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Mark Lawrenson, Bakery Products and the Serena Slam

Is Mark Lawrenson a genius?

As is usually the case at this stage in the season, we start getting a range of articles on the 'lad banter' websites making fun of Mark Lawrenson and poking fun at how ridiculous his predictions and final league table are. Indeed, when he even gets teams in the correct position in the league, the fact that he has not predicted their actual points correctly is the next target.

However, how bad really are his predictions? We can take every match prediction that he has made this season and put a hypothetical £10 on the result that he predicts. With one week left in the season, he has made 365 predictions thus far, giving a total amount staked of £3,650. Using the Pinnacle closing odds from football-data.co.uk, Mark Lawrenson would actually have made a profit of £602.20 this season, giving him an impressive return of 16.5%.

This analysis has been done for previous seasons as well elsewhere. Using the analysis predominantly from wearepremierleague.com, we can see that he has done well in the past as well, recording a 17.5% return in 2012/13, 11.0% return in 2013/14 and 7.2% in 2015/16. The only season in the past five in which he has recorded a loss was the 2014/15 season, where he lost at 3.7%.

This means that if you had put £10 on every prediction from Mark Lawrenson in the past five seasons, you would have made £1,419 at a return of 8.6%. Almost any professional gambler would be happy with that return - maybe Mark Lawrenson is far smarter than we all realise...

Nadal, Carreno Busta and Tomic - the ATP bakery

Recently, I have been looking at how many bakery sets (6-0 bagels or 6-1 breadsticks) various players in the ATP have won in the past 12 months. One interesting stat is that Gael Monfils has won the same number of bagel sets as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic combined. However, what I was really looking into was what percentage of sets each player won by one of these dominant scorelines. Of those players with at least 100 sets played in the past 12 months, here are the top players:

This is obviously dependent to an extent on the quality of opponents - a few matches against local wildcards gives a real opportunity for bakery sets, but what really stands out is how many dominant sets Rafael Nadal wins. Interestingly, he actually wins very few bagel sets - just three in the past 12 months, which is less than the likes of Pablo Carreno Busta, Gilles Simon and Benoit Paire. However, he has no equal when it comes to 6-1 sets. He has won 24 6-1 sets in the past 12 months in just 135 sets, meaning that 17.8% of the sets that he has played have finished with this scoreline.

At the other end of the scale, it is no surprise to see the big servers like Karlovic and Isner. Given the quality of their return games, it would be quite the shock if they were to win dominant sets, even against weaker opposition. However, they are both better than Bernard Tomic, who has just the one 6-1 set in the past 12 months, which came against Thomaz Bellucci at the Australian Open.

One interesting thing to note is that when it comes to opening set bagels, nobody has more in the past 12 months than Pablo Carreno Busta. The Spaniard, who has made great strides up the rankings in the past 12 months, has won no fewer than four opening set bagels, twice as many as any other player.

Serena Slam

In the wake of Serena's pregnancy and the question over whether she will return to tennis, I thought I would take a look at her level over the past seven years. If we use her combined score (% points won on serve + % points won on return), we can get a proxy for the quality of her game over this period.

We can see the incredible rise through the middle and end of 2012 and the peak in the 2013 US Open final against Victoria Azarenka, where her combined score came perilously close to hitting the 120 mark, which is simply unbelievable. As a comparison, at his most dominant last year, Novak Djokovic's combined score just rose above 115, so to come close to 120 is almost beyond comprehension. It is testament to Azarenka's quality that she was able to live with Serena for so long in that US Open final.

Unsurprisingly, that level was unsustainable as she aged and we see her drop down to the 112-114 range, which is still elite. It is interesting to note how much her level had dropped from its peak during the period in which she won the Serena Slam for the second time. While she was clearly still dominant, she was being pushed more than before in those matches.

For a number of years, the numbers have suggested that Serena Williams has been in decline as I have written about previously. The common response to this has usually been that she is still number #1 and is still winning slams. The simple reality is that her level was so unbelievable high before that she can decline a long way before any other players start to come close to her. That she is in decline and that she is still the best player can both be true.


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