Friday, June 26, 2015

Racket Rally Fantasy Insider: Wimbledon

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

Tip of the Week: We are at the halfway point in the season, so it is time to really start taking advantage of the court coins and make some big moves that will last for the rest of the year. For the rest of the season, one of the best ways to measure a value of a player is to compare their YTD ranking to their 52-week ranking. If their YTD ranking is much better, that is probably the kind of player you want, because that means they are playing well and have little to defend. Those with little to defend are going to be under-priced, so be sure to take advantage of that as soon as possible.

Top Prospects vs. Drop Prospects
Top Prospects
1. Rafael Nadal, 29, ESP
Price per share: $3,135
The big question this week is whether to buy Nadal before Wimbledon or after Wimbledon. He is defending round of 16 points at Wimbledon this year, which means that if he doesn't reach the second week this year, you can buy him at a cheaper price afterwards. However, if does reach the quarterfinals, you will be missing a chance to get him at an unfairly cheap price. There are a few other things to keep in mind when making the decision. First, he is currently No. 8 in the world in the Race to London rankings with a lead of over 1000 over No. 9, meaning he is close to a lock to make it to London. Having players that make it to London in your profile will be important when that part of the season rolls around. The other thing to keep in mind is that Nadal usually doesn't play any events between Wimbledon and Canada. That means a couple things. First, if you buy him and he does well at Wimbledon, it would probably be smart to keep him, but all he will do is sit in your profile doing nothing for about a month. Also, if you buy him and he doesn't reach the quarterfinals, you can sell the shares and wait until right before Canada to buy him back at a cheaper or equal price. Basically, it is a low risk move that could have some huge paybacks, but you have to be patient. If you have the money, I say go for it.
2. Katerina Stewart, 17, USA
Price per share: $325
This ranking isn't heavy on the Americans by accident. Right after Wimbledon, both tours shift over to the United States, where the Americans typically do very well with or without the help of wildcards. However, even if Stewart weren't American, she would still make this list. She is having a breakthrough season at just 17-years old, leaving Cici Bellis in the dust. She comes at an incredibly cheap price. Predicting her upcoming schedule is hard to do at this point, since she was just eliminated from Wimbledon qualifying, but she is certainly a top wildcard candidate for the USTA in the upcoming tournaments. 
3. Denis Kudla, 22, USA
Price per share: $496
In tennis today, there really is no such thing as a grass specialist since the season is so short. However, if there were as many grass tournaments on tour as there are hard court tournaments, Kudla would be a top 50 player in the world. He has a wildcard into Wimbledon and then will play Winnetka if he doesn't reach the second week of Wimbledon. It also seems like a safe bet that he will get a wildcard into Newport. That's three tournaments of three very different levels in three weeks. This is a perfect short-term addition to your profile. If you can make this move, there's a chance for some big payoffs over the next month.
4. Jared Donaldson, 18, USA
Price per share: $3,135
The American teen should have been on this list a long time ago. He has been tearing it up this year on the Challenger Tour. I've generally tried to stay away from teenagers because of how unpredictable they are. However, it is not to late to jump on the Donaldson bandwagon. His price has not raised a ton since the start of the season. Most importantly, however, is the fact that the in the two months after Wimbledon there are six events in the United States, and Donaldson is sure to get a few wildcards into those events, likely including the US Open. With Donaldson, you can get a player who has the potential to earn Tour-level points at a Challenger-level price. He has already been eliminated from Wimbledon, so it might be a good idea to wait until after the tournament is over to buy shares of the American. Based on the how lopsided his result in Wimbledon was, I wouldn't expect him to get a wildcard into Newport and if he does, his success is not a guarantee. His peak value might be the week before Atlanta, but wait to make sure he gets a wildcard into the tournament.
5. Daria Gavrilova, 21, RUS
Price per share: $1,168
Gavrilova isn't the season MVP by accident. She has been having a great season, and she is only half way through. If we had a crystal ball at the start of the season, everyone would have bought 50 shares of the Russian. That alone would put anyone in a great position at this point in the season. There is nothing to suggest that she is going to slow down. Her price has gone up considerably already, but $1,168 is still a great price.

Drop Prospects
Other than perhaps Nadal, depending on how he does in Wimbledon, this is the season to drop every player in the top 21 of the ATP. Most players take the time between Wimbledon and Canada as a mid-season off-season. In the top 12, only David Ferrer and Stan Wawrinka are planning on playing tournaments in the next five weeks other than Wimbledon. Even those two should be dropped though. The price that they cost is not worth it, considering how low the maximum value they could produce would be. Of course, if you bought Wawrinka before he won Roland Garros, you actually have him at a really good price, so in that case, I would hold onto him.

David Goffin is one in particular that must be dropped right now. He is defending a ton of points for the rest of the season. The chances of him being worth his price is almost impossible. Sell your shares of him to open up room for one of the previous five players that were mentioned.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

ATP World Tour Unveils New Look to Website

On June 12, came out with a new look, and while it isn't the first time the site has been redone, this is one of the largest changes to the site in recent memory. Just about any time a website that is frequently visited gets redone, the immediate reaction is negative, and such was my reaction within a minute of going to

However, I have come to see some of the benefits in the new site, while also noticing a handful of ways in which the new look is not good for tennis fans. I'm going to break down some of the positives and negatives of the changes, starting with the positives.

I'm going to stay away from color-scheme analysis and those kinds of things, because I don't know the first thing about it, but I will talk about information as what as what is presented and how it is presented. I'll also stay away from criticizing the small bugs, because that is too be expected with such massive changes and will soon be cleaned up.


Rankings - About 90% of this section of the site is better than before, and since this is the section I visit most, it weighs heavily on my opinion of the new site. The last time this section of the site was redone, it was a disaster in that you had to go through a rankings home to get to what we all really wanted. Most of that disaster has now been cleaned up allowing fans to get directly to the 52-week singles rankings with a simple drop-down menu.

Also, in the rankings page, there are now columns for age and the amount of points a player is defending on the particular week. This update is way overdue. The WTA has had a column for DOB for a long time and the ATP is just now catching up. This update does not apply to archived rankings however.

My favorite part of the change to the rankings is the new tab "Former No. 1s" which is dedicated to current and former world No. 1 players. It includes No. 1 ranking stats that I previously would have to go to wikipedia to find. The information isn't as complete as what wikipedia has, but it is nice to have it on the ATP site now too.

Player profiles - Overall, I am pretty disappointed about the way this section of the site came out. However, there is one tiny positive. Tennis has for a long time had an issue with commentators and fans not knowing the pronunciation of players' names. Now there is an audio clip on each players' profile with them saying their own name. It only exists for a limited number of players, and I would prefer to simply see the written pronunciation, but this is certainly a step in the right direction. (Funny enough, the written pronunciation does exist for some players, but it doesn't always line up with how the player says their own name. See Mahut)

Scores - Scores are now on the side of the page instead of the top, which means that they can fit more than three at a time, which is great. Only problem is that the scores are hidden and hard to find at first. If you zoom out on your internet browser, it becomes visible. Seems like an unnecessary hurdle. Hopefully its just a little bug that needs to be fixed.

Win/Loss Index - I'm a fan of this section. More information, which is exactly what I want. You can find and compare the win/loss records of any player in any kind of match. This information has been available before, but now being able to compare all players with the click of a few buttons is a massive leap forward.

I thought to myself once a few years ago that if I were in charge of the ATP website, I would add a tab with something very similar to what they now have. I don't know the first thing about how to create a website though, so it's a good thing I'm not the one in charge.


Photos - It seems that the main objective of this change was to make it look better with more photos, bigger photos, and more photoshopped photos. I know that some people really appreciate the photos and that is their main reason to visit the site. That's not the case for me, so maybe I was blind to the photo issues in the past, but I would have to be blind to miss the photo problems on the current site.

On the home site, almost everything starting with the second ad bar and below is hard to look at. The ranking section of the home page and head-to-head section has pictures of players that are way too photoshopped. They look more like cartoon superheroes than people. It looks way more like cartoon network than a professional sports website.

Then between the second and third ad bars, that section is okay other than the fact that we already have four ad bars just on the front page. That section used to be just words, so the addition of smaller photos is fine.

Then between the fourth and fifth ad bars, is the "feature gallery" which is just a photo gallery. There are no features there that I have found yet. The photos are of a great quality, but putting a bunch of random photos on the front page shows one of the major problems with the new change, which is that it focuses more on presentation than information.

The site is now completely covered in things that really do look nice, but the function of the site is to be a source of information. The general trend of emphasizing how the site looks over how to make the maximum amount of information available is a problem.

One other slight photo problem is that since they insist on using more photos, the lack of photos for certain players is suddenly a problem. In the win/loss index, there is a photo next to every name, but when you look at all-time records, there are only silhouettes next to almost all players that aren't still active, including Borg, Sampras, Agassi.

Size - Everything is bigger in Texas and on the new ATP site. Photos are bigger. Numbers are bigger. Letters are bigger. Columns are bigger. I have already decided that when I go onto the ATP website, I'm going to set it to 90% just to undo some of the extremeness of how big this is. I don't know how big the ATP thinks my computer screen is, but apparently they thought it was big enough to fit all this.

When I open the story on Andy Murray, the Scot takes up my entire page. In fact, I have to scroll just to see the entire picture. If the picture is so big it can't fit on my screen, that's a hint that it might be too big. Same with just about everything else. It is so big that very little can fit onto the screen.

I know Stan Wawrinka had a very successful run at Roland Garros, but it couldn't have been so successful that the ATP really can't fit all of his results onto the screen without me needing to scroll, right? Wrong. His results are spread out by such unnecessarily large rows that they can't even fit on one page.

Part of the reason so little space is available is that when you scroll down, the drop-down menu goes with you, taking up about 20% of the screen. If I want to see the drop-down menu, it is not that hard to scroll up. It's meant to help the viewer, but it isn't doing anybody any favors.

Overall the issue is that I don't want to have to scroll a page to see an entire picture, any more than 10 players in the rankings or a player's results at multiple tournaments. It's not that I'm too lazy to scroll. The problem is that it is nice to be able to see a certain amount of information all at once.

Symbols - I guess these days it's just to ask young people to read a couple words or even at times letters. At least, that's what the ATP thinks. Everything that can be changed from a word into a symbol or icon is changed. They stopped just short of using emojis.

Even three letters is too much to ask tennis fans to read these days. Instead of the three-letter abbreviation for countries, there are now flags. Instead of the word "draw" there is now a picture of squares that looks like a draw. Instead of singles and doubles, there are silhouettes of one person and another of two people. There are many many more examples of this, but we can stop there.

Player Search - I guess they kind of forgot about this feature. It was weird before that the site always had two player search bars. Now there isn't even one. What they have instead is a tiny magnifying glass (the one small thing on the entire site, so I won't complain) and when you click on it, you get a pop-up screen. It seems to be a very nice search engine and much faster than the old one once you get to it. Only problem is that it isn't something you can type straight into one the home page.

FedEx ATP Head2Head - This has always been one of the coolest aspects to the website, which I have never stopped appreciating. However, they managed to find a way to make it worse instead of better. Now, it is impossible to search any head2head record if it is not the featured one, which I'm hoping is simply a bug that needs to be fixed. But also, when you open the featured head2head details, you get another pop-up.

I think it's safe to assume that the main purpose of this feature for the fans is to find the match-by-match results in the head-to-head. However, that is the last part that you find, and it lacks a lot of information that it used to have before. Most importantly, the surface column.

For some people the lack of that column might not be a big deal. Most people know off the top of their head which surface is Roland Garros. However, most people can only guess what the surface of the tournament in Philadelphia was in 1969 or the surface of the majority of challenger events. Having to look that up separately is a hassle tennis fans now have to put up with.

There is a lot more to look at. Some of it good, some of it bad. The ones that are most frustrating are the parts that were great before and either don't exist now or simply aren't as good as before. It will take  little while to get used to navigating the new site, and eventually I will forget about my frustrations with the new site. However, the positives don't outweigh the negatives though, and it would have been better to just leave it as it was before.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Silver lining for Djokovic

Novak Djokovic came up short for the third time in his career at final of Roland Garros again this year, prolonging his wait for the one major title that eludes the current No. 1. However, the loss hasn't completely spoiled an incredible start to the season - arguably the greatest start ever.

Following Roland Garros, Djokovic had 7585 ranking points in the year-to-date rankings, which is the most points ever recorded by a player this far into a season. Even if the ranking formulas from previous seasons were adjusted to the current one, Djokovic's mark still leads the way.

On top of that, the second best mark in tennis history is also owned by Djokovic thanks to his dominant start in 2011 that saw him rise to No. 1 in the world shortly after for the first time in his career.

Earlier in the tournament, Djokovic mathematically clinched his spot in the year-end finals in London. He now holds a lead of at least 3000 points over every other player in the world. Even Stan Wawrinka, who won Roland Garros and has the benefit of already having played three more tournaments than Djokovic, trails the Serb by 3355 points.

The world No. 1 currently holds two major titles, the year-end finals title, and five ATP Masters Series titles. If he wins in Canada or Cincinnati, Djokovic will become the first player in tennis history to hold six 1000 titles at the same time, improving his credentials for owner of the greatest season of all time.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

ATP Power Shift

A week ago Jonathan Kelley (@jokelley_tennis) from On the Rise (a tennis blog)  wrote about what he perceives to potentially be the end of European dominance, which got me thinking about other ways in which we can measure the kind of power shift that Kelley described in his post.

I've touched on similar topics in the past, ranking the top tennis countries in the world. I also played the tennis stock market with 40 tennis countries predicting if they would be better, worse, or the same after Wimbledon 2019.

Since I have regularly ranked tennis countries, I wanted to go back in time to see where tennis countries rank now compared to before, using the exact same formula. The formula is simple: A country's points is equal to the sum of ranking points earned by each of the country's players in the top 140 in the world. Why 140? I have no good answer to that, but that's what I decided almost three years ago, so I'm sticking with it.

Here are the current rankings for the 43 countries with representatives in the top 140. In parenthesis is the ranking of each country in 2013.

1. Spain 20,821 (1)
2. Serbia 16,168 (3)
3. Switzerland 15,250 (7)
4. France 14,453 (2)
5. Great Britain 8712 (10)
6. United States 8203 (6)
7. Czech Republic 7183 (8)
8. Japan 7068 (16)
9. Argentina 6915 (4)
10. Croatia 6226 (15)
11. Australia 6116 (13)
12. Canada 5335 (11)
13. Italy 4625 (12)
14. Germany 4365 (5)
15. Belgium 3630 (31)
16. Bulgaria 2760 (24)
17. Austria 2562 (17)
18. Russia 2460 (9)
19. Brazil 2150 (27)
20. Slovakia 2088 (22)
21. Ukraine 2061 (19)
22. South Africa 1880 (21)
23. Colombia 1752 (20)
24. Kazakhstan 1635 (26)
25. Uruguay 1502 (NR)
26. Slovenia 1202 (22)
27. Netherlands 1054 (18)
28. Uzbekistan 1045 (30)
29. Portugal 1043 (32)
30. Dominican Republic 945 (NR)
31. Poland 895 (14)
32. Luxembourg 880 (NR)
33. Chinese Taipei 789 (33)
34. Cyprus 787 (35)
35. Korea 676 (NR)
36. Turkey 647 (NR)
37. Tunisia 620 (NR)
38. Israel 607 (34)
39. Latvia 600 (25)
40. Bosnia & Herzegovina 583 (NR)
41. Finland 568 (29)
42. Lithuania 567 (37)
43. Moldova 421 (NR)

One of the biggest changes from the 2013 year-end rankings is that there are now 43 countries represented in the top 140 instead of just 37. In fact, there are 42 countries just in the top 100. However, the changes go far beyond that.

What Kelley did in his post was talk about how Europe will get worse, while the rest of the world will get stronger. I would argue that this has already started to take place. Since the end of  2013, Europe as a continent is now 6473 points worse than before, while the rest of the world is 7396 points better.

Obviously, Europe is still dominant with all of the top five countries coming from that continent, but there is no denying the change that is happening. And it is going to get worse with Spain really not having any stars on the horizon and replacing Novak Djokovic will be basically impossible for Serbia.

Here is a breakdown of some of the most improved and "not-so-improved" countries in the last year and a half:

Most Improved
1. Switzerland 7315 - The most improved team is from Europe, which certainly doesn't help what I'm trying to argue with this post. The 2013 season was one of the worse season's in Roger Federer's career, and even though Stan Wawrinka finished in the top 10, it doesn't compare to where he is now as the No. 4 player in the world. Still, this upward trend in the last year and a half does not mean the future is bright for Switzerland in any way. Both players are over 30 years old and will be retired five years from now, meaning Switzerland will go from the No. 3 country in the world to possibly not even making the list. If it weren't for this misleading rise from Switzerland, the drop for Europe as a continent in the last year and a half would have been more than double.
2. Japan 4610 - This is more of the kind of country I expected to find on this list. Kei Nishikori has really broken through in the last year and a half. Japan also has teenager Yoshihito Nishioka on the rise. Japan is currently No. 8 in the world, and those two players on the young end of the spectrum create a good base for Japan to continue making strides forward.
3. Croatia 3259 - The third ranking for Croatia, though it is a European country, is no fluke. Marin Cilic won the 2014 US Open crown, and though injuries have hurt him since then, Borna Cilic has picked up the slack. He is one of the most promising teenagers, and even though talent is leaving Europe in many ways, Coric is around to stay.
4. Great Britain 2922 - Aljaz Bedene recently decided to be a Brit, which is certainly part of the reason Great Britain made this list. Also, Murray has had solid results since late in the 2014 season. The future of this country's success lies solely on the shoulders of Kyle Edmund. Hard to see him replacing Murray, though.
5. Belgium 2695 - David Goffin went on a run around this time last year, and is about to have to defend a mountain of points. With Steve Darcis and Ruben Bemelmans getting older and Xavier Malisse retired, Belgium will soon drop down to below their 2013 year-end level.
6. Australia 2521 - Along with the United States and Russia, Australia is one of the three countries that will make up the future of the ATP. With players like Nick Kyrgios, Bernard Tomic, and Thanasi Kokkinakis, Australia could be very good for a long time. The 2521 points in the last year and a half really is just the tip of the iceberg.

Biggest Drop
1. Spain 10764 - The recent drop has been catalyzed by the injury issues of Rafael Nadal in the last 12 months, but this is only the start of the drop for Spain. Juame Munar and Pablo Carreno Busta are the only hopes for Spain, which is to say there is no hope. In August of 2014, there were 15 Spaniards in the top 140. There is no chance that two players can replace 15. Even the combined total points of Djokovic and Federer is more than 6000 points less than what Spain had just 10 months ago. This is going to get ugly quickly for what is currently the best men's tennis nation in the world.
2. Argentina 4925 - Argentina's drastic drop can be easily explained away by the injuries of Juan Martin del Potro. He was 5255 of their points at the end of 2013, so aside from the injury of Del Potro, Argentina is actually 330 points better than they were a year and a half ago.
3. Germany 4437 - The worst part of Germany's dropped has already come, but it will get worse before it gets better as Philipp Kohlschreiber, Benjamin Becker, and Dustin Brown start to descend in the rankings with age. However, Germany's future isn't as dark as Spain's with Alexander Zverev and Jan-Lennard Struff on the rise. Zverev in particular has the potential to be a top 10 player.
4. France 4170 - France certainly has some upcoming stars on the way, but the question is whether they can replace players like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon. I wrote about the future of French tennis a little over a weak ago. In short, France's future is not bad, but things won't be like how they have been for the past five years for France.
5. Russia 3995 - This is as bad as it gets for Russia. They can only go up from here and all signs say that they will. Although, Roman Safiullin has been out with an injury since February, I still believe in his ability, and Andrey Rublev is finally starting to turn heads like I predicted he would almost a year ago. Those two along with Andrey Kuznetsov, Aslan Karatsev, and Karen Khachanov represent a very bright future for Russia. However, Russia is the exception, not the rule, in Europe.
6. Poland -2136 - Jerzy Janowicz has not panned out so far like many tennis fans thought he would after he reached the Wimbledon semifinals. I called Janowicz overrated after that happened, but even I didn't expect him to drop in the rankings like this. He will come back, but likely will never be a top 10 player. Like Janowicz's peak ranking, Poland is a table standing on one leg. Other than Janowicz Poland really doesn't have much representation on the ATP.

In general, the countries with the brightest futures are the United States, Australia, Chile, Korea, Japan, and Russia. Only one of those countries is from Europe. France and Serbia also have bright futures, but those two countries still won't be as successful in the future as they are now. Other countries outside of Europe that should continue to get better are Argentina, Canada, Brazil and India. Europe has only Sweden to counter that last group of four countries.

Meanwhile, the main countries that have nothing but doom and gloom on the horizon are Spain, Switzerland, and Czech Republic. Outside of Europe, only South Africa doesn't really have a future to be excited about, but it's not like that is one of the best countries in the world right now anyways.

Kelley was definitely onto something with his prediction that the future for Europe is not a good one, and he has been hinting at this for a long time. I think the shift will really be into full-swing in five years time when Djokovic, Nadal, Berdych, Ferrer, and Murray are wrapping up their careers and Raonic, Nishikori, Kyrgios, and Jared Donaldson start dominating the tennis world.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Stuttgart welcomes in the grass season

In its first year as a grass tournament, the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart will kick off the extended grass season, which has been boosted from five weeks to now six if you count Newport as part of the grass season. The tournament, which once was a Masters Series 1000, looks like one all over again with some of the potential matchups in the early rounds.

Here is a breakdown of the mouth-watering matches that are already slated and others that could potentially happen in Stuttgart

First Round
Baghdatis vs. Rosol - Starting at the top of the draw, we already have a great match-up with a clash of a great shot-maker taking on brute force. I am taking the shot-maker Baghdatis this time.
Haas vs. Kukushkin - Haas makes his return in his home country, but I think Kukushkin who has had some success at Wimbledon will ruin the comeback for now.
Tomic vs. Struff - We're just going in order for now, because these match-ups really are that good. Struff has always had some hype around him and not unlike his opponent he has lacked the work-ethic at times. I got Tomic beating the home favorite, but the crowd will enjoy this match.
Dolgopolov vs. Kohlschreiber - This could be a third round match at a major, but instead it is a first round match at a 250. There will be no shortage of hot shots in this match. I got Dolgopolov to take out another German.
Troicki vs. Coric - Anytime Coric takes the court its fun to watch. He opens against Troicki, who is still battling to clinch a Wimbledon seed. There's a lot on the line, and it's always fun when a Croat plays a Serb. I'm taking Troicki to get the win, but Coric certainly has what it takes to push him.
Stepanek vs. Zverev - We know what Stepanek is made out of on grass. His simple strokes make his game suit the grass well. However, we have never seen Zverev play on grass before as a professional. Stepanek is a tricky opponent. This will be a big test for the German, but I think he will pass it.
Stakhovsky vs. Groth - Serve and volley is going to come back to life for a match. There might not be two players on tour, who serve and volley more than these two. For fans of old-fashion tennis, this is as good as it gets. I think Groth's serve will carry him to victory.

Second Round
Nadal vs. Rosol - Rosol would need to get past Baghdatis first, but if he does, we have a rematch of one of the most shocking upsets in tennis history. Could Rosol find that level again against the Spaniard. The last time Nadal didn't win Roland Garros, he won Wimbledon.
Janowicz vs. Dolgopolov - Janowicz against anyone is exciting. Dolgopolov against anyone is exciting. There's nothing special about this particular rivalry, but having these two guys on the same court at the same time can only be good.
Coric vs. Zverev - I don't think we will get this match-up, but it would be a fun one if it happens. In my last top 20 under 20 piece, both of these 18-year olds were in the top four. This would be their first professional meeting.
Groth vs. Lopez - More serve-and-volley and grass-specialist tennis. How can you say no to that?

Nadal vs. Tomic - Last time we had this match, it only lasted a set. Hopefully this time they can finish it. On grass, Tomic has a real shot at pulling off the upset.
Monfils vs. Janowicz - Monfils is the most athletic player on tour. Janowicz is must-watch tennis. Both are good on the grass, particularly Janowicz. The former Wimbledon semifinalist will have to play well though to take out Monfils

Nadal vs. Monfils - This could be a Grand Slam semifinal, but unfortunately they have only met twice in majors. These are the two main ticket sellers in the tournament.

Cilic vs. Monfils - This rivalry produced one of the greatest points ever played and there were many more just like it in this match. Hopefully we see something like it if this really is the two players in the final.
The quality of the video may not be great, but the quality of the point is more than great.

25 Greatest Tennis Rivalries of the Open Era: Part II

I started this series last June. A year later, here is what I have as the 25 best rivalries in the Open Era.

More so than any other professional sport outside of perhaps boxing, tennis thrives on rivalries. As an individual sport, tennis can produce some of the most intense rivalries in all of sports, which is what draws in fans. Since computer rankings began, there have been 25 different players that have reached the No. 1 ranking. These 25 players have spanned across 47 years of tennis now, meaning many of those 25 players reached their primes at the same time, creating rivalries of epic proportions. Many rivalries are between two of the all-time greats, who peaked at the same time. However, many great rivalries have been created by a world No. 1 preventing a challenger from ever claiming the top ranking. Since tennis is so driven by rivalries, I put together a list of the 25 best rivalries in the last 47 years, since there have been 25 different world No. 1s.

25. Roger Federer vs. David Nalbandian - This is the only rivalry on the list that never met in a grand slam. However, Nalbandian's eight wins against the greatest player of all time is the fifth most of any of his rivals.

24. Stefan Edberg vs. Michael Chang - These two contested one grand slam final, but their best match came a round earlier, producing one of the best matches of 1992 in the US Open semifinals.

23. Roger Federer vs. Juan Martin del Potro - Del Potro pulled off one of the biggest surprises at a grand slam final in the last decade with his five-set win over Federer at the 2009 US Open final.

21. Novak Djokovic vs. Stan Wawrinka - The rivalry head-to-head is lopsided, but Wawrinka won their only slam final meeting thus far, preventing Djokovic from achieving the Career Grand Slam.

21. Bjorn Borg vs. Guillermo Vilas - Both of these players are two of the best clay courters in tennis history. Of their 22 meetings, 13 were on clay, including the 1975 and 1978 Roland Garros finals.

20. Pete Sampras vs. Goran Ivanisevic - These are two of the greatest servers in tennis history. Ivanisevic never reached the top ranking, largely because of his 12 losses to Sampras.

19. Pete Sampras vs. Jim Courier - They met at least three times on every surface except grass, where their only meeting was at the 1993 Wimbledon final, which Sampras won 7-6(3), 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-3.

18. Rod Laver vs. Ken Rosewall - This is another rivalry amongst Australians that would be higher on the list if their best matches hadn't come before 1968. They did play two grand slam finals in the Open Era.

17. Roger Federer vs. Lleyton Hewitt - These two had great careers, an exciting rivalry, and amazing matches, but even if they only played one point against each other, they would still make the list. The point they played at Indian Wells remains one of the greatest single points of all time.

16. Andy Murray vs. Roger Federer - The Brit is one of only two players on this list with a favorable record against Federer. After losing his third grand slam final to Federer, Murray won the Olympic Gold Medal in front of his home crowd with a straight-set victory over his rival.

15. Roger Federer vs. Andy Roddick - There are many players who can claim that they would have had amazing careers if not for Federer, but none more so than Roddick. The former world No. 1 had his top ranking stolen by the Swiss, who never gave it back and went on to beat him in four grand slam finals.

14. Stefan Edberg vs. Ivan Lendl - This rivalry played a big part in putting the Australian Open on the same tier as the rest of the grand slams with three five-set epics down under. However, their most famous match may be the last one they ever played, which Edberg won in a fifth set tiebreaker at the 1992 US Open quarterfinals.

13. Ivan Lendl vs. Jimmy Connors - These two met 35 times, which is tied for the third most of any rivalry in the Open Era. Connors may have won the first 17 sets these two played and consecutive US Open titles in 1982 and 1983 over Lendl, but the Czech still finished with 13 wins in the rivalry that spanned three decades.

12. John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg - Their 14 meetings is the least of any rivalry on this list, but that didn't stop them from playing some of the most memorable matches in tennis history. Their most memorable was the 1980 Wimbledon final, which Borg won 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7(16), 8-6.

11. Ivan Lendl vs. Mats Wilander - These two met in five grand slam finals, which was the Open Era record at the time. They also battled each other for the No. 1 ranking in tennis throughout their careers. Wilander won their first meeting in five sets, which was the 1982 Roland Garros fourth round. Wilander went on to win his first grand slam title that fortnight.

10. Ivan Lendl vs. Boris Becker - Lendl is the greatest tennis player to have never won Wimbledon and he gets that distinction thanks to Boris Becker, who beat him three times at Wimbledon, including an epic five-set match in the 1989 semifinals. Also, their meeting in the 1988 Masters final, which Becker won 5-7, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 ended that season with arguably the greatest match of the year.

9. Bjorn Borg vs.  Jimmy Connors - This is one of the few rivalries in tennis history that spans across all surface types. The head to head record on hard courts was 3-3 and on clay courts was 3-3. Borg led 5-2 on carpet and 4-0 on grass courts, but Connors took him to five sets twice at Wimbledon, including the 1977 final.

8. Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray - This rivalry took a back seat in the tennis world while Federer and Nadal dominated, but it finally took center stage in 2011. In the last three and a half years, four grand slam finals have been between these two, including Murray's win at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships that ended the British drought.

7. Boris Becker vs. Stefan Edberg - These are two top 10 players all time that peaked at the same time, creating the perfect conditions for an incredible rivalry. They met in three consecutive Wimbledon finals and played 19 finals against each other in total. The draws pitted them against each other frequently early in their careers and when their rankings rose, they were frequently the last two left in the draw. It may be the second most lopsided rivalry on the list with 15 more wins by Becker, but there was rarely a lopsided match in their 35 meetings. Their six meetings at the year-end finals event remains tied for the record.

6. John McEnroe vs. Jimmy Connors - This pair was the first rivalry that battled for the No. 1 ranking with each other on almost a weekly basis. Connors was the third player to be ranked No. 1 by a computer and McEnroe was the fifth as the pair exchanged the rankings between each other 10 times. The most famous match between the two Americans came in their home country as they met in the 1980 US Open semifinals, which was decided by a fifth set tiebreak. In total, the two played five five-set matches.

5. Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi - This is the second all-American rivalry in the top five, and is one of the most dominant duopolies in the history of the sport with a combined 387 weeks at world No. 1 and 22 grand slam titles. The two produced several of the best matches in American tennis history with 16 of their meetings coming on home soil, including three US Open finals. However, arguably their best match came in the US Open quarterfinals of 2001. After Agassi won the first set 9-7 in a tiebreaker, Sampras won three consecutive tiebreak sets, 7-2, 7-2, 7-5. The following year, Sampras got the final title of his career with a 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 win over Agassi in the US Open final. 

4. Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic - Federer won the first four matches of this rivalry and has never let the lead slip even though Djokovic had two chances to tie the head-to-head this season. These two met in five straight US Opens, and after Federer won the first three, Djokovic won in 2010 and 2011, coming back from down two match points in both matches. The current world No. 1 and No. 2 have met in 20 semifinals, which is an Open Era record. Federer has also beaten Djokovic twice in Cincinnati finals, which is the only one of the nine Masters Series events to elude the Serb.

3. Ivan Lendl vs. John McEnroe - In just 13 seasons these two met 36 times, which was the record for the most meetings in a rivalry until last year. Their 20 finals contested against each other also was a record until just a year ago. The one record they do still have is the 11 times that they traded the top ranking in the world between each other. Until just a few years ago, this was the best rivalry in tennis history because they met more times than anybody else and with more on the line in each one of their matches than any other rivalry. In every match, they battled for both titles and the No. 1 ranking. At the end, they finished with a combined 440 weeks at No. 1 and 171 titles. Both men were one title away from a career grand slam. Ivan Lendl was missing the Wimbledon title, and in their one match at SW19, McEnroe won in three sets. Meanwhile, McEnroe needed the Roland Garros title, but lost to Lendl three times in Paris, including the 1984 final, which McEnroe led by two sets to love before Lendl came roaring back for a narrow 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 victory. That is the essence of a great rivalry: having to go through your rival to get what you want most.

2. Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer - This was my top rivalry just a couple weeks ago. When these two have both retired, they will likely be the greatest players in all of the Open Era. Even though their peaks weren't exactly at the same time, these two had several incredible matches in their 33 meetings, including a record eight grand slam finals. Their 2008 Wimbledon final is considered by many to be the greatest tennis match ever played. Like 22 other matches they played, Nadal won this one. After taking a two-set lead, 6-4, 6-4, Federer fought back into the match with two incredible tiebreak sets. However, Nadal claimed the fifth set in fading light for a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(8), 9-7 win and his first Wimbledon crown after losing the final in five sets to Federer the previous year. For several years, Nadal prevented Federer from winning Roland Garros, but a fourth-round upset to Nadal in 2009 gave Federer an open path to the title and a career grand slam. Though Nadal dominated much of the rivalry, Federer's accomplishments still outnumber Nadal's. However, the Spaniard just turned 28 and still has plenty of time to catch a few of Federer's records.

1. Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic - After setting their seventh grand slam final between the two, this rivalry moved up to No. 1 on my list. They have met 44 times and in 22 finals, both of which are records. Djokovic's 21 wins against Nadal are the most against any single player while not leading the head-to-head. This is the only rivalry that has completed the career grand slam: meeting in the final of all four majors. Djokovic's four wins over Nadal in clay-court finals are the most wins against the King of Clay of any player. The Spaniard is still 6-1 at Roland Garros against Djokovic, who lacks only that trophy for the career grand slam. The two have already traded the No. 1 ranking twice. This rivalry has already met six more times than any other rivalry in the Open Era and the two players are 29 and 28 years old, meaning this could keep going for a long time. The pair averages about five or six meetings every year, so they should have well over 50 meetings when they both decide to retire.

Why Nadal leads H2H stats

Although chatter on the topic has died down during Rafael Nadal's slump, there is still a significant fraction of tennis fans and analysts that believe that the Spaniard is the greatest tennis player of all time. And the favorite stat of every believer that Nadal is the GOAT has something to do with his head-to-head record against other top players.

There are several variations of the stat, but the one I want to look at is the one that is: Nadal has a winning record against each of the other three members of the Big Four.

Srinivas Murty (@jurasick) did a beautiful job of explaining this stat away with a tweet that said "Nadal titles by surface tells the tale of why he's so far ahead against rest of big 4 (16 hard, 46 clay, 3 grass)."

The tweet drew a negative reaction from the few fans of Novak Djokovic that saw the tweet, and I don't know which player Murty supports or what claim about GOAT he was trying to make with the tweet. However, the stat he shares in his tweet is the exact stat that kills Nadal's case for being the GOAT.

Yes, Nadal is great on all surfaces. That's how he won the Career Grand Slam. However, there is no denying that Nadal is far better on clay than the other two surfaces. Speaking comparatively, hard courts and grass courts are a weakness for Nadal. This fact is illustrated perfectly in Murty's stat.

So what does that have to do with head-to-head records? Let's look at head-to-head records based on a surface-by-surface breakdown.

Hard: 7-14
Grass: 2-1
Clay: 14-6

Hard: 9-6
Grass: 1-2
Clay: 13-2

Hard: 6-5
Grass: 3-0
Clay: 6-1

Nadal-Rest of Big 4
Hard: 22-25
Grass: 6-3
Clay: 33-9

Those are dominant numbers no matter which way you split it, but are those numbers really strong enough to make the case that Nadal is the GOAT. The answer is most certainly a no.

On the ATP World Tour, there are 14 key events, which are the four grand slams, year-end finals, and nine Masters series events. Of these 14 events, one (7.1%) is on grass, four (28.6%) are on clay , and nine (64.3%) are on hard courts.

I include those percentages, so that we can see how often we would expect the Big Four to meet on each of the three surfaces. However, the amount Nadal meets the other players on these surfaces is dramatically skewed. 

He has met Djokovic, Federer, and Murray on grass courts 9.2% of the time, which is just about right. However, he has met them on clay 42.9% of the time, which is much higher than expected. Also, only 48.0% of his meetings with them come on hard courts.

That is a massive advantage for Nadal to have met his biggest rivals a disproportionate amount of times on his favorite surface, while dodging them on the other surfaces, particularly hard courts. That pretty much explains away the entire head-to-head stat.

So why does this phenomenon occur? Because the Big Four has been so dominant in the last decade, each of the four of them have remained seeded very high at each of the 14 main tournaments that they play. Thus, they never meet in the early rounds of tournaments, rarely clashing before the semifinals and never before the quarterfinals. Because of that, they must reach the semifinals of a tournament to play against another member of the Big Four.

Well on clay, Nadal is reaching the penultimate round almost every time, meaning more meetings with the Big Four on clay. However, on hard courts, he doesn't run into the top players nearly as often, because he is not getting deep enough in tournaments as consistently as he does on clay.

So what would happen if they did meet a proportionate number of times on each surface? Let's look at what the Djokovic-Nadal head-to-head would be if they had a proportionate amount of meetings on each surface.

Hard: 9.43-18.86
Grass: 2.10 -1.05
Clay: 8.80-3.77

With these numbers, Djokovic leads the overall head-to-head 23.68-20.32. That's a significant turnaround that really shows why Nadal's head-to-head stat really isn't good enough to make him the GOAT.

Both Djokovic and Federer have reached more grand slam semifinals in their career than Nadal has. The other two are reaching that portion of slams over and over with consistency, while Nadal only gets there when he is in form, giving him a major advantage when they actually do meet. 

The Spaniard has never played Federer at the US Open and has dodged each of the other three at Wimbledon during his struggles on grass over the last three years. If he had to play them even when he wasn't at his best, the head-to-head records would change even more than they did just analyzing the Djokovic-Nadal head-to-head.

So the next time someone claims that Nadal is the GOAT based on his head-to-head record against Federer, Djokovic, and Murray, this is how you can break apart their argument.

Here's a more impressive stat: Total meetings against other three members of the Big Four
Djokovic 109
Nadal 98
Federer 95
Murray 70

Djokovic has met the Big Four more than any of the other members, which is a direct result of reaching the latter stages of tournaments with far more consistency than his three peers. In fact, when you break it down by percentage of total matches played, it becomes even more lopsided.
Djokovic 13.9%
Nadal 10.7%
Murray 10.4%
Federer 7.55%

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.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The journey of a Djokovic fan #RafoleXLIV

It's that time of the year again. The day that Novak Djokovic plays Rafael Nadal in Roland Garros. As an unapologetic Djokovic fan, this is the day I wait for every year, hoping that this is finally the year that Djokovic dethrones Nadal at the major that he has dominated in a way that no other person has ever dominated any single event.

After Djokovic defeated Nadal in the 2011 US Open final, priority numero uno instantly became, Djokovic winning Roland Garros. In his first try, Djokovic reached his first career final at the terre batue, where Nadal downed him in four sets.

Then in 2013, came the most painful loss for every Djokovic fan. The Serb led 4-3 with a break lead in the fifth set, and infamously touched the net (Mom, I touched the net. That was the worst day of my life.) only for Nadal to point it out, get the break back, and go on to win his eighth Roland Garros crown.

That meant another year of waiting. It was a long year, and the intensity built with every match, but Djokovic got himself right back where he wanted to be - in a Roland Garros final with Rafael Nadal. That was supposed to be the day, but once again Djokovic double faulted on championship point.

I thought that year long wait was tough, but as soon as Djokovic's second delivery was called long, my first thought was "another year of waiting."

I have been a sports fan my entire life, but waiting now for four years for one thing has been unlike anything else in my life as a sports fan. Every year seems longer and my desire for Djokovic to finally do it only grows stronger.

Djokovic just turned 28 years old, so there is no guarantee that he will one day do it like I once thought there was. In fact, if he is ever going to do it, this is the year.

When the draw came out, unlike in 2013, I was not disappointed to see Nadal in Djokovic's quarter. One way or another Djokovic has to go through Nadal to get the title, and if he won the title with someone else beating Nadal for him, it wouldn't mean as much. I would go as far as to say that if Djokovic beats Nadal and then loses in the semifinals, I can come away from the tournament happy.

Opportunity knocks though. There is no doubting that this is the weakest Nadal has been at any time since Djokovic became a slam contender. He looked good in his first four wins, but he never spent much time on court and was never faced any scoreboard pressure.

I would say that Nadal's form in the early rounds is as good as how he was in 2014. However, I would be more worried if he was playing five sets every round, getting a lot of match time. I know after Rome 2014, that Nadal struggling in the early rounds in not an indicator of more struggles to come.

The truth is that Nadal is more vulnerable earlier in tournaments. Just ask Steve Darcis, Lukas Rosol, John Isner, or even Robin Soderling. This quarterfinal meeting is their earliest meeting going back to 2006, where Djokovic simply was not physically ready to step on the same court as Nadal.

Nadal's quick wins in the first four rounds won't give him any of the confidence he needs when Djokovic gets a set. It doesn't provide him with the self-belief in the tight moments. In reality, having your first real test at a tournament come against the No. 1 player in the world will be an extremely difficult situation to manage.

If Djokovic does finally get a win over Nadal at Roland Garros on his seventh try, I'm not sure how I will react. Relief might actually be my first reaction, because I expect a win this time around. That will be the happiest moment of my life as a sports fan... or even in my life in general.

If tomorrow isn't the day that it finally happens, I'll start preparing for another long year. I will likely continue watching the tournament, unsure of who to cheer for. On one hand, if  Djokovic can't beat Nadal, I would hate to see someone else do it, and be left with thoughts of what if. On the other hand, watching Nadal celebrate a 10th Roland Garros title, expanding his lead over Djokovic in the GOAT discussion would be a tough pill to swallow.

All this to say that my happiness for the next few months at least depends entirely on what transpires on Philippe Chatrier tomorrow afternoon. I'm going to be in class when the match starts, but only in the physical sense. I'm going to have my phone open with live scores the whole time and as soon as class ends I'm pulling out my computer to find a stream.

It's not the ideal way to watch tennis, but my way of watching tennis is rarely ideal, whether it is staying up all night to watch the 2012 Australian Open, sprinting home from school to catch the start of the 2010 US Open semifinals, or getting up at 2 a.m. to watch Viktor Troicki play a first round challenger match on a laggy stream. I suppose, if this is the time Djokovic does it, this is a fitting way to see it happen.