Wednesday 30 May 2012

This Is Why We Watch Tennis

After more than 3 hours, in a match filled with unbelievable drama, Virginie Razzano defeated Serena Williams, 4-6 7-6(5) 6-3.

This match came after a day of mostly predictable and not entirely interesting results. Unusually for the beginning of a Grand Slam, there weren't too many moments of "Oh my, there are so many matches I'd like to see at once!". The conversation among tennis fans and journalists alike revolved mainly around the highly important question "What is the colour of Rafa's new shirt?".

Nike might call it Scarlet Fire, for me it's pink
When Razzano lost a 4-2 lead and double faulted to give Serena the first set, it looked like just another result to add to the list of seeds moving comfortably on to the second round. She kept it tight in the second set, taking it to a tiebreak despite starting to cramp, but when Williams raced to a 5-1 lead there, the match was practically over.

But that's the beauty of tennis, isn't it? No matter how over the match might seem, it's never over until the "Game, Set, Match". Up 5-2 and with two points away from the win, Serena stopped play on a good ball she thought was out. A point later, her (probable winner) shot was called out, but overruled by chair umpire Eva Asderaki (she of the famous hindrance incident), leading to a replay of the point. One thing led to another, and Williams lost her focus and the second set.

With the match passing the 2 hours mark, Virginie still cramping, and Williams having a perfect 46-0 record in Slam opening rounds, hardly anybody thought the Frenchwoman had any chances in the final set. She opened it with a love hold, prompting the Eurosport commentator to say "A real test of character for a legend of the game". Little did he know.

One game after the other, Razzano didn't seem to stop. At 4-0 up, she yelped with pain during one of the rallies. True to form, Asderaki called a hindrance, and determined the point should be replayed. Visibly limited, Virginie had trouble serving in the following point. Certain this was the peak of the drama, the aforementioned commentator stated "We've just about seen it all now". Little did he know.

Bolstered by the crowd supporting the local favourite, Razzano held on for 5-0. Williams, in the meantime, could hardly find the court, and won only five points in those five games. She hit an ace to go up 30-15, but was next wrong-footed by Razzano, who at this point was just two points away from the whole match. However, this wouldn't do for Serena, who finished the game with a great volley. "The comeback - begins!" said the commentator. Little did he know.

What unraveled from this point onwards left everyone gaping in disbelief. Serving for the match (5-1), with the score being 30-30, hindrance was called again after Razzano's cry of pain. This time she lost the point, and eventually - the game (not before saving a couple of break points). The exact same thing happened when Razzano was serving for it for the second time. Once again, at 30-30, Asderaki called hindrance, to give a first break point to Serena. That comeback looked practically over. Little did we all know.

Saving five break points with courageous serving, and reaching eight match points of her own altogether, Virginie Razzano finally closed out the match, after more than 3 hours of play. The match was filled with drama from start to finish, and even the last match point was momentarily disputed, before the umpire declared Serena's ball to be out. Every point had you screaming in disbelief, not knowing how to react or where to turn for support. Every shot looked like it could evolve into two completely different story-lines. Every serve had you wondering what would happen next, and will you ever see the end of it all. And THIS - this is why we watch tennis.

 (Photos: Getty Images)

Monday 28 May 2012

Tipsy Time returns!

Janko Tipsarevic's video blog during the Australian Open was a big success, with funny videos showing life on tour from behind the scenes. The world No. 8 player is reunited with a personal video camera during the Roland Garros, and there's no doubt that it will be fun to watch.

Watch this space for links to all the new videos as they come out on Eurosport!

Video #0 - Fasten Your Seat Belts (Preview)

Video #1 - I have the worst hair on Tour

Video #2 - New haircut for Janko

Video #3 (interview) - Lucky Tipsy having "fun"

Video #4 - Pedicure

Video #5 - Thief steals Janko's shoes

Video #6 - A day in Janko's life

Video #7 (day 8) - Nestor is scum!

Video #8 (day 10) -Janko back on decks at home

Saturday 26 May 2012

Luck or Conspiracy: Federer and Djokovic in Grand Slam Draws

A new Grand Slam is upon us, and the French Open draw was held yesterday. Despite the promised live showing of the draw, we were left to guess what was going on, while the tournament's official twitter account suggested helpful things like changing our Facebook language to French. Technical problems aside, however, we have the new men's and women's draws, and with them come the surprises.

Or do they? Once again this year, Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska are drawn into the same half. Once again in a Grand Slam tournament, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer end up in the same half. The latter result had people crying 'Conspiracy' and 'Draw fixing!' long ago, claiming that the odds for that happening are near impossible.

I looked at the last 20 Slams, starting with Wimbledon 2007, which is when Djokovic started getting a top-4 seed. Since then, Federer and Djokovic were on the same side of the draw 15 times. If you assume that they have a 50% chance of falling in the same half, the possibility of that event occurring 15 times out of 20 is about 1.5%. A lot of the calculations I've seen before on the topic give even lower numbers than this one. However, in my opinion, this is the wrong way of looking at the numbers.

The main thing to remember is that the Slams don't draw specific players to face each other. Rather, the players are drawn out by their seeding in the tournament. And this is where the conspiracy theories start to fail.

The 1st and 2nd seeds are always placed on different sides of the draw. Following that, one of the next two seeds - #3 or #4 - is drawn into the #1's half. So, in every draw, we can get either #1-#3 (and #2-#4) or the other way around - #1-#4 and #2-#3. Those are the events that really have a 50% chance of happening, not any combination of specific top-4 players. And indeed, that's what you get when you analyze the last 6 years' draws. In the last 20 Grand Slam tournaments, there were 9 tournaments with the #1-#3 combination, and 11 tournaments with the #1-#4 combination. On the women's side, by the way, there were 11 tournaments with #1-#3 and 9 tournaments with #1-#4. Overall, those results make perfect sense for an event with a probability of 50%. In fact, this sample is too small to give it any statistical meaning, and it would be better to look father back for more exact numbers - but then, of course, you don't have Djokovic and Federer to conspire about.

The "problem" for Djokovic and Federer is that they never (not even once!) had a Grand Slam tournament where they were certain to avoid each other. Nadal has been inside the top2 for 19 out of the 20 Slams I looked at, thus ensuring that Federer and Djokovic couldn't be both #1-#2 or #3-#4 at the same time. The one Slam where Nadal was seeded 3rd (USO 2009) had Murray ranked 2nd, thus, again, ensuring that Federer and Djokovic could be drawn together. So, at the end of the day, if you're looking for someone to blame for this luck of the draw, you might as well blame Rafael Nadal.

Tournament Year1 2 3 4 Draw
W 2007 Federer Nadal Roddick Djokovic 1-3
USO 2007 Federer Nadal Djokovic Davydenko 1-4
AO2008 Federer Nadal Djokovic Davydenko 1-3
RG2008 Federer Nadal Djokovic Davydenko 1-4
W2008 Federer Nadal Djokovic Davydenko 1-3
USO 2008 Nadal Federer Djokovic Ferrer 1-4
AO2009 Nadal Federer Djokovic Murray 1-4
RG2009 Nadal Federer Murray Djokovic 1-3
W2009 Nadal Federer Murray Djokovic 1-3
USO 2009 Federer Murray Nadal Djokovic 1-4
AO2010 Federer Nadal Djokovic Del Potro 1-3
RG2010 Federer Nadal Djokovic Murray 1-4
W2010 Federer Nadal Djokovic Murray 1-3
USO 2010 Nadal Federer Djokovic Murray 1-4
AO2011 Nadal Federer Djokovic Soderling 1-4
RG2011 Nadal Djokovic Federer Murray 1-4
W2011 Nadal Djokovic Federer Murray 1-4
USO 2011 Djokovic Nadal Federer Murray 1-3
AO2012 Djokovic Nadal Federer Murray 1-4
RG 2012 Djokovic Nadal Federer Murray 1-3

Friday 4 May 2012

My Tennis Memory Is So Bad

How weird is that I remember absolutely nothing from the 2010 US Open Djokovic-Federer semifinal? For a while now, I wasn't even sure whether I've seen the match at all. I was already a Novak fan back then - though not as dedicated as today, that's for sure. Still, I have absolutely no recollection at all of seeing that match. All I do remember from that tournament is watching the women's semifinals and final. However, today I stumbled upon the following 'conversation' that I had on an online (non-tennis related) forum:

Me: "What excellent tennis in the USO SF. 2-2 in sets between Djokovic and Federer. At this rate, there won't even be a Federer-Nadal final...  "

Person A: "Such a final [Fedal] won't be as fun as in previous times "

Me: "Well, I'm cheering for Djokovic in this tournament "

Person A: "I really hope Federer does something before he retires... He's so perfect "

Me: "5th set, 5-5. Crazy match "

Me: ""

Person B: "I wanna cry, Federer lost I really wanted a classic final..."

Person A: "To see Nadal eat him without salt again? No thanks... "

I had no idea that I had this conversation. Until today, I wasn't completely sure that I've seen the match. How is that even possible?