Saturday, September 3, 2016

Is Andy Murray the Real No. 1?

World No. 2 Andy Murray has had an excellent summer winning Wimbledon, the Rio Olympics, and finishing runner-up at Cincinnati. Meanwhile, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic has had a far less impressive summer aside from a title in Canada, bringing up a meaningless and factless debate about who is the "de facto No. 1."

Charlie Eccleshare said it this way, "The Scot is the reigning Wimbledon, Olympics and Davis Cup champion, and if he wins the US Open he would surely be the de facto world No 1."

*I'm tempted to spend this whole post crushing that argument with head-to-head record stats and non-ITF results, but I'll resist for now.

Eccleshare coined this phrase "de facto No. 1," but what does it mean? In the way Eccleshare uses it, the term simply means that Murray is the British No. 1.

However, Eccleshare's fact-free claim that Murray is unofficial No. 1, regardless of what the computer rankings say, is actually a common mistake. Other people call it the unofficial Player of the Year. Whatever you call it, it's a mistake that is a result of misunderstanding rankings.

Computer rankings are the ultimate authority on who is better, period.

Tennis is a sport, and in sports you do not get to move the goal. The goal is set in place and everyone shoots for that goal. The goal is the same size and height for every player.

In tennis, rankings are the goal. Every single tennis player is competing for a higher ranking. Rankings don't measure success in the sport. Rankings are success in the sport.

The same way a goal in soccer gets you a point, a win in a tennis match is worth points. The player or team with the most points is the winner. The objective of tennis on the ATP World Tour is to get points. Therefore, the player with more ranking points is always the better player.

Claiming that a player with less points is currently better than a player with more points is equally outrageous as saying that the team that lost was the better team that day. Impossible! They did not complete the objective. Sports are driven by objectives, and the player or team that completes the objective is the winner.

Style counts for nothing in sports (which is why cheerleading, ice skating, diving and gymnastics cannot be sports despite being extremely athletic competitions). The losing soccer team could be far better at passing and controlling possession of the ball, but if they put the ball into the goal less times than their opponents, they are not better than their opponents.

In tennis, winning Wimbledon and winning the Australian Open are equal achievements both worth 2000 points. Winning Wimbledon is not worth extra style points.

Therefore computer rankings are absolutely perfect and authoritative, because rankings are the goal. And in tennis, like in any other sport, the goal cannot be moved, widened, lowered or ignored, regardless of how much the British press tries.

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