EXCLUSIVE: A US Open Preview Through The Eyes Of A Tennis Data Analyst - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: A US Open Preview Through The Eyes Of A Tennis Data Analyst

Who is Novak Djokovic’s biggest threat in New York? Is Serena Williams the heavy favourite to win the title? UbiTennis speaks with the founder of Sportiii Analytics, Mike James, to find out his forecasts for the tournament.

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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.”

Tennis coach and Sportiii Analytics founder Mike James

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

ATP

‘Time To Accept The Situation And Fight’ – Rafael Nadal Targets French Open Despite Foot Concern

After recently returning to the Tour following a rib injury, a flare up of another issue threatens to spoil Nadal’s Paris dreams.

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Image via Roberto Dell’Olivo

Just over a week before the start of the French Open Rafael Nadal once again finds himself nursing a long-term condition that sidelined him from the Tour for months last year.

 

The 21-time Grand Slam champion looked to be in visible discomfort during parts of his clash with Denis Shapovalov in the third round of the Italian Masters on Thursday. After clinching the opening set, Nadal fell 1-6, 7-5, 6-2, to the Canadian who registered his first-ever win over a top 10 player on clay and his 10th overall. He now faces a race against time to be ready for the French Open which he has won a record 13 times.

“I am not injured. I am a player living with an injury. That’s it, it is nothing new. It’s something that is there,” Nadal told reporters in Rome.

35-year-old Nadal suffers from Mueller-Weiss syndrome, which is a degenerative disease that causes a deformity of one of the bones in the central part of the foot. Due to the condition last year he was only able to play in one tournament over a six-month period. In September that year he underwent treatment on his foot but not surgery.

“My day-by-day is difficult, honestly. Even like this, I am trying hard. Of course, it’s difficult for me to accept the situation sometimes,” the former world No.1 said of his condition. “It can be frustrating that a lot of days I can’t practice the proper way.”

The setback occurred during what was only Nadal’s second tournament since returning to action following a rib injury. At last week’s Madrid Open he reached the quarter-finals before losing to compatriot Carlos Alcaraz. Nadal’s recent misfortunes follow what has been a blistering start to the season for him. He started 2022 by winning 20 matches in a row before losing to Taylor Fritz in Indian Wells. His win-loss for the season currently stands at 23-3 with three titles won, including the Australian Open.

During his visit to Roland Garros this year Nadal will be joined by his doctor who will be keeping a close eye on his foot. As to how much the condition could hinder his campaign in the French capital, the Spaniard admits that he doesn’t know due to its unpredictability.

First thing that I need to do is to not have pain to practice, that’s it. And the negative thing is today it’s not possible for me to play. But maybe in two days things will be better, that’s the thing that I have with my foot,” he explained.

Nadal is the most successful player in French Open history with a total of 105 main draw wins. In fact, the only players to have ever beaten him at the tournament are Novak Djokovic twice and Sweden’s Robin Soderling.

“It’s time to accept the situation and fight. That’s it. Honestly, I can’t say anything more now,” Nadal continued.
“I still have a goal (to be ready for the French Open) in one week and a couple of days. I’m going to keep dreaming about that goal.”

Nadal has played just five matches on clay this season heading into the French Open.

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Players Face Sanctions If They Make Pro-Putin Statements At French Open, Warns Mauresmo

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The tournament director of the French Open admits there is ‘no fair decision’ regarding the participation of Russian and Belarusian players in the Grand Slam.

 

Amelie Mauresmo, who is a former WTA No.1 player herself, confirmed that players from those countries will be allowed to play during an interview with French radio. Although they will only be allowed to play under a neutral status in line with the rules which have been adopted by other governing bodies of the sport. The action has been taken in response to Russia’s military assault on the Ukraine which began on February 24th. Belarus is suspected of supporting Russia in the conflict which has already killed thousands of people.

The stance of officials in Paris is a stark contrast to that of Wimbledon who has controversially implemented a ban on those players, as well as the LTA. Making it the first time The All England Club has excluded players due to their nationality since the World War Two Era when German and Japanese players weren’t allowed to participate. The ATP Tour is reportedly considering removing the allocation of points to the event in response to the ban.

Speaking about the issue, Mauresmo confirmed that action could be taken against any player who decides to make pro-Putin statements during the tournament. Although she didn’t elaborate on what penalties could be used if such a situation occurs.

“We have thought a lot, and I have the impression that there is no fair decision, one way or the other,” said Mauresmo. “We are in line with what European sports ministers have decided, we do not welcome teams but individual athletes. Obviously if an athlete speaks in the press for example and supports Vladimir Putin, sanctions will be taken. “

Providing an update on the upcoming tournament, Mauresmo says she is confident that this year’s tournament will have an almost full attendance. Confirming that “tickets are sold at more than 90-95%” of its capacity in what she hails as a ‘real success’ for the tournament. Last year’s edition took place with a restricted capacity due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s French Open will begin on May 22nd. Novak Djokovic and Barbora Krejcikova are the defending champions.

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REPORT: ATP Player Representatives Backs Move To Strip Wimbledon Of Ranking Points Over Ban

It is understood that emergency meetings are taking place as momentum gathers to take an unprecedented move against the grass-court major.

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Aerial view across the grounds as spectators watch the big screen on the outside of No.1 Court in the sunshine at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 7 Monday 05/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Joe Toth

This year’s Wimbledon Championships could be entering into chaos after multiple reports suggest that there is growing support for the ATP to take a hardline approach to the tournament over their decision to ban Russian and Belarussian players.

 

According to multiple British media sources, the ATP Tour player representatives have endorsed the unprecedented move to remove all ranking points from the Grand Slam, as well as other events taking place in Britain this year. Something which has never happened in the Open Era. Supporters of the approach argue that it would create a fairer system with the players who are not allowed to participate.

Last month The All England Club and the British Lawn Tennis Association became the first organizations in the sport to ban Russian and Belarussian players over the war in Ukraine. Until then, it was agreed by tennis’ seven governing bodies that those players will be allowed to play on the Tour but only as neutral athletes and their federations have been suspended from team events. However, Wimbledon said their stance was made following recommendations from the British government, as well as taking into account other factors.

“We believe we have made the most responsible decision possible in the circumstances and that, within the framework of the government’s position, there is no viable alternative to the decision we have taken in this truly exceptional and tragic situation.” AELTC chairman Ian Hewitt recently told reporters.

Organizers did consider a proposal to let players participate but only if they signed a declaration condemning the actions of their governments but decided against doing so over safety concerns. Russia currently has strict laws in places concerning the war and thousands of people have been arrested for taking part in anti-war protests.

The bold move has prompted criticism from many leading names on the Tour. Former Wimbledon champions Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have all previously voiced their opposition.

“I think it’s very unfair (on) my Russian tennis mates, my colleagues. It’s not their fault what’s happening in this moment with the war,” said Nadal.

Emergency talks are now set to take place amid the threat of removing points from Wimbledon. Each of the four Grand Slam tournaments has the biggest number of ranking points on offer on the Tour with the singles winner being awarded 2000 points. Whilst Wimbledon is independent from the Tour, it is the ATP who has control over the allocation of ranking points.

It is also unclear as to what action the women’s WTA Tour will take and if they will follow the same rumoured approach as the ATP. Steve Simon, who is the CEO of the WTA, has previously warned that his governing body would make ‘strong reaction’ but didn’t elaborate on what that might be. According to The Daily Mail, the ATP is trying to work alongside the women’s Tour in some capacity regarding this matter.

It is unclear as to when a final decision will be made.

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