Post-lockdown performance: Djokovic leads the way - UBITENNIS
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Post-lockdown performance: Djokovic leads the way

Thiem won the most ATP points in the Grand Slams, while Rublev won the most matches. Nole had a more traditional schedule, while Nadal played fewer events but won big – whose approach was better?

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It’s been written countless times, but a few days before the start of a new tennis year the truism needs to be busted out once more: the 2020 season was unique in the history of the game, and in some ways it was not one season but rather two, given the five-month chasm blasted by the coronavirus between March and August. The hiatus has caused a temporary ranking reform, which has ensured the permanence at the top even to those who, for various reasons, elected not to play at the restart or underperformed, stifling the rise of newcomers and partially obscuring the competitive nature and meritocracy of the rankings – disclaimer: this is not a criticism, the chosen system was the best possible under such trying circumstances.

 

For this reason, it is interesting to look at who has done better between August and November, in order to see what the current hierarchies of the game may be and if the results of the last few months can have a predictive value for 2021, especially in terms of reliability. To do so, three metrics ​​were chosen: percentage of wins, total wins and total points.

THE DATA

What follows is a list of the 15 players with the highest winning percentage on the ATP Tour from August to November, with tournaments in which they have won more than half of the games played in brackets:

·   Djokovic 82.14 (Cincinnati, US Open, Rome, Roland Garros)
·   Rublev 78.79 (US Open, Hamburg, Roland Garros, St. Petersburg, Vienna)
·   Zverev 78.57 (US Open, Roland Garros, Cologne 1, Cologne 2, Bercy)
·   Nadal 77.78 (Rome, Roland Garros, Bercy)
·   Medvedev 76.92 (Cincinnati, US Open, Vienna, Bercy, Finals)
·   Thiem (US Open, Roland Garros, Vienna, Finals) and Raonic (Cincinnati, US Open, St. Petersburg, Antwerp, Bercy) 76.19
·    Sinner 72.73 (Rome, Roland Garros, Cologne 2, Sofia)
·    Hanfmann 70 (Kitzbuhel)
·    Bautista Agut 68.75 (Cincinnati, US Open, Hamburg, Roland Garros, Cologne 1)
·    Humbert (Rome, Hamburg, Antwerp, Bercy) and Carreno Busta (US Open, Roland Garros, Bercy) 66.67
·    Davidovich Fokina (US Open, Cologne 1, Cologne 2, Bercy) and Dimitrov (Rome, Roland Garros, Vienna) 64.7
·    Tsitsipas 64 (Cincinnati, US Open, Hamburg, Roland Garros)

Continuity is the main theme here. As you can see, in fact, the six leaders are all part of the Top 8 of the actual ranking, a sign that the best have substantially continued to amass victories, including Rublev, who earned his place in the Finals from August onwards but at the same time had already won two tournaments (Doha and Adelaide) at the beginning of the year – the fact that these players would keep pacing the competition isn’t to be overlooked or taken for granted, as it indicates a constructive approach to the months of the tour’s hiatus.

The only intruders at over 70 percent are Milos Raonic, who if healthy proved to be still competitive at the highest level (he did well particularly at Cincinnati/New York and Bercy), Yannick Hanfmann, buoyed by the great tournament played in Kitzbuhel but still a solid performer even when the match sample extends to qualifiers and Challenger (he won two thirds of the total matches he played) and Jannik Sinner. The Italian finished the season by winning 13 of his last 16 bouts (one of the defeats was a retirement, while the others came against Nadal and Zverev) and demonstrated a great continuity that bodes well for the future, especially considering that, after a slow start in New York, the South Tyrolean has begun his rise on his least favourite surface, clay, and this is perhaps the most comforting element for him.

His ascent is even more evident when looking at the 15 players who have won the most matches on the ATP Tour, in which he comes up in fifth place:

·   Rublev 26
·   Djokovic 23
·   Zverev 22
·   Medvedev 20
·   Thiem, Tsitsipas, Raonic, Schwartzman and Sinner 16
·   Nadal, Humbert and Carreno Busta 14
·   Shapovalov 13
·   Mannarino and Coric 12

Sinner is not the only Next Gen player to appear in one of these standings (two names of up-and-coming standouts but perhaps not yet too well known, and whose presence in these lists can therefore somewhat surprise, are those of Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Ugo Humbert), while the presence of players over 30 years old (other than Nadal and Djokovic, ça va sans dire) is beginning to peter out – the only additional names are those of Bautista Agut and Mannarino.

To summarise, in any case, the relationship between the two data is represented in the following graph, which includes those who have won at least 60 percent of their matches:

The first thing that stands out is that the same players occupy the podium in the two categories, with Djokovic and Rublev taking the lead in one list each and Zverev right behind them in both. However, while Nole plays and wins almost exclusively at the top tournaments (Masters 1000 events, the Slams and the ATP Finals), the Russian and the German have diversified a little more: Rublev has won 15 games (out of 15) in the three 500 tournaments he’s entered, more of half of his grand total of 26, while Sascha (who nonetheless reached two big finals at Flushing Meadows and Bercy) pumped up his tally with eight consecutive victories in the Cologne fortnight, a double tournament created almost exclusively for his benefit.  

By virtue of this bottom-up and more subdued approach of the two, things change when looking at the 15 leaders for total points, with Zverev slipping to fifth and Rublev to sixth:  

·  Djokovic 3870
·  Medvedev 3545
·  Thiem 3260
·  Nadal 2940
·  Zverev 2690
·  Rublev 2565
·  Schwartzman 1750
·  Tsitsipas 1735
·  Carreno Busta 1360
·  Raonic 1275
·  Shapovalov 990
·  Sinner 865
·  Coric 850
·  Ruud 740
·  Humbert and Bautista Agut 720  

What is striking in such a temporally circumscribed ranking is that the two Grand Slam winners (who thus received 2000 points each) do not occupy the top two places, something that tells us a lot about how physically costly it is to clinch those seven, three-out-of-five matches. After winning the US Open, Thiem (who led in both the second half of 2020 as well as in the season as a whole for ATP points notched at the Grand Slams) missed Rome, ran out of steam in the fifth set against Schwartzman in Paris, played Vienna while smarting from a foot issue, missed Bercy, and played his best again only at the O2 Arena over two months later; Nadal, on the other hand, chose (rightly) to focus on his favourite Grand Slam, winning a relatively small number of matches but clearly getting what he wanted from his scheduling philosophy – except perhaps getting a big indoor title after 15 years.

Both are surpassed by Medvedev, who had a performance in some ways opposite to that of his compatriot Rublev: in 500-point events, he had a record of just three wins and as many defeats, while he won 17 matches out of 20 in the Masters 1000, the Slams and the ATP Finals (10 out of 15 for Andrey).  

That said, it can be noticed how Djokovic leads both in percentage of wins and in total points. It is therefore funny that some might consider the post-lockdown campaign as a failure for Nole, because, while it is true that he has not managed to get closer to Federer for total Slams won (indeed losing ground to Nadal) nor to equal the Swiss’s wins at the ATP Finals, he has still won two Masters 1000 (in major events he has won 21 matches, more than everybody else, and is second only to Medvedev in terms of winning percentage, 85 percent to 84) and has secured his sixth year-end N.1 crown, equalling Sampras’s Open Era record and getting closer and closer to the record for the most weeks spent at the top. Nevertheless, the question naturally arises as to which approach was better, whether the more traditional one of the Serbian or the more calibrated one of Nadal, who decided to pace himself by playing (and winning) only one Grand Slam – the answer can only be subjective in this case…  

Daniil Medvedev at the ATP Finals

CONCLUSIONS

But let’s go back to the initial questions: are the rankings of these three months a faithful representation of the hierarchies ​​of men’s tennis? Can they give us indications for the future? As always, the answer is not Manichean. On the one hand, the manifest superiority of the top players who played was mentioned, validating their position of pre-eminence, and this would seem to suggest that the status quo of the elite of the game is consolidated, and it probably is.  

On the other hand, however, there are equally obvious caveats, represented by the absence of many great players and by the psycho-physical conditions of others, which was so underwhelming that it cannot objectively be considered as a long-term trend. Since August, four top 100 players have never played: Federer, Kyrgios, Tsonga and Pouille. Others have not won a single match: Basilashvili (zero out of nine!), Monfils and Querrey haven’t gotten on the board at all, while those who have won matches but not on the main tour are Chardy, Sousa, Ymer, Kohlschreiber and Mager.  

In the ATP Top 50, moreover, several players remained far below their standards, often for specific reasons: among them Fognini (recovering from a double ankle surgery), Paire (whose lack of effort during the lockdown was never in doubt), Edmund, and to a lesser extent Goffin, the only other Top 25 in addition to Fognini and La Monf to win less than half of his matches – in his case, wedding preparation and the subsequent positivity to Covid-19 are the probable causes.  

In summary, therefore, many players have had to take this phase (in spite of themselves) as a transitional period in which to solve their physical issues with the comfort of the new ranking, while for many others it is possible that the motivations have languished, both for the security provided by the rankings and for the absence of the public – for others, their conduct during the hiatus may not have been professional enough. In addition, the distribution of tournaments in terms of surfaces was a little different than usual, with no grass events, a much lower percentage of outdoor hardcourt tournaments and likely unique conditions on clay – players who did well especially indoor, such as Mannarino, or on the “heavy” red clay of last autumn, may not be able to repeat the same results in 2021.  

The sum of these factors therefore suggests that the decline of the underperformers can only be temporary, even if it should be emphasized that many of the players listed among the inactive or among those with a negative performance are most likely in the twilight of their careers, and as mentioned the players over 30 who have been doing well since August are not many – it is possible that the long break spelt doom on most of the ATP Tour’s veterans.  

CHALLENGER AND QUALIFICATIONS

Finally, let’s take a brief look at who has been particularly solid in the ancillary areas to the main tour. Below is a graph that correlates total wins and percentage of those who, including qualifiers and Challengers, have achieved 60 percent wins: 

With the exception of Stan Wawrinka, who decided to play the two Prague Challengers instead of travelling to New York, ending up facing opponents well below his level, and Ricardas Berankis (too few matches to make an evaluation), the others (Cecchinato and Martinez in particular) have all won consistently, often finding exploits in the major circuit as well. And in 2021, having clinched so many matches could push them to rise further in the standings, because a win’s a win at any level, and finding continuity and self-esteem in a phase with so few tournaments could give them an advantage, even if, it is urgent to repeat it, conditions could be very different in 2021.

Article translated by Andrea Ferrero; edited by Tommaso Villa

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Steve Flink: “Jannik Sinner Will Be a Top 10 Player by the US Open”

The Hall-of-Famer journalist comments on Hurkacz’s surprise win in Miami and previews the clay season. Who was the biggest letdown, Medvedev or Zverev? Nadal will soon be world N.2 again, while Andreescu is striving to stay healthy.

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The first Masters 1000 event of the season wrapped up on Sunday, but another already looms in wait in Monte Carlo, and on a different surface. To comment on the situation of the two tours, Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta was joined by his colleague Steve Flink: they focused on Hubert Hurkacz’s surprise win as well as on Jannik Sinner’s great run in Florida – Asheigh Barty’s permanence atop the rankings was also discussed. Here’s their chat:

 

00:00 – The man of the hour is Hubert Hurkacz: “He had an amazing run, defeating five players with a better ranking than his!” What was the key strategy in his final win over Sinner?

07:30 – This was the first Masters 1000 event since 2005 not to feature either Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, or Murray – a wasted chance for Daniil Medvedev? He started as the clear favourite, but his attitude against Bautista Agut left something to be desired…

12.50 – What lies ahead for Sinner? Some of the greatest names in the game did well in Miami in the past – a sign of things to come?

16.20 – Hurkacz betrayed some nerves against Rublev and Sinner, but held on to serve those matches out. Sinner, on the other hand, wasted a 6-5 lead in the opening set – what can he do to improve?

22.50 – Whose great champion does Hurkacz’s serve remind Ubaldo and Steve of? A look at the other players who underperformed in Miami, starting with Tsitsipas and Rublev.

32.00 – “Alexander Bublik reminds me of Safin, he’s an entertainer and he is not boring in press conferences!” What about Sebastian Korda – does he have the mettle of a champion?

40.00 – The women’s tournament: “I expected a great final, but Andreescu was clearly spent – I hope she’ll manage to stay healthy.” Was Osaka’s no-show against Sakkari a worrying sign?

45.30 – If the Canadian is healthy, will she join Osaka and Barty as the defining players of the decade? Who else could make a run to the top?

49.30 – This week, 10 Italian players feature in the ATP Top 100 – will at least one of them feature at the ATP Finals in Turin?

Transcript by Antonio Flagiello; translated and edited by Tommaso Villa

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Editorial

Women’s Tennis’ Best Player Wins Again

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It wasn’t long ago that Naomi Osaka appeared to be a talented young tennis player who had lost her way. On a rather warm April day in Charleston, S.C., in the 2018 Volvo Car Open, the then 20-year-old had had enough. As perspiration streamed down her face while she walked to her bench on
the jam-packed smallish outside Althea Gibson Club Court, Osaka looked at her coach and made the remark that she didn’t want to be there. Of course, she was losing. Osaka finished that round of 16 match, eventually losing to Julia Goerges.

 

NO WORRIES ABOUT PURSE
Obviously, Osaka wasn’t worried about the larger purse she missed by losing that day in Charleston. Money wasn’t that big a deal. Just two weeks earlier, Osaka had earned a $1.34 million check for winning the mega tournament at Indian Wells, Calif. The world was her game.
A few months later, Osaka won her first Grand Slam title at the 2018 U.S. Open. And now the powerful 5-11 native of Osaka, Japan, looks unstoppable with four Grand Slam titles in less than three years. Serena Williams probably is more worried about Osaka matching her record than Serena is
about surpassing Margaret Court in the number of Grand Slam titles.
Osaka is that good these days on the court, while making waves with her politeness and well-spoken interviews.

BRADY NO MATCH FOR OSAKA
Jennifer Brady was no match for Osaka in Saturday’s Australian Open final, falling much the same way Serena Williams had been dominated a couple of nights earlier. Osaka just turned the6-3, 6-4 victory she posted over Williams to a 6-4, 6-3 over Brady and a second straight Australian Open title.
Brady tried to out-hit Osaka. That was a mistake as the 24-year-old former UCLA star couldn’t keep her over-hit balls on the court in the face of Osaka’s meticulously placed, yet powerful serves and ground strokes. Brady fell victim to Osaka’s near-perfect cross-court put-aways from both sides on short balls.

OSAKA WAS A SUPERSTAR IN WAITING
The first time I watched Osaka in person was in the 2017 Volvo Car Open when a red-hot Shelby Rogers (she had just beaten long-time friend Madison Keys) scored a straight-set victory as Osaka watched too many of her shots miss their mark. It was rather surprising even then as a 19-year-old that Osaka was often losing matches. Her game was already spectacularly based on power. She was so talented and good that she was a
can’t-miss future superstar. Osaka is a quicker version of Serena. She has the entire package of talent.

No one in women’s tennis probably has better control of her shots and serves in pressure situations than Osaka. She also must have some of the quickest feet in the game, while being able to fight off her opponent’s hardest-hit shots with her upper body strength. It’s not surprising that Chrissie Evert calls Osaka “the best player in the world.” She may be just that by a long ways.


James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com and search for James Beck.

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Editorial

Medvedev, Not Tsitsipas, Looks Like A Grand Slam Champion

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Stefanos Tsitsipas looked like he might be a serious contender to win this Australian Open after his startling upset of Rafa Nadal in the quarterfinals.
But then, it wasn’t as much that Tsitsipas won that match as it was that Nadal lost it. Nadal was just out there the last two sets and the third-set tiebreaker after smothering Tsitsipas the first two sets.

 

NADAL WASN’T HIMSELF
Obviously, Nadal wasn’t himself physically after the first two sets. He was completely un-Nadal, even flubbing a pair of overheads in the tiebreaker. Those two overheads told the story for a player who quite possibly has the best overhead in men’s tennis. And then there was the string of miss-hit ground strokes by Nadal while repeatedly not even making a move for the ball at times during the last three sets as he watched Tsitsipas hit winners that normally would have been answered by Nadal.

TSITSIPAS ENJOYED HIS CAKE WHEN HE COULD
Tsitsipas made the last two sets of his 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-5 win over Nadal look like eating a piece of cake. It was evident that he faced little resistance from Nadal. Yet, I for one was fooled into thinking that the athletic 22-year-old Greek was a little better than he really is.
Even John McEnroe was predicting that Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev might win 10 Grand Slam titles between them. If that happens, Medvedev likely will have to win all 10 by himself.

A GRAND SLAM CHAMPION?
Tsitsipas just doesn’t look like a Grand Slam champion. At least, not in the Australian Open semifinals in his straight-set rout by Medvedev. Tsitsipas appeared to be following the sameformat against Medvedev that he used against Nadal, following two lackluster sets with an upgrade in his energy and play in a tight third set. Tsitsipas had Medvedev thinking the semifinals could be a repeat of the quarterfinals if the Russian didn’t pull his game together late in the third set to wrap up a 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 victory and a spot opposite Novak Djokovic in the final. Of course, the young Greek might get better with age.

MEDVEDEV COULD COOL DOWN AGAINST NOVAK
Tsitsipas might sneak up and win a major when the other new stars of the game see their games briefly fall apart or the “Great Three” of Nadal, Roger Federer and Djokovic have faded into just legends of the game. Of course, there is a chance that Medvedev could cool down before or during Sunday’s
championship match against the rubber-like Djokovic. But maybe not. I could see Medvedev wearing Djokovic down. This will be Medvedev’s second Grand Slam final. He may be ready this time to pull it off this
time.

THE PHENOMENALLY TALENTED NOVAK
Djokovic is a phenomenal talent, especially in Rod Laver Arena in the middle of the U.S. night. His only weakness has been his physicality. He has shown that weakness throughout his career, although not enough to prevent him from winning 17 Grand Slam titles, just three behind Nadal
and Federer. You might say Djokovic has owned Rod Laver Arena. Eight titles Down Under is almost as amazing as Nadal’s 13 French Open crowns. Nearing his 34th birthday, Djokovic, of course, is a little younger than both Nadal and Federer. But Novak is less than a year younger than Nadal. Federer is 39 and looking a lot like Super Bowl wonder Tom Brady.


James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com and search for James Beck.

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