Friday, June 5, 2015

Greatest Start to a Season

A lot of comparisons have been made between what Novak Djokovic has done in 2015 so far, and what he did in the first half of the 2011 season. Djokovic has been incredible in both seasons, winning the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, and Rome both times along with several other titles won in just one or the other year.

In 2011, Djokovic's winning streak to start the year came to a halt in the Roland Garros semifinals, which is where he finds himself today. So right now is the best time to make the comparisons between the two seasons. However, I want to go beyond that. Let's compare what Djokovic is doing now to how other players did in the first half of a season.

I decided to compare the total number of ranking points earned by a player from the start of a season to the end of Roland Garros. I can't check that for every player in tennis history easily. The only way to find it is to check one at a time, so I decided to check all the year-end No. 1's from 1990 to 2014 and analyze how they did in the first half.

Now, it should be noted that the ranking system has changed drastically over the years. I did my best to adjust the rankings, but there are spots in the adjusting process where two very smart people could disagree. It's just not as simple as using a multiplier. Because of that, I didn't check anything before 1990.

In 2000, the ATP ranking system stopped taking into consideration ranking of opponent, so converting anything from before 2000 to the current ranking system is nearly impossible, but I gave it my best go. Here's what I got.

No. Year Player Ranking Points
1. 2011 Novak Djokovic 7470
2. 2006 Roger Federer 7200
3. 1992 Jim Courier 7140
4. 2015 Novak Djokovic 7105
5. 2013 Rafael Nadal 7000
6. 1994 Pete Sampras 6880
7. 2008 Rafael Nadal 6475
8. 2010 Rafael Nadal 6230
9. 2012 Novak Djokovic 6120
9. 2005 Roger Federer 6120
11. 2007 Roger Federer 5490
12. 2009 Roger Federer 5460
13. 2014 Novak Djokovic 5100
14. 2004 Roger Federer 4815
15. 2000 Gustavo Kuerten 4660
16. 1993 Pete Sampras 4390
17. 1997 Pete Samrpas 3480
18. 1990 Stefan Edberg 3455
19. 1996 Pete Sampras 3440
20. 1995 Pete Sampras 3425
21. 1999 Andre Agassi 3005
22. 1991 Stefan Edberg 2810
23. 2002 Lleyton Hewitt 2049
24. 1998 Pete Sampras 2020
25. 2003 Andy Roddick 1810

Thinks to note:
-If Djokovic wins today, he will break his own unofficial record for most ranking points earned in the first half of a season.
-All team events were worth zero ranking points, but in the 90s, those events were more popular both in the form of Davis Cup and the team tournament in Germany every year right before Roland Garros.
-Roddick only needed 1810 points in the first half of 2013 to finish the year as the No. 1 player in the world.
-There are currently eight players on the ATP with at least 2,500 ranking points, which is far more than what Hewitt, Sampras, and Roddick had in 2002, 1998, and 2003, which means that the No. 1 ranking is not a sealed deal for Djokovic in 2015 even though he has 2625 more ranking points than the No. 2 player in the YTD rankings.
-In 2013, Nadal didn't play the Australian Open or Miami, but he still ranks fifth on this list.
-The year-end No. 1 for each of the last 12 seasons ranks in the top 14 on this list. That is not about changes in the ranking system. It is about valuing all surfaces and the first two grand slams, which were not huge priorities for players like Sampras, Edberg, Agassi or Roddick. That's one of the ways that the Federer-Nadal rivalry has changed the tennis landscape. Now, Federer's 2009 triumph at Roland Garros is considered among the greatest achievements of his career.
-A lot of players on this list have an excuse for their low number, whether it be injury or focusing on team events. However, for Roddick, that is not the case. The American has no excuse. He simply played bad in the first five months, which almost makes it more impressive that he finished the year No. 1. Right after Roland Garros, Roddick turned things around winning Queen's Club just a week after. He parlayed that into seven consecutive semifinal appearances at his next seven tournaments, which included five titles.

If Djokovic does go on to win the title at Roland Garros, he will have set the stage for what could be the greatest single season since Rod Laver won the grand slam in 1969. Of course, if Djokovic wins the grand slam he is in the discussion for greatest single season ever.

It is unlikely that Djokovic does win the grand slam this year, but there is a sense in the twitter community that it is more likely to happen now than it has been in a very long time. Maybe even moreso than when Federer was going to the final of every single major that he played.

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