Sunday, May 31, 2015

Future of French Tennis

The 2015 French Open has been one of the most successful grand slams recently for French tennis players with five players reaching the second week with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga already into the quarterfinals, while Richard Gasquet, Jeremy Chardy, and Gael Monfils try to join him tomorrow.

All five of the Frenchmen that reached the second week are except Chardy make up the top four in France and will all likely be in the top 20 when the new rankings come out on June 8. Those five players are the main reason France has been the second best tennis country in the world behind only Spain.

However, each of the five players in the second week are at least 28 years old, while Tsonga and Gilles Simon are 30, meaning the outlook of French tennis is about to go through a drastic change. Even Nicolas Mahut, who reached the third round, is already 33 years old, and Julien Benneteau, the seventh ranked Frenchman, is 33 years old as well.

So which players will make up the future of French tennis in five or six years time? Benoit Paire and Guillaume Rufin seemed to be the answer to that question a few years ago, but Rufin hasn't played a tour-level match since 2013. Meamwhile, Paire just got his ranking back into the top 100 after having his ranking drop with injury. He is already 26 years old and could have a decent second half of his career, but he couldn't replace one of the top four, let alone all four of them.

Adrian Mannarino has notched some good results in his career, including a round of 16 finish at Wimbledon in 2013. However, he is already 26 years old as well and just got his first career top 10 win this year. He simply lacks the weapons to ever be much better than his career-high ranking of 29 reached this year.

When the current top four French players begin to drop in the rankings, the ones that will really be taking their place are the players who were born in 1994 or later.

Lucas Pouille was the first of that group to break through reaching the top 200 in 2013. Then at the end of 2014, he had his breakthrough moment by reaching the round of 16 at the Paris Indoors as a qualifier, where he defeated Fabio Fognini in two tiebreak sets. However, now at 21 years old, he has only one career grand slam victory and has only barely cracked the top 100 at No. 90 currently.

Laurent Lokoli got the tennis world's attention when he pushed Steve Johnson to five sets in the first round of Roland Garros with highlight reel shots and charisma. However, pushing an American to five sets on clay is hardly an accomplishment for a Frenchman. Since then, he has struggled to live up to the hype and was doing nothing with the wildcards he was receiving. He still hasn't won a tour-level match, hasn't cracked the top 200, and is on a four-match losing streak in challengers right now.

The rest of the young French hopefuls are mostly players that tennis fans don't recognize. Quentin Halys played Rafael Nadal in the first round of Roland Garros this year. At just 18 years old, Halys has just cracked the top 300 for the first time this week after qualifying in Nice. He has three futures titles, but that's all that is keeping him in the top 300. He has only one career Challenger tour win, which is likely the lowest amount of anyone in the top 300.

Finding upcoming French talent after that requires some digging. Corentin Moutet is only 16 years old and has reached a futures level final. In fact, he is the only player born in 1999 that is in the top 1000. Corentin Denolly is currently at a career-high junior ranking of No. 6. The left-hander hasn't had as much success in futures tournaments as Moutet, but he has focused more of his efforts on junior tournaments, which will be good to help him develop more.

Other names that could make up the future of French tennis are Theo Fournerie, Maxime Hamou, Enzo Couacaud, and Mathias Bourgue. There certainly are a number of hopefuls in France, but finding four of them that can replace Tsonga, Monfils, Gasquet, and Simon seems very unlikely. France is going to fall in the world tennis rankings, and it will be interesting to see which countries take their place.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Measuring Major Dominance

Comparing the greatest tennis players from each era is always very hard to do, but in the Open Era of tennis, one thing has remained consistent - the four grand slam events. Those four events give analysts the best measuring stick for comparing players who never played against each other.

Rather than simply counting how many majors a player has won, a more complete picture can come from finding the total number of ranking points earned at grand slams in a career. Since the ranking system has gone through various changes over the years, I used the current system (W-2000, RU-1200, SF-720, QF-360, R16-180, R32-90, R64-45, 1R-10) to analyze the results of the players.

This is hardly a definitive way to say who is the GOAT, since it completely ignores non-major events. The other issue with this stat is that the importance of the Australian Open has grown over time, while decades ago some of the best players skipped the event. Still, it serves as a good starting point for analysis.

Let's get into the various lists that came out of this study now:

Career Total Grand Slam Ranking Points Earned:
1. Roger Federer 60,235
2. Novak Djokovic 45,080
3. Rafael Nadal 41,115
4. Jimmy Connors 40,480
5. Pete Sampras 40,385
6. Ivan Lendl 39,890
7. Andre Agassi 37,675
8. Bjorn Borg 31,015
9. John McEnroe 28,760
10. Stefan Edberg 28,490
11. Boris Becker 26,490
12. Andy Murray 26,655
13. Mats Wilander 25,025
14. Guillermo Vilas 20,630
15. John Newcombe 18,210
16. Ken Rosewall 17,715
17. Jim Courier 17,620
18. Arthur Ashe 16,295
19. Lleyton Hewitt 15,975
20. Andy Roddick 15,690

This graph shows how many ranking points each player has.
Each box is 1000 points and each color represents one of the four slams.
Career Average Points Earned per Major
1. Bjorn Borg 1148
2. Novak Djokovic 939
3. Rafael Nadal 893
4. Roger Federer 885
5. Rod Laver* 851
6. Ken Rosewall* 805
7. Pete Sampras 721
8. Jimmy Connors 710
9. John Newcombe* 700
10. Ivan Lendl 699
11. John McEnroe 639
12. Andy Murray 619
13. Andre Agassi 617
14. Boris Becker 575
15. Mats Wilander 568
16. Stefan Edberg 547
17. Arthur Ashe* 479
18. Jim Courier 429
19. Guillermo Vilas* 421
20. Jan Kodes* 344
*Includes only results starting in 1968

Most Points Earned at one tournament
1. Roger Federer 19,475 (Wimbledon)
2. Jimmy Connors 18,720 (US Open)
3. Rafael Nadal 18,630 (Roland Garros)
4. Roger Federer 15,730 (US Open)
5. Pete Sampras 15,370 (Wimbledon)
6. Pete Sampras 15,230 (US Open)
7. Roger Federer 14,870 (Australian Open)
8. Ivan Lendl 14,080 (US Open)
9. Jimmy Connors 13,995 (Wimbledon)
10. Boris Becker 13,365 (Wimbledon)

Career Points Earned at the Australian Open
1. Roger Federer 14,870
2. Novak Djokovic 13,280
3. Stefan Edberg 10,715
4. Andre Agassi 10,160
5. Ivan Lendl 9380
6. Mats Wilander 8345
7. Pete Sampras 7640
8. Andy Murray 7460
9. Rafael Nadal 6840
10. John Newcombe* 6820

Career Points Earned at Roland Garros
1. Rafael Nadal 18,630
2. Bjorn Borg 12,540
3. Roger Federer 10,160
4. Ivan Lendl 9825
5. Mats Wilander 9715
6. Novak Djokovic 9335
7. Guillermo Vilas 8095
8. Andre Agassi 7580
9. Gustavo Kuerten 7155
10. Jim Courier 6560

Career Points Earned at Wimbledon
1. Roger Federer 19,475
2. Pete Sampras 15,370
3. Jimmy Connors 13,995
4. Boris Becker 13,365
5. Bjorn Borg 12,010
6. John McEnroe 11,345
7. Novak Djokovic 10,125
8. Andy Murray 9070
9. Stefan Edberg 8215
10. Rafael Nadal 8015

Career Points Earned at the US Open
1. Jimmy Connors 18,720
2. Roger Federer 15,730
3. Pete Sampras 15,230
4. Ivan Lendl 14,080
5. Andre Agassi 13,295
6. John McEnroe 12,450
7. Novak Djokovic 12,340
8. Rafael Nadal 7630
9. Lleyton Hewitt 6640
10. Stefan Edberg 6630

One of the problems with looking at totals is that have been presented so far is that they reward players for playing many tournaments just as much as actually doing well in those tournaments. However, looking at averages doesn't solve the problem, because someone like Bjorn Borg, who retired at his peak, or players like Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, who are still active, have an unfair advantage.

Of all the players I looked at, the average amount of points earned per tournament was about 475. Instead of looking at totals or averages, this time what I did was take off 475 points from the total for every event played. Therefore, any result that is less than a semifinal result will earn negative points. So a player must play a lot of events to do well, but also must do well in those events or else they are going to lose points.

Career Points Earned Adjusted
1. Roger Federer 27,935
2. Novak Djokovic 22,280
3. Rafael Nadal 19,265
4. Bjorn Borg 18,190
5. Pete Sampras 13,785
6. Jimmy Connors 13,405
7. Ivan Lendl 12,815
8. Andre Agassi 8700
9. John McEnroe 7385
10. Ken Rosewall 7265
11. Andy Murray 6230
12. John Newcombe 5860
13. Rod Laver 5650
14. Boris Becker 4640
15. Mats Wilander 4125 
16. Stefan Edberg 3790
17. Arthur Ashe 145
18. Jim Courier -1855
19. Guillermo Vilas -2645
20. Jan Kodes -4705

There are a lot of different ways of analyzing all of the data here, but one thing is for sure, and that's that the ATP World Tour is certainly in a Golden Era. Right now, three of the top four players in that final stat are all active and have all been at their peaks for the better part of the last decade.

In the list for totals, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych finished 25th and 31st respectively despite having zero combined major titles and only one final each. However, they have done well enough against everyone other than Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer that they did better than players like Thomas Muster, Gustavo Kuerten and Sergi Bruguera in several categories. If it weren't for Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer, players like Ferrer and Berdych would be first ballot Hall-of-Famers most likely.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Opinion: Clay is the most boring surface

When I say boring, I am speaking comparatively, because the truth is that I find all forms of tennis exciting whether it is servebots or a grade 5 junior tournament qualifying. Having said that, of the three main surfaces clay is definitely the least entertaining.

The typical characteristics of a clay court are that it is slow and slippery with high bounces, and the ball grips the surface when it bounces. What this does is makes serves and shots with back spin both much less effective, leading to less free points on serve, less net approaches, longer points from deep behind the baseline, and ultimately more breaks of serve.

There is nothing wrong at all with longer rallies and less net approaches if you ask me, and even breaks themselves aren't a bad thing. However, the result of these things is that la terre battue produces the least competitive and therefore least entertaining matches of any surface.

Since almost every point is very similar the dirt in that a point stays neutral for a long time, what happens is that the better player wins the point more often than not. That means that the breaks that are happening more frequently are all going to the same player, which is the better player. Because of that there are more straight-set victories on clay than any other surface and less upsets, making it the most non-competitive and predictable of all the tournaments.

A while back, I wrote a piece on which set is the most important set. Out of the research I did for that article came other information about, which tournaments have the most lopsided results. I looked at the 2013 US Open and the first three grand slam events of the 2014 season on the men's side.

Among those four grand slams, Roland Garros, which is the only major on clay, had 76 straight-set matches. The 2013 US Open (hard) had 56 straight-set results, while the Australian Open (hard) and Wimbledon (grass) had 61 and 60 respectively.

One thing that does tend to happen on dirt is that players get worn out because of the long rallies, and many times give in to cramps. So the one way there can be upsets is when there is a drastic momentum swing, caused by fatigue. At Roland Garros in 2014 there were six comebacks from two sets down. The Australian Open had a surprisingly high number of five in 2014, but there were just two at Wimbledon and three at the US Open.

The ATP World Tour currently consists of just one grand slam on clay, while only three of the nine Masters Series events are on the brick dust. Plus, even the year-end championships in London are played on a hard court. Many of the best tennis players in the world right now grew up playing on dirt - Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Del Potro, and Ferrer just to name a few. However, making the dirt a more common surface on tour would not be a good thing to do to bring in more fans to the sport.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Roland Garros Seeds Projections

Roland Garros seeds for 2015 will be announced on May 19, which means Rome is the final tournament for players to get points. Here are what the live seeds based on how many points each player has following play on Tuesday. The ones in bold are the ones still in action in Rome.

1. Novak Djokovic 12,935
2. Roger Federer 8725
3. Andy Murray 7130
4. Tomas Berdych 5140
5. Kei Nishikori 5130
6. Milos Raonic 4800
7. Rafael Nadal 4570
8. David Ferrer 4490
9. Stan Wawrinka 3665
10. Marin Cilic 3325
11. Grigor Dimitrov 2850
12. Feliciano Lopez 2325
13. Gilles Simon 2165
14. Gael Monfils 2155
15. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2045
16. John Isner 1980
17. Roberto Bautista Agut 1975
17. David Goffin 1975
19. Kevin Anderson 1970
20. Tommy Robredo 1755
21. Richard Gasquet 1670
22. Pablo Cuevas 1637
23. Philipp Kohlschreiber 1535
24. Ernests Gulbis 1490
25. Leonardo Mayer 1487
26. Ivo Karlovic 1480
27. Bernard Tomic 1385
28. Fabio Fognini 1315
29. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 1290
30. Viktor Troicki 1272
30. Adrian Mannarino 1268
31. Nick Kyrgios 1230
Juan Monaco 1170
Jack Sock 1157
Fernando Verdasco 1135
Jiri Vesely 1125

As of now, it seems like a safe bet that everyone in the top 32 will be seeded at Roland Garros. Dominic Theim would have to reach the semifinals to knock Kyrgios out of the top 32. Thomaz Bellucci could be within reach of a seed with the help of withdrawals if he reaches the semifinals, but would have to reach the final to surpass Kyrgios. Even if that happens though, Kyrgios would likely get a seed anyways with a withdrawal.

Raonic, Monfils, Robredo, Karlovic, and Verdasco all opted out of playing in Rome, meaning there is a chance that they withdraw form Roland Garros. Even someone like Sam Querrey, who has 1115 points could wind up being seeded. Andreas Seppi has 1105 points, but didn't play in Rome.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Projected 2015 Wimbledon Seeds

These are my projections for the 2015 Wimbledon seeds based loosely on the numbers.
1. Novak Djokovic
2. Roger Federer
3. Andy Murray
4. Milos Raonic
5. Kei Nishikori
6. Tomas Berdych
7. David Ferrer
8. Rafael Nadal
9. Stan Wawrinka
10. Marin Cilic
11. Grigor Dimitrov
12. Feliciano Lopez
13. Gael Monfils
14. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
15. Gilles Simon
16. Kevin Anderson
17. Tommy Robredo
18. Roberto Bautista Agut
19. Pablo Cuevas
20. Bernard Tomic
21. John Isner
22. David Goffin
23. Nick Kyrgios
24. Richard Gasquet
25. Ivo Karlovic
26. Adrian Mannarino
27. Philipp Kohlschreiber
28. Leonardo Mayer
29. Fabio Fognini
30. Viktor Troicki
31. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
32. Martin Klizan

Jerzy Janowicz
Jack Sock
Fernando Verdasco
Jeremy Chardy
Sam Querrey
Julien Benneteau
Juan Monaco
Andreas Seppi
Pablo Andujar
Lukas Rosol
Benjamin Becker
Dominic Thiem
Jiri Vesely
Andreas Haider-Maurer
Gilles Muller
Santiago Giraldo
Donald Young
Ernests Gulbis

Friday, May 1, 2015

Racket Rally Fantasy Insider: Madrid

This is the sixth 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 in full swing now on both the ATP and WTA with the upcoming joint event in Madrid just three weeks before the start of Roland Garros. For the ATP, this is a Masters Series 1000 event, while for the WTA, it is a Premier Mandatory event. It is one of only three joint events during the year that is both a Masters 1000 and Premier Mandatory, so outside of the slams, this week is as important as there is on the calendar. Keep in mind that while the winner of each tournament gets 1000 points, in every other round, the WTA gives out more points.

Tip of the Week: Use up your court coins
Your court coins are useless if you don't use them. There are about 26 opportunities left to use your court coins, so spread them out accordingly, but don't save them all until the end. The important changes that you make will be the ones early in the year rather than making last second changes at the end of the year. The players you buy now could stay with you for the next six months or so if you desire. However, if you wait to use your court coins to buy Sara Errani in October, you only get her for a few weeks. In other words, court coins lose their value with time, so don't be afraid to spend them if there is a move you want to make.

Top Prospects vs. Drop Prospects
Top Prospects
1. Nicolas Almagro, 29, ESP
Price per share: $290
There is not a zero missing in that price per share. The former world No. 9 missed the second half of the 2014 season with an injury, allowing his ranking to go into free fall mode. The Spaniard has gotten back to playing good tennis in 2015 with some quality wins, but the ranking continued to drop as his points from 2014 continued to come off. However, he only has 55 points to defend for the rest of the year, so if his ranking does continue to drop, it won't drop much more than now. He has a tough draw in Madrid, so if he loses in the first round to Juan Monaco, he will be drop to only $245. His ranking is that of someone on the Challenger Tour now, where he could really dominate, but he likely won't have to since tournaments will be lining up to give him a wildcard. Get as many shares of Almagro as you can now, and then get some more before Roland Garros until you have 50.
2. Andrey Rublev, 17, RUS
Price per share: $166
I would have said to buy Rublev a long time ago, but this is the first week that the Russian is available. Rublev started the year playing the junior Australian Open and then was playing Challenger Tour qualifying matches, but this week won his fourth tour-level match of the year. He is going to be a wildcard magnet for the rest of the year, and will be able to dominate challenger events when he isn't getting wildcards. At just $166 per share, you could get your money back and more within just a few events.
3. Francesca Schiavone, 34, ITA
Price per share: $782
It has been an up-and-down year for Schiavone, who reached the quarterfinals of Antwerp as a qualifier, but also lost in the first round of Miami qualifying. Thankfully, her ranking didn't go up too much as we dive into the clay season. The former Roland Garros champion always plays her best tennis on the clay and she received a wildcard into Madrid. She will face Casey Dellacqua in the first round, which is a winnable contest for the Italian. Just one win in Madrid is worth 65 points on the WTA, so this is a great move ahead of Madrid and the rest of the clay season.
4. Lara Arruabarrena, 23, ESP
Price per share: $610
After those first three, there is much worth spending money on, and those three are more than enough to spend whatever available money you have. However, if you do still have money to spend and you don't have enough to get shares of Rafael Nadal, this is the next best Spaniard. Arruabbarrena's price just took a small dip, but will be right back up after she reached the quarterfinals in Marrakech. However, she has a wildcard into the draw in Madrid, making her one of the cheapest players with a direct acceptance into the main draw. She will have a tough first-match against Agnieszka Radwanska, but cheap and main draw for Premier Mandatory is a rare combination. She will have the Spanish crowd supporting her in La Caja Magica, so anything can happen.
5. Nicolas Jarry, 19, CHI
Price per share: $256
I typically do not recommend buying teenagers or players at their peak price, and Jarry is both of them, which is why he is at No. 5 on the list. However, $256 for a peak price is still very cheap. The main reason this is a great buy is that Jarry doesn't have strong competition. He will be playing in Cali next week as the No. 4 seed. Semifinalists in the tournament get $33 and he is sure to get something. Sometimes having many shares of someone that is almost guaranteed to get you something is better than having one share of a player capable of winning titles.

Drop Prospects
1. Novak Djokovic: Way too many points to defend coming up and he isn't even playing in Madrid. Buy him back before Canada if you really want him.
2. Venus Williams: She couldn't have asked for a worse draw in Madrid. She will have to go through Victoria Azarenka and possibly Belinda Bencic just to face her sister in the round of 16.
3. Maria Sharapova: She's defending the title in Madrid, and although she has a decent draw, semifinal points aren't what you buy Sharapova for at that price.
4. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Anyone who owns shares of Tsonga before the US Open is not using their money wisely. On the flip side, buying Tsonga right before the US Open could be the best bargain of the year.
5. Kei Nishikori: Defending a finalist appearance in Madrid, and is just too expensive in general. He is just too risky to invest in.

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