Wednesday, April 22, 2015

2015 Har-Tru Wildcard Challenge Standings

We are halfway into the 2015 Har-Tru Wildcard Challenge, which is a three-tournament swing on green clay to determine which American will receive the USTA's one main draw wildcard into Roland Garros.

The rules are that the American that receives the most ranking points combined ranking points from any two of the three events in Sarasota, Savannah, and Tallahassee will receive the wildcard. Obviously, the wildcard won't go to someone who doesn't need it to get into the main draw.

Sarasota has already been completed with two Argentines going to the final, and now Savannah is underway with four Americans already into the quarterfinals. Here are the overall standings going into play on Thursday.

1. Frances Tiafoe 47
2. Bjorn Fratangelo 37
3. Chase Buchanan 35
4. Jared Donaldson 33
5. Mitch Krueger 23
6. Tim Smyczek 15 (Doesn't need a WC into RG)
7. Austin Krajicek 8 (On the bubble for direct acceptance)
8. Tennys Sandgren 7
8. Tommy Paul 7

Chase Buchanan - The Ohio State graduate currently holds the lead, but it is almost impossible for him to win the wildcard, because he decided to play in Santos instead of Savannah. His only hope at this point is to receive a wildcard from Tallahassee, which he didn't originally put on the schedule.

Frances Tiafoe - At 17-years old, he is one of the fan favorites to win the wildcard. He will play Mitch Krueger in the Savannah quarterfinals on Friday. Last week he reached his first career quarterfinals on the Challenger Tour, doing so as a qualifier. In Savannah, he received a wildcard and wasted no time making his second career quarterfinal. He defeated Krueger in their only career meeting, which came earlier this year, resulting in a 7-5, 6-4 decision for Tiafoe. If he does defeat Krueger, he will be in at least a tie for first place going into his semifinal. He will also be in the main draw of Tallahassee with a wildcard.

Jared Donaldson - The other teenager for the main draw in Tallahassee is Donaldson, who at only 18-years old is already ranked high enough to get directly into the event. He too has reached the quarterfinals of both challengers, and in his Friday quarterfinal, he will play Bjorn Fratangelo, who is ranked just five spots higher than Donaldson, and has already crushed two Americans in straight sets this week.

Bjorn Fratangelo - Ranked at No. 165 in the world, 21-year old Fratangelo has already won a Challenger title this year and is a contender for the title in Savannah. He will play Donaldson in the quarterfinals, who he has never met before in a professional match. Fratangelo has never reached a grand slam main draw and has only played qualifying for two grand slams in his career (2011 US Open & 2013 US Open). He will reach a new career-high ranking on Monday whether he wins or loses on Friday.

Mitch Krueger - Krueger is enjoying the best year of his career, playing in futures, challengers, and qualifying for Masters. He claimed the title at the futures event in Los Angeles and is into the quarterfinals in Savanah, where he will play Tiafoe. Krueger already beat Jarmere Jenkins and Liam Broady. He has twice played in US Open qualifying but never reached the main draw of a grand slam event. Earlier this year, he reached a career-high ranking of 288.

Austin Krajicek - The Texas A&M alum is having one of the best 2015 seasons of any American, and as a result, he might not even need a wild card. He started the year at a career-high ranking of 152 and has already raised that to 116 thanks to three tour-level wins and a Challenger title in Leon, Mexico. He did not play in Savannah, but is currently set to be the No. 1 seed in Tallahassee. He reached the second round in Sarasota.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Djokovic's Monte Carlo Title By The Numbers

Novak Djokovic captured the Monte Carlo title for a second time in his career on Sunday with a three-set win over Tomas Berdych after, beating Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-3 the day before in the semifinals. Here are some lists, facts, and statistics on Djokovic's win in Monte Carlo.

Career Masters 1000 Titles
1. Rafael Nadal 27
2. Novak Djokovic 23
2. Roger Federer 23
4. Andre Agassi 17
5. Pete Sampras 11
6. Thomas Muster 8
7. Michael Chang 7
8. Gustavo Kuerten 5
8. Andy Roddick 5
8. Marat Safin 5
8. Boris Becker 5
8. Jim Courier 5
8. Marcelo Rios 5

Career Masters Wins
1. Roger Federer 317
2. Rafael Nadal 288
3. Novak Djokovic 244
4. Andre Agassi 209
5. Pete Sampras 190
6. David Ferrer 163
7. Andy Roddick 157
8. Thomas Berdych 156
9. Andy Murray 140
10. Michael Chang 137

-Djokovic currently holds five Masters 1000 titles. It is the third time in his career (2011,14,15) that he has held five at once. Rafael Nadal is the only other player to hold five at once, and he has only done it once in his career (2013).

-Djokovic has claimed the title at four consecutive Masters 1000 events, becoming just the second player to reach that accomplishment (Nadal 2013). Federer once won four 1000 events in a row that he played in, but they were non-consecutive events.

-If Djokovic either wins Madrid or any two of the next five Masters 1000 events, he will break the record for most Masters 1000 titles held at once.

-When the new rankings come out, Djokovic will have 13,845 ranking points, which is the second most in his career and the third most in tennis history. Nadal reached 14,580 on February 24, 2014. Djokovic reached 14,720 on September 12, 2011, which remains the record. If Djokovic wins Madrid, he would break that record again.

-Djokovic's lead over Federer when the new rankings come out on Monday will be 5,460 points. That is the largest gap between No. 1 and No. 2 in the history of tennis rankings.

Novak Djokovic won three matches against players ranked in the top 10 in his run to the Monte Carlo title. Here's the list of most career top-10 victories in tennis history:

Career Top 10 Wins
1. Roger Federer 182
2. Novak Djokovic 138
3. Rafael Nadal 130
4. Pete Sampras 124
5. Boris Becker 121
6. Ivan Lendl 119
7. Andre Agassi 109
8. Stefan Edberg 96
9. John McEnroe 85
10. Jimmy Connors 84

Djokovic's year-by-year Masters 1000 results
Year: Record (Titles)
2015: 16-0 (3)
2014: 28-4 (4)
2013: 28-6 (3)
2012: 34-6 (3)
2011: 33-1 (5)
2010: 16-8 (0)
2009: 33-8 (1)
2008: 25-7 (2)
2007: 24-7 (2)
2006: 5-7 (0)
2004: 2-2 (0)
Career: 244-56 (23)

Djokovic's tournament-by-tournament Masters 1000 results
Tournament: Record (Titles)
Indian Wells: 41-6 (4)
Miami: 36-5 (5)
Monte Carlo: 28-7 (2)
Madrid: 16-6 (1)
Rome: 29-6 (3)
Canada: 26-5 (3)
Cincinnati: 22-10 (0)
Shanghai: 19-3 (2)
Paris: 21-6 (3)
Hamburg: 6-3 (0)
World Tour Finals: 23-9 (4)

-Djokovic now has a 32-match winning streak in tournaments worth more than 500, winning in Paris, London, Melbourne, Indian Wells, Miami, and Monte Carlo consecutively. He went on a 33-match winning streak of the same kind in 2011.

-Djokovic has now won 18 of the last 39 Masters 1000 events.

-Djokovic beat Nadal 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals, which was his 20th career victory over Nadal, becoming the first player to defeat Nadal 20 times. Also the first player to win 20 tour-level matches against the same player and not lead the head-to-head record. Djokovic has beaten Nadal five times on clay now and four of those wins were in straight sets.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Roland Garros Seeding Projections

It's deja vu all over again. Just like in 2013, Rafael Nadal has had his ranking slip because of an injury and he is going to be seeded dangerously low at this year's Roland Garros, where he is five-time defending champion.

How low he will actually be seeded is still unknown though. The highest he can possibly be seeded is No. 4 which would not guarantee that he is on the opposite side of the draw as Novak Djokovic and the lowest he can possibly be seeded is about No. 10, which means he could run into Djokovic, Roger Federer, or Andy Murray as early as the quarterfinals.

Here is a list of how things stand now. This is the "Race to Roland Garros" Rankings. It's the same idea as Race to London, but applied to Roland Garros. The formula is simply the current 52-week ranking points total with the points from this week added. Then take away all the points they have to defend before Roland Garros seedings are released, which is following Rome.

Race to Roland Garros Rankings
1. Novak Djokovic 12,845
2. Roger Federer 8,525
3. Andy Murray 5,940
4. Tomas Berdych 4,690
5. Milos Raonic 4,620
6. Kei Nishikori 4,480
7. David Ferrer 4,130
8. Rafael Nadal 3,790
9. Stan Wawrinka 3,395
10. Marin Cilic 3,270
11. Grigor Dimitrov 2,625
12. Feliciano Lopez 2,235
13. Gilles Simon 2,120
14. Gael Monfils 2,110
15. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 1,910
16. Kevin Anderson 1,870
17. Roberto Bautista Agut 1,840
18. David Goffin 1,750
19. Tommy Robredo 1,710
19. John Isner 1,710
21. Pablo Cuevas 1,582
22. Richard Gasquet 1,480
23. Ernests Gulbis 1,470
23. Ivo Karlovic 1,470
25. Philipp Kohlschreiber 1,445
26. Bernard Tomic 1,365
27. Lenardo Mayer 1,352
28. Adrian Mannarino 1,248
29. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 1180
29. Fabio Fognini 1,180
31. Viktor Troicki 1,155
32. Nick Kyrgios 1,130
Jack Sock 1,102
Lukas Rosol 980
Martin Klizan 950
Jeremy Chardy 930
Santiago Giraldo 735

All that really matters for Nadal is if he is in the top four or not. It is extremely unlikely that either Wawrinka or Cilic will outplay Nadal over the course of the clay season leading up to Roland Garros by enough to surpass him. So the real question then is: can Nadal surpass Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, and David Ferrer?

Nadal would have to outplay all four of them during the clay season by a significant amount to reach the No. 4 seed. Raonic will be one of the tougher ones to surpass, because he nearly holds a 1000-point advantage over the Spaniard. However, Raonic suffered a right foot injury in Monte Carlo, which could end up making him the easiest to surpass.

Mathematically, David Ferrer will be the easiest for Nadal to pass, but even that isn't a given. Ferrer remains in the draw in Barcelona affording him a great chance to extend his lead over Nadal.

Kei Nishikori is the next one Nadal must pass. Nishikori showed he is capable on clay with what he did in Madrid and Barcelona last year. The Japanese has been solid but not spectacular in 2015. He remains in the Barcelona draw and also has a great chance like Ferrer to extend his lead over Nadal. The worst case scenario for Nadal would be if Ferrer and Nishikori meet in the final.

Tomas Berdych poses the biggest threat to Nadal earning a top four seed. He has a 900-point lead over Nadal in the Race to Roland Garros Rankings and is on fire in 2015. Berdych reached the final in Monte Carlo, where he fell to Djokovic. Berdych has never been ranked in the top four in the world, but that is now a very real possibility when the rankings come out the Monday after Rome if not sooner.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Jack Sock makes his comeback to tennis - and then some

The ATP World Tour has seen a number of impressive career comebacks over the last few years, and none has been as incredible as Brian Baker's. However, Jack Sock is putting together a comeback that just three tournaments in already rivals those of players like Rafael Nadal, Viktor Troicki, Tommy Haas, Marin Cilic, and Pablo Cuevas.

In those three tournaments, Jack Sock has gone 9-2 in singles and 9-1 in doubles, and will be at his career high ranking in both singles and doubles when the new rankings come out on Monday -- And he has done all this, while playing for his brother Eric Sock, who just had a miraculous recovery from illness as explained in Alison Kim's feature for the ATP website.

Sock was away from the tour with a torn muscle in his pelvis for four months, causing him to miss the Australian Open this year. The American didn't have much to defend in terms of ranking points during the four-month period, so his ranking only dropped 17 spots in singles, going from 41 to 58. Meanwhile, his doubles ranking took a slight dip from 13 to 16.

The No. 4 American (will be No. 3 on Monday if he loses tomorrow, No. 2 in he wins) made his comeback to the tour in March, playing at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. His results at Indian Wells didn't make it just a successful return, but also one of the best tournaments he has had in his career.

In singles, he reached the round of 16, coming through two very tight matches, winning third sets 7-5 and 7-6(7), before recording another three-set victory against No. 16 Roberto Bautista Agut 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. His run was eventually ended by world No. 2 and eventual finalist Roger Federer, but that didn't end his time in Indian Wells with Sock still playing doubles with Vasek Pospisil.

The Canadian/American duo that won Wimbledon went on to win their third title as a pair that week. Sock and Pospisil won their first two rounds in straight sets, setting up a rematch of the Wimbledon final with the Bob and Mike Bryan, who Sock and Pospisil defeated 6-4, 6-4. They went on to win their first Masters title against Italian pairing of Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini, 6-4, 6-7(3), 10-7.

Sock's momentum rolled right into Miami, where he reached the final in doubles and third round in singles. In the doubles draw with Pospisil, he defeated the Italian pair again in the second round and in the final, met the Bryans again. The twins got their revenge this time, winning 6-3, 1-6, 10-8. Sock defeated Fognini in singles as well to reach the third round where he fell to Dominic Thiem.

At his third consecutive tournament in the comeback, Sock focused on just singles in Houston, since Pospisil didn't make the trip to the first clay event of the season. Sock entered the tournament with just seven career wins on clay at the tour level and no finals of any kind at the top tier of the game.

However, Sock reached his first tour-level final on any surface on the clay of Houston, defeating the No. 2, 5, and then 3 seeds to set up Sunday's final against Sam Querrey. Sock came back from down a set from his first round match against Joao Souza, making his fourth comeback from down a set in his return.

Then in the second round, he recorded his second win in three tournaments against Bautista Agut. He also beat No. 5 seed Santiago Giraldo by the same score, 6-4, 6-4 to set up a semifinal with Kevin Anderson. Sock blazed through the South African in two sets to reach the final, meaning his ranking will move up to around No. 41 in the world (depending on what happens in the finals in Houston as well as Casablanca) -- the same career-high ranking that he reached right before his comeback began.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Racket Rally Fantasy Insider: Monte Carlo

This is the fifth installment of the series, which features fantasy tips and rankings for Racket RallyYou can find a more detailed explanation of the series here.

The clay season is upon us, which means it is time for some serious retooling be done. The hard court specialists won't be very valuable during this nine-week period, while the Europeans and Latin Americans that grew up on the red clay are now suddenly very valuable. There are lots of big events in a short period of time all leading up to Roland Garros, and the faster you transform your portfolio into a clay-friendly lineup, the more you are going to benefit from the clay season. Also, women are not in action next week outside of a small 50-point event. The WTA schedule is fairly light for the next few weeks, so having shares on the ATP side is going to be beneficial in the short term.

Tip of the Week: Rebuilding mode is a real thing. 
In team sports, what franchises do sometimes is start selling all of their expensive veterans to make room for lots of young talented players to start to flourish. Instead of sticking with the same known players who have diminishing returns, they invest in a large number of players, figuring that out of that group a few will stand out. The same goes for Racket Rally. Don't get stuck with just a few shares of the known top 10 players on the WTA and ATP. If someone isn't playing well enough considering their price, ditch them. You may miss their guaranteed 360 or so points every week, but gambling on a player that has the possibility of finishing high on the MVP list isn't as risky when you have a large number of shares in a variety of players. Take the momentary loss for the chance at big gains in the long run. We're playing to win - not just to finish in the middle of the pack.

Top Prospects vs. Drop Prospects
Top Prospects
1. Rafael Nadal, 28, ESP
Price per share: $5,255
Talking about retooling for clay, how about buying the King of Clay? And for only $5,255! Those of you who have been patient with Nadal are about to see the rewards. Even if Nadal has the worst clay season of his career, he will be worth way more than he costs. This is one quarter of the season, so for Nadal to be worth the price, he would have to earn around 1300 ranking points. He's going to be playing five events, so he will likely get about double that amount, and that would be his worst clay season in a decade arguably. There has never been a safer bet in this game. Time to buy in on Nadal.
2. David Goffin, 24, BEL
Price per share: $1, 695
I've been raving about Goffin in this series for a while, and the deal on Goffin has never been better. He loves the clay, and currently has a 20-match winning streak on clay. Also, he is defending almost nothing during this portion of the season, which means that it is now or never with Goffin. He is planning to play Munich along with all the main clay tournaments, so he won't be sitting in your portfolio doing nothing.
3. Alexandr Dolgopolov, 26, UKR
Price per share: $670
To get an in form player like Dolgopolov at this price is a great deal. He has just recently plummeted in price, which is a delayed reaction to him missing the US Open Series and the US Open as well. It is not a reflection of his current form. He has reached the third round or better at four consecutive tournaments nearly defeated Djokovic to reach the Miami quarterfinals. He hasn't been as successful on the clay in his career, but this is a buy for the rest of the season, not just the clay. The one potential risk is that he may have to go through qualifying in Madrid and Rome, and nobody is worse to own in Racket Rally than a qualifier.
4. Yoshihito Nishioka, 19, JAP
Price per share: $345
At just 19 years of age, Nishioka is certainly younger than the players I typically recommend in the top prospects. Buying on cheap teenagers can be a very risky move, but Nishioka has separated himself from other teenagers by showing that he isn't so vulnerable to upsets. He will be playing in the American green clay swing on the Challenger Tour. He won three clay titles on the futures tour, showing that his level doesn't dip between the hard and clay courts. He'll likely be unseeded at all three tournaments, which does make this a bit of a risk, but he comes at such a low price that you won't lose much even if he falls in the first round at all three, which isn't going to happen.
5. Simone Bolelli, 29, ITA
Price per share: $931
I guess this is the week to make a debut on this series. Bolelli as an Italian is one of the few true clay specialists on tour, and he comes at a decent price. He is still making his comeback from when he dropped out of the top 300, continuing to raise his ranking. This time last year, he didn't have the ranking to get into the tour-level clay events, so even though he tore it up on the Challenger Tour, he still comes at a good price. Like Dolgopolov, he may have to go through qualifying in Madrid, but he is sure to get a wild card in Rome if necessary. He has a packed clay schedule, playing every week other than the possibility that he takes the week after Rome off. Keep him for the clay season and then drop him. That's what it means to be a clay specialist, right?

Drop Prospects
I decided to do this section a little differently than normal, because there is no way to limit this section to just five people. Everyone just received three court coins and it couldn't have come at a better time, because there are some big switches that need to be made. It's time to consider selling your most expensive players - going into rebuilding mode as mentioned in the Tip of the Week.

Players to consider dropping are players on the WTA, who are taking this portion of the season as more of an off-season, which is everyone in the top 100. Also, drop players like Stan Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez or Kei Nishikori, who have unreasonable amounts of points to defend. Make sure you don't have injured players like Richard Gasquet, Nick Kyrgios, Juan Martin del Potro, or Ernests Gulbis. It's also definitely time to bail out on that slumping player of whom you have 50 shares. The last group is those who might as well be allergic to clay. Check their career records on clay. If less than 20 percent of their futures events were on clay, they have less than 10 tour-level clay wins, or have won less than 40 percent of clay matches, you don't want them on your portfolio.

*All photos are from the site and are credited there.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tipsarevic makes it a successful comeback in Houston

It has been 17 months since the last time former world No. 8 Janko Tipsarevic stepped on a tennis court for an ATP World Tour singles match. The Serb has been away from tennis with an injured heel tendon, but on Tuesday afternoon, Tipsarevic made his return to tennis with a big win in Houston.

Tipsarevic defeated No. 168 Guilherme Clezar after saving two match points, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(7) in over two and a half hours on Center Court to reach the second round of the U.S. Men's Clay Court Championships.

Both of Clezar's match points came in the tiebreak, and Tipsarevic saved the first one on his serve to even the score at 6-6. Then after Clezar got the minibreak, he had a match point on his own serve.

Ačiū visiems už palaikymą Daviso taurės metu. Žiūrim į priekį! Kartu su Janko sunkiai dirbam ir ruošiamės artėjančioms kovoms! :)
Posted by Ricardas Berankis on Thursday, March 12, 2015

After a long rally, Tipsarevic hit a sharp backhand cross court and then hit a forehand from behind the baseline right to where Clezar had just been for a winner. He then won the next two points to secure a spot in the second round.

One of Tipsarevic's few public moments
during his time away was at
Djokovic's wedding, where he
couldn't walk on his own power.
Clezar entered the match looking for his first career tour-level victory in eight tries, and he looked to be in good form to do it after getting through qualifying without dropping a set after just reaching the final of the Santiago Challenger only three weeks ago.

However, Tipsarevic, who had no form coming into the match, put an end to the consecutive sets won streak with a dominant first set. Tipsarevic fired seven aces with just one double fault and didn't face a single break point. On return, he won 7-of-8 points against Clezar's second serve and converted the only break chance he needed.

The former US Open quarter-finalist continued to control the momentum early in the second set, getting the early break, but Tipsarevic's first serve percentage then took a sharp dip. He ended up making just 40% of his first serves in the first set and double faulted seven times, getting broken three times to drop the set 3-6.

The deciding set seemed to be taking the same pattern with Tipsarevic breaking early only to give the break right back. However, Tipsarevic managed to steady the ship despite still making only 46% of his first serves in the third set.

After Clezar held to even the decider at 5-5, the Brazilian put some pressure on Tipsarevic, creating one break opportunity after several deuces. The Serb saved it with his 17th ace of the match and eventually got the hold leading into the tiebreaker.

The last time Tipsarevic played a tiebreaker with a match on the line was in 2012 against Milos Raonic in Tokyo. Tipsarevic eventually lost the match, but despite trailing 3-1 in the tiebreaker on Tuesday, he did not have the same result.

In total, Tipsarevic made less than 50% of his serves in the match and double faulted 12 times, which are likely both results of rust building up over the last year and a half. He finished the match with just one more point won than his opponent, 107-106.

Tipsarevic also showed off some fine physical form, chasing down a Clezar drop-and-lob combo over two hours into the match.
Just a couple weeks ago, Tipsarevic made his return in doubles action, pairing with good friend Novak Djokovic, where the pair lost in a third-set super tiebreaker. Tipsarevic was able to enter the tournament with a protected ranking, but in Houston, he received a wildcard, allowing him to preserve one of the eight times he is allowed to use his protected ranking for singles.
The Serb will be back on court on Thursday for his round of 16 match against No. 5 seed Santiago Giraldo. The win gives Tipsarevic 20 ranking points, so even if he loses in the next round, he will be ranked somewhere around 830 in the world.

Monday, April 6, 2015

10 story lines to watch during the ATP's clay season

With the conclusion of the Miami Open on Easter Sunday, the ATP World Tour now moves into its only full-time clay season, which is a nine-week period that culminates in the French Open, which is the only major that is played on the clay. Here is a look at the most important story lines going into the clay season:
1. Djokovic looking to complete career grand slam. Ever since Novak Djokovic won the title at the US Open in 2011, nothing has been more important to him than winning the Roland Garros title to complete the career grand slam. Also, nobody has won both the Australian Open and Roland Garros in the same season since Jim Courier in 1992. In all three attempts to win Roland Garros since winning the US Open, Djokovic has come up short, losing to Rafael Nadal on all three occasions. Djokovic will be 28 years-old at this year's Roland Garros, so time is running out for the Serb.

2. Nadal has to defend 3,870 points. To say that Nadal has been in a slump since winning Roland Garros last year would be a massive understatement. The Spaniard has only reached two semifinals of events since then and both were small clay-court events in South America. If Nadal doesn't defend any of his points, he will drop all the way down to No. 26 in the world. Of course, he will defend some of those points and the fall won't be that drastic.

However, if he does not have a great start to his clay season, he could easily be seeded as low as No. 9 at Roland Garros, since only 850 points separate him from current world No. 9 Stan Wawrinka, who also has a Monte Carlo title to defend. However, if Nadal is seeded anywhere lower than five he will have to go through a top four seed in the quarterfinals. And if he is as low as No. 9, he would have to beat a higher seeded player just to get to the quarterfinals, setting up all sorts of possibilities for wacky draws. Bottom line is though, that if Nadal does not get out of his slump immediately, his ranking is going to drop to places it hasn't been in almost a decade.

3. American clay court challenger swing. Following the tournament in Houston, the US clay season switches over to the Challenger Tour, where there are three consecutive events in Sarasota, Savannah, and Tallahassee. At those tournaments, the American that earns the most points at two of the events (whichever two of the three that he scores best in) will receive a wild card into the Roland Garros main draw. The last three to win the wildcard were Robby Ginepri (2014), Alex Kuznetsov (2013), and Brian Baker (2012), who defeated Xavier Malisse in the first round before taking No. 11 seed Gilles Simon to five sets in the second round.
Some of the Americans competing for the wild card will be:
122. Ryan Harrison
141. Austin Krajicek
166. Bjorn Fratangelo
168. Chase Buchanan
177. Jared Donaldson
189. Rajeev Ram
195. Dennis Novikov
210. Jarmere Jenkins
221. Alex Kuznetsov
463. Tennys Sandgren

Tim Smyczek will be the No. 1 seed in Savannah, but the No. 6 American will get a direct entrance into Roland Garros. Also, a number of the teenage Americans could be getting wildcards into these events, giving them a chance to compete for their first main draw appearance in a grand slam.

4. Murray looking for first career final on clay. Andy Murray has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the world in his career and won grand slam titles on hard and grass courts, but when it comes to clay, the Brit cannot get over the semifinal hump. Murray did win three clay court titles as a teenager on the futures level, but on the Challenger and ATP World Tours, he has never won a semifinal on clay. Murray is riding a six-match losing streak in clay court semifinals that has lasted over a decade already. Murray is scheduled to be the No. 1 seed in Munich. He is the only top 10 player in the draw, so we may finally see the streak come to an end in the German clay tournament.

5. Raonic looking to break top 5 for first time in his career. Milos Raonic has just 270 points to defend between now and Rome, and during that span, he will play in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Madrid. The Canadian is currently only 185 points behind current world No. 5 Rafael Nadal, who as mentioned before has a ton to defend. He is also only 210 points behind Kei Nishikori, who has a title to defend in Barcelona and finalist points in Madrid. Raonic could easily move all the way up to No. 4 in the world in just a month's time.

6. Goffin's 20-match clay winning streak and push to the top 10. Before the year started I said that nobody would crack the top 10 for the first time in their career this year, and so far that prediction is looking pretty good. However, if I am wrong, it will be because David Goffin goes on a big run on the clay this year. He did it last year winning 20 consecutive matches on the post-Wimbledon clay swing. He has just 45 points to defend between now and Roland Garros, but he would still need close to 1800 more points to crack the top 10. He is scheduled to play Munich along with the four other main clay events.

7. Istanbul and Geneva debut on the ATP. With the termination of the tournaments in Belgrade, and Dusseldorf, two slots opened up in the clay season, and they were filled by Istanbul and Geneva. Istanbul has been a successful stop on the WTA tour, but is just now making its debut on the ATP, and Roger Federer will be there to help grow the event. He will be the No. 1 seed. No. 2 seed Grigor Dimitrov will also be a fan favorite as a Bulgarian playing in front of the Turkish crowd. Meanwhile, Geneva's entry list will be highlighted by Swiss Stan Wawrinka.

8. Del Potro, Sock, and Almagro continue comebacks. Juan Martin del Potro and Nicolas Almagro have been making slow comebacks, but being back on the clay will be good for both of them. Almagro has always played his best on the clay, and for the Argentine, the clay should make the injury to his left wrist less of an issue. Being on clay should give him more time to run around his backhand, so that he won't have to hit as many two-handed backhands.

For Jack Sock, clay has always been his worst surface, but he seems to improve every year on the clay. He has had the most successful comeback so far, and while he was gone he had very little to defend, meaning his ranking did not take a big fall down the rankings.

9. Berdych trying to extend hot start to 2015 over to clay. This has quietly been a very good year for the Czech, who is currently ranked No. 3 in the Race to London rankings. He has reached the semifinals of all, but one tournament in 2015, which was Indian Wells, where he reached the quarterfinals. However, he isn't getting a lot of attention, because he hasn't won a title yet, which is pretty normal for Berdych. The current world No.8 had a decent year on clay last year reaching the final of Oieras and quarterfinals of Roland Garros and Madrid. With the way his season has started, he is going to expect to do even better this time around.

10. Which American will find success on the red dirt? There are currently six players from the United States in the top 70 in the world, but none of them would call clay even their second best surface. At least, not honestly. The six players have a combined record of 84-108 on clay. John Isner and Jack Sock are the only ones with winning records and it is just barely over .500 and with a much smaller sample size than their hard court records. Isner and Sock are the ones in the best form going into the clay season as well. None of the six have anything significant to defend, so this could be a great clay season for Americans or another missed opportunity.

Current Rankings: Points to defend on clay in parenthesis
1. Novak Djokovic 13205 (2560)
2. Roger Federer 8895       (790)
3. Andy Murray 6060        (990)
4. Kei Nishikori 5280        (1110)
5. Rafael Nadal 5255         (3870)
6. Milos Raonic 5070         (990)
7. David Ferrer 4670          (900)
8. Tomas Berdych 4510     (780)
9. Stan Wawrinka 4405      (1110)
10. Marin Cilic 3360           (360)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Could Miami become a clay-court event?

During the coverage of the Miami Open over the past week, Darren Cahill and Brad Gilbert discussed the idea of switching from Laycold Hard court to Har-Tru's clay. The plan is to make Miami the first event of the clay-court season, played on green clay, which is popular in the United States, but almost never used elsewhere. They would also rename the tournament U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship, which is currently the name of the tournament in Houston that immediately follows the tournament in Miami.

To be clear, this is only the idea of fans and commentators, but the tournament directors have not said anything to suggest that this change could happen. However, the idea of making such a drastic change to the tournament isn't as crazy as it sounds, since the tournament certainly has its fair share of issues.

Over the last four years, the tournament has had three different names as a result of major changes in sponsors, going from the Sony Ericsson Open to the Sony Open to the Miami Open presented by Itaú. Meanwhile, Roger Federer has begun to skip the tournament to get ready for the clay season. In total, seven players that would have been seeded ended up skipping the tournament for various reasons.

The biggest problem though is that the tournament in Miami is stuck under the shadow of Indian Wells. The two tournaments are both hard-court Masters 1000 (ATP) and Premier Mandatory (WTA) in the United States. They are both 96-player draws spread out over two weeks, meaning players get days off in between matches.

It is impossible not to make the comparison between Indian Wells, which wins all the awards and Miami, which is the only mandatory event that Federer regularly skips. And Matt Johnson made the comparison perfectly.

Here are the list of reasons for and against the change


1. It would balances the schedule. As it stands right now, of the 14 major tournaments on the ATP (4 slams, 9 masters, 1 year-end final), nine of the tournaments are played on hard courts, four on clay courts, and just one is on grass. If there were nine clay court events and only four hard court events on the ATP World Tour, Rafael Nadal would have spent every healthy week of his career as the No. 1 player in the world. Having more events on clay would make it harder for hard-court specialists to ruin seedings at clay-court events, while allowing players who prefer clay an extra chance to get big ranking points.

2. It would get the tournament out of Indian Wells shadow. If Miami wants to stop being compared to Indian Wells, making it a clay event would make those comparisons less frequent. The two events could finally be seen as two separate events instead of always being called the Indian Wells-Miami double.

3. Gives advantage to Hispanic tennis players. It's no secret that Hispanic tennis players prefer to play on clay almost unanimously. It's also no secret that the fans in Miami want to see those players do better. Players from Latin American countries have always received great support from the crowds in Miami. The better those players perform in Miami, the more the fans get involved, resulting in a more successful tournament.


1. It's a joint tournament. Part of the idea is to steal the name of the tournament in Houston, which is "U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship." The issue with that is pretty obvious. Women also play at this tournament. However, the answer isn't as simple as just dropping the "Men's" part. The women's version was abolished by the USTA back in 1986.

2. Name would ostracize the fan-base. As mentioned, the fans who attend Miami are largely Hispanic. One of the few things that separates Miami from Indian Wells is the identity it has developed as a Latin American event, and the biggest one on both the ATP and WTA. However, including the initials U.S. in the name really kills any chance of the tournament growing in that identity. Miami is a place with great diversity, and making it sound like it is limited to the United States would not help grow the fan-base.

3. The changes would hurt Indian Wells and Houston. If Miami were switched to a clay tournament, Indian Wells would suddenly become the only big hard court event after the Australian Open. There is already a series of clay tournaments going on in February, so it would become awfully tempting for the top players to start preparing for clay right after the Australian Open and simply skipping Indian Wells like Federer is already doing in Miami.

As for Houston, Miami would be completely stealing their thunder. Not only would Houston lose its name, it would lose its status as the first stop on the clay-court season. If a mandatory tournament like Miami is being overshadowed by Indian Wells, how much worse would the problem be for a 250 like Houston. Casablanca is already having major issues drawing top players with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez getting the top seed. Houston would have the same issue potentially.

4. Green clay is not real clay. If you thought the blue clay experiment was a disaster, imagine trying to make Rafael Nadal play on green clay. Even if the clay was painted red like it was in San Diego last year for the Davis Cup tie, the way it plays is exactly the same. If the Har-Tru logo is anywhere on the court, the top players will have a problem with it. Har-Tru is now very popular on the American clay court challenger events, but many of the top players have never even stepped on a Har-Tru court. Now, imagine how they will react when such an important tournament is played on that surface.

My Opinion: Something certainly has to change. Miami has a lot of problems, and I have no doubt that people who have actually been to the tournament could point out a host of other problems. However, I think switching the clay would only create new problems. If they do switch to clay, it would have to be a true brick-dust clay to get the top players on board with the idea.

That would solve a few of the problems, but only bring up new ones. Such a quick transition from hard courts to clay courts will not be popular. The damage it would do to the tour as a whole would just be too much to justify solving the problems the tournament in Miami currently faces. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

The GOAT List

25. 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.

24. 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.

23. 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%).

22. 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.

21. 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.

20. 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.

19. 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.

18. 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.

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. 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.

15. 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.

14. Andy Murray- The Brit is still moving slowly up this list. He is now a three-time grand slam champion and he ranks ninth in tennis history in wins against top-10 opponents. He is the highest ranked player on this list to never be No. 1. By the time his career is over, he could easily be inside the top 10 of this list, especially if he reaches No. 1 at some point.

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. 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.

8. 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 eighth 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.

7. 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.

6. 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 third all-time in wins against top 10 opponents, which is one of the main stats that I look at when creating this list. However, Djokovic has now bumped Nadal out of the top five. While Nadal does have as many grand slam titles as Sampras and more than both Connors. Lendl and Djokovic, 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 barely half of what Connors and Lendl each have. Nadal is now 29, so he will continue to rack up titles and match wins and could eventually crack the top four, but he isn't there yet.

5. 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.

4. 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 reaching 19 grand slam finals is yet another reason to rank him in the top four on GOAT lists. 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.

3. Novak Djokovic- Djokovic has made incredible strides in the last five years, turning himself from a one-slam wonder to one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. Djokovic compiled the greatest season ever in 2015 and in 2016 he became the first player since Rod Laver to win the Grand Slam. Djokovic is only 29 years old and his prime years could last a little longer. Catching up to Sampras is certainly within reach if he is still the No. 1 player in the world this time next year. Then maybe we can start to talk about Djokovic chasing the greatest player of all time, but that is still a long way away.

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- This is case closed by now. 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 302 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. The Swiss has reached the final of each grand slam tournament at least five times, and at one point, reached 10 consecutive finals. Some argue that Federer played in a week era from 2004 to 2008, but any era would look weak when one player dominates it so thoroughly. 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 .760 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.