Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Stakhovsky Delivers Controversial Comments After Upsetting Gulbis

Fans of women's tennis were likely thrilled to see Ernests Gulbis, who offered some controversial comments on women in tennis a few weeks ago, make an early exit from Wimbledon today. However, that joy was quickly negated when his defeater Sergiy Stakhovsky once again spoke out against equal prize money for women.

Although his comments may upset many fans, I enjoyed reading the transcript of what Stakhovsky said and also found nothing wrong with what he had to say. Before I get into the controversial part of the press conference, here are some of the amusing things he had to say.

On beating Federer last year: "Um, yeah, yeah. Was not a bad result."

On similarites between Federer and Gulbis: "Not even close. Roger and Ernests on grass is like Rafa and me on clay."

On Ernests' antics: "I was trying not to get too much in conversation with him, but it’s hard not to."

On what he did wrong after beating Federer last year: "Like 355 press conferences"

Stakhovsky in his interview today, like every other interview of his that I have read or seen, was honest, realistic, and bold. Those are three things that are rarely seen from the top players in the game right now, which is a big reason why Gulbis called the Big Four boring last year.

When asked about his views on equal prize money, which he has already explained several times before, Stakhovsky answered honestly as if it were the first time. "Look, my position is never changing. The man is only as good as his word is. I don’t think that equal prize money is in the right place. It’s not about the physical and anything else. It’s just the value of the product is different. That’s it."

It's not a new argument in the ongoing debate about equal prize money, but it is different from things Gilles Simon, Janko Tipsarevic, and Gulbis have said. I believe that there is nothing to be upset about in this argument that Stakhovsky made.

Many times players argue that men should be paid more because they play best-of-5 at the slams and in general practice more. When players make that argument, it is understandable that fans of women's tennis are outraged. Longer matches don't make matches better. Many matches at Masters 1000 events are far more competitive than the countless first round blowouts at majors for men. There is nothing about best-of-3 tennis that is inferior to best-of-5.

Also, the idea that men practice more is based purely off anecdotal evidence. Whether true or not, prize money is a prize for what players do on the match court, not the practice court. Players don't receive checks at the end of a tournament based on how much they practiced. It is based on what round they reached from the matches played.

Stakhovsky didn't go that route in his answer to the question on equal prize money. Instead of arguing quantity, he argued quality. He claimed that how much men and women are paid in prize money should be based on how good of a product they present. And that's an argument that makes sense.

Take this for example. Except for three tournaments each year for the men, singles and doubles for both men and women play almost the same number of sets per at each tournament (some tournaments do 10-point tiebreakers in lieu of third sets). However, the doubles players receive just a small fraction of what the singles players get for the same result. Why? Because singles presents a better product.

Nobody claims that doubles players are being discriminated against when they receive less money. Everybody simply accepts that singles is more popular and draws in more fans than doubles, so they deserve more money. It should be the same way for prize money between men and women. How much money players from each tour earn should be determined independently.

With a policy of equal prize money in place, if the women's tour became more popular than the men's tour some day (which is a distinct possibility), women wouldn't be able to earn more prize money than men. The idea of giving women the same amount as men in prize money regardless of merit will prevent women from ever earning more than men.

Many people like to make this topic an ideological debate, but for Stakhovsky, who has never been a dominant force on the men's tour, it is a very real issue. Stakhovsky has earned 3.1 million dollars in his career, most of which went towards covering his expenses. Stakhovsky has done a lot as a member of the ATP Players Council to help raise prize money for lower ranked players. For him, this isn't an argument about the role of women in tennis or society in general. It's about making the tour a better place for his peers and future players.

Realistically, prize money isn't going away any time soon, which is a good thing. Still, it was nice to hear Stakhovsky answer honestly on a controversial topic when asked about it. Later in the interview, he said that he doesn't believe that he should be the president of the council. "Let’s be realistic, I’m 90 in the world. We have Simon, we Wawrinka, so we have players who can represent us better just by their name."

Stakhovsky's comment will be used to suggest that sexism is an issue in tennis. However, a more close look at the interview and the big picture shows that the Ukrainian was being honest about a topic that directly affects him. Like the whole interview, he answered the question on equal prize money honestly and fairly.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Defending Champ Murray lands on Djokovic's side; Nadal gets Federer

The 2014 gentlemen's singles draw ceremony has been completed, setting the stage for a great Wimbledon with a potential rematch of the 2013 final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, while Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will have to navigate a difficult bottom half of the draw.

Here's a quick overview of the draw:

Toughest Path: Rafael Nadal
Nadal opens against Martin Klizan, who is a dangerous and powerful left-hander, but that will be the easiest match for the Spaniard if he survives it. His second round will be against Lukas Rosol, who defeated him in the second round of the 2012 Wimbledon.

His third round is against Ivo Karlovic, which would have been the one person he was dreading facing in the third round. If he survives those three, he gets the winner of an all-French battle between Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet. His quarterfinal match could be against anyone really.

The most likely candidates are Raonic, Kohlschreiber, and Nishikori, who have all done well against Nadal before. Kohlschreiber would probably be the most dangerous, since he defeated Nadal in Halle 2012. In the semifinals, Nadal would face Federer, and his final opponent would be the winner of Murray and Djokovic.

Easiest Path: Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov opens with a fairly tough match for a first-rounder facing American qualifier Ryan Harrison. However, his draw opens up after that. In the third round, he should face Alexandr Dolgopolov, but the Ukranian has been vulnerable to upsets, and might not even get that far.

Because of Dimitrov's seeding, he has to face someone seeded between five and eight in the fourth round, and he will get David Ferrer, which is the most winnable of the four options. Dimitrov would have to hope for some upsets to open up his draw a little, because Murray, Djokovic, and either Federer or Nadal are his next three opponents. Still, a pretty easy path to the quarterfinals for a player outside the top 10 is a great draw.

Most exciting potential match ups per round
1st Round: Dustin Brown vs. Marcos Baghdatis
2nd Round: Rafael Nadal vs. Lukas Rosol
3rd Round: Rafael Nadal vs. Ivo Karlovic
4th Round: Lleyton Hewitt vs. Roger Federer
Quarterfinals: Rafael Nadal vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber
Semifinals: Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray
Final: Andy Murray vs. Roger Federer

Potential Upsets:
Feliciano Lopez vs. John Isner
Ernests Gulbis vs. Tomas Berdych
Ivo Karlovic vs. Rafael Nadal
Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. Kei Nishikori
Alex Kuznetsov vs. Fabio Fognini
Lleyton Hewitt vs. Jerzy Janowicz

Big Four: The last time all of the Big Four reached the semifinals of a major was the 2012 Australian Open. On that occasion, Nadal and Federer were on the bottom half, while Djokovic and Murray were on top. As a result, tennis fans got one of the most exciting ends to a major in recent memory.

Djokovic enters this tournament as the odds-makers favorite, but Federer has been the favorite to win the title for me since his victory in Halle, and the way the draw has turned out, only strengthens that. Nadal seemed like the only player that could make Federer feel uncomfortable on grass before the tournament. Even though the two are on the same side of the draw, a rematch seems very unlikely.

Murray got a decent draw, and shouldn't have any issue reaching the semifinals. However, it is hard to predict what he will do at that point. His victory at Wimbledon last year was the last time he reached a final of any kind or even beat an opponent ranked in the top 10. On the other hand, a new coaching setup, and a return to the grass of his home country could be just the thing to turn his season around. He has faced the pressure of being ending the British droubt his entire career. For the first time, he will get to play with that load off his back.

Big Takeaway: Nadal couldn't have hand-picked a tougher draw. After winning just two of his last six grass court matches, it will take a massive effort for Nadal just to reach the semifinals. And one of the requirements for Djokovic to overtake Nadal for the No. 1 ranking is that Nadal falls before the semifinals. That looks very likely now.

The other requirement is that Djokovic wins the title, which is still a big ask for the Serb on the heels of a disappointing loss in Paris. Also, his health is uncertain after he withdrew from his match against Robin Haase at the Boodles. Still, just like at Roland Garros, a title at Wimbledon will likely mean a return to the No. 1 ranking in the world.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wimbledon Seeds Announced

Wimbledon is the only major where this is still a story. Every other tennis tournament from futures to challengers to tour-level events and each of the other three majors uses the ATP rankings to determine the seeding. However, Wimbledon takes a slightly different approach. Many people believe that Wimbledon alters its seeding just because it likes to be different. However, the reason Wimbledon changes the seeds is because the grass season is so short. Because it is so short, Wimbledon wants their seeding to reflect how well players play on grass more than the ATP rankings do.

Many people also believe that Wimbledon simply picks whoever they want to be seeding whatever they want. Once again, this is inaccurate. Wimbledon's seeding is completely based on a strict formula to avoid any sort of unfair advantage for former champions or British players. This is the formula.

ATP Ranking Points + All points from grass events in last 12 months + 75% of the points earned at their best grass result from previous 12 months

Almost two months ago, I used the formula to try to predict what the Wimbledon seeds would be. Since my predictions came before Madrid, Rome, and Roland Garros along with several 250-point events had been played, my list was simply a projection.

Still, we can use my projected list from two months ago to show that there is no bias involved in how Wimbledon seeds are selected. It also shows that it isn't an insult to Stan Wawrinka or Rafael Nadal to seed them lower than than their ranking. They both got the seed they earned. Novak Djokovic clinched the No. 1 seed when he won Rome, and Wawrinka fell out of the top four after he lost to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

Here are the Wimbledon seeds. The number in parenthesis is what I predicted almost two months ago.

1. Novak Djokovic (1)
2. Rafael Nadal (2)
3. Andy Murray (4)
4. Roger Federer (3)
5. Stan Wawrinka (5)
6. Tomas Berdych (7)
7. David Ferrer (6)
8. Milos Raonic (11)
9. John Isner (8)
10. Kei Nishikori (12)
11. Grigor Dimitrov (14)
12. Ernests Gulbis (16)
13. Richard Gasquet (10)
14. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (13)
15. Jerzy Janowicz (15)
16. Fabio Fognini (9)
17. Mikhail Youzhny (18)
18. Fernando Verdasco (19)
19. Feliciano Lopez (28)
20. Kevin Anderson (23)
21. Alexandr Dolgopolov (21)
22. Philipp Kohlschreiber (27)
23. Tommy Robredo (20)
24. Gael Monfils (22)
25. Nicolas Almagro (17)
26. Andreas Seppi (26)
27. Marin Cilic (25)
28. Roberto Bautista Agut (unseeded)
29. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (unseeded)
30. Ivo Karlovic (unseeded)
31. Marcel Granollers (unseeded)
32. Dmitry Tursunov (32)

So with three major tournaments still to go, I managed to correctly predict seven of the 32 seeds and got 12 predictions within one of the actual seed. If Wimbledon just picked the seeds however they wanted, my predictions wouldn't have been nearly as accurate. Wimbledon follows their formula to the letter.

Murray didn't jump from a tie for fifth in the ATP rankings to No. 3 seed just because he is a Brit. Nadal wasn't dropped to the No. 2 seed out of disrespect. All 32 seeds got the seed that they earned.

Another interesting thing to note is that there is absolutely no difference in terms of the draw in being the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. The most important gaps are at 2/3, 4/5, 8/9, 16/17.

I did several sets of predictions for the Wimbledon seeds. In this article, I used my first set of predictions, but below are links to all of my predictions with the date that I made the predictions.

April 28, 2014
May 4, 2014
May 12, 2014
May 19, 2014

Monday, June 16, 2014

A look back at the 2012 Australian Open

After Guillermo Garcia-Lopez defeated Stan Wawrinka in the first round of Roland Garros, both Andy Murray and Roger Federer clinched top 4 seeds at Wimbledon, meaning the Big Four would be reunited. When the 2014 Wimbledon gentlemen's singles draw is released Wednesday, Novak Djokovic will be the top seed, followed by Rafael Nadal at No. 2, Murray at No. 3, and Federer at No. 4.

It has been two years since all four members of the Big Four made up the top four seeds at a grand slam, which got me thinking about how great tennis was when all four were at their peaks at the same time.

The last time that all four reached the semifinals of the same major was the 2012 Australian Open, which produced one of the best final weekends of a slam in tennis history. Off the top of my head, the only final weekend of a slam that compares was the 1980 US Open.

The Australian Open is typically where the top players produce their best tennis, because it is the first big event after a short off-season, meaning nobody is bringing any sort of injuries into the tournament. On top of that, each member of the Big Four had a fairly easy path to the semifinals, with just three sets dropped in total from the four combined.

The semifinal match-ups couldn't have been any better. On the top half, there was a rematch of the previous year's final, featuring the No. 1 seed and defending champion against one of the greatest players in tennis history that had yet to win a slam. Then on the bottom half was the 27th meeting in the greatest rivalry of all time, featuring two players who had met in eight slam finals and hadn't met before a final in almost seven years.

Both semifinals surpassed expectations. Nadal came back from down a set against Federer to win 6-7(5), 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-4. Djokovic, the defending champion, came just one set away from elimination in his semifinal, but the Serb eventually defeated Murray in an epic fifth set 6-3, 3-6, 6-7(4), 7-5.

Those semifinals, however, were overshadowed by the final they set up, which is considered by some to be the greatest grand slam final of all time. In 5:53, through all the twists and turns, Djokovic defeated Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 to capture his fifth career grand slam title.

Now compare that to the three scores from the final weekend of the 1980 US Open.
Semifinal: Bjorn Borg d. Johan Kriek 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1
Semifinal: John McEnroe d. Jimmy Connors 6-4, 5-7, 0-6, 6-3, 7-6
Final: John McEnroe d. Bjorn Borg 7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4

What the tennis world had in 2012 was right up there as the greatest tennis in the history of the sport. With the return of the Big Four at Wimbledon 2014, could we see a final weekend like the 1980 US Open or 2012 Australian Open? One thing is for sure, unlike Roland Garros a couple weeks ago, Wimbledon is wide open.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mid-season predictions for year-end ATP top 10

After completing two of the four majors and five of the nine Masters 1000 events, the ATP World Tour has reached the unofficial mid-season, providing a good opportunity to reflect on and reevaluate preseason predictions. In December, this was my prediction for what the top 10 would be following the 2014 Davis Cup final.

1. Novak Djokovic
2. Rafael Nadal
3. Andy Murray
4. Juan Martin del Potro
5. Roger Federer
6. Tomas Berdych
7. David Ferrer
8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
9. Stanislas Wawrinka
10. Milos Raonic

A closer look of my top 10 predictions from December is here. This is my new prediction of the top 10 for the end of 2014.

1. Novak Djokovic
2. Rafael Nadal
3. Roger Federer
4. Andy Murray
5. Stanislas Wawrinka
6. Tomas Berdych
7. David Ferrer
8. Ernests Gulbis
9. Milos Raonic
10. Kei Nishikori

Novak Djokovic - I'm sticking with Djokovic to finish the year as the world No. 1 for the third time in his career despite losing the Roland Garros final to Rafael Nadal. Djokovic now trails Nadal by over 1000 points in the Race Rankings, but after Wimbledon, it is all hard courts for Djokovic, who has been dominant on that surface with a 40-2 record since the 2013 US Open. The wrist injury that plagued him early in the season seems to be a thing of the past. The only question mark is how Djokovic will respond to the disappointment of Roland Garros.

Rafael Nadal - The Spaniard is going to surrender the No. 1 ranking some time between now and September. Then he will have the rest of the season to try to get it back. The key for Nadal will be to hold onto his over 1000-point lead in the Race Rankings. As long as he maintains that lead going into the year-end finals in London, Nadal has a chance to finish the year No. 1. Finishing in the top two won't be a problem at all, barring injuries.

Roger Federer - Federer falls into the third spot more by process of elimination than anything else. I originally picked him to finish at No. 5 and he is ranked No. 4 in the Race Rankings, but the two slams remaining are historically his two best slams. Then add the indoor hard court season at the tail end and Federer should have no problem returning to No. 3 in the world. Federer has won 20 of his titles on indoor courts and has been the most dominant player at the year-end finals in tennis history.

Andy Murray - The Brit is ranked No. 9 in the Race Rankings and has been far below his standard so far in 2014. However, he showed signs of turning that around late in the clay season, which is historically where he struggles the most. Murray now has a new coach and will be the No. 4 seed at Wimbledon, where he is the defending champion. All of this should serve as good motivation for a strong back end of the 2014 season.

Stanislas Wawrinka - Before the season, I wasn't sure if Wawrinka would even be in the top 10, but he has already won the first grand slam and 1000 events of his career, which almost guarantees him a return to London to end the year. However, it's hard to see the second half of 2014 being as good for Wawrinka as the first. Since winning Monte Carlo, Wawrinka has gone 4-4 with some ugly losses. Now he arrives at Wimbledon, where he has won just one match in the last four years. These aren't typical numbers being thrown around for a top five player, but thanks to titles in Melbourne and Monte Carlo, he should be able to coast to a top five finish in 2014.

Tomas Berdych - Starting in 2007, Berdych has had a first-round exit from exactly one of the four slams every year. However, that hasn't happened yet in 2014. The Czech has reached the semifinals and quarterfinals of the first two slams of the season. And both of his losses came against players outside the top five, which are beatable for him. Despite missing a couple golden opportunities, Berdych is sitting nicely at No. 5 in the Race Rankings. Murray is the only player below him that I think will pass him. He will be a dangerous quarterfinal opponent for whoever he faces at Wimbledon.

David Ferrer - Ferrer is ranked No. 6 in the Race Rankings right now, but he has played his last clay match of the season, meaning it will be harder for him to earn ranking points for the rest of the season. Since defeating Nadal in Bercy, Ferrer has struggled on hard courts with an 11-9 record and no titles. He should be able to turn that around, but I can't see him making a return to the top five again in his career.

Ernests Gulbis - I originally picked Gulbis to finish the year ranked No. 19, but the Latvian reached the Roland Garros semifinals, cracking the top 10 for the first time in his career. He has always had the game to be a mainstay in the top 10. Now he finally has a portion of the work ethic and dedication to the sport required to be part of the top 10. If he keeps posting good results, no amount of racket breaking or ill-advised quotes to the media will stop him from qualifying for London.

Milos Raonic - The Canadian reached his first career grand slam quarterfinal in Paris after reaching the semifinals in Rome, proving that big servers can have success on clay. However, Raonic has never been able to master the grass and lost in his first match at Halle to wild card Peter Gojowczyk. Thankfully for Raonic, the grass season is short and his No. 8 seeding at SW19 will help get him a beneficial draw. After that is a hard court season full of opportunity for Raonic. Outside of reaching finals in Tokyo and his home tournament in Montreal, Raonic has little to defend from now until he arrives at Indian Wells. This is a great chance for him to see how high he can get in the rankings with the 720 points he got at the last two clay events.

Kei Nishikori - I said before the season that I didn't want to put Nishikori in the top 10 because I thought he would get injured. And I was right to some degree. If not for his injury, he would probably be No. 4 or 5 in the Race Rankings, but those injuries haven't stopped him from cracking the top 10 for the first time in his career. He looked healthy in Halle, so if he can maintain that, he should be able to stay in the top 10.

The Rest - Grigor Dimitrov is ranked No. 10 in the Race Rankings and just reached the final at Queen's Club. If he wins tomorrow, he will be No. 9 in the Race Rankings, passing Murray. Still, I'm hesitant to pick him in the top 10 after the first round loss in Paris. I do expect him to finish at No. 11 or 12 though. For Marin Cilic, the best part of the season for him is yet to come, but I think that he too will finish at No. 11 or 12. I picked him to finish No. 14 before the year and he is ranked No. 13 in the Race Rankings. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is No. 15 in the Race to London and I picked him to finish No. 8 originally. He has not seemed motivated to win this season and has under-performed so far. I don't think he will come out of his slump in time. Juan Martin del Potro was the other player that I, like almost everyone else, had in the top 10 before the season. However a wrist injury has sidelined him for most of the season. He should be able to stay in the top 100, but that's one too many zeroes to make this list.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

25 Greatest Tennis Rivalries of the Open Era

More so than any other professional sport outside of perhaps boxing, tennis thrives on rivalries. As an individual sport, tennis can produce some of the most intense rivalries in all of sports, which is what draws in fans. Since computer rankings began, there have been 25 different players that have reached the pinnacle of the sport. These 25 players have spanned across 46 years of tennis now, meaning many of those 25 players reached their primes at the same time, creating rivalries of epic proportions. Many rivalries are between two of the all-time greats, who peaked at the same time. However, many great rivalries have been created by a world No. 1 preventing a challenger from ever claiming the top ranking. Since tennis is so driven by rivalries, I put together a list of the 25 best rivalries in the last 46 years, since there have been 25 different world No. 1s.

25. John Newcombe vs. Ken Rosewall - These two Aussies met 15 times in the last 46 years, but many of their best meetings came before 1968, which is why they aren't higher on the list.

24. Roger Federer vs. David Nalbandian - This is the only rivalry on the list that never met in a grand slam. However, Nalbandian's eight wins against the greatest player of all time is the fifth most of any of his rivals.

23. Stefan Edberg vs. Michael Chang - These two contested one grand slam final, but their best match came a round earlier, producing one of the best matches of 1992 in the US Open semifinals.

22. Roger Federer vs. Juan Martin del Potro - Del Potro pulled off one of the biggest surprises at a grand slam final in the last decade with his five-set win over Federer at the 2009 US Open final.

21. Bjorn Borg vs. Guillermo Vilas - Both of these players are two of the best clay courters in tennis history. Of their 22 meetings, 13 were on clay, including the 1975 and 1978 Roland Garros finals.

20. Pete Sampras vs. Goran Ivanisevic - These are two of the greatest servers in tennis history. Ivanisevic never reached the top ranking, largely because of his 12 losses to Sampras.

19. Pete Sampras vs. Jim Courier - They met at least three times on every surface except grass, where their only meeting was at the 1993 Wimbledon final, which Sampras won 7-6(3), 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-3.

18. Rod Laver vs. Ken Rosewall - This is another rivalry amongst Australians that would be higher on the list if their best matches hadn't come before 1968. They did play two grand slam finals in the Open Era.

17. Roger Federer vs. Lleyton Hewitt - These two had great careers, an exciting rivalry, and amazing matches, but even if they only played one point against each other, they would still make the list. The point they played at Indian Wells remains one of the greatest single points of all time.

16. Andy Murray vs. Roger Federer - The Brit is one of only two players on this list with a favorable record against Federer. After losing his third grand slam final to Federer, Murray won the Olympic Gold Medal in front of his home crowd with a straight-set victory over his rival.

15. Roger Federer vs. Andy Roddick - There are many players who can claim that they would have had amazing careers if not for Federer, but none more so than Roddick. The former world No. 1 had his top ranking stolen by the Swiss, who never gave it back and went on to beat him in four grand slam finals.

14. Stefan Edberg vs. Ivan Lendl - This rivalry played a big part in putting the Australian Open on the same tier as the rest of the grand slams with three five-set epics down under. However, their most famous match may be the last one they ever played, which Edberg won in a fifth set tiebreaker at the 1992 US Open quarterfinals.

13. Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray - This rivalry took a back seat in the tennis world while Federer and Nadal dominated, but it finally took center stage in 2011. In the last three and a half years, four grand slam finals have been between these two, including Murray's win at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships that ended the British drought.

12. Ivan Lendl vs. Jimmy Connors - These two met 35 times, which is tied for the third most of any rivalry in the Open Era. Connors may have won the first 17 sets these two played and consecutive US Open titles in 1982 and 1983 over Lendl, but the Czech still finished with 13 wins in the rivalry that spanned three decades.

11. John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg - Their 14 meetings is the least of any rivalry on this list, but that didn't stop them from playing some of the most memorable matches in tennis history. Their most memorable was the 1980 Wimbledon final, which Borg won 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7(16), 8-6.

10. Ivan Lendl vs. Mats Wilander - These two met in five grand slam finals, which was the Open Era record at the time. They also battled each other for the No. 1 ranking in tennis throughout their careers. Wilander won their first meeting in five sets, which was the 1982 Roland Garros fourth round. Wilander went on to win his first grand slam title that fortnight.

9. Ivan Lendl vs. Boris Becker - Lendl is the greatest tennis player to have never won Wimbledon and he gets that distinction thanks to Boris Becker, who beat him three times at Wimbledon, including an epic five-set match in the 1989 semifinals. Also, their meeting in the 1988 Masters final, which Becker won 5-7, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 ended that season with arguably the greatest match of the year.

8. Bjorn Borg vs.  Jimmy Connors - This is one of the few rivalries in tennis history that spans across all surface types. The head to head record on hard courts was 3-3 and on clay courts was 3-3. Borg led 5-2 on carpet and 4-0 on grass courts, but Connors took him to five sets twice at Wimbledon, including the 1977 final.

7. Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic - Federer won the first four matches of this rivalry and has never let the lead slip even though Djokovic had two chances to tie the head-to-head this season. These two met in five straight US Opens, and after Federer won the first three, Djokovic won in 2010 and 2011, coming back from down two match points in both matches. The pair met in 20 semifinals, which is an Open Era record.

6. Boris Becker vs. Stefan Edberg - These are two top 10 players all time that peaked at the same time, creating the perfect conditions for an incredible rivalry. They met in three consecutive Wimbledon finals and played 19 finals against each other in total. The draws pitted them against each other frequently early in their careers and when their rankings rose, they were frequently the last two left in the draw. It may be the second most lopsided rivalry on the list with 15 more wins by Becker, but there was rarely a lopsided match in their 35 meetings. Their six meetings at the year-end finals event remains tied for the record.

5. John McEnroe vs. Jimmy Connors - This pair was the first rivalry that battled for the No. 1 ranking with each other on almost a weekly basis. Connors was the third player to be ranked No. 1 by a computer and McEnroe was the fifth as the pair exchanged the rankings between each other 10 times. The most famous match between the two Americans came in their home country as they met in the 1980 US Open semifinals, which was decided by a fifth set tiebreak. In total, the two played five five-set matches.

4. Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi - This is the second all-American rivalry in the top five, and is one of the most dominant duopolies in the history of the sport with a combined 387 weeks at world No. 1 and 22 grand slam titles. The two produced several of the best matches in American tennis history with 16 of their meetings coming on home soil, including three US Open finals. However, arguably their best match came in the US Open quarterfinals of 2001. After Agassi won the first set 9-7 in a tiebreaker, Sampras won three consecutive tiebreak sets, 7-2, 7-2, 7-5. The following year, Sampras got the final title of his career with a 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 win over Agassi in the US Open final.

3. Ivan Lendl vs. John McEnroe - In just 13 seasons these two met 36 times, which was the record for the most meetings in a rivalry until last year. Their 20 finals contested against each other also was a record until just a year ago. The one record they do still have is the 11 times that they traded the top ranking in the world between each other. Until just a few years ago, this was the best rivalry in tennis history because they met more times than anybody else and with more on the line in each one of their matches than any other rivalry. In every match, they battled for both titles and the No. 1 ranking. At the end, they finished with a combined 440 weeks at No. 1 and 171 titles. Both men were one title away from a career grand slam. Ivan Lendl was missing the Wimbledon title, and in their one match at SW19, McEnroe won in three sets. Meanwhile, McEnroe needed the Roland Garros title, but lost to Lendl three times in Paris, including the 1984 final, which McEnroe led by two sets to love before Lendl came roaring back for a narrow 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 victory. That is the essence of a great rivalry: having to go through your rival to get what you want most.

2. Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer - This was my top rivalry just a couple weeks ago. When these two have both retired, they will likely be the greatest players in all of the Open Era. Even though their peaks weren't exactly at the same time, these two had several incredible matches in their 33 meetings, including a record eight grand slam finals. Their 2008 Wimbledon final is considered by many to be the greatest tennis match ever played. Like 22 other matches they played, Nadal won this one. After taking a two-set lead, 6-4, 6-4, Federer fought back into the match with two incredible tiebreak sets. However, Nadal claimed the fifth set in fading light for a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(8), 9-7 win and his first Wimbledon crown after losing the final in five sets to Federer the previous year. For several years, Nadal prevented Federer from winning Roland Garros, but a fourth-round upset to Nadal in 2009 gave Federer an open path to the title and a career grand slam. Though Nadal dominated much of the rivalry, Federer's accomplishments still outnumber Nadal's. However, the Spaniard just turned 28 and still has plenty of time to catch a few of Federer's records.

1. Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic - After setting their seventh grand slam final between the two, this rivalry moved up to No. 1 on my list. They have met 42 times and in 22 finals, both of which are records. Djokovic's 19 wins against Nadal are the most against any single player while not leading the head-to-head. This is the only rivalry that has completed the career grand slam: meeting in the final of all four majors. Djokovic's four wins over Nadal in clay-court finals are the most wins against the King of Clay on his surface of any player. However, the Spaniard is still a perfect 6-0 at Roland Garros against Djokovic, who lacks only that trophy for the career grand slam. The two have already traded the No. 1 ranking twice and could do so for a third time as soon as Wimbledon. This rivalry has already met six more times than any other rivalry in the Open Era and the two players are 28 and 27 years old, meaning this could keep going for a long time. The pair averages about five or six meetings every year, so they should have well over 50 meetings when they both decide to retire.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The GOAT List

After Rafael Nadal's ninth title at Roland Garros, the Spaniard remained world No. 1 and tied Pete Sampras on the all-time grand slams list, bringing up a lot of discussion about if he will ever catch Roger Federer's 17 grand slam titles and who the greatest player of all time is. This time last year, Nadal reached No. 5 on my list and despite two more grand slam titles and several months at No. 1, he still remains at No. 5. However, he is closing the gap on the four players that all spent over five years worth of time as the world No. 1, while Nadal closes in on his third year at No. 1. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray each moved up a couple spots on the list, which was last updated after Murray's win at Wimbledon.

25. Andy Roddick- The last American to win a grand slam spent 13 weeks atop the rankings, won 32 titles, and ranks 16th all-time in win percentage (74.2%).

24. Michael Chang- The former world No. 2 won his only grand slam title when he was only 17. Even though he never won another major, he did collect 34 titles and 51 wins against top 10 opponents.

23. Ken Rosewall- As part of a golden era in Australian tennis, Rosewall was known for his slice passing shots.The former world No. 2 would be higher on the list if the peak of his career wasn't before the Open Era. He still won four grand slam titles and 445 matches.

22. Thomas Muster- If these were clay court rankings, he would be top 10, but he spent six weeks as the top ranked player in the world and won 44 titles.

21. Arthur Ashe- The player whose name is on the center court at the US Open is best known as a humanitarian, but the former world No. 2 won three grand slam titles and 623 matches in his career.

20. Andy Murray- Murray has struggled since he won Wimbledon with zero titles, but now has over 300 more wins than losses, becoming the 25th player to do so. That milestone pushed him into the top 20.

19. John Newcombe- At 30-years old, the Australian finally reached world No. 1. Newcombe won five majors in the open era and won 31 tournaments.

18. Yevgeny Kafelnikov- When you look at the former world No. 1's stats, nothing really jumps out at you, but the Russian did a little bit of it all. He was atop the rankings for six weeks, won two majors, knocked out 46 top 10 opponents, won 26 titles, and was victorious in 609 matches.

17. Jim Courier- The American spent over a year as the best player in the world, winning four grand in three years. Courier is one of the only Americans to have success on both clay and hard courts. Although most fans would rank Courier between 10 to 15, his inability to dominate lower ranked opponents hurt his ability to rack up titles. Courier won only 23 titles and lost 164 matches to players outside the top 10.

16. Rod Laver- Laver is the one of the greatest tennis players in all of tennis history, but the bulk of his career came before the Open Era, and since computer rankings didn't begin until 1973, he was never ranked higher than three in the world. However, Laver still won five majors and 42 titles in the Open Era, including the last calendar slam in tennis.

15. Ilie Năstase- The Romanian was the first person ever ranked No. 1 according to the computers. The two-time grand slam champion is another player who would have been higher on the list if his whole career was in the Open Era. He still won 750 matches and 56 titles, dominating the ATP World Tour when it first began.

14. Guillermo Vilas- The Argentine was the third winningest player of all time notching an incredible 923 match wins as well as 63 titles, including four grand slams. However, that is where the former world No. 2's list of accomplishments ends. Aside from failing to reach world No. 1, he only had 29 wins over top 10 opponents. Vilas is widely considered the best No. 2 player in tennis history, but failing to reach world No. 1 knocked him several spots down on this list.

13. Lleyton Hewitt- As a young Australian, Hewitt spent 80 weeks as the top-ranked player in the world, but failed to live up to his potential, winning just two majors and 28 total tournaments, while suffering countless injuries. Aside from being the best player in the game for 80 weeks, his top accomplishment was his 65 match wins over top 10 foes. Although Hewitt is still competing, he is far from the player he was just over a decade ago.

12. Mats Wilander- The Swede made his way this high on the list for one reason and one reason only. The guy knew how to win majors. Seven of his 33 titles were at the slams. That is the third best ratio of any player on this list. His win percentage was 7.5% higher in majors. Wilander only spent 20 weeks as the world No. 1 and only won 571 matches. Those numbers are good, but they are way below average for a top 15 player on this list. Wilander consistently rose to the occasion when it mattered most at the majors, winning seven grand slams in the span of seven years.

11. Boris Becker- If 713 wins wasn't enough for the six-time grand slam winner to crack the top 10 on all GOAT lists, then maybe I should remind you that 121 of his wins were against top 10 ranked opponents. That is the third most in tennis history. Becker also won 49 titles and was the world No. 1 for 12 weeks. Becker was a model for consistency, winning at least two tournaments every year for 12 consecutive years. At just 18 years of age in 1986, Becker reached nine tournament finals and won Wimbledon for the second consecutive year. Becker went on to win one more Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open twice.

10. Stefan Edberg- When it comes to Edberg the numbers speak for themselves. 72 weeks as world No. 1, six grand slam titles, 41 tournaments won, and 801 match wins. However, what may be most impressive was the way he handled the other legends of his era. Edberg totalled 47 combined wins against Becker, Lendl, Chang, and Wilander. Edberg's biggest weakness was his clay court game, but he made up for it with two major titles at each of the non-clay slams.

9. Novak Djokovic- Djokovic has surpassed his coach, but has struggled since Becker joined his team. Djokovic has now failed to win a major in his last five tries despite being the oddsmakers' favorite at four of those five slams. Although the Serb has struggled at the biggest events, he is still dominating at the best-of-3 tournaments, where he has won five of the last nine 1000s. If he wins in Cincinnati this year, he will have won all nine of the masters events and will also hold titles at six of the nine at the same time, breaking the record he set in 2011 that both he and Nadal have since tied. Djokovic could return to world No. 1 as soon as Wimbledon, but is more likely to do so during the US Open Series.

8. Andre Agassi- The American may not be the statistical leader in any category, but he was one of the most well rounded players to ever play. Agassi dominated on every surface and is one of only two male singles tennis players to achieve the career golden slam. Agassi finished his career with eight grand slam titles and 60 tournaments won over the span of 19 years. The former world No. 1 won 870 matches and spent over 100 weeks atop the rankings.

7. Björn Borg- A lot of fans would put Borg in the top five, but he is getting any bonus points from me for quitting when he was just 25. However, his dominance in just eight years on the world tour is still enough to place seventh on this list. In that short span, he won an incredible 64 tournaments, including 11 majors. Borg also spent 109 weeks as world No. 1 and won over 70% of his matches against top 10 opponents. Even more impressive than that is his 89.8% win rate at the slams. His numbers are astonishing, but we can only wonder how good he could have been if he continued playing for another eight years.

6. John McEnroe- Known more for his tirades than actually playing tennis, McEnroe truly is one of the greatest players in tennis history. The five-time Wimbledon finalist ranks fifth in the Open Era in weeks at No. 1, titles, and wins. In 1984, the American won 13 titles and only lost three matches in the entire year. McEnroe finished his career with 77 titles, which ranks third in the Open Era. Along with seven grand slam titles, he spent 170 weeks as the World No. 1. McEnroe finished his career with 875 match wins. Where McEnroe made his mark in tennis was in Davis Cup ties. McEnroe led the United States to five Davis Cup titles. McEnroe also won eight year-end Championships. Five at the WCT Finals and three at the Masters.

5. Rafael Nadal- Now that Nadal is tied for the second most grand slam titles on the all-time list, the debate for the greatest of all time is usually centered around him and Federer. Nadal also ranks second all-time in wins against top 10 opponents, which is one of the main stats that I look at when creating this list. However, I still hold Nadal out of the top four. While Nadal does have as many grand slam titles as Sampras and more than both Connors and Lendl, almost two-thirds of his major titles have come from the same event. As a result, Nadal has only accumulated 141 weeks as the world No. 1, which is just over half of what Connors and Lendl each have. Nadal just turned 28, so he will continue to rack up titles and match wins and eventually crack the top four, but he isn't there yet.

4. Jimmy Connors- The American is the winningest player of all time with 1243 match wins and 109 titles. When the first set of computer rankings came out, Connors was listed as No. 10 in the world. At 38 years of age in 1989, Connors was still ranked in the top 10 in the world. It wasn't until 1996 that Connors finally left the top 500 for good at the age of 45. However, the Americans only accomplishments weren't just the length of his career. Connors won over 80% of his matches, eight majors, and spent 268 weeks as the No. 1 in the world. Connors dominance is often overlooked, because it was stretched over a span of 20 years, but looking at the whole body of work, Connors is clearly among the four greatest tennis players in the Open Era.

3. Ivan Lendl- In my opinion, the most underrated player of all time, Lendl was the greatest player in the Open Era when he retired in 1994. When you look at the GOAT lists of other tennis fans, some list him as eight or nine or don't include Lendl in the top 10. That is nuts when you see that Lendl is in the top five for the Open Era in major titles, weeks at No. 1, titles, wins, and win percentage. Most fans rank him so low, because he lost 11 grand slam finals. However, I think that reached 19 grand slam finals is yet another reason to rank him in the top three of all time. Lendl won eight grand slam titles and was the No. 1 player in the world for an incredible 270 weeks. Lendl also won 94 titles and 1071 matches, while maintaining a .818 win  percentage.

2. Pete Sampras- The American is considered in the top 3 on almost every GOAT list in tennis and rightfully so. Sampras absolutely dominated the grand slams from the 1993 Wimbledon to the 2002 US Open winning 14 of the 41 majors, including a stretch of seven Wimbledon titles in eight years. Sampras knew all about playing his best when it mattered most at the slams. Sampras's win percentage in slams was 9.0% higher than in the rest of his matches. Sampras also had a stranglehold on the title of No. 1 player in the world in his career, holding the top ranking for 286 weeks. Sampras ranks second all time in wins over top 10 opponents with 124 and has 64 titles to his name.

1. Roger Federer- How this isn't case closed boggles my mind. Federer is the leader in majors won, weeks at No.1, wins against top 10 opponents, and he is still going. Federer's records at the slams shatter those of any other player in the Open Era. Federer has spent over 300 weeks as the world No. 1. Federer was the tyrant of the ATP rankings from early 2004 to the summer of 2008. From 2004 to 2006, he lost a total of just 15 matches. Federer has won 17 grand slam titles. Federer has reached the final of each grand slam tournament at least five times, and at one point, reached 10 consecutive finals. Some people like to argue that Federer played in a weak era from 2004 to 2008, but Federer really just dominated the era so much that it seemed like there were no other good players. If you look at how Federer performed against the players who were ranked No. 1 in the world before him, you can see that he dominated even against the best opponents. Federer had a .770 win percentage against Agassi, Hewitt, Ferrero, and Roddick combined. Federer dominated the sport more so than any other player and did so for a longer amount of time than any other player. Therefore, he is the GOAT.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Wimbledon World No. 1 Scenarios

Tennis's top ranking is at stake this week at Roland Garros, where Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are battling for the title of world No. 1. However, the second slam of the year will hardly settle who is No. 1 for even the next month. Nadal is scheduled to play in Halle, while Djokovic is not expected to play any ATP event between the two majors. How well each player plays in Paris has implications on their ability to hold onto the top ranking through Wimbledon. Here is a look at what each player has to do to be the world No. 1 on July 6, 2014.

If Djokovic beats Nadal at the Roland Garros final...
Djokovic would become the world No. 1 and hold a 240-point lead over Nadal going into the grass season when the points they are defending at Wimbledon are taken away. That means Nadal would have to do 240 points better than Djokovic on grass.
-If Djokovic wins Wimbledon, he will remain world No. 1.
-If Djokovic loses in the Wimbledon final, Nadal would have to win Wimbledon to return to world No. 1.
-If Djokovic loses in the Wimbledon semifinals, Nadal would have to reach the Wimbledon final or reach the Wimbledon semifinals and win Halle to return to world No. 1.
-If Djokovic loses in the Wimbledon quarterfinals,  Nadal would have to earn 120 points combined from Wimbledon and Halle.
-If Djokovic does not reach the quarterfinals, Nadal will return to world No. 1.

If Nadal defeats Djokovic in the Roland Garros final...
Nadal would remain the world No. 1  and would hold a 1360-point lead over Djokovic going into the grass season when the points they are defending at Wimbledon are taken away. That means Djokovic would have have to do 1360 points better than Nadal on grass.
-If Nadal reaches the Wimbledon semifinals, he will remain world No. 1.
-If Nadal loses before the Wimbledon semifinals, Djokovic would have to win Wimbledon to become No. 1.