The 2020 season has been one of the strangest in recent memory due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so can it be argued that predicting what may happen at next week’s US Open is impossible?
The sport was suspended for five months, with competitive women’s tennis resuming in July and the men’s game following on in August. Evidently, rustiness will be one of the key issues for players as they play within the New York ‘bubble’ – and they could also be more prone to injury should they have to endure long matches in the humid conditions.
However, thanks to the growing demand for statistical data in the sport, it is still possible to generate some idea of what may occur over the two-week period.
British-based Mike James is the mastermind behind Sportiii Analytics, a company who specialise in providing detailed information on player strategies and patterns to their clients on both the ATP and WTA Tours. Their portfolio includes previously providing information to the coaching team of Stan Wawrinka. James created Sportiii to meet the growing trend and demand in the sport.
“At Sportiii Analytics we focus on over 30 Key Performance Indicators with some of the key areas being serve plus one pattern (of play) and return plus one pattern (of play), as well as a player’s final shot court position,” James told UbiTennis.
“We’ve created our model from several years of experience at the Tour level with the help from some of the best coaches on both ATP & WTA Tours.”
There is also the obvious question about how reliable data can be at present due to the Tour break. James, who has a wealth of experience and started this year working with the team of Serbian rising star Miomir Kecmanović, admits it will be a slightly different challenge to normal.
“We have to do our best to get historical data from the first two months of the season. Luckily it was all played on hard courts, which gives us a better judgment,” he explains.
“The Western & Southern Open will be a big help for myself and Sportiii Analytics looking at any new trends or changes in players’ games leading into the US Open.”
Looking ahead to New York, James has used his findings to answer a few questions UbiTennis has about the upcoming major as he outlines, among other interesting topics, who Novak Djokovic’s biggest threat is and why.
How does Sportiii Analytics work with players?
A lot of the work we do is confidential but we currently support several top 100 players in both singles and doubles on both Tour’s.
We have two main purposes at this level, the first is gathering the player data and strategy patterns we’re working on in order to help them and their team know their optimum winning patterns. The second is opponent scouting and finding key weaknesses to help support a winning gameplan.
So who are the biggest performers in the men’s game?
Under pressure leaders on hard courts (which is calculated by the ATP by adding the percentage of break points converted and saved, percentage of tie-breaks won and percentage of deciding sets won) gives Novak Djokovic the best numbers. Dominic Thiem is next and – surprisingly to some – Gael Monfils is the highest ranked player behind those two. The in-form Andrey Rublev follows just behind.
Looking ahead to the US Open what is the likelihood of a player outside the top 10 winning?
I think the fact seven of the top 10 females are not playing and there’s no Roger or Rafa make the challenge of players outside the top 10 much greater this year than in previous US Opens. Also, I think having no crowd at the tournament will make the matches more even.
Based on the figures, who are Novak Djokovic’s most dangerous opponents leading up to the Grand Slam?
From a serve perspective Matteo Berrettini, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Thiem lead the way for winning 1st and 2nd serve points on hard courts in the last 52 weeks. The serve will be more important this year as the court surface is quicker than previous years. If I had to pick one player on a hard court to challenge Novak it would be Thiem.
What about Serena Williams, is she really as much of a heavy favourite as many believe?
One hundred percent she is the major favourite. With big players like Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu – who usually gives Serena trouble – not in attendance, this creates a great opportunity for this year’s event. If Serena is focused she will win her 24th Slam.
Looking at the wider picture, should we expect many seeds to fall due to the lack of tennis recently?
The best players are where they are for a reason. I can’t see a trend of top seeds exiting early unless we go back to only 16 seeds instead of 32.
What about the underdogs? Who should we look out for in the coming days to spring a surprise?
On the women’s side I can see Coco Gauff making big strides over the next two weeks. On the men’s side we could easily see Jannick Sinner having his breakthrough tournament.
Let’s put Djokovic to one side for the moment. If we look at the next four highest ranked players taking part (Thiem, Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Zverev) who stands out the most and why?
At the moment Thiem has been the most consistent across the whole season and most active with exhibition events during the Tour break. His experience of reaching Slam [capital ‘S’?] finals gives him the edge over the others.
Who is your money on to win the US Open?
Djokovic and Williams.
You can learn more about Mike James by visiting https://www.sportiiianalytics.com
Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal To Quarantine In Adelaide Ahead Of Australian Open
The world’s best players are set to face off against each other in a new exhibition tournament at the end of this month.
The highest ranked players in the world of tennis will travel to Adelaide instead of Melbourne to quarantine under a new deal announced by Tennis Australia.
Under the terms agreed with the Southern Australian Government, the three highest ranked players on both the ATP and WTA Tour’s will travel to the region. The decision has been made to help ease the pressure on Melbourne who are close to their capacity of holding 1000 players and their teams. Adelaide is set to quarantine around 50 people ahead of the first Grand Slam of 2021.
Under part of the deal, an exhibition tournament will take place in the region as part of an incentive for them agreeing to help. Should all of the top three players take part, the event would feature Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem on the men’s side. Meanwhile, the women’s field will feature home favourite Ash Barty, Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka. The event will be played on January 29 and 30.
“We’re right up to the edge of people that can quarantine in Melbourne so we needed some relief,” Australian Open chief Craig Tiley told the Tennis Channel.
“We approached the South Australian government about the possibility of them quarantining at least 50 people, but they wouldn’t have any interest in doing it because there’s no benefit for them to do it to put their community at risk if the players then go straight to Melbourne.
“But it would be a benefit if they played an exhibition tournament just before they came to Melbourne, so the premier (Steven Marshall) has agreed to host 50 people in a quarantine bubble and then have those players play an exhibition event.”
The conditions of the Quarantine will be the same as it will be in Melbourne with players only allowed to leave their room in order to train during the 14-day period. Should anybody break protocol, they could face up to a AUS$20,000 fine, possible risk of criminal sanction and even deportation from the country.
“We think this is a great opportunity to launch before we go into the season. This a state and city who have just invested $44 million in building a new stadium. So this is a nice way to say thank you,” Tiley added.
Melbourne will still remain the primary location for tennis with the region hosting a series of events both before and after the Australian Open. On the men’s tour, the plan is to hold two 250 tournaments and the ATP Cup during the first week of February. Meanwhile, the WTA is set to stage two 500 events during the week starting January 31st and then a 250 tournament immediately after the Australian Open.
Speaking about Melbourne Park, Tiley is hopeful that between 50% and 75% of its usual capacity will be used by fans. To put that into perspective, last year the US Open was played behind closed doors and the French Open significantly reduced their capacity due to the pandemic.
The Australian Open will start on February 8th.
Australian Open Axes Hotel Quarantine Contract Following Legal Threat
The decision comes after residents voiced concern that international tennis players pose a potential health risk to them.
Tennis Australia has been forced to relocate one of their player accommodation venues after residents threatened to take the government to court.
Earlier this week a group of penthouse owners at the Westin Hotel in Melbourne confirmed that they were contemplating legal action, arguing that international players posed a health risk to them. The group also claims that they have been given insufficient information about the arrangements which has been disputed by the local government.
Despite assurances by officials that the residents would not be interacting with the players due to part of the hotel being sealed off, it has been decided to no longer use the Westin. It is unclear as to how many players would have been staying at the venue.
“The Australian Open team has been working closely with COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria (CQV) on suitable quarantine hotel options in Melbourne. Several hotels in Melbourne have already been secured, including a replacement for the Westin, to safely accommodate the international playing group and their team members as well as allow for them to properly prepare for the first Grand Slam of the year. The health and safety of everyone is our top priority,” a statement from Tennis Australia reads.
Lisa Neville, who is the country’s minister of police, said the decision to change venue has been taken in order to prevent the risk of the Melbourne major being delayed once again. Ms Neville said she was first made aware of the concerns on Sunday.
“We became aware on Sunday that there were some concerns that had been expressed by the residents in the apartments,” she said.
“We were also concerned this may delay the standing up of the Australian Open so we’ve gone through a process of securing a new site.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, players arriving in the country must quarantine for 14 days before they are allowed to play professional events. Although they are allowed to train during this period. As a result, the Australian Open will be taking place during February for the first time in more than 100 years.
According to abc.net.au, the government will publish a list of hotels that will be used for quarantine next week. Players are set to start arriving in Australia from January 14th.
The Australian Open will start on February 8th.
Australian Open Facing Legal Action Over Quarantine Plans
Less than two weeks before players are set to enter a mandatory quarantine, residents at one hotel are considering taking Tennis Australia to court.
The Australian Open is facing a new crisis with a group of apartment owners launching a legal case to not allow players to stay at their premises.
Residents at the Westin Melbourne says they were given insufficient information about plans for players to stay at the Westin ahead of the Grand Slam and argue they pose a health risk to them. The venue has been chosen as one of the premises when players from around the globe will stay during a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in the country. During the quarantine, they are not allowed to play professional tournaments but will be permitted to train. Players are set to start arriving in Melbourne from January 14th.
“At 84, I’m in the vulnerable group and it’s shocking the way they tried to ram this through without any attempt to consult with us,” owner Digby Lewis told Fairfax.
“I’m more than happy to toss in $10,000 or $20,000 to help the legal fight, it’s bloody shocking.”
According to The Age newspaper, the legal action is being considered by the 36 owners of penthouse apartments in the hotel, including many who live there on a permanent basis. One of their plans of action could include trying to obtain a last-minute injection which would prevent players from arriving if the court agrees to issue one.
The Victorian government formally approved the quarantine plan on December 18th and apartment owners were then notified on December 23rd. Although they insist that they never agreed to the terms.
“It’s incredibly arrogant to ambush us this way as if it’s a done deal. There are substantive public health and legal issues that have not even been examined,” apartment owner Mark Nicholson told The Age and the SMH.
In a statement issued to Reuters news agency, a representative from The Westin hotel has insisted that residents will not be in contact with players throughout their stay. They will be using separate entrances and lifts into the venue in accordance with their ‘COVID safe’ guidelines.
“Their floor will remain exclusive while there will be no reticulation of ventilation between the floors,” the statement outlines.
Jacinta Allan, who is the acting Premier of Melbourne state, has also tried to ease any concerns the residents have. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Allan said a ‘rigorous assessment’ was conducted before the hotel was approved to host international athletes.
“The Westin, like every venue, went through a rigorous assessment, very strict infection prevention measures have been put in place in all of the venues,” she said.
“The very clear advice is that arrangements have been put in place so there is no contact between the existing residents and the people staying associated with the Australian Open.
“There are separate entrances, there are separate floors, there are floor monitors on every floor, there is 24/7 Victoria Police presence associated with every venue.”
The development is the latest setback for Tennis Australia and their plans for the Grand Slam. Due to the pandemic the Australian Open has had to be delayed until February for the first time in more than 100 years. Officials originally hoped for players to arrive in the country from December before the government ruled against it.
The Australian Open will get underway on February 8th.
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