Friday, October 31, 2014

London World No. 1 Scenarios

Milos Raonic claimed a 7-6(5), 7-5 win over Roger Federer yesterday, meaning that Novak Djokovic is guaranteed to be the No. 1 seed at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, which starts in a week.

Djokovic is playing Milos Raonic in the final in Paris. Djokovic now holds a 910-point lead over Federer in the Race to London Rankings. These are the scenarios for who between the two will be the world No. 1 after the year-end finals.

Note: Roger Federer can gain up to 225 additional points in the Davis Cup Final following the year-end finals and Djokovic will lose 150 points, so Djokovic could be the No. 1 after London, but Federer could still be the year-end No. 1.

If Djokovic loses to Raonic, Djokovic would hold a 910-point lead over Federer going into London...
-If Djokovic reaches the final or wins all three group stage matches, he will remain the world No. 1.
-If Djokovic only wins two group stage matches, Federer must win the title and all three group stage matches to be world No. 1.
-If Djokovic only wins one group stage match, Federer must win the title and at least two group stag matches or all three group stage matches and his semifinal to be the world No. 1.
-If Djokovic doesn't win any match, Federer must win the title or two group stage matches and his semifinal to be world No. 1.

If Djokovic wins Paris, Djokovic would hold a 1310-point lead over Federer going into London...
-If Djokovic wins one group stage match, he will remain world No. 1.
-If Djokovic doesn't win any group stage match, Federer must win all five matches to be the world No. 1.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Draw Fixing

There has always been a belief in the tennis world that when draws are made, it isn't as random as it is supposed to be. It is a big claim, but it appears to have some validity to it based on the statistics. However, the statisticians who are trying to prove that the draws aren't entirely random use an old mathematical trick to prove their point, which isn't false, but it is misleading.

One of the best examples of using this kind of mathematical persuasion about draw-fixing is in this article. It is a very well written article in which the writer clearly has a very good understanding of statistics. However, the writer also has an agenda, which can result in drawing the wrong conclusions.

It was written by Katarina Pijetlovic and the trick she used was simple, but well disguised. I'll explain it with an example: Consider the match between John Isner and Nicholas Mahut. There were 137 holds to start the fifth set. Based on the stats, there was an 85% chance of Mahut holding in each game and an 87% chance of Isner holding in each game. That means there was a 0.000000106% chance of there being 137 holds to start the fifth set.

Based on this, you could conclude that Mahut and Isner decided that they wanted to hold the record for longest match ever so neither of them tried to break serve. Then maybe even add a narrative to make the argument even stronger. Say Isner and Mahut were trying to get players to receive more prize money for first round exits, so they made the match last three days to strengthen their argument that they deserve it.

However, this conclusion certainly false. Nobody who watched the match thought this was happening on purpose. Although the statistical probability makes this argument seem undeniable, an honest look at the events that took place shows that the match wasn't fixed.

Pijetlovic has made the same argument in her article. She took an event that has already occurred. Then she went back and measured the statistical odds of it. After finding the odds very low, she drew a wrong conclusion that she supported with a narrative about tournament directors wanting Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in finals.

This can be done with almost anything.

There is one other stat that Pijetlovic uses that has nothing to do with odds that jumps out at readers. It's that Federer and Djokovic were on the same half of the draw in 12 consecutive grand slam events on hard and grass courts.

However, this stat is flawed too. Look at all the qualifiers that exist in this stat: Federer, Djokovic, slam event, hard, and grass court. That is five different qualifiers. If you have enough qualifiers, anything can be an impressive stat.

Consider Tobias Kamke - the No. 93 player in the world. He is a decent player but probably won't be remembered too long after he retires by most tennis fans. Yet, he is the best player that was born in Germany, plays a two-handed backhand, hasn't had a 29th birthday yet, and has a win over a top 10 opponent.

With just four qualifiers, I made Kamke the best player in the world. Pijetlovic uses five! With every qualifier added, her number loses statistical significance. After all five qualifiers, 12 seems almost expected - not a sign of fixing.

Pijetlovic did a great job using these tricks and I would do the same thing if I wanted to prove a theory like that. It's a very effective strategy, but it doesn't work this time because draw-fixing simply doesn't happen on the ATP or in the ITF.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

BabyFederer meets Roger Federer in Basel

BASEL, Switzerland >> Tomorrow evening, Roger Federer will play against Grigor Dimitrov for the second consecutive year at Swiss Indoors Basel quarterfinals in the most highly anticipated match of the tournament.

Dimitrov and Federer have been drawn close to each other in several tournaments in the past few months, but the two have managed to avoid having to play each other. In fact, no two players currently in the top 10 (Dimitrov dropped out of the top 10 on Monday) have played each other less often than Dimitrov and Federer.

The match has garnered such hype from the comparisons of Dimitrov to Federer, which began when the Bulgarian was just a junior. The similarities between the two were so obvious, that Dimitrov has eaned the nickname BabyFederer. Whether he likes it or not, the name has stuck with him even after he cracked the top 10 and had the rare accomplishment of winning titles on all three surfaces in just a five-month span.

The similarities extent beyond just the logos on their rackets, shoes, and shirts. Everything Dimitrov does from the way he hits the ball to his footwork to his habit of wiping his mouth with his wristband draws comparisons to Federer.

Many are quick to point out the differences between the tactically, which is an argument that has some validity. Federer tends to be more intelligent with his shot selection, more aggressive in court-positioning, and is more willing to approach the net. However, when the No. 5 seed does decide to take the ball early or approach the net, the similarities between the two are illuminated.

The two players also share a love for trick shots. Dimitrov has hit several amazing tweeners, facing the net and even gone behind the back against Viktor Troicki and Jack Sock more recently. Dimitrov also isn't afraid to hit winners while sliding into the splits. Federer's trick shots have a higher degree of difficulty hitting smashes and tweeners with his back to the net. He has also been known to pull out some genius head fakes like a point guard in the NBA.

The second match between Federer and BabyFederer will start not before 10 p.m. local time.The winner of their match will play either Ivo Karlovic or Benjamin Becker. Both players have dropped one set en route to the quarterfinals.

In their meeting last year, Federer needed just 92 minutes to defeat Dimitrov 6-3, 7-6(2). The No. 1 seed will try to repeat the performance as he battles for the year-end No. 1 title. Dimitrov, who is the No. 5 seed in Basel, is on the bubble for London qualification.
Their match last year produced some rallies that normally you could only find in a video game. If you want to know who would win if Federer played himself, just watch the highlights from their match last year. There's no better way to see just how amazingly similar they are than to see them both on the same court at once.

My prediction: Dimitrov in 3

Sunday, October 12, 2014

World No. 1 Scenarios: Djokovic vs. Federer

Roger Federer defeated Gilles Simon to win his 81st title and first in Shanghai
Roger Federer's impressive 6-4, 6-4 win over Novak Djokovic in Shanghai didn't just give him a the title eventually - it put him within reach of earning the sport's top ranking at the end of the regular season. Now, he has added the title in Basel, increasing his chances of being the top seed in London.

He currently trails Djokovic in the Race to London Rankings by 490 points, and after Bercy, the Race Rankings become the 52-week rankings, meaning Federer has a chance to become the world No. 1 by the end of the week.

Djokovic is the top seed in Paris with Federer as the No. 2 seed.

-If Djokovic reaches the final in Paris, he will clinch the top seed in London, but Federer controls the rankings if Djokovic does any worse.

-If Djokovic loses in the quarterfinals or semifinals, Federer can become the world No. 1 with what would be his second career title in Paris.

Race to London nearing dramatic finish

If you don't think qualifying for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London is a huge goal for professional tennis players, go check the entry lists for the three 250-level tournaments being played this week.

Sandwiched between a pair of Masters Series 1000 events along with two 500-events, the 250 events in Vienna, Moscow, and Stockholm this week are typically avoided by the top players without a second thought. However, as the race to London reaches its climax, it is as competitive as ever to earn one of the final three available slots.

With the exception of Kei Nishikori, who preventing a miracle will qualify for London, all five players that are on the bubble for qualification are in action this week along with Marin Cilic, who has clinched because of the grand slam rule. That means, Tomas Berdych, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, David Ferrer, and Andy Murray are all playing this week. Murray has never played in Vienna and needed a wildcard to get in, as did Ferrer, who hadn't played the event in a decade. Meanwhile, Raonic is playing Moscow for the first time in his career.

With four spots already locked up officially and Cilic qualified by the grand slam rule, three spots are up for grabs and Nishikori has almost claimed one of them, so the five players in action this week will be battling for the last two spots in the next three weeks. Right now, Berdych leads the group of five with Dimitrov at the bottom, but less than 500 points separate the two.

The race will get even thicker next week with all five again in action in 500 events with both Berdych and Murray accepting wildcards into Valencia along with Cilic, Ferrer, and Nishikori, while Dimitrov and Raonic will play in Basel.

Here is the break down of each of the six players that have not yet qualified or been eliminated that are competing for the final three available spots:

5. Kei Nishikori
Current Race Ranking Points: 4,265
Previous WTF Qualifications: None
Upcoming events: Valencia and Paris
Prediction: Will Qualify
After reaching the final at the US Open, Nishikori was almost a lock to be in the final showdown to end the season. He has only strengthened his credentials with titles in Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo, but missed out on a chance to clinch his spot with a first round loss in Shanghai. Still, Nishikori could lose in the first round of Valencia and Paris and still likely get into London.

7. Tomas Berdych
Current Race Ranking Points: 3,945
Previous WTF Qualifications: 4 times (2010-13)
Upcoming events: Valencia and Paris
Prediction: Will Qualify

His losses have been ugly since the US Open, but luckily losses have been a rarity for Berdych, who has won six of his last eight matches.  The Czech has a great draw in Stockholm and should have no problem at least reaching the final. In Valencia, he will be the No. 3 seed, so he will be on the opposite side of the draw as Murray. Based on records on hard courts, Berdych would much rather be on Ferrer's side of the draw with a 3-4 record against the Spaniard on hard courts including wins in the last two. Meanwhile, he is 0-3 against Nishikori, who will be the No. 2 seed, on hard courts. Whether or not he qualifies really depends on how he does in Paris, which is where he won his second career title back in 2005. However, since then, Berdych has been a pedestrian 14-8 in Bercy.

8. Milos Raonic 
Current Race Ranking Points: 3,735
Previous WTF Qualifications: None
Upcoming events: Moscow, Basel, and Paris
Prediction: Won't Qualify

Raonic will be in action for five consecutive weeks in order to try to reach the year-end finals. His retirement in his first match in Shanghai put his qualification in serious doubt. For him, more than any other player on this list, this next week is crucial. Raonic is the only one on the bubble in Moscow - with Cilic as the No. 2 seed, so anything less than an appearance in a final would be a huge missed opportunity. Also this will set the tone for the two following weeks since he is coming off of the retirement in Shanghai. In Basel, he will be the No. 4 seed, so he will be on the opposite side of Stan Wawrinka, meaning he will either be on Rafael Nadal's side of Roger Federer's. Given Nadal's physical condition in Basel, Raonic would much rather be on his side of the draw. Raonic wins about 10.8% more often when he plays indoors than outdoors in his career, so if he is healthy, he could be very dangerous this week.

9. David Ferrer
Current Race Ranking Points: 3,715
Previous WTF Qualifications: 5 times (2007, 10-13)
Upcoming events: Vienna, Valencia, and Paris
Prediction: Won't Qualify

It seems strange to think that Ferrer wouldn't be in the world tour finals since he is currently No. 5 in the world and has never spent a week outside of the top eight in four years. However, that is a likely reality after the Spanish No. 2 went out in his first match of Shenzhen and Tokyo. He kept himself in the hunt with an impressive win over Murray in Shanghai to reach the quarterfinals and surpass Murray in the race. He could face Murray again in both Vienna and Valencia before we even get to Paris. If the final spot in London is truly between Ferrer and Murray, this is the best kind of drama the ATP could ask for to end the year.

10. Andy Murray
Current Race Ranking Points: 3,655
Previous WTF Qualifications: 5 times (2008-12)
Upcoming events: Vienna, Valencia, and Paris
Prediction: Will Qualify

Murray is making the biggest push of any player to try to qualify for the world tour finals held in his home country. The Brit accepted wildcards to both Vienna and Valencia specifically to rack up enough points to qualify to play in the O2 arena. Murray had to pull out of the event after one match in 2011 and missed the event last year and has never reached the final. With titles at the London Olympics, Wimbledon, and Queen's Club, the year-end finals along with Eastbourne are the only events in Great Britain, which Murray hasn't won yet. Until the loss to Ferrer, Murray had been playing his best tennis of the year since the US Open.
11. Grigor Dimitrov
Current Race Ranking Points: 3,450
Previous WTF Qualifications: 4 times (2010-13)
Upcoming events: Valencia and Paris
Prediction: Won't Qualify

At the start of the season, Dimitrov wasn't on most people's radars as someone who would be in the year-end finals, but after reaching the quarterfinals in Melbourne and winning the title in Acapulco, BabyFederer became a serious contender. The Bulgarian has not been impressive since reaching the semifinals in Canada, where he looked like a player that would be qualified by now. Instead he is at the bottom of this list, but he certainly isn't out of the race. Out of the five players in action this week, Dimitrov has the toughest draw and he will go into Basel as the No. 5 seed, meaning he will need to come up with some big wins just to reach the final. If Dimitrov gets into the year-end finals, he is going to have to earn it, but I think tennis would love to see him join Raonic as the first two players born in the 90s to reach the world tour finals.