Sunday, January 31, 2016

Djokovic surpasses Nadal on the GOAT list

With his 11th grand slam title and a firm grip on the world No. 1 ranking, Novak Djokovic has now surpassed Rafael Nadal on the list of the greatest players of all time.

Regardless of where you put Nadal and Djokovic on your list of all-time greats, Djokovic now belongs ahead of Nadal on that list based on the way he has dominated the ATP World Tour in his career.

This is my top 10 on the GOAT list:
1. Roger Federer
2. Pete Sampras
3. Ivan Lendl
4. Jimmy Connors
5. Novak Djokovic
6. Rafael Nadal
7. John McEnroe
8. Andre Agassi
9. Bjorn Borg
10. Stefan Edberg

The list goes on, but the important part here is that Djokovic is now ahead of Nadal. That may be surprising to some fans, noting that the Spaniard has 14 major titles and completed the career grand slam, while Djokovic only has 11 and still has not won Roland Garros.

However, those are the only points in favor of Nadal, while the Serb has surpassed the nine-time Roland Garros champion in many other statistical categories.

The first area where Djokovic is far ahead of Nadal is in terms of winning against the other top players in the sport. The Australian Open champion has now won 163 matches against his peers in the top 10, while Nadal has managed to dodge matches against the best players winning only 136 with a slightly lower winning percentage.

Even among the so-called "Big Four," Djokovic is more dominant than Nadal, claiming 69 wins against three of the greatest players ever, compared to 62 wins for Nadal. Djokovic even leads the series history against Nadal 24-23, despite having played the Spaniard a disproportionate number of times on the Spaniard's favorite surface.

The next area where Djokovic has surpassed Nadal is in time spent as the top-ranked player in tennis. Rankings are the ultimate measure of success in the ATP, and Djokovic is pulling away from Nadal in that category.

Djokovic has already been No. 1 in the world for 184 weeks in his career and is mathematically guaranteed to maintain that ranking for at least the next 17 weeks, putting the Serb pessimistically at 201 weeks atop the world rankings. Meanwhile, Nadal is stuck at 141 weeks and is struggling just to get back into the top four, let alone challenge Djokovic for the No. 1 ranking.

The Serb is also guaranteed to reach 100 consecutive weeks as the world No. 1, and it would be a shock if he doesn't keep that streak alive for many more weeks. The longest streak of Nadal's career was 56 weeks as the world No. 1, starting in 2010 and ending with Djokovic's incredible 2011 season.

The other main area where Djokovic has separated himself from the 14-time grand slam champion is in consistency at the majors across all surfaces. This one isn't obvious without doing some digging. Since Nadal has more major titles and has won at each of the slams at least once, it would seem that he has the advantage in this area.

However, the Serb's success at the majors has been far more balanced and consistent. Djokovic has reached 35 major quarterfinals in his career, including an active streak of 27 in a row. Nadal has only reached 29 major quarterfinals and his longest streak was 11.

Similarly with semifinals, Djokovic has reached 29 in his career. At one point, he had reached 14 semifinals in a row and has a current streak of eight in a row. On the other hand, Nadal has reached 23 semifinals in his career and his longest streak is only five, which he achieved twice.

Another way to measure success at majors would be in terms of ranking points earned at those events (based on the current ranking formula). Nadal has tallied 40,845 ranking points in his career at the majors, but Djokovic surpassed the Spaniard with his win over Roger Federer on Friday. Following his win yesterday, he now has 41,790.

When you break down that number by major, you see how disproportionate Nadal's success at the majors has been. Nearly half of Nadal's points come from Roland Garros, while he only has 8015 points from Wimbledon, which is his second best tournament. Wimbledon is only Djokovic's third best tournament, but he still crushes Nadal in that category with 10,035 points.

The gap between Djokovic's best major (Australian Open) and his worst major (Roland Garros) is 5945 points, while the gap between Nadal's two best majors (Roland Garros and Wimbledon) is a whopping 10,525. In other words, Djokovic has far more balanced results than Nadal, and he still manages to have a higher total in ranking points earned.

The Serb has been the best player on tour over the span of the last five and a half years, and there isn't much that can slow him down. Nadal's dominance appears to be all but done at this point, so whatever records Nadal still holds over Djokovic may not be around for much longer. If Djokovic wins the 2016 Roland Garros title, he would completely put this debate to rest.

Friday, January 29, 2016

My response to "Stop Freaking Out About Upsets in Women's Tennis" by Lindsay Gibbs

Before reading any of this, I ask that you read Lindsay Gibbs' article in its entirety.

If you are too lazy to read the article or didn't understand, I will try to give my fairest possible summary in bullet point version.
Main argument: Journalists' overreaction to upsets in women's tennis is to some degree misogynistic or sexist.
-Tennis analysts are making a big deal of upsets
-Upsets are more common in women's tennis not because women are worse at tennis
-They are more common because women's tennis has recently acquired depth (which only came along recently because sexism held back the sport)
-They are more common because women play best-of-3 sets
-They are more common because women do not serve as well (which is a result of hormones)

I would argue that the coverage of the upsets overwhelmingly has been very good. The coverage shows why readers should tune into women's tennis. The vast majority of the coverage has not been sexist at all.

In men's tennis, there are in fact less upsets, making the first week of the grand slam events simply unimportant. That's not the case on the women's side where a lot happens in the first two rounds that does eventually affect who takes home the trophy. Therefore, making a big deal of upsets is what women's tennis fans should fight for - not against.

I completely agree with Gibbs' claim that there is no correlation between a high number of upsets and a less interesting product. As Courtney Nguyen points out, upsets are what create Cinderella stories. If a journalist is saying that women's tennis is boring because there are more upsets, that is bad journalism and should be called out. However, if a fan says they prefer to see names they recognize in the final rounds, that is a matter of personal preference and should not be criticized as sexist.

Now that we have agreed that upsets are more common in women's tennis and that this is not in any way inherently bad, let's look at why they happen. Gibbs gives three reasons and one is perfect, one is half-correct, and the other is dead wrong and sexist by Gibbs' own standards. Let's start with the positive.

Gibbs points out perfectly that upsets are more likely in the best-of-3 format. She seems to claim that this difference alone explains the entire gap. "Indeed, Carl Bialik of FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers last year, and found that in lower-level tournaments where men and women both play best-of-three matches, they have similar rates of upsets." I would like to see those numbers and how Bialik arrived to that conclusion, but I agree that the difference of format explains away a large portion of the difference.

The rest of the difference can be explained by the parity of the women's game. Some people like to call it a lack of dominance by the top players. Gibbs calls it depth. I like to call it parity, because I think that is a more neutral term than the previous two, but I'm splitting hairs. The issue here is how Gibbs explains the existence of the rapid appearance of depth in the women's game saying it is "mostly thanks to widespread, pervasive cultural sexism." This is a not a central point to the argument, so I don't want to get stuck on this. Let's just say Gibbs' article would have been stronger if that whole paragraph was taken out, because it is only a distraction.

For me, those last two points explain away the entire gab in the amount of upsets, but Gibbs adds one more reason, which really wasn't necessary. Earlier in the article, Gibbs slams Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for nothing more than having used the word "hormones," but now Gibbs is going to use the same word.

She points out that there are more breaks of serve in women's tennis as a result of "hormones," which breaks rule No. 4 of her "comprehensive cheat sheet, guaranteed to make sure you don't sound like a sexist jerk."

In my opinion, the increased number of breaks in the women's game would actually be a reason for less upsets. As Gibbs points out, "this creates more pressure situations." In other words, women's matches have more big moments in each set, giving the better player more opportunities to show that they are in fact better. However, this is negated by the first best-of-3 format, so this point really is irrelevant.

At the end of the day, the larger amount of upsets in women's tennis can be explained statistically. It is not the result of hormones, bad play, mental fragility, or an underlying issue of sexism in sports and culture. It is simply what we should expect based on solid sports analysis, and any journalist who uses an upset to make a headline is simply doing a good job promoting the sport - not perpetuating a sexist narrative.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Donald Trump: I'm going to build a great net and Djokovic is going to pay for it

Over the years Donald Trump has been one the biggest tennis fans in the world, and even though he is busy running for president of the United States, he has made some time to watch the action in Melbourne and has been commenting on the action.

The biggest story in the first week was the talk of match-fixing to which Trump replied "if it weren't for me, you wouldn't even be talking about match-fixing."

Trump was also disappointed by the first-round loss by Ivo Karlovic, cyring "the concept of the net was created by and for short players in order to make big serves non-competitive." Karlovic reportedly double-faulted six times in his match.

Trump also noted the struggles of the unseeded players in the men's draw. "When was the last time anybody saw them beating, let's say, Djokovic? I beat Djokovic all the time. All the time."

Trump even has a plan for stopping Djokovic. "I will build a great net - and nobody builds nets better than me, believe me - and I'll build them inexpensively. I will build a great great net in the middle of the court, and I will make Djokovic pay for that net. Mark my words." He didn't back down adding "The net will go up, and Djokovic will start behaving."

Meanwhile, Trump defended Nick Kyrgios, who has become one of the most controversial figures on tour. "You know, it really doesn't matter what the media write as long as you're young and beautiful."

The 2016 presidential candidate had some strong words for Benoit Paire after his first-round loss to a teenager. "When Paire sends the ball over the net, he's not sending his best shots. He's not sending you. He's sending shots that have lots of problems and they're bringing their problems with us. They're shanks. They're drop shots. They're lobs. And some, I assume, are good shots."

Trump then painted all the French with a broad brush, claiming "Laziness is a trait in the French... French people counting my money? I hate it!"

Trump has also been known to question the nationality of players on tour, demanding birth certificates from players such as Milos Raonic, Matt Ebden, and even his friend John McEnroe, who he claims should represent Germany.

The business mogul wasn't done, also taking a swipe at Juan Martin del Potro. "He's not a grand slam champion. He was a grand slam champion, but he got injured. I like people that weren't injured. Okay, I hate to tell you."

The man did have one positive note on American tennis though, bragging "We will have so much winning that you may get bored with winning."

Trump put on his coaching hat at the end of the interview, leaving everyone with one piece of advice. "When someone passes you, my advice is 'get even!' That is not typical advice, but it is real life advice. If you don't get even, you are just a schmuck!"

More Donald Trump Quotes
-"Think of how boring it would be to have easy draws and have everything be perfect. You can't prove your merit on quiet waters, whether you're a businessman or a tennis player."
-"A court without lines is not a court at all. We must have lines. The rule of law matters."
-"If Djokovic retires now, thereby doing a great service to every other tennis player - I will give him free lifetime golf at any one of my courses. "
-"Federer has won a lot of titles. Much more titles than all of them put together, and all of their phony wins put together - but you have to understand, I want to be Federer."
-"The Spaniards are going to get those titles and they are going to love Trump."
-"We're going to make Rod Laver great again."
-"My style of playing tennis is fairly simple. I just push, push, and push again."
-On Fabio Fognini: "I think we would get along very well."

Friday, January 22, 2016

Australian Open Boys Singles Draw Preview

MELBOURNE, Australia -- While the fields start to narrow down in the men's and women's draws at the Happy Slam, junior tennis is just getting under way, and this year, the junior boys draw is stacked with talent from around the world.

The No. 1 seed at the tournament is Mate Valkusz from Hungary, but all eyes will be on 15-year old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is the tournament's No. 4 seed and is the first player born in the 21st century to make waves on the senior tour.

Auger-Aliassime has raced to the top 10 of junior tennis in a hurry, reaching a career-high ranking of No. 8 thanks to a run to the title in a Grade 1 event in Bradenton, Florida with two wins over top 10 opponents for his second career Grade 1 title and fourth title overall. The 15-year old also reached the final of a Grade 1 event in his home country, where he nearly upset the No. 1 player in the world Valkusz before eventually falling 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

Last March, Auger-Aliassime became the youngest player in tennis history to win a main draw match on the Challenger Tour, defeating world No. 493 Andrew Whittingham 6-3, 6-2 as a qualifier. The Canadian isn't only the youngest player to be ranked in the top 800 of the ATP World Tour, but also has an incredible record of 11-3 in qualifying and main draw matches combined.

Auger-Aliassime will likely have to go through a blockbuster match with Yunseong Chung in the quarterfinals to have a shot at a rematch with Valkusz. Chung currently is No. 9 in the world, but the Korean was as high as No. 4 before starting to put more emphasis on futures tournaments, which have helped him reach a current world ranking of No.709 on the ATP World Tour.

Valkusz will be the tournament's favorite and is on the same half of the draw as the Canadien. Valkusz is a 17 year old from Hungary, which as a country currently does not have a representative in the top 100.

The world No. 1 could meet American Ulises Blanch in the quarterfinals and also has Australian Oliver Anderson looming in his section of the draw. Blanch is the only seeded American in the draw and he is coming off a title in Traralgon. Last year, the winner in Traralgon reached the final of the Australian Open.

Serb Miomir Kecmanovic is the tournament's No. 2 seed overall despite being the fourth youngest player in the top 100 of the junior tour at 16 years old. Kecmanovic will look to dodge some of the woes that have inflicted former Serbian stars on the junior tour when it is his time to make the transition to the professional ranks.

The most famous Serbian tennis player, Novak Djokovic, didn't have a very notable junior career, but since him, a number of Serbs have been dominant on the junior tour. Nikola Milojevic was the top-ranked junior player in the world. Laslo Djere peaked at No. 3 in the junior rankings. Meanwhile Pedja Krstin and Miki Jankovic both peaking inside the top 25 of the junior rankings, which is right around where Djokovic peaked in his junior career. However, none of those four Serbs have reached the top 100 yet.

In his half of the draw, Kecmanovic has No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas from Greece, who upset Valkusz in the Orange Bowl semifinals. However, his best result at the majors last year was a quarterfinal finish in Melbourne.

Alex De Minaur is the only of 11 Australians in the draw to be seeded, and he has a good draw to reach the quarterfinals, where he could potentially face Tsitsipas. De Minaur is currently at a career-high ranking of No. 10 on the junior circuit.

Last year, the Australian had a brutal draw in Melbourne, but nearly upset Seong Chan Hong, eventually falling 5-7, 7-5, 6-8. His last three losses on the junior tour were to Auger-Aliassime in the final in Bradenton and then twice to Kecmanovic.

First-round action is underway on Friday on the outside courts.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Teenagers in Melbourne

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Eight teenagers entered the 2016 Australian Open main draw, but after just three days, all eight were eliminated from the tournament with just three wins to show for their effort. However, all teenagers that reached the second round claimed their first career tour-level victories.

This group of teenagers has already been far more impressive than the group born between 1990 and 1994, leading many to conclude that this will be the group of athletes that will replace the current top tier of tennis, which is all at least in the high 20's in terms of age.

None of the teenagers were seeded in the tournament and four needed wildcards, while one qualified and three were direct acceptances into the main draw. Still, eight teenagers in the main draw of a slam is much more than what we were seeing even just two years ago.

Noah Rubin had the most noteworthy of the three wins eliminating No. 17 seed Benoit Paire in three tiebreak set 7-6(4), 7-6(6), 7-6(5). Rubin, at 19 years old, is ranked No. 328 in the world and had never won a tour-level match of any kind before in his career. However, the American was nearly perfect in the three tiebreaks, pulling off the biggest upset of the tournament.

Australian Omar Jasika thrilled the home crowd upsetting Illya Marchenko who reached the semifinals in Doha just two weeks ago. The left-handed 18 year old won in four sets 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 6-4, proving that his game can translate to the biggest stages against the top 100.

"It was my first big match, so it was a pretty good feeling to get through that," Jasika said. "the crowd was on my side today, which was a good feeling. They pushed me through. It was incredible to see the crowd on my side."

Quentin Halys claimed the third win by a teenager in the tournament. The French wildcard is just 19 years old and defeated veteran Croat Ivan Dodig 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5. However, Halys ran into No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic in the second round, where the Serb won in straight sets.

Halys wasn't the only one to get a tough draw. Taylor Fritz lost in five sets to fellow American Jack Sock, who is seeded 25 in the tournament. Alexander Zverev lost to No. 2 seed Andy Murray in straight sets. Also, Korean teenager Hyeon Chung was Djokovic's first-round victim.

"Today, it was a great honor to play with Djokovic," Chung said in broken English. "I was just trying to fight; it was a great test to start the season."

Borna Coric is the highest-ranked teenager in tennis right now at No. 40, but the 19 year old went out in the first round in what has been a tough Australian Open for the Croats. Coric won just seven games as he lost in straight sets to Albert Ramos.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Djokovic on the Cusp of History

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Novak Djokovic is a 10-time grand slam champion and been the best player in tennis over the last five years, but is often neglected in the conversation of tennis' greatest players ever. However, the Serb could reach a significant milestone with a run to the final in Melbourne.

Because of the loss by Rafael Nadal last Tuesday, Djokovic now is just one win away from becoming the second most successful player at grand slam tournaments in the Open Era.

That word successful refers to the total number of ranking points earned at the sport's four biggest event, based on the current ranking system.

In other words, every title is worth 2000 points, every runner-up finish is worth 1200 points and so on. In the Open Era, Roger Federer has been by far the best player by this metric racking up 59,515 points in his career. However, there is a very tight battle for the second slot.

Here are the standings (prior to Djokovic's quarterfinal match)
1. Roger Federer - 59,515
2. Rafael Nadal - 40,845
3. Novak Djokovic - 40,510
4. Jimmy Connors - 40,480
5. Pete Sampras - 40,385
6. Ivan Lendl - 39, 890
7. Andre Agassi - 37,675

With his win over Andreas Seppi, Djokovic surpassed Lendl for fifth place. Following the win against Kei Nishikori, he surpassed both Connors and Sampras on the list. Now if Djokovic beats Federer, he will become the second most successful player in grand slam history in the Open Era behind only his semifinal opponent.

One other stat that is worth mentioning is that of the top seven Nadal and Djokovic have played the lowest number of grand slam tournaments. Nadal's 44th grand slam appearance just came to an end, while Djokovic is still playing his 45th. Everyone else on the list has at least 56 grand slam main draw appearances with Federer leading the way at 67.

In terms of ranking points earned per grand slam entered, Bjorn Borg is the leader followed by Nadal and then Djokovic, while Federer takes fourth place on that list. Federer has earned 10,000 ranking points at each of the four majors, while Djokovic has done so at three of them. Nadal has only reached that mark at Roland Garros.

Djokovic has been dominating the sport for the last five years and has taken that dominance up a notch in the last 16 months since his loss to Nishikori at the 2014 US Open. If Djokovic maintains this level for much longer, he could start taking chasing some of Federer's marks.

That's still a long way away, but what is for certain is that every time Djokovic steps on the court this fortnight, he is playing for history.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Racket Rally Fantasy Insider: 2016

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

It's back! The best fantasy tennis game in the world is back and it's still free. Last year, tennis fans got their introduction to Racket Rally and now it's time for round two. In 2015, I took fourth place (33 whole points behind third place) in the the Racket Rally Universe out of more than 4000 competitors. Krunic ran away with the competition beating me by almost 45,000 points.

Garbiñe Muguruza was arguably the most impressive and valuable buy in 2015. Benoit Paire and Viktor Troicki were the most important pieces to my fourth place finish, but 2016 is a new season, which means the secret weapons from last year are no longer secret, so it's time to uncover the new ones.

Tip of the Week: Invest in youth
Last year I thought it would be a mistake to buy teenagers, since they are unproven and unpredictable. Also this is a one-season competition. You don't buy teenagers for the next ten years - only one. However, it turns out that the way the ranking system works keeps the teenagers ranked lower than they should be.

The ranking systems on both tours reward playing a full schedule of tour-level events, and the teenagers have not yet had a chance to do that, meaning they regularly defeat higher-ranked opponents. It's almost impossible for teenagers to drop in ranking, so it is almost always a good idea to buy teenagers.

However, just like with any other player, keep an eye on the teenagers' playing schedule, points to defend, and potential upcoming wildcards. Timing is still essential to maximize the value of your shares.

Top Prospects vs. Drop Prospects
Top Prospects

1. Grigor Dimitrov, 24, BUL
Price per share: $1,315
Upcoming Events: Delray Beach, Acapulco
Dimitrov had a very disappointing 2015 season, which means his price is extremely low. Most fans expect a bounce back season and if the first two weeks are any indicator, 2016 will be much better than last year. Dimitrov has Federer lurking in his section of the Australian Open draw, while defending 180 points, and doesn't play an event for two weeks after the Australian Open, so it might be worthwhile to wait two more weeks. However, I already bought my five shares of Dimitrov before his points from Sydney get added to his price. Also, a Federer upset isn't impossible for BabyFed, who seems to get closer and closer in each meeting, while Federer showed vulnerability in Melbourne last year against Seppi.

2. Eugenie Bouchard, 21, CAN
Price per share: $1,123
Upcoming Events: None scheduled yet
The Canadian does not have a good draw in Melbourne by any stretch of the imagination, but she showed in Hobart with three wins over seeded players that she doesn't need an easy draw to earn ranking points. In general, this pick is for the long term. Bouchard could certainly make a return to the top 10 in 2016 and she comes at the price of a player barely in the top 50. That's a huge bargain. And you better buy now before her 180 points from Hobart are added to her price. The maximum you can buy is 35 and you wouldn't be crazy to do that in this case.
3. Ana Konjuh, 18, CRO
Price per share: $730
Upcoming Events: None scheduled yet
Konjuh was drawn into Serena Williams' section of the draw at the Australian Open, so don't expect a run to the second week, but Konjuh is a valuable buy that will fly under most tennis fan's radar. At only 18 years old, the Croat has a ton of upside. She also comes at a great price. She could certainly win MVP of the week at some point this year, which means you get court coins. Don't get caught without at least one share of Konjuh. It's only $780 and she is sure to be worth the investment if not an absolute steal when everything is said and done. The other reason to buy is that until Nottingham, she has very little to defend, so her price will only go up in the next few months if you don't buy now.
4. Fraces Tiafoe, 17, USA
Price per share: $286
Upcoming Events: Maui, Dallas
Had Tiafoe qualified for the Australian Open, everyone would be buying 50 shares on the well-hyped American. However, he is still worth the investment, because now, he will go to Maui, where there are still plenty of points up for grabs. Tiafoe had an incredible 2015 season, breaking into the top 200 and nothing seems likely to slow him down at this point. He can play on every surface and gets tons of wildcards whenever necessary from the USTA. He is also defending points from futures events last year that he can now replace with Challenger Tour events. You really cannot afford to wait to put Tiafoe on your roster. Also, keep in mind that you cannot add him the weekend before Maui, because it is the middle weekend of the Australian Open.
5. Illya Marchenko, 28,  UKR
Price per share: $688
Upcoming Events: Dallas, Memphis, Delray Beach, Acapulco
One day I was working in my office at Azusa Pacific University when suddenly and completely unexpectedly, Marchenko walked up to the desk where I work to great me. He was a little shocked I knew who he was, but he was told there was a tennis fan that was in the office so he went to say hello. After that, Marchenko went into a massive slump. Nice work Jared. However, he just had an incredible run to the Doha semifinals last week and has a decent draw in Melbourne to at least get through the first round. On top of that is an absolutely packed schedule for someone who is loaded with confidence and financially set for the year after taking more than $50k from Doha, which means he can relax his shoulders and start playing the kind of tennis he was once hyped to achieve.

Drop Prospects
1. Alex Zverev: Talk about a horrible draw for the Australian Open. He might make his first round interesting, but success is winning one set. Then he is playing just one event in February before taking a break to get ready for Indian Wells. Wait until then to buy Zverev. Anything before is a waste.
2. Jared Donaldson: The young American has dropped into somewhat of a slump and is the defending champion at next week's Maui Challenger. Wait at least until those points from Maui drop off his price per share to invest in Donaldson.
3. Borna Coric: He is already No. 40 in the world. Good enough to be in any event, but not good enough to be seeded at any of the big ones, which means he could get some awful draws. This will be a year of steady growth for Coric, but not massive growth. The only reason to buy Coric would be his packed schedule in February, but if he isn't seeded at Indian Wells, sell him right away.
4. All top 10 players: Both tours are dominated by one player who isn't allowing anyone else in the top 10 to win anything, but both those players come at a massive price. Nobody in the top 10 on either side has any room to grow. Don't do it!
5. Juan Martin del Potro: This is like the first two. Not that it would be dumb to buy the Argentine, but for now, just wait. We don't know when exactly he will make his comeback, so let's hold off until we have more information.

Other Players of Interest
Taylor Fritz: Off to a huge start in 2015. Buy him sooner rather than later.
Thanasi Kokkinakis: I opted not to buy Kokkinakis, but he has huge upside. Might be worth the risk.
Victoria Azarenka: She seems like a lock for the top 10 at some point this season. It's a safe investment.
Madison Keys: Everyone's favorite in 2015 comes at a big price this time around. At least wait until after the Australian Open
Ernests Gulbis: Comes at a low price, but always risky.
Jerzy Janowicz: Has a workable draw in Melbourne that could result in a massive run. He's a total risk, but it could pay off big time.
Nicolas Almagro: The Spaniard is a safe bet, but there are better ways to use your money.
Thomaz Bellucci: He has a good draw in Melbourne and a packed schedule in February. He's always capable of going on a run which makes him more risky to not have than to have in your portfolio.
Bethanie Mattek Sands: She was a steal last year. This year isn't so much of a secret.
Paolo Lorenzi: Nobody is busier in the next six weeks or so. Better than having someone who isn't even going to play.
Viktor Troicki: Good draw in Melbourne and will be the No. 1 seed in Sofia at a very low price. Also showed very positive signs in Sydney.

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

Saturday, January 2, 2016

100 Random Predictions for 2016

This is my fourth set of preseason predictions as the off season is a day away from ending. I started with my expert panel that filled out a questionnaire for the upcoming season. I also had my prediction for the year-end top 100 in 2016, doing that set of predictions for the fifth year in a row.

In 2013, I got 47 of my predictions correct, in 2014, 48 of them came true, and last season, I got 63 predictions correct. I tried to maintain the same degree of difficulty in my predictions for 2016, but measuring that degree of difficulty is hard to do unless other experts make the exact same kind of predictions. That was the reasoning behind doing an expert panel that filled out a questionnaire, and even among the experts, there was quite a bit of disagreement.

So in an attempt to maintain that same degree of boldness, here are my 100 predictions for the 2016 tennis season.

A South American will win a title in February
Anderson never return to the top 10
Anderson will hit less than 1000 aces
At least 10 Americans will finish in the top 100
At least four Americans will be ranked higher than the top German
At least four Americans will reach a final
At least four Serbs will finish in the top 100
At least seven Frenchmen will finish in the top 50
At least three college graduates will finish in the top 25
At most 12 Spaniards will finish in the top 100
At most one teenager will finish in the top 50
Bautista Agut will win more return points than Federer
Berdych will stay in the top 10 all year
Bhambri will win a grand slam match
Chung will reach the semifinal of a tour-level tournament
Cilic will return to the top 10 at some point in 2016
Coppejans will win a tour-level match
Coric will reach the final of a tour-level tournament
Djokovic will be No. 1 all year
Djokovic will beat Murray at the Australian Open
Djokovic will beat Murray at Wimbledon
Djokovic will beat Nadal at Roland Garros
Djokovic will defeat Federer in the gold medal match
Djokovic will win titles on every surface
Durasovic will reach the main draw of the Challenger Tour event
Federer will drop out of the top 5
Federer will hit at least 400 aces
Federer will not win a title on clay
Federer will win a medal in Rio
Federer will win no more than one elite event
Ferrer will drop out of the top 10
Five Australians will combine for at least 5000 ranking points
Fognini will hold serve less than 500 times
France will win the Davis Cup
Fratangelo will win a tour-level match
Garcia-Lopez will have a losing record in finals
Gasquet will drop out of the top 10 before the US Open
Goffin will beat a player in the top 10
Goffin will reach his first career grand slam quarterfinal
Groth will win a Masters main draw match
Isner will be the top ranked American all year
Isner will lead the tour in aces
Isner will return to the top 10 at some point in 2016
Isner will win less than 20 Masters matches
Janowicz will finish in the top 50
Johnson will be seeded at every grand slam
Johnson will win a tour-level title
Khachanov will reach a grand slam main draw
Kokkinakis will not win a title
Kyrgios will not reach the quarterfinals of a grand slam
Miedler will win a Challenger Tour match
Murray will be No. 2 for the entire year
Murray will beat Nishikori at the US Open
Murray will earn at least 10,000 ranking points
Murray will hold serve more times than Wawrinka
Murray will not win multiple slams
Murray will win a medal in Rio
Murray will win a title on every surface
Nadal will be the only lefty in the year-end top 25
Nadal will break serve at least 300 times
Nadal will finish ahead of Federer in the rankings
Nadal will go undefeated against Fognini all year
Nadal will have a winning record against the top 10
Nadal will hold more times than Federer
Nadal will not lose to Brown all year
Nadal will reach the quarterfinals of at least three majors
Nadal will win a title in Spain
Nadal will win multiple five-set matches
Nadal will win multiple titles on clay
Nishioka will reach a Masters main draw
No left-hander will be in the top 5 for aces
No Spaniard will finish in the top 100 for the first time in his career
Nobody born in the 1990s will reach a grand slam final
Nobody will reach their first grand slam final
Nobody will reach their first grand slam semifinal
Nobody will win their first grand slam title
Nobody younger than Djokovic will be ranked higher than him
Nobody younger than Nishikori will be ranked higher than him
Nobody younger than Raonic will be ranked higher than him
Nobody younger than Tomic will be ranked higher than him
North Americans will combine for at least 15,000 ranking points
Pavlasek will play reach a tour-level main draw
Ram will win a match on grass
Raonic will finish the year in the top 10
Rublev will win a Challenger Tour title
Sock will reach the top 20
Thiem will win 1000 points on return
Tomic will hit more aces than Federer
Tomic will reach the top 10 for the first time
Troicki will drop out of the top 25 after the Australian Open
Tsonga will hit 100 aces on clay
Tsonga will win multiple titles
Vesely will reach the second week of a grand slam
Wawrinka will have a losing record against the top 10
Wawrinka will leave the top 5 after Roland Garros
Wawrinka will lose a match to someone outside the top 100
Wawrinka will not reach a slam final
Wawrinka will win multiple five-set matches
Wawrinka will win multiple titles
Zverev will finish the year as the No. 1 German

2016 ATP Predictions Expert Panel

The 2016 ATP World Tour tennis season gets underway with main draw action tomorrow, meaning its time to make predictions. Once again, we have put together a panel of experts that all answered the same questions to see who at the end of the year gets the most correct answers. Last year, Parsa and I tied for first place, and this year the co-defending champion has joined me again to make his predictions for this season.

Click here to see all the predictions.

Joey Hanf, Pete Ziebron, Steen Kirby, and myself are all back from last year's panel. Also joining for the first time are Ben Rothenberg, Dave Gertler, Nick Nemeroff, Jeff Donaldson, Susie Reid, Jonathan Kelley, anRené Denfeld. Make sure all these experts are among the list of people you follow both on twitter and at their various sites and publications.

Here are the final rankings from the panel (perfect predictions in parenthesis):
1. Nick Nemeroff 25-22 (2)
2. Joey Hanf 24-23 (1)
3. Ricky Dimon 23-24 (2)
4. Jeff Donaldson 23-24 (0)
5. Pete Ziebron 22-25 (2)
6. Jonathan Kelley 21-26 (2)
7. Steen Kirby 21-26 (1)
8. Jared Pine 21-26 (0)
9. Parsa 20-27 (1)
9. Susie Reid 20-27 (1)
11. René Denfeld 20-27 (0)
12. Ben Rothenberg 19-28 (1)
13. Dave Gertler 12-35 (1)

Thanks to everyone who participated! Congratulations to Nick for winning this year! Also, props to Dave for being the only one to predict Argentina winning the Davis Cup. I'm looking forward to doing this again in 2017!

Friday, January 1, 2016

ATP 2016 Year-end Top 100 Predictions

For the fifth year in a row, I have predicted what I think the year-end top 100 will be, but for the first time I am being joined in this journey. Kevin Craig (@KCraig_Tennis) from has also put together his own predictions for the top 100. Here are our predictions with analysis at the bottom.

Here are the lists:

Kevin Craig

Jared Pine
1. Novak Djokovic Novak Djokovic
2. Andy Murray Andy Murray
3. Rafael Nadal Rafael Nadal
4. Stan Wawrinka Kei Nishikori
5. Milos Raonic Stan Wawrinka
6. Roger Federer Tomas Berdych
7. Kei Nishikori Roger Federer
8. John Isner Milos Raonic
9. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Marin Cilic
10. Tomas Berdych Bernard Tomic
11. David Ferrer Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
12. Grigor Dimitrov Grigor Dimitrov
13. Kevin Anderson Dominic Thiem
14. Jack Sock Kevin Anderson
15. Domonic Thiem John Isner
16. Bernard Tomic David Goffin
17. Marin Cilic David Ferrer
18. Nick Kyrgios Jack Sock
19. David Goffin Gael Monfils
20. Roberto Bautista Agut Gilles Simon
21. Steve Johnson Steve Johnson
22. Richard Gasquet Richard Gasquet
23. Vasek Pospisil Nick Kyrgios
24. Fabio Fognini Benoit Paire
25. Gael Monfils Viktor Troicki
26. Benoit Paire Jeremy Chardy
27. Borna Coric Alexandr Dolgopolov
28. Donald Young Jiri Vesely
29. Joao Sousa Roberto Bautista Agut
30. Marcos Baghdatis Aljaz Bedene
31. Feliciano Lopez Borna Coric
32. Jiri Vesely Martin Klizan
33. Gilles Simon Joao Sousa
34. Jeremy Chardy Fabio Fognini
35. Viktor Troicki Vasek Pospisil
36. Ivo Karlovic Leonardo Mayer
37. Fernando Verdasco Thomaz Bellucci
38. Juan Monaco Pablo Cuevas
39. Sam Groth  Adrian Mannarino
40. Aljaz Bedene Jerzy Janowicz
41. Pablo Carreno Busta Hyeon Chung
42. Alex Dolgopolov  Donald Young
43. Thomaz Bellucci Federico Delbonis
44. Martin Klizan Feliciano Lopez
45. Ernests Gulbis Sam Querrey
46. Leonardo Mayer Pablo Carreno Busta
47. Denis Kudla Denis Kudla
48. Andreas Seppi Ivo Karlovic
49. Victor Estrella Burgos Guillermo Garcia-Lopez
50. Sam Querrey Alexander Zverev
51. Alex Zverev  Andreas Seppi
52. Diego Schwartzman Lucas Pouille
53. Phillip Kohlschreiber Philipp Kohlschreiber
54. Pablo Andujar Ernests Gulbis
55. Lucas Pouille Nicolas Almagro
56. Nicolas Almagro Thanasi Kokkinakis
57. Thanasi Kokkinakis Sam Groth
58. Hyeon Chung Denis Istomin
59. Lukas Rosol Fernando Verdasco
60. Gilles Muller Gilles Muller
61. Santiago Giraldo Mikhail Kukushkin
62. Jerzy Janowicz Juan Monaco
63. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez Yuki Bhambri
64. Guido Pella Diego Schwartzman
65. Ryan Harrison Jared Donaldson
66. Teymuraz Gabashvili  Yoshihito Nishioka
67. Andreas Haider-Maurer Dusan Lajovic
68. Robin Haase Ricardas Berankis
69. Simone Bolelli Elias Ymer
70. Rajeev Ram Inigo Cervantes
71. Nicolas Mahut Albert Ramos
72. Ricardas Berankis Santiago Giraldo
73. Tommy Robredo  Damir Dzumhur
74. Denis Istomin Kyle Edmund
75. Mischa Zverev Robin Haase
76. Adrian Mannarino  Andrey Kuznetsov
77. Mikhail Kukushkin Andreas Haider-Mauerer
78. Ivan Dodig Pablo Andujar
79. Pablo Cuevas Filip Krajinovic
80. Andrey Kuznetsov Marcos Baghdatis
81. Kyle Edmund  Teymuraz Gabashvili
82. Ruben Bemelmans Lukas Rosol
83. Federico Delbonis  Simone Bolelli
84. Yuki Bhambri  Kimmer Coppejans
85. Inigo Cervantes Ryan Harrison
86. Taylor Fritz  Tommy Robredo
87. Sergiy Stakhovsky  Taro Daniel
88. Elias Ymer Marco Cecchinato
89. James Duckworth Austin Krajicek
90. Austin Krajicek Illya Marchenko
91. Yoshihito Nishioka  Bjorn Fratangelo
92. Mikhail Youzhny Andrey Rublev
93. John Millman Matthew Ebden
94. Andrey Rublev Jan-Lennard Struff
95. Matt Ebden Lukas Lacko
96. Paolo Lorenzi Evgeny Donskoy
97. Albert Ramos-Vinolas Taylor Fritz
98. Daniel Munoz de la Nava James Duckworth
99. Jared Donaldson Nikoloz Basilashvili
100. Dusan Lajovic Laslo Djere

Kevin and I have no disagreements in the top three. Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal have been three over the best players in tennis over the last decade and there is nothing to suggest that will change this year. The first major difference comes with Isner, who I have at No. 15 while Kevin places the American giant at No. 8. I also have significantly less faith in Ferrer for this season, but we both agreed that Dimitrov will make a comeback of sorts in 2016 and finish at No. 12.

I also have Tomic finishing in the top 10, but Kevin has the Australian down at No. 16 just ahead of Cilic, who is No. 9 on my list.  At the bottom, both of us have a Serb, but I went with the younger Laslo Djere.

Here is a look at our Americans in the top 100:
Kevin Craig Jared Pine
8. John Isner 15. John Isner
14. Jack Sock 18. Jack Sock
21. Steve Johnson 21. Steve Johnson
28. Donald Young 42. Donald Young
47. Denis Kudla 45. Sam Querrey
50. Sam Querrey 47. Denis Kudla
65. Ryan Harrison 65. Jared Donaldson
70. Rajeev Ram 85. Ryan Harrison
86. Taylor Fritz  89. Austin Krajicek
90. Austin Krajicek 91. Bjorn Fratangelo
99. Jared Donaldson 97. Taylor Fritz

Neither of us have Tim Smyczek, Frances Tiafoe, or Dennis Novikov in our top 100. That could definitely come back to bite us.

Apart from the players already mentioned Kevin put a lot of faith in: Nick Kyrgios, Roberto Bautista Agut, Vasek Pospisil, Fabio Fognini, Marcos Baghdatis, Juan Monaco and Nicolas Mahut.

Meanwhile, I put a lot of confidence in: Gael Monfils, Gilles Simon, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Martin Klizan, Yoshihito Nishioka, Filip Krajinovic and Damir Dzumhur

We'll revisit this in 11 months. It will be interesting to see whose predictions are closer to reality in the end.

Djokovic's 2015 was the best season of the last 26 years

Since the introduction of the ATP Masters series to the tour in 1990, it has become much easier to compare different seasons, and by every relevant statistic, what Novak Djokovic did in 2015 was the greatest singles season in the last 26-year era.

In 2015, Djokovic recorded an 82-6 record with 11 titles and reached the final of every event he played after dropping his quarterfinal match in the first tournament of the season.

His 82 wins are not a record nor are his just six losses. Twice in the last 26 years (Federer '06 & Sampras '93) has a player won more than 82 matches in a single season. Also twice in the last 26 years (Federer '05 & '06) has a player lost less than six matches, while maintaining a full schedule. Also his 11 titles are not a record. In 2006, Roger Federer notched 12.

However, that's not how success is determined in tennis. In tennis, when ranking the greatest seasons of all time, it only makes sense to use ranking points, since that's how the real rankings are defined. However, the problem is that the ranking system has changed several times since being instituted in 1973.

Thankfully, since 1990, the tour has remained similar enough that the conversion is fairly simple. There have always been four grand slams, nine masters series events, and a year-end final. Davis Cup, Grand Prix Cup, and smaller events add some complications, but those events do little to change the rankings of the top players in the end anyways, so best estimates are more than good enough.

Comparing the ranking points earned of all the year-end No. 1's for the last 26 years, Djokovic stands alone atop the following list.

1. 2015 Djokovic 16,585
2. 2006 Federer 16,295
3. 2011 Djokovic 13,630
3. 2007 Federer 13,630
5. 2013 Nadal 13,030
6. 2005 Federer 12,460
7. 2012 Djokovic 12,920
8. 2004 Federer 12,460
9. 2010 Nadal 12,450
10. 2008 Nadal 12,395
11. 1994 Sampras 11,950
12. 2014 Djokovic 11,360

The gap there between Djokovic's 2015 and Federer's 2006 is not big at all. Some might be tempted to say that Federer's extra title and better winning record more than make up for the ranking points gap and declare Federer's 2006 the greatest season ever. However, there is a better way to differentiate the two runaway best seasons ever.

College sports fans will be more than familiar with the term "strength of schedule." It is a measurement of the difficulty of a player's schedule based on the rankings of their opponent. For tennis, this is even easier than in college sports, because everyone is ranked and not just the top 25.

In a comparison of Federer's 2006 strength of schedule and Djokovic's in 2015, there is no question who had to face the tougher opponents. The average ranking of Djokovic's opponents was 35.8, while Federer's was 63.7. Almost 30 spots higher.

Of course, Federer did have a few opponents ranked high that drove up his average, but his easiest opponent was ranked 1078 and he needed a third-set tiebreaker to survive that test. Still, it is possible to use median opponent ranking as a better indicator in which Djokovic still holds a massive advantage with a median opponent ranking of 20 compared to Federer's 35.

Overall in 2015, Djokovic played 40.1% of his matches against players in the top 10, 52.3% against players in the top 20, and 59.1% against players in the top 30. Federer on the other hand, only matched up against top 10 peers 23.7% of the time, top 20 just 35.1% of the time, and top 30 only 46.4 percent of the time.

You don't choose your opponents in tennis, but both players played 17 events and Djokovic had the much tougher opponents and still managed to earn more ranking points than Federer.

In total, Djokovic won 31 matches against his peers in the top 10. Federer won only 18 in 2006. Djokovic's 31 wins against top 10 players smashes the record with the nearest amount in since 1990 being Rafael Nadal's 23 wins against top 10 players in 2013. The next highest was Djokovic's 21 in 2011.

With the highest degree of success and dominance the tour has ever seen against the toughest schedule in the ATP Masters Series era, little doubt remains that Djokovic's 2015 season was the greatest tennis season of the last 26 years if not in all of tennis history.