The Greatest Tennis Players On Clay In The Open Era: An Analysis - UBITENNIS
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The Greatest Tennis Players On Clay In The Open Era: An Analysis

UbiTennis investigated the results of over 200 tournaments to ascertain who have been the most successful on the dirt in men’s tennis since 1968.

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NOTE: This study was conducted before the 2020 French Open. For those who might be interested in checking out the original dataset, click on the link below: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1TLJp3EYsRn5KE2FZKRv_rNA0K6ACOtmmC_XI8tan08o/edit#gid=0

 

The beginning of the clay season is generally perceived as a rebirth for European fans, partly because the elite of world tennis comes back to the Old Continent at the end of the Oceanic and North American trips, partly because the matches start to take place again at times that do not compromise circadian rhythms and private lives, partly due to the ancient association with blooms of the Romance spring, a double-edged sword in the context of the Roman May, especially for those allergic to poplars. The latter aspect has had no reason to exist in 2020, since the clay was re-invented in an unprecedented late-summer or early-autumn outfit, but in some ways the theme of renewal has never been more relevant, for reasons we all know. Given the caesura that the pandemic represented for tennis and beyond, our editorial team decided to sum up 53 Open Era tennis seasons on the surface, trying to find objective measures to see who they were the most dominant in this specialty.

The analysis focuses on the concept, which has risen to great popularity in recent years among Big Three fans, of “big titles”, that is Slams and Masters 1000 or whatever their name was since the creation of the Grand Prix (which took place in 1970) – since then, they have been called Grand Prix Super Series (until 1989, also including events of the WCT circuit), and then Championship Series, Super 9 and Masters Series, before being bestowed their current denomination in 2009. In the case of the clay, therefore, we will talk about Roland Garros (since 1968), Monte Carlo (since 1970), Hamburg/Madrid (this one since 1978), Rome (since 1970), and more, as will be explained.

To analyse the performance of the players in the aforementioned tournaments, two data types were chosen from the original dataset that would give a complete overview or at least allow them to be studied from several points of view. The first is the total score obtained in the above tournaments, with a very simple scoring system: 2 points for a Grand Slam victory, 1 for a final, 0.5 for a semi-final, 0.25 for a quarter final, 1 point for a win in a 1000 or Masters Series or Super 9 if you prefer, 0.5 for a final, and 0.25 for a semi-final. These data are the most relevant, because they permit to identify the best performers over the long term, that is, in short, who has actually won the most. 

The contrast for such a clear-cut figure is provided, obviously, by the average achieved by the players in the tournaments in which they reached the final stages (the defeats in the first rounds are therefore not part of the study, because the point of the article is to define the winning spirit of the various athletes). This is a more ambiguous but useful parameter when interpreted correctly and in synergy with the other, because a high average allows us to understand which players were able to win more often when it counted, i.e. when they reached the final stages of a tournament. The two variables were then graphed in a Cartesian plane by putting in abscissa the average points per event and in ordinate the total points obtained.

A brief digression: big data (or advanced statistics, or sabermetrics, or moneyball) are revolutionizing all sports, whether we like it or not, providing means to overcome the preconceptions related to a single sport, in particular from a tactical point of view. and they are infinitely more complex than the study reported here. Figures related to the length of the exchanges, the spin or the direction of the serve, and shot placement, help us understand the game as it happens, in some ways assisting the identification (within the limit of our knowledge of the psycho-physical conditions of the players, decidedly less predictable), whereas a ‘dry analysis of the performance’ such as this one (which exclusively examines the final results and their continuity) is completely a posteriori, and therefore has a purely historical value, it photographs and legitimises the existence of a previous state almost like the Domesday Book, straight out of Norman lore.

This article can at best be called a social media debate’s debate, that is, a social media debate in which the contenders bring concrete and unbiased data to support their arguments (perhaps even politely) – John Lennon would tell us that it is easy to imagine (if we try), however improbable it may seem. Out with deference and caveats, we can move on to analysis.

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Dominic Thiem Rules Federer Out Of GOAT Debate

The Austrian puts forward his theory on who should be regarded as the best player in history.

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Dominic Thiem; e-motion/Bildagentur Zolles KG/Martin Steiger, 27.10.2022

The honour of which player deserves to be regarded as the greatest of all time (GOAT) should be decided based on one factor, according to Dominic Thiem. 

 

The former world No.3 has weighed in on the debate by suggesting that the argument should be settled by the number of Grand Slam titles a player has won as they are the most prestigious tournaments in the sport. In tennis, the four major tournaments are the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. 

Thiem’s GOAT criteria have therefore ruled Roger Federer out of contention. The Swiss maestro was at one stage the frontrunner due to the numerous records he has broken throughout his career. However, he retired from the sport last year with 20 Grand Slam trophies under his belt which is less than both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic who are currently on 22 each. 

“In my opinion, the Grand Slam titles should be the defining criteria when determining the best of all time, they are the four most important tournaments in tennis,” Eurosport quotes Thiem as saying. 
“Everything else is fine, but it’s not the same. The Slams are what counts, so the GOAT will probably be the one with the most Grand Slams.”

Others will argue that more factors should be taken into account in the subjective debate. For example, Federer has won 103 ATP titles which are more than his two rivals, Djokovic holds the record for most weeks as world No.1 and Nadal has won more tournaments on clay than any other player in history. Furthermore, there is the players’ win-loss rate on the Tour and their records against the top 10 players. 

Recently at the Australian Open Djokovic won the men’s title for a historic 10th time in his career. An achievement that has been hailed by Thiem who was runner-up to the Serbian at Melbourne Park in 2021. 

“I am not very surprised, Djokovic still looks young,” he said. “Physically and mentally, because of the way he moves on the court. It’s like he was 25 years old.
“We have to be honest, he is the best, so his victory was not very surprising.”

Thiem has won one Grand Slam title which was at the 2020 US Open when he became the first man in the Open Era to come back from two sets down to win in the final. He has also been runner-up at the French Open twice, as well as the Australian Open once. 

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Novak Djokovic’s Australian Open Injury ‘Hard To Believe’ In The Eyes Of His Opponent

Some details surrounding Djokovic’s battle with a hamstring issue ‘doesn’t make sense,’ according to Enzo Couacaud.

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Image via Adelaide International Twitter

The only man to take a set off Novak Djokovic during the Serbian’s run to a historic 10th Australian Open title believes there are unanswered questions over his injury. 

 

France’s Enzo Couacaud took a set off the world No.1 before losing their encounter in the second round at Melbourne Park. At the tournament Djokovic was dealing with a hamstring problem which he picked up at the Adelaide International earlier this year. Throughout the tournament, he was wearing strapping on his leg and there was uncertainty about if he would be able to continue playing in the Grand Slam event. 

Despite the issue, Djokovic claimed a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title by disposing of Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets in the final. Afterwards his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, claimed that 97% of players would not have played if they were in a similar situation. The exact diagnosis of Djokovic’s injury hasn’t been addressed by his team but Australian Open director Craig Tiley said he suffered a 3mm tear. 

However, Couacaud has questioned the significance of the injury to begin with. During an interview with Tennis Actu, the world No.172 believes that some of the details appear to be ‘far-fetched’ as he draws parallels with Rafael Nadal, as well as footballer Kylian Mbappe.  

“Novak claimed he was playing with an injury, a big injury,” said Couacaud. “When athletes are injured in combat sports, they often can’t continue. When Rafael Nadal is injured, he can’t run. Kylian Mbappe, for example, is out for two weeks.
“And those are the greatest athletes, not those who don’t have access to top-notch care. It is therefore difficult to believe that only one man in the world can continue with an injury.
“When you take the examples of Nadal or Mbappe, but especially Rafa, with an injury to Wimbledon, he couldn’t even serve. When you see the greatest who can’t set foot on the pitch and another who wins a Grand Slam by playing every day for 15 days. It still seems a bit far-fetched.
“There are little things that don’t make sense to me. I was always told not to stretch with an injury. You saw Novak stretching all the time. You say to yourself, either they have a new method in Serbia, or it’s weird. Little things like that, he has his staff, but I’m too far to judge the authenticity of anything. It is true that it seems hard to believe.”

It is not the first time Djokovic has faced accusations that he has in some way exaggerated the significance of an injury. He encountered a similar situation during the 2021 Australian Open where he suffered an abdominal injury. After winning the tournament, he confirmed that he sustained a tear in the region. 

Speaking to journalists at Melbourne Park last month, the tennis star once again hit back at his critics and claimed that he was being singled out. 

“I leave the doubting to those people – let them doubt,” Tennis Majors quoted Djokovic as saying in Serbian following his fourth round win over Alex de Minaur. “Only my injuries are questioned. When some other players are injured, then they are the victims, but when it is me, I am faking it. It is very interesting… I don’t feel that I need to prove anything to anyone.
“I am not really interested at this point what people are thinking and saying. It is fun, it is interesting to see how the narrative surrounding me continues, narrative that is different compared to other players that have been going through similar situation. But I am used to it, and it just gives me extra strength and motivation. So I thank them for that.”

Djokovic has won 93 ATP titles during his career which is the fourth-highest tally in history. Only Ivan Lendl (94), Roger Federer (102) and Jimmy Connors (109) have won more. 

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Novak Djokovic ‘Hurt’ By Father’s Absence From Australian Open Final

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Novak Djokovic - Roland Garros 2022 (foto Roberto dell'Olivo)

Novak Djokovic said he mutually agreed with his father that he did not attend his latest Australian Open match but admits it was a bitter pill to swallow. 

 

Srdjan Djokovic had attended his son’s matches throughout the majority of the tournament but has recently been caught up in controversy. On Wednesday a video surfaced on social media of the 62-year-old posing for a photo with pro-Russian supporters with one of the fans waving a flag with the face of Vladimir Putin on it. Another fan was also wearing a t-shirt with the ‘Z’ symbol on it which is used to support the Russian army. 

The Russian and Belarussian flags were banned from the tournament this year following an incident in the first round. A Russian flag was shown during a match between Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl and Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova. Prompting anger from Ukraine with its ambassador to Australia calling for a ‘neutral flag’ policy to be implemented. 

Srdjan has since issued a statement saying the incident was ‘unintentional’ and said his family ‘only wish for peace in the world.’ He subsequently also missed Djokovic’s semi-final match to avoid any possible ‘disruption’ before doing the same for Sunday’s final.

“I thought things would calm down in terms of media and everything, but it didn’t. We both agreed it would probably be better that he is not there,” Djokovic said after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas to win a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title
“That hurts me and him (Srdjan) a lot because these are very special, unique moments. Who knows if they repeat again? So it was not easy for him.”

Whilst he was not in the stands, Djokovic was reunited with his father shortly afterwards. Although the tennis star said Srdjan ‘was not feeling his best’ due to the situation. 

“It is what it is. I think in the end also what he told me is that it’s important that I feel good on the court, I win the match, and he’s here for me,” Djokovic continued. 
“If it’s going to be better for me as the outcome of the match so that he’s not in the box, then so be it. That was the whole conversation.’
“In a way, I’m also sad that he was not there, present, in the stands. But he was throughout the entire tournament, so it’s fine. In the end, we have a happy ending.”

Djokovic has now won five out of the past seven Grand Slam tournaments he has played in. At the Australian Open alone he has won 28 matches in a row.

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