Thursday 27 June 2013

Biggest Surprises of Wimbledon's Wacky Wednesday

There were many things that went wrong or weird in Wimbledon today, including (but not limited to) Roger Federer's 4-set loss to Sergiy Stakhovsky, seven (SEVEN!) withdrawals or retirements, and a slew of seeds losing unexpectedly. Here are my top surprises from this day (and the two that preceded it):

  • Viktor Troicki won two straight matches in a Grand Slam without dropping a set. Such a wonder hasn't happened since the 2011 Roland Garros, where he won his first two rounds in 3 sets, won the third in 4 sets, and then lost in a very painful R4 match to a hobbled Andy Murray in 5 sets. His Grand Slam results since then? Won in 4, lost in 3, lost in 5, won in 5, lost in 5, won in 5, lost in 5, won in 5, won in 5, won in 3, lost in 3, lost in 4, lost in 5, won in 3, won in 5, won in 3, lost in 3, and finally in 2013 Wimbledon - won in 3 and won in 3.
    Troicki will next meet Mikhail Youzhny, in a match that I can't see ending in straight sets to anyone. I smell a 9-7 in the air.

  • There were no rain delays, no darkness interruptions, no roof debates, no scheduling disasters. While the Tennis Gods might have wrecked the results, Mother Nature treated this Wimbledon very kindly so far. Of course, it's only day 3, but doesn't it already feel like we've been watching this tournament forever?

  • Out of the seven previous No. 1s who lost today, only one really surprised me, and that was Maria Sharapova. We already knew that Azarenka got injured; Ivanovic, Jankovic or Wozniacki losing on grass isn't such a shock; Hewitt can beat anyone but can also lose to anyone on a given day; Federer had a sub-par year by his standards. Sharapova, however, has lost only to Serena Williams (a fair few times) and to Li Na (AO 2013) this year. She already won a difficult match against Kristina Mladenovic in the first round here, so she wasn't particularly rusty. Moreover, I've seen Maria's opponent, Michelle Larcher De Brito, live quite a few times during Fed Cup, and while I knew she had the talent to play like she did today, I didn't think she had the mentality for it. Serving out the match after missing 4 match points and facing a couple of break points against a very determined Sharapova was very impressive, in my eyes.

  • Nike Tennis. Are you sure you want to brag about it?

    (Just kidding, Federer's loss is most definitely up there)

Saturday 8 June 2013

It's the hope that kills you

You start watching a match. You know who's the overwhelming favourite, and you hope for that tiny chance of an upset, but you don't really believe it could happen. And you're OK with that, you've prepared yourself for a loss, and you just want whoever you're cheering for to go out there and not completely embarrass themselves, maybe get a set if they can manage it.

The opponent wins the first set, and it all goes 'according to plan'. "Ah well, maybe some other time". You're calm. Why wouldn't you be? It's the expected result. It's what everybody predicted. There are no surprises today.

Then, something changes. A good game, a break, maybe a set. "Is it possible? Maybe, after all?" Naaah, it never goes that way, you tell yourself. There's no point in hoping, you'll just get disappointed afterwards. "But..." No, there are no 'buts' here.

And the match goes on, and you're still not expecting a win, but against all reason, you're hoping. The longer the match goes, you start hoping more and more, and break points are saved and games are won and you still don't believe it, but maybe you do. Just a bit. Just a lot.

It's too late now, you're way too invested, and you can see the finish line, can imagine what happens when your rooting interest crosses it. "It will be so good! Everybody will talk about it!" You try to calm yourself down, but what's the point?

They take a lead, and you tense up, your emotions are already overflowing, the taste of victory there on your tongue, and if they just take that break point, or keep that tiebreak lead, and maybe serve a couple of aces...
But they don't. And the opponents don't double fault, either. Nor do they hit every ball into the net, as you've already magically seen them do in that not-so-deep corner of your mind. By now you're evoking every superstition you've ever had, you promise to do countless things if only this one result goes your way, you're begging your TV to cooperate, you just want it so much!

So bloody what. The chance is gone, the advantage disappears, and it might not be over yet, but you already feel like it is - but maybe something can still happen? You know it won't, and yet you keep willing that ball to do what you so desperately want, because who knows, right?

Wrong. It's match point already, it's the wrong match point, and they're not done yet, and maybe somehow...?

And then it's really over. You refuse to believe it, but what else can you do? You knew it would happen, everybody had known it would happen, so why does it hurt so much?

In tennis, it's the hope that kills you.

Dedicated to Nicolas Mahut's Roland Garros 2013 doubles final loss.

Wimbledon 2013 Top 5 Seedings

The clay season leading up to this year's Roland Garros was - among other things - a race for the #2 and #4 seedings in the Grand Slam tournament. Eventually, since Andy Murray has withdrawn from the French Open, it didn't matter. With Rafael Nadal's withdrawal from Halle (assuming it's official - he's still on the entry list at time of writing), the Wimbledon seedings of the top players are now determined, no matter what happens in Queen's or Halle.

Wimbledon is currently the only Grand Slam in tennis that actively departs from the official tour rankings when it seeds players. On the WTA, it is done by a committee, and is therefore more subjective, but on the ATP, there's a clear defined formula. The calculation is done for the top 32 players on the ATP rankings - so anyone who was supposed to be seeded, will be - but not necessarily according to his usual ranking.

The formula works this way:
  • Take the ATP ranking points at 17 June 2013 (a week before the tournament starts)
  • Add 100% points earned for all grass court tournaments in the past 12 months - that includes s'Hertogenbosch/Eastbourne 2012, Newport 2012, Wimbledon 2012, Olympics 2012, Queen's/Halle 2013.
  • Add 75% points earned for the best grass court tournament in the 12 months before that (One of s'Hertogenbosch/Eastbourne 2011, Wimbledon 2011, Newport 2011, Queen's/Halle 2012). 
Based on that, we can already calculate the possible scenarios for the Wimbledon 2013 seedings. The scenarios are actually quite simple, though the calculations aren't, so we'll start from the conclusions:

Wimbledon 2013 seedings:

If you want to check my calculations, you can read ahead.

Andy Murray & Roger Federer

This calculation is a bit easier, since we already know their Roland Garros results.

Murray currently has 8670 points, and since he didn't play in the French Open, he'll lose his QF points from last year, and will have 8310 points this Monday. Ignoring Queen's 2013 for a second, he'll add 1950 points from the previous 12 months (Wimbledon final and Olympics title). His best result from the 12 months before that is 720 points from the 2011 Wimbledon semifinal, so he'll add 540 more points for that, bringing us to a total of 10800 points. His 2013 Queen's result will be added to that total twice - once as a part of the regular rankings, and once in the "last 12 months" category, so 10800 is the absolute minimum he can get.

Federer has 8000 points. He'll lose the 720 RG 2012 SF points, and will add 360 points for this year's QF, for a total of 7640 points this Monday. Without Halle 2013, his previous 12 months' points are 2450 (Wimbledon title and Olympics final). He'll also add 75% * 360 points for his 2011 Wimbledon QF. As for  Halle: On June 17, he'll drop 150 points from the final of Halle 2012, and add whatever he earns in Halle 2013, twice. Even if he wins Halle (thus adding a total of 2*250=500 points), this will bring his total points (for seeding purposes) to 10710 - not enough to overtake Murray in any scenario.

David Ferrer & Rafael Nadal

If Nadal wins RG, he'll have 6895 points on Monday (just like his current points, since he's defending the title). Halle 2012 is already non countable for him, so he doesn't drop any more points. At the moment, he only has 45 points in that category, for his R2 in Wimbledon 2012. He gets 75% * 1200 = 900 points for the 2011 Wimbledon final. Overall, this gets him to 7840 points.
Ferrer, in this scenario, will have 7220 points this Monday (current points - 6740, drops 720 for 2012 RG SF, adds 1200 for 2013 RG F). He never plays in Queen's or Halle, so we know exactly that his last 12 months' points are 680 (Wimbledon QF, Olympics R16, s'Hertogenbosch title), and he adds 75% * 180 = 135 points for 2011 Wimbledon R16. Thus, his total points for seeding purposes will be 8035 - ahead of Nadal.

Clearly, if Ferrer wins RG, the gap between his and Nadal's points will be even larger, and he'll be seeded #4 (even an RG win won't be enough to bump him to #3 right now).

By the way, if Nadal did play Halle, he'd have to win both RG and Halle to be seeded #4.

June 19 edit: The official seedings for Wimbledon 2013 (both men and women, singles and doubles) can be found on the Wimbledon website.