Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Figuring out Wawrinka

On Tuesday, No. 1 seed Stan Wawrinka was eliminated from Tokyo by Tatsuma Ito 7-5, 6-2, who is ranked No. 103 in the world. It was Wawrinka's third first-round loss this season and first loss to a player ranked outside the top 100 (only other completed match against player ranked outside top 100 this year was a 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(7) win over No. 102 Dusan Lajovic).

The upset caused a big shock to the tennis world on twitter. Fans made claims that since winning a grand slam and becoming one of the top ranked players in the world, Wawrinka has lost the motivation to do well, while others even claimed that he has become too arrogant, which is stopping him from succeeding.

My perspective on the upset is completely different. To me Wawrinka in 2014 is still the same guy as Wawrinka in 2012.

Although he has made several appearances in the late rounds of majors in 2013 and 2014, Wawrinka is still just as susceptible to upsets as before. I've said since 2011 that Wawrinka is one of the most inexplicably inconsistent and completely unpredictable players on the men's tour. He can shock the world by winning the Australian Open or he can shock the world by losing in the first round of the very next major he plays.

The biggest thing that has changed between 2012 and 2014 is the expectations of the fans, who now look at Wawrinka as a grand slam champion and the No. 4 player in the world. They expect him to succeed with the same regularity as Andy Murray did in 2011, when he was the No. 4 player in the world.

While the Swiss No. 2 has posted many good results at tournaments in the last 21 months, he is not a different person than the guy that was the only player in the top 20 not to win a title in 2012. Thus, I'm no more surprised when Wawrinka loses to Ito than if any other top 20 player had lost to Ito.

For most players, this isn't the case though. Normally, as a player's ranking goes up, their number of losses to players ranked lower than a certain point go down. I picked top 20 as that certain point for Wawrinka, since almost any loss for Wawrinka in the last seven years to a player ranked outside the top 20 would be considered an upset mathematically.

The x-axis on this graph is Wawrinka's year-end ranking, while the y-axis is his number of losses Wawrinka has had to players ranked outside the top 20. What we would expect (and see with most players) is a strong positive correlation between being ranked lower and losing to players outside the top 20 more often.

However, what we see with Stan is that in the last seven years is that there is almost no correlation between ranking and losses to players outside the top 20, and the slight correlation that exists is actually negative!
In 2013, Wawrinka was ranked No. 8 in the world but lost just 10 matches to players outside the top 20 in 23 tournaments. However, in 2010, Wawrinka played in 20 tournaments and finished the year ranked No. 21, but only lost five matches to players outside the top 20.

So the math clearly shows that the frequency with which Wawrinka suffers shocking losses has almost no relation to what his ranking is. Yet people are expecting him to reach the quarterfinals or better of every tournament now simply because his ranking is higher. No wonder fans are frustrated with Wawrinka!

Now, there is Marin Cilic, who just won his first grand slam. We shouldn't expect his results in the next 12 months to look much different that the results he was recording in the first eight months of this season. Instead of thinking he will win every tournament now because he won a grand slam, realize that he is still the same person that was excited just to reach the final of a 500 event just seven months ago.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Serbian tennis is back on the rise

The last 12 months have not been great for tennis in Serbia as world No. 1 Novak Djokovic became the country's lone representative in the top 100 that was playing events for several months.

With Viktor Troicki banned from playing events on the ATP and Janko Tipsarevic injured, Serbia went from one of the few countries with three top 50 players last June to a country whose only face was Djokovic.

While many countries would have loved to be where Serbia was at eight or nine months ago, having the world No. 2, that wasn't enough for fans of Serbian tennis. Serbia didn't want to be another one of those small tennis countries that got lucky to produce just one star - it had gotten used to the idea of having multiple players reaching the second week at slams.

This spring, Serbia got back to that momentarily, when Dusan Lajovic joined Djokovic in the second week at Roland Garros, allowing the 24-year old to reach a career-high ranking of 58 just a month later.

Lajovic isn't the only rising star in Serbian tennis. There are a whole group of young stars from Serbia that are surging up the rankings that could make Serbia one of the most well-represented countries in the top 100 in a few years. Here's a list of the top Serbian players right now.

Novak Djokovic (1) - The current world No. 1 has been the country's most successful player ever. He's in a bit of a slump right now by his standards, but right now there are no major threats to his status as the world No. 1 until March.

Dusan Lajovic (69) - It has been a breakthrough year for the No. 2 Serb, who won five of his nine grand slam matches and has claimed impressive wins over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Carlos Berlocq, Jack Sock, Frederico Delbonis, and Jerzy Janowicz. He has a lot of points to defend in the coming months, so it may be a while before
he reaches the top 50, but he will get there eventually.

Filip Krajinovic (101) - Injuries have prevented the No. 3 Serb from climbing the rankings faster, but after a long stretch of health, Krajinovic came one spot away from cracking the top 100 this week after beating Taro Daniel in Kuala Lumpur. He is only 22 years old, so the results are going to continue to come. He has two challenger titles and two futures titles this year to go along with a win over Fabio Fognini in Hamburg.

Viktor Troicki (152) - Before the season, I said the former world No. 12 would get back into the top 100 this year using just the three and a half months of play left in the season after his ban. In just over two of those months, Troicki has already gotten himself up to No. 174 in the world using a packed schedule. The Serbian No. 4 has reached the quarterfinal of all seven events and won two in a ten-week span that included having two qualify at two challenger events (talk about a rough draw for his opponent). He is now making use of some wild cards to get into events with more ranking points at stake. Troicki has figured out how to make the year off into a positive. It's not hard to imagine him being back near his career-high ranking 12 months from now at 29-years old.

Ilija Bozoljac (201) - The Davis Cup hero isn't the focus of Serbia's future as a 29-year old that has never cracked the top 100, but he is certainly a central figure in tennis for the country.

Pedja Krstin (264) - Krstin just turned 20 years old earlier this month, which was around the same time that his rapid climb up the rankings stalled. Almost exactly two years ago, Krstin regained his ranking and has climbed from just inside the top 2000 to No. 234 in the world. In the last 12 months, Krstin has dominated the futures events, but those results haven't translated on the Challenger Tour yet. Krstin got his professional start late, so there is no reason to think he won't continue to develop his game to be able to compete with the next tier.

Nikola Cacic (291) - At 23-years old already, Cacic may never be a mainstay on the world tour, but he still has the game to be ranked even higher than he is now. The best is still to come from Cacic, but it's hard to know right now what that will be.

Nikola Milojevic (352) - This is where the hope for the future of Serbian tennis lies. The 19-year old was the junior No. 1 and he has the support of the senior No. 1 on his side. The expectations are high for Milojevic who has claimed impressive wins over some of the other top teenagers in futures events this year. Milojevic also got his first tour-level win this year. He is still far behind some of the other teenagers, six of whom cracked the top 200 for the first time this year. However, it's always harder for players from countries without big events to build their ranking, since they don't get as many wild cards. Milojevic is playing catch-up for now, but he will be in the top 200 himself soon enough.

Laslo Djere (363) - Another teenage star that had a lot of success on the junior tour, Djere has boosted over 100 spots this year. He has won three futures events this year, but hasn't played any challenger main draws yet. When he makes the switch to the Challenger Tour, we will have a better idea just how good he can be.

Miki Jankovic (426) - The Serbian No. 11 just turned 20 two days ago. He completes the quartet with Djere, Milojevic, and Krstin (all of whom were 19 years old last month) of guys who represent the future of Serbian tennis. After winning two futures titles, Jankovic has been more aggressive in trying to enter challenger events. He is currently trying to fight his way through the qualifying at those events, where there isn't many ranking points or much money. However, he has his eyes set on the top 100 some day and this is part of that process.

At this point, it wouldn't be hard to imagine six or seven of these guys in the top 100 a few years from now. Right now, only four countries have six players in the top 100, Spain, France, United States, and Argentina. To be in that kind of company in just a few years is exactly what Serbian tennis fans should be excited about.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

9/22/14 Country Power Rankings

These are the rankings of how each country has done since the end of the 2013 tennis season. Rankings are based mainly on the year-to-date ranking of the individuals from that country.

1. Spain - The country may have all sorts of Davis Cup issues right now, but on the ATP World Tour, things couldn't be better. Even if Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer were taken away, Spain would only be slightly beind France for second place.

2. France - Sometimes it's quantity over quality. France lacks a real star or any big results aside from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's title in Canada and a nice run by Gael Monfils at Flushing Meadows. However, there are 14 Frenchmen that have already collected over 400 ranking points this year. Only Spain has more with 15.

3. Switzerland - Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer are all Switzerland has in the top 150 in the Race rankings, but they are both in the top four, which is why Switzerland is No. 3.

4. Serbia - The Serbs may still be No. 4, but this has been a poor stretch of tennis from Novak Djokovic making it almost impossible for them to get into the top three and opening the door for someone else to sneak into top four. The good news is that Viktor Troicki is back, while Dusan Lajovic and Filip Krajinovic are having the best year of their careers.

5. Germany - The Germans are in a similar situation as the Frenchmen. Having a lot of players in the mix has proved to be just as effective as having a true No. 1 player for Germany. However, the country is certainly missing Tommy Haas. Germany is looking for its second consecutive top five finish.

6. Croatia - Going from No. 10 to No. 6 is the biggest jump in this set of rankings by any top 10 country and is certainly the most significant. Marin Cilic's US Open title will do a lot for the future of Croatian tennis. And don't look now but teenager Borna Coric just won a challenger title.

7. Czech Republic - It has been a quiet year for the Czechs. In the same way their star Tomas Berdych has quietly been a top ten player, the country has fallen into the No. 7 spot without having any shocking results.

8. United States - When the Americans were at No. 4 early in the season, I thought it would be great if they could stay that high. Now they are down to No. 8. Still, there isn't much separating Germany and the United States. As a fan of US tennis, my goal was for the country to finish ahead of Germany. That's still certainly within reach.

9. Argentina - It has not been a good year for Argentina, but there are 34 countries on this list that wouldn't mind being ranked No. 9.

10. Japan - Kei Nishikori has had an incredible season when he has been healthy. He could be a lot higher if he didn't have to retire or withdraw from so many matches, and so would the country on this list.

11. Canada - Milos Raonic has been the fourth best player in tennis this year since the start of Indian Wells. Let that sink in.

12. Italy - The clay season is over now and ever since Italy has been slowly dropping in the rankings. The Italians would be better off just playing challengers on clay than wasting their time trying to win on hard courts.

13. Australia - Lleyton Hewitt hasn't officially passed the torch to Nick Kyrgios just yet. He still has a 15-point edge in the ATP rankings on the man 14 years his junior.

14. Great Britain - I'm expecting a nice comeback in the rankings from Andy Murray any day now. I wouldn't be surprised if he still qualifies for London.

15. Bulgaria - Grigor Dimitrov has made Bulgaria the highest country on this list with only one player in the top 150.

16. Russia - Russia is the only country in the top 20, whose top ranked player hasn't gotten 800 points left. Shows the depth that it has.

17. Latvia - Early in the year, Latvia, South Africa, and Bulgaria were all right next to each other in the rankings and all had just one player in the top 150. Dimitrov is running away with it for Bulgaria, but Ernests Gulbis hasn't done poorly for Latvia.

18. Colombia - Los Tres Amigos - Alejandro Gonzalez, Alejandro Falla, and Santiago Giraldo - have kept their country in the top 20.

19. Ukraine - Alexandr Dolgopolov has missed portions of the season. Like Nishikori, he could be ranked much higher if injuries and other health issues weren't factors.

20. Austria - Can we officially say Dominic Thiem is the face of Austrian tennis now? Melzer has had a nice comeback season though.

21. South Africa
22. Slovakia
23. Slovenia
24. Netherlands
25. Chinese Taipei
26. Portugal
27. Belgium
28. Kazakhstan
29. Uzbekistan
30. Brazil
31. Uruguay
32. Poland
33. Luxembourg
34. Finland
35. Dominican Republic
36. Tunisia
37. Israel
38. Cyprus
39. Bosnia & Herzegovina
40. Lithuania
41. Turkey
42. Hungary
43. Romania

The strangest result of the weirdest article

Here's my story on how I as a tennis writer got my material on Middle Earth Times

Earlier this week I wrote the weirdest article of my life. I likened a scene from Lord of the Rings to what is going on with the ATP World Tour right now. It was a short post that wasn't close to my best work as a writer. I'm not even a fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy - I just watched the movies when I was 11 or 12 years old.

As I do with all of my posts on this blog, I shared even this crummy post on twitter.
After tweeting that, I was surprised to see that I had a few new followers. Their handles were: @The_Hobbit, @Aragorn_II_E, and @lotr_quots.

They were horribly mistaken. That was the first and hopefully last time I will ever tweet about Lord of the Rings, but they all thought I was a big fan somehow. Laughing at their mistake, I shared this tweet:

Maybe you spotted the typo in that last tweet. I accidentally tagged the Sydney Morning Herald, which resulted in me getting followed by @funkdafied (some kind of music entertainment business based in Sydney) and @wakeup_aus (a non-profit organization for young people also based in Sydney)

The fun is just beginning though. Today, I found this tweet in my mentions:

Somehow Kathryn got a hold of my post and put it in the sports section of her website called Middle Earth Times. Of all the websites my articles have been posted on, this one tops them all for most memorable. The real question right now isn't why Middle Earth Times would think my article is worth posting on their website. Instead, the real question is why does Middle Earth Times have a sports section?

Out of all this, I have gained some decent exposure for my blog, which gave me some ideas for future articles. Maybe I could use a Star Wars reference to describe how Darth Federer beat Grigor Skywalker and Darth Federer then said "Grigor, Grigor, I am your father." Then I'll read all the Harry Potter and Twilight books to find a way to reference those in future tennis posts.

Friday, September 26, 2014

If the ATP were the Lord of the Rings trilogy

If the Lord of the Rings trilogy was actually a movie about tennis, the ATP World Tour is currently at the scene of the ambush at the caravan by the warg riders of Isengard .

Here's how it breaks down:
Roger Federer is Legolas
Novak Djokovic is Gimli
Rafael Nadal is Aragorn
Andy Murray is Gandolf
Marin Cilic, Kei Nishikori, and Stan Wawrinka are the men on horses
The young players on tour are the warg riders

The scene opens with Legolas seeing the wargs coming over a hill from far away and charging too quickly for their group to simply run away. The teenagers have been doing the same thing this year, charging up the rankings and nobody has seen it coming better more than Roger Federer. In April this year, there wasn't a single teenager in the top 200, but now six of them have come over the hill to enter the top 200, which is the most since 2008. Every year Federer invites teenagers to practice with him, during the offseason, so he knew very well how talented this group of teenagers is.

Legolas shot down a few of wargs before realizing there were too many to take on by himself. Federer did the same beating Vasek Pospisil in Canada and Pablo Carreno Busta at Roland Garros, which significantly slowed their progress in the rankings.

The first warg to reach the men was Grigor Dimitrov, who took down Novak Djokovic for a while with a win in Madrid. A second warg fell on top of Gimli, but it was already dead (Tomic's win over Djokovic at Hopman Cup).

Like Gandolf, Andy Murray isn't even in the scene. Since winning Wimbledon, Murray has still yet to reach a final over a year later.

However, the crucial moment in the scene is when one of the warg riders throws Aragorn off the cliff. At Wimbledon this year, Nick Kyrgios, perhaps the leader of the teenagers, beat Nadal, who still hasn't played in an ATP event since.

At the end of the scene, Gimli walks around and kills a few more warg riders. This year Djokovic has claimed a few wins over Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, and Carreno Busta, but still hasn't quite been at the level of play he reached in 2011.

There are only a few men at the end of the scene, who came away mostly unscathed. Those are Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic, and Kei Nishikori, who have all benefitted from the struggles of the Big Four this year.

The question now is: will the ATP World Tour continue like the rest of the trilogy? Will Nadal come back, bursting the doors open to claim his spot on the throne as world No. 1? Will Murray come back like Gandalf the White and get back to winning majors?

Tennis may be an individual sport, but the Big Four need to collectively send a convincing message to young guns on tour that they still own the big events. Federer announced today that he will be in Shanghai, Murray should finally reach the final of an event in Shenzhen, Djokovic always dominates in China, and Nadal was back on court yesterday. If those four can dominate the tournaments in Shanghai, Paris, and London (if Murray qualifies), that would go a long way in slowing down the rapid charge of the young players that are surging up the rankings.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Los Españoles no quieren una capitana

Este año ha sido horrible para España en la Copa Davis. En el Grupo Mundial en 2014, España perdió en la primera ronda y luego perdió a Brasil en el eliminatorio. Entonces, España no va a jugar en el grupo mundial en 2015 por la primera vez en 19 años.  Ahora, hay más problemas para el equipo. Carlos Moya no va a continuar a ser su seleccionador, y Gala León, una mujer, va a reemplazar Moya.
Las personas más importante del tenis masculino en España no están contento con el nombramiento de León.  Personas, incluyendo Toni Nadal, Feliciano López, y Marcel Granollers, creen que León no vaya a ser una seleccionadora buena.

Cada persona tiene un problema diferente con León y su género no es la única cosa. Mientras que Toni, el tío de Rafael Nadal quien es el No. 2 en el mundo ahora, piensa que una mujer no debe ser una capitana, López y Granollers tienen otras problemas con su seleccionadora.

A López no le interesa el género de León, pero López y casi todos los jugadores de España no tienen una relación personal con ella. También, la federación no les pidieron a los jugadores por opiniones. Para Granollers, el problema es que León no ha tenido éxito como una jugadora, pero cada uno de los capitanes en el pasado ha tenido mucho éxito.  Granollers, el No. 10 en el mundo en dobles, cree que ella no tenga suficiente experiencia para conducir el equipo.

Yo pienso que las opiniones de los jugadores son validas. Los factos que León es una mujer, que no ha tenido éxito con tenis, y que la federación no les pidieron por opiniones todos son problemas grandes.

Sí, hay entrenadoras femeninas que han tenido éxito con jugadores masculinos como Amalie Mauresmo y hay entrenadores que no han sido el mejor jugador en el mundo, pero todavía es un entrenador fantástico como Toni Nadal. Sin embargo, esto es la Copa Davis - no es ATP.
León es la capitana de un equipo. Hay jugadores que pueden tener éxito con una mujer como entrenadora, pero hay más personas que solo pueden tener éxito con un hombre como entrenador. Lo mismo para entrenadores que no han tenido éxito como jugadores.

León cuando era jugadora
También, el vestuario es un aspecto más importante con un equipo de jugadores que con solo una jugador. Y por muchos jugadores, tener una mujer en el vestuario no puede ser tan motivacional como un hombre.
Yo no pienso que los problemas son tan grande como López, Toni, y Granollers creen, pero son problemas reales. Hay más de nueve meces entre hoy y su próximo partido en la Copa Davis. Es suficiente tiempo para crear relaciones personales entre León y los jugadores en el equipo. Cuando es el tiempo para pisar en la cancha, no les importa a los jugadores quien su capitana es. España todavía es el mejor nación de tenis en el mundo, y el equipo va a ganar. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What if 2014 went the way I thought it would?

Starting in 2012, I have filled out a draw for every singles men's singles event on the ATP World Tour and have tracked and recorded all of my picks. 2014 has been a rough year for me, getting 59.2% of my picks right so far compared to 62.8 at this point of the season in 2012. (Just for an idea of how good or bad that is, about 33% would be your score if you let a coin toss determine who you picked).

I've done alright at picked tournaments' winners, getting 17 correct from the 51 tournaments that have taken place, whereas the average person would get 1.2 correct out of the 51 by using a coin toss method. However, the season would look very different than it does if all of my picks had been accurate. Here is which titles each player would have.

Djokovic: 8 - Australian Open, Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Roland Garros, Toronto, US Open
Isner: 5 - Delray Beach, Houston, Newport, Atlanta, Winstom-Salem
Ferrer: 5 - Hamburg, Bastad, Buenos Aires, Auckland, Doha
Murray: 4 - Rotterdam, Acapulco, Queen's Club, Shenzhen*
Monfils: 4 - Montpellier, Casablanca, Bucharest, Metz
Federer: 4 - Brisbane, Halle, Wimbledon, Cincinnati
Nadal: 4 - Rio de Janiero, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome
Fognini: 3 - Vina del Mar, Munich, Stuttgart
Cilic: 2 - Umag, Zagreb
Gulbis: 2 - Nice, Marseille
Benneteau: 1 - Kuala Lumpur*
Kohlschreiber: 1 - Kitzbuhel
Raonic: 1 - Washington D.C.
Garcia-Lopez: 1 - Gstaad
Gasquet: 1 - Bogota
Verdasco: 1 - s-Hertogenbosch
Lopez: 1 - Eastbourne
Granollers: 1 - Dusseldorf
Berdych: 1 - Oeiras
Almagro: 1 - Sao Paulo
Querrey: 1 - Memphis
Del Potro: 1 - Sydney
Wawrinka: 1 - Chennai

*Tournament is this week
Correct Picks

I absolutely nailed it with Gulbis, but was horrible at predicting for Djokovic and Murray. I also haven't picked Dimitrov to win a title yet this year and he has already won three.

If my predictions came true and rankings were based only on titles, (thankfully neither of those are true), then these would be the Race Rankings.
1. Djokovic 10,500
2. Federer 3,500
3. Nadal 3,000
4. Ferrer 1,500
4. Murray 1,500
6. Isner 1,250
7. Monfils 1,000
8. Fognini 750
9. Cilic 500
9. Gulbis 500
9. Raonic 500
12. Benneteau 250
12. Kohlschreiber 250
12. Garcia-Lopez 250
12. Gasquet 250
12. Verdasco 250
12. Lopez 250
12. Granollers 250
12. Berdych 250
12. Almagro 250
12. Querrey 250
12. Del Potro 250
12. Wawrinka 250

Murray, Isner, Monfils, and Fognini are all too high on this list, while Wawrinka is tied for last, when he is actually ranked No. 4 in the world. If I had all the time in the world, I would want to see exactly where everyone would rank in the Race Rankings if all my predictions had come true. I'm sure Wawrinka would be much higher since I have picked him to reach at last the quarterfinals at just about every event he plays.

Moral of the story though is to stop picking Isner, Fognini, and Monfils so often. I probably won't stop picking Murray, because I really think he will get things figured out quickly and could even qualify for London this year still.

Myth vs. Math: Upsets in Davis Cup

This is a bonus installment in my five-part series called Myth vs. Math. In this series, I took a look at five widely-accepted statements that tennis writers, analysts, fans, and commentators frequently make. I'm checking to see if these statements hold up against the numbers. The five statements in this series were "big servers have a notable advantage in tiebreakers," "Novak Djokovic has the best defensive return in the game right now," "Rafael Nadal tends to get tougher draws than Djokovic since making his return from injury," "The top players play the big points better than their opponents," and "The first set is the most important set in a best-of-5 match."

The bonus statement that I am looking at is "Upsets are more frequent in Davis Cup competition."
The Myth
Kelvin Gray (who you should all follow by the way) sent this tweet, asking the see if the numbers backed up the claim that it is easier to pull off an upset in a Davis Cup match than other best-of-5 matches. Kelvin believed that the numbers won't sustain the claim that upsets are easier to achieve in Davis Cup play.

So where does this claim even come from? Well, Davis Cup clearly has a very unique environment to the rest of the tour. Fans are much more involved during matches. It isn't a tournament style in a tie, so each players' first match of the weekend is just as important as the second (assuming it's not a dead rubber). Ties are also frequently held on a different surface than what players were on the week before. Also the courts are typically of a lower quality than the standard maintained on the world tour. When players play, they are representing more than themselves, putting a much different kind of pressure on them. The final thing that is different is the players in the match. Many top players don't participate in Davis Cup, leaving some potential match ups that would rarely occur on the world tour.

All these differences are reasons that there would be more upsets. Since rankings are based almost entirely on world tour play, someone who prefers a Davis Cup setting could beat a higher ranked player that is uncomfortable with the changes. Thus, many fans and experts believe that upsets are easier to achieve during Davis Cup than during the world tour.

The Math
Not a lot of heavy-duty math was required to test this myth. All we need is a compilation of results with respect to rankings from both Davis Cup and the world tour. Compiling those numbers was actually much harder than I expected since there is no way to tell the ranking of players from just looking at a draw, so excuse my extremely small sample sizes. I typically prefer to use unnecessarily large sample sizes rather than risk going to small.

The two samples I took were all Davis Cup matches in 2014 through the semifinals and all second round matches at the 2014 US Open. At first glance, the gap in upsets is not that big between Davis Cup and the US Open. In 41 live rubbers at Davis Cup so far this year, the higher ranked player has gone 29-12 (70.7%). In 31 second round US Open matches (there was one walkover), the higher ranked player went 23-8 (74.2%).

To look at it a little more closely, let's look at in how many sets a match/rubber was won or lost. In Davis Cup, the higher ranked player had 21 three-set wins, 6 four-set wins, 2 five-set wins, 5 five-set losses, 2 four-set losses, and 5 three-set losses. At the US Open, the higher ranked player had 14 three-set wins, 7 four-set wins, 2 five-set wins, 3 five-set losses, 0 four-set losses, and 5 three-set losses. The table below breaks down the percentage of times each occurred at each event.

Frequency (percentage)

3W 4W 5W 5L 4L 3L
Davis Cup 51.2 14.6 4.9 12.2 4.9 12.2
US Open 45.2 22.6 6.5 9.7 0 16

So it is more difficult to win in straight sets at the US Open for a higher ranked player, but it is harder for that player to finish a match in five sets at Davis Cup. However, no wide conclusion can be made about these numbers because ultimately a win is a win.

The next way I wanted to break it down was by ranking disparity. In Davis Cup, when the players are within 50 ranking spots, the higher ranked player went 10-7, including 4-5 when the ranking was within 20. When the ranking was between 51 and 100 spots apart, the higher ranked player went 10-4. Then when the higher ranked player was over 100 spots higher, that player went 9-1 with the only loss coming from Peter Gojowczyk's five-set win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. At the US Open, in the same categories, the records were 6-5, 9-3, and 8-0.

Based on those numbers it seems that big upsets are only slightly more likely, while small upsets are pretty close to equally common.

The Conclusion
It seems that for the most part, Kelvin was right about upsets being not much more common in Davis Cup than at the US Open. To really prove this idea would require a much larger sample size from a variety of tournaments and rounds, but these numbers show that it's just as hard to beat a better player at Davis Cup as anywhere else.

The reason that people tend to think there are more upsets in Davis Cup is because of the format of the event. An upset in Davis Cup is just as likely in the first rubber of the first tie as it is in the fifth rubber of the final. However, at tournaments, an upset can only occur in the first week, making upsets at grand slams much more forgettable (other than Wacky Wednesday).

This is the problem that I wanted to point out with the Myth vs. Math series. Simply making large assumptions without checking the numbers will frequently result in false assumptions, because we rely heavily on memorable matches to form these wrong opinions. To the numbers, every match is remembered and measured. Tennis is so far behind other sports in its dependence and organization of stats, allowing experts to state opinions that often go unchecked and are assumed true. Opinions should be accompanied by a stat that supports it - otherwise it is just fluff.

The reason I believe upsets no more likely at Davis Cup than the US Open despite the drastic change in environment is because Davis Cup participation is optional. The only players who typically get chosen to play in Davis Cup are the ones who aren't carrying any injuries and want to help their country. On the world tour, participation in some events in mandatory, so some players show up with injuries and no desire to win, and simply lose in the first round and go pick up their pay check. Since that never happens at Davis Cup, it balances out some of the upsets that are created by the unique environments that make Davis Cup so much fun.

*If you have any story ideas for me for Myth vs. Math or any topic, send me a tweet. I might write something up if it's a topic that interests me and is something I can research or at least know a little about. This story idea was completely created by Kelvin's tweet.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Breaking Down Super Surprise Saturday

Two weeks ago, this 2014 US Open was dubbed "the most open Open in the Open Era" and that remains an accurate description of this tournament. Today, the number of potential winners was narrowed from four down to two, but the title is even more up for grabs now than it was 24 hours ago.

Semifinal Saturday featured two match ups that were projected to be blowouts. World No. 1 Novak Djokovic was taking on Kei Nishikori, who plays a similar style of tennis as the Serb, but doesn't really do anything quite as well as his opponent. The other was between Marin Cilic and No. 2 seed Roger Federer. Cilic's biggest weapon is his serve, but Federer is one of the best defensive returners in the game right now presenting a huge match up issue for the Croat.

It was the most lop-sided semifinal matchups at any tournament since Rafael Nadal took on Tomas Berdych and Djokovic faced Nishikori in Miami earlier this year. The result in Miami was a pair of withdrawals by the underdogs, which reminded the tennis world just how big the gap is between the top tier and the rest of the world.

Obviously, today's result was a little different with Cilic and Nishikori coming out on top. For both, it is a first grand slam final and will be a massive boost to their rankings whether they win or lose on Monday.

While many fans will miss seeing their favorite players in a slam final, this is still going to be a very memorable final. More than many of the last 38 grand slam finals, which have all had a member of the Big Four in them, this will be a career-defining match for both players.

What happened today still doesn't mean that this is the end of the Big Four. These four athletes still control the sport, but their stranglehold was loosened once more; and in a bigger way than when Stan Wawrinka won the Australian Open.

So what does the future hold for tennis? With every major in 2014, that question has become harder and harder to answer. After the Australian Open, many thought Berdych and Wawrinka would become part of the mix more often at majors. However, Wawrinka lost in the first round of Roland Garros and Berdych went away quietly in yet another quarterfinal loss at a major.

Then everyone jumped on the Dominic Thiem and Ernests Gulbis bandwagon. But the Gulbis flame didn't last long and he dropped out of the top 10, and Thiem is still several years away from being a slam contender.

Wimbledon gave tennis fans hope that Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov, who were being billed as the next slam champions four years ago, might actually live up to expectations, and even Nick Kyrgios had the phrase "future of tennis" thrown around with his name. And once again, there was disappointment. Kyrgios struggled in the US Open series before making a decent run at the US Open only to lose to Tommy Robredo in five sets. Meanwhile, Raonic and Dimitrov both suffered disappointing losses in the fourth round at Flushing Meadows.

All the while, Juan Martin del Potro has been sidelined as tennis fans wait for him to recapture the magic he found at Flushing Meadows in 2009. Also, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Donald Young, Ryan Harrison, Jerzy Janowicz, and Bernard Tomic have done little to suggest that they could one day be at the top of the sport.

So what can we say about Gael Monfils, Cilic, and Nishikori? Will Monday's winner be just another one-slam wonder? Or will Nishikori overcome the constant injuries, Cilic overcome his inability to play best when in

matters most, and Monfils overcome his desire to put entertaining ahead of winning? For me, I don't think any of those three will overcome their own issues.

Nishikori, unfortunately, will always be one of those "what if?" kind of guys when we look back on his career, because of all the injuries. Those won't just suddenly stop because he has reached a grand slam. Cilic meanwhile, will likely follow a similar trajectory as Berdych. One grand slam final followed by many second week appearances, but no titles at any of the four biggest tournaments. For Monfils, it's simply too little too late. He can't turn his career around now, but his matches with Fabio Fognini will always be one of the most memorable parts of this era of tennis.

The Big Four's dominance isn't over yet, but when it finally is over, we won't see anything like it from this next generation. I will sum it up with this prediction: no current top-100 player outside of the Big Four will finish their career with any more than four grand slam titles.