This may surprise the casual tennis observer: Even after a straight-sets win that, on paper, resembles a blowout, the loser has often won almost as many points as the winner. The loser just didn’t win them in the right sequence. That’s a quirk of tennis’s scoring system, which bundles points into games, and games into sets, while sets are what count towards victory. You can win a game at love, and you can win a game after a laborious deuce, but both games get compressed into just one 1 in the box score. (A few drawn-out deuces, with the ad pinging back and forth, can help level out the point spoils of an apparently lopsided match.) It’s possible, and not especially rare, to lose a close match despite winning more total points than your opponent. In tennis the margin of victory is always slimmer than you’d expect.
Perhaps this was an enlightening lesson. Feel free to crumple it up and dunk it into the trash as you consider Rafael Nadal’s third-round match against world No. 63 Nikoloz Basilashvili, which was a blowout in exactly the way its 6-0, 6-1, 6-0 scoreline screams. Nadal won 82 points while his opponent won 36. He won 69.5 percent of available points. Per Tennis Abstract, only two other times in Nadal’s career has he smothered an opponent more thoroughly in a best-of-five match, and both took place here at Roland Garros: He won 69.6 percent while pasting Sam Groth in the first round last year, and and 71.6 percent while drubbing Dusan Lajovic in the round of 16 in 2014. Though it was barely recognizable as a tennis match, this morning a 30-year-old Nadal delivered one of the most dominant performances of his career.
I’d show you some points from the contest, but this feels much more illustrative.