final Murray (1) Wawrinka (3)

Hardest Grand Slam Wins

It’s worth to look at the opposite end too… who had to fight really hard to win a major? Here’s the list of wins with Luck Rate 0.2 or 0.0 …

Player Tournament No. Matches No. Lucky Matches Luck Rate
Novak Djokovic 2016 Australian Open – Melbourne 5 0 0
Novak Djokovic 2011 Australian Open – Melbourne 5 1 0.2
Novak Djokovic 2013 Australian Open – Melbourne 5 1 0.2
Rafael Nadal 2006 French Open – Paris 5 1 0.2

As you can see Djokovic had to fight to get the win in the 2016 AO with victories over Seppi (28), Simon (14), Nishikori (7), Federer (3) and Murray (2). Other than that, Djokovic took 3 of 4 for hardest draws in Big 4 Grand Slam history.

Summary

So, again, Rafa had the luckiest draws with Federer following as second. The only major victory with all lucky matches is Nadal’s too. Djokovic had the only occasion when one of the Big 4 had to always meet the highest seed en route to victory.