Friday, December 20, 2013

Tennis' Greatest Rivalry Outside the Top 10

I've written about this rivalry once before and it deserves another mention, because nobody else is writing about it. If you throw aside any rivalry that involves any of the Big Four, the best rivalry in tennis is between Andreas Seppi and Denis Istomin. Yes, two players outside the top 20 in the world have that great of a rivalry. Forget about Isner/Mahut, Almagro/Berdych, and Tsonga/Wawrinka. The rivalry between Istomin and Seppi is the best of these rivalries.

Istomin (Uzb) is ranked 45 in the world
and reached R16 at the US Open
Not only have the players met several times, they have broken each others' hearts and played some incredible matches on the biggest stages. In 2013, the average amount of time a match lasted between these two was exactly 3.5 hours.They were on court against each other for a total of 10.5 hours this season.

The frequency with which the pair meets in the grand slams is incredible. The pair has met twice in the first round of slams, once in the second round, and once in the third round.  Also, all three of their first meetings, which were not in slams, were first round encounters.

Then, what happens when the pair meets in slams is even more incredible. All four of their meetings in slams have gone five sets. It's rare that two players who have never even sniffed the top 10 would have played one five-set match against each other. But the pair has now played four five-set matches against each other on the biggest stages of the sport.
Roland Garros is now the only major where the pair has not battled out a five-set match. I haven't done the research, but I'm willing to bet no other pair of players in tennis history have had five-set encounters at all four of the majors. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have contested four-setters at every slam, but have only gone the distance at the Australian Open and Rolland Garros.

Seppi has established himself as a marathon man. The Italian played in eight five-set matches in 2013 and finished with a record of 7-1 in those matches. The only loss was in the round of 32 at the US Open to Istomin 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-1. Those were all relatively short sets for the two however.
Seppi (Ita) is ranked 25 in the world and has played multiple
five-set matches at four of the last seven majors,
including three at Rolland Garros 2012.
The first 13 sets played in grand slams in the rivalry lasted on average 11.7 games. Those 13 sets consisted of six tiebreakers, two 7-5 sets, and an 8-6 set. Because of this, the average length of the four five-set matches was 327.75 points. To put that into perspective, the 2007 Wimbledon final between Nadal and Federer lasted 323 points. So the average grand slam match between Istomin and Seppi is longer than the epic 2007 Wimbledon Final. Also less than eight points shy of this year's epic Rolland Garros semifinal between Nadal and Djokovic.

So keep an eye out when the Australian Open draw is released to see where Istomin and Seppi are. We could see a fifth five-set match in the greatest rivalry that nobody is talking about.

1 comment:

  1. Quite remarkable really - I had no idea this was going on but I am a relatively new fan of Istomin (since I usually just follow the Canadian players).