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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Keep an eye on: Cameron Norrie

Following the piece on the Belgian duo of Sander/Vliegen is a British youngster, once ranked #10 in the world in the junior rankings, who has cannoned up the ATP rankings over the past few months. 

🇬🇧 Cameron Norrie 🇬🇧

Cameron Norrie

Cameron Norrie is all over the map; he was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, grew up representing New Zealand until he defected to Great Britain, who he now represents, due to a lack of funding, and spends most of the year in Fort Worth, Texas where he plays for Texas Christian University (whose mascot, the Texas horned lizard, is no slouch). The 20-year old lefty (who will turn 21 on the 23rd of August) has been outstanding for TCU, where he currently holds a 56-19 (75%) record in singles and a 45-20 (69%) record in doubles in his two years at the school, and this year he’s been able to translate his college success into success on the ATP circuit. 
Norrie won his first Futures singles title last October at the USA F29 Futures and this June won two additional titles at the USA F21 and USA F23 Futures in consecutive weeks. Following his success at the Futures level he moved on up to the Challenger level; Norrie made it through qualifying at the Winnipeg Challenger (losing to Pepperdine University alumnus and #220 Alexander Sarkissian in three sets in the first round) and lost in the final round of qualifying at the Binghamton Challenger (losing to University of Michigan's all-time combined career singles and doubles wins leader and #370 Evan King in three sets), both in July. 
Undeterred by his somewhat underwhelming performances in his previous Challenger outings, Norrie reached his first Challenger final this past week in the Aptos Challenger beating world number #206 Ramkumar Ramanathan from India in the first round, former University of Florida standout and #247 Sekou Bangoura in the second round, Evan King in three sets in the quarterfinals (avenging his loss at Binghamton), and ex-University of Kentucky tennis star and #355 Eric Quigley in three sets in the semifinals. In the final he lost to #66 Dan Evans, who is currently at a career-high ranking (and I’ll soon write about), from Great Britain 6-3, 6-4.  After defeating Norrie in the final Evans said, “I think he can go higher than Challenger level for sure. He can definitely be good, but he’s got some choices to make and only he can make those choices. Tennis isn’t a given, but I hope he makes the decision to go and play [pro] tennis. He’s not that far away from Australian Open qualifying and has the rest of the year to get his ranking up. “
Norrie's phenomenal form this year has seen him rise 419 spots from #717 to #298. With TCU beginning their season in mid-September, it remains to be seen what Norrie will do. He has amassed numerous wins over top-300 players and has improved his ranking enough to grant him access to the main draw of almost all Challengers. Whatever he decides to do, he has already proved he has what it takes to make it on the ATP circuit.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Keep an eye on: Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen

My favorite part about following the ATP tour is the Futures and Challengers level. I like knowing about players before they break out and following them as they rise through the rankings. Last week I wrote about five relatively unknown players that have impressed me this year and I will continue on this topic for the foreseeable future. Up next is a Belgian doubles team that has been on fire this year.

🇧🇪 Sander Gille/Joran Vliegen 🇧🇪

A photo posted by Sander Gille (@sandergille) on

There’s no stopping this dynamic doubles duo from Belgium who have managed to win nine (!) Futures titles and one Challenger title this year with a 38-3 (93%) record in 12 Futures and a 6-2 (75%) record in only three Challengers. Gille and Vliegen both played NCAA Division I tennis with Gille playing for the East Tennessee State Buccaneers and Vliegen playing for the East Carolina University Pirates (Vliegen was the first player in school history to play in the NCAA Men's Tennis Singles Championships and the first player to play in the USTA/ITA National Indoor Collegiate Championships, along with countless other school records). 
They have won 18 titles together (17 Futures and one Challenger title, which they won this past week in Trnava, Slovakia) with their first title coming in 2013. However, they really cemented themselves as a team to watch last year when they won six Futures titles. This year they have been playing together full time and the results have been nothing short of phenomenal; they started the year hovering around the 300’s and after their Challenger win are at a career-high #180 ranking. 
While they are missing ‘quality’ wins, the first seeds at the Trnava Challenger that Gille/Vliegen won this past week are both ranked inside the top 50 in the men’s doubles rankings and they have shown to be versatile winning titles on clay, hard and carpet, so I have little doubt they can make it at the top level. With much left to play this year, I would not be surprised if Gille and Vliegen managed to crack the top 100 by year's end. If they start to focus solely on doubles, I could even see them making their Grand Slam debut next year, maybe as early as the Australian Open. 


Sander Gille: ATP Profile/ITF Profile
Joran Vliegen: ATP Profile/ITF Profile

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Five unknown players to keep an eye on

My favorite part of the ATP tour are the Futures and Challengers. I enjoy finding players on the come up and trying to predict which of them will break into the top 100 next. Here are 5 players who have made big strides in 2016, climbing hundreds of ranking spots in the process 📈

Ernesto Escobedo 🇺🇸: The up and coming American is now about 15 points away from reaching the top 200. At only 20 years old, he won his first Challenger title last week in Lexington, Kentucky joining a fairly rare group of players to have won a Challenger before a Futures title (going through the Challenger winners in 2016 the only exceptions I found were Taylor Fritz, Blake Mott, Mikhail Kukushkin, Sergiy Stakhovsky (who has now won multiple Challengers and ATP titles all without ever winning a Futures), and Max Purcell). This year he has climbed from #393 to #205 (even reaching the final of the Sao Paulo Challenger held on clay) and, considering he only has 60 points to defend for the rest of 2016, he could easily finish the year inside the top 150. Here he is playing against Francis Tiafoe in the Lexington final. 

Andrew Whittington 🇦🇺: The young Australian had quite the junior career reaching a career-high #6 ranking back in 2011 (he even beat Nick Kyrgios in the 2010 Junior Australian Open qualies) and he is now making his mark on the ATP tour. Earlier this year at the Australia F3 Futures he broke a two and a half year singles-title drought and since then has not looked back. He has amassed 6 Futures singles titles this year, reached 2 Challenger semifinals, and one Challenger final (curiously, his losses at these Challengers have come to Fritz, Purcell, and Escobedo, three of the players mentioned above). With these results, he has moved from #592 to #181. He lost to Tiafoe last week in the Granby Challenger quarterfinals and will be playing this week in the Gatineau Challenger. Here are some highlights from his win at the Guam F1 Futures earlier this year.

Mikelis Libietis 🇱🇻: The Latvian has wasted no time after an impressive four years at the University of Tennessee. A three time ITA All-American, Libietis reached the top of the college game in 2013, during his junior college season, reaching the #1 ranking in both singles and doubles. Turning pro midway through 2015 after finishing his college career, Libietis started off with a bang winning a Futures title just four tournaments into his career. He did not play much for the rest of 2015, but has had a tremendous 2016 winning four Futures singles titles, reaching one final, and rising from #693 to #381. To date he has only played three Challengers, the 2011, 2012, and 2014 editions of the Knoxville Challenger (held at the University of Tennessee); if he keeps his current Futures streak going it shouldn’t be long before he adds to that list. Here is a video of Libietis talking about what it was like representing Latvia in the Davis Cup.

Marc Polmans 🇦🇺: Another young Australian with a solid juniors record. The South-African born ended a solid junior career in 2015 having reached a career-high #28 ranking, winning the 2015 Australian Open Junior doubles title, and notching victories over players like Alexander Zverev (2013 Junior Davis Cup), Taylor Fritz (2015 Nike Junior International Roehampton), and Denis Shapovalov (2015 Junior Australian Open). In his first year as a pro, Polmans has risen from #841 to #376. A four week swing through Africa in June saw him win his first three singles Futures titles, finishing the month 19-1 (three titles and a final). He is now on a swing through the USA, where he has reached a quarterfinal and a final. He will play the final of the USA F26 Futures today in Decatur, Illinois against Roberto Quiroz, a former USC Trojan, looking for his fourth singles title of the year. Here he is playing in the Mozambique F1 semifinals.

Pedro Sousa 🇵🇹: The Portuguese journeyman has made a marvelous comeback. After reaching his career-high ranking of #199 back in 2013, Sousa missed most of 2014 and lost his ranking. He came back on tour in 2015, but only managed to finish the year in the #786 slot. 2016, however, has been a completely different story. He started off the year by winning the Tunisia F1 Futures (which included a walkover win over Marcus Willis in the semifinals), his first since 2013. Since then he has won another 5 Futures singles titles and reached the finals of 5 other Futures. Sousa has spent the past 3 weeks on the Challenger tour reaching the semis at Tampere, and the quarters at Scheveningen and Liberec (he retired via walkover this past week in Liberec). With these results he is now miles away from his #786 ranking at the start of the year and with his current #212 ranking he is closing on his previous career high. Here he is playing against Leonardo Mayer back in 2013.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

If Tennis Players Were Pokemon Part 2

After being flooded with all things Pokemon and Pokemon Go over the past few weeks,  I was inspired to write a blog post relating Pokemon to tennis. A few days ago I posted a piece on who some current professional tennis players would be if they happened to be Pokemon. Federer was Pikachu, Nadal was Charizard, Ferrer was Charmeleon, Djokovic was Mewtwo, Murray was Alakazam and Marcus Willis was Snorlax. You can check out the reasoning here. I posted the piece on r/tennis over at Reddit and at MensTennisForums and got some great feedback. Here are some of my favorite comparisons offered by users at Reddit and MTF (reposted here as originally written):
  • Mr.Swiss on MTF
    • jack sock - slowpoke. slow and chunky with low endurance/stamina 
    • nick kyrgios -loudred. fiery, loud and tends to speak before he thinks. loves attention. has a big mouth

    • grigor dimitrov - emolga - kind of a of copy of fed but not as good. cute to look at. much like emolga is of pikachu

  • Ilovetheblues_86 on MTF:
    • Thomaz Bellucci- dunsparce never evolves
  • khfreek on Reddit:
    • Tsonga looks like the evolution of Kyrgios, so I was thinking of them as Machop and Machoke.

Check out the full threads at Reddit and MensTennisForums. Thanks to everyone who offered their own comparisons and gold medal to Mr.Swiss, the Jack Sock and Kyrgios comparisons were hilariously accurate (sorry Jack).

Once again shoutout to Bulbapedia for having everything you could ever possibly want to know about the world of Pokemon.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

If Tennis Players Were Pokemon

It's been a while since a fad exploded as quickly as Pokemon Go has. From players getting shot at, to finding dead bodies, to player stampedes in Central Park, everyone (in countries where Pokemon Go is supported) has gone wild for the game. The quick rise of Pokemon Go and constant flow of Pokemon related material on Facebook, Twitter, etc., made me spot quite a few similarities between Pokemon and current tennis players. 
Pikachu Pokemon

Roger Federer: Pikachu. Ask anyone to name a tennis player and odds are they’ll say Federer. Do the same with a Pokemon and it’s likely they'll say Pikachu. Two cultural icons. The headband and long locks. The long, lightning tail and red cheeks. Personally, they’re not my favorites and I find them both a bit overrated, but there’s no denying their success. As of now, it would be hard to make an argument against them being the GOATs in their respective arenas.

Hitmonchan Pokemon

Jo-Wilfriend Tsonga: Hitmonchan. Hitmonchan is “said to possess the spirit of a boxer who had been working towards a world championship. This Pokémon has an indomitable spirit and will never give up in the face of adversity. The arm-twisting punches it throws pulverize even concrete. However, it seems to need a short break after fighting for three minutes.” This one was a no-brainer. Hitmonchan alludes to Tsonga’s uncanny resemblance to Muhammad Ali, to his incredible power, and to his lack of consistency.

Charizard PokemonRafael Nadal: Charizard. Breathing intense, hot flames, it can melt almost anything. Its breath inflicts terrible pain on enemies.” I imagine that is what it’s like to play Rafa (pre-injuries Rafa at least) on clay: pure, unadulterated pain. He flies around the court like a dragon and when he bellows out his trademark “Vamos!” you can almost see him breathe fire. The red and yellow hues on the Spanish flag mirror Charizard’s colors and further bolster this comparison. 

Charmeleon PokemonDavid Ferrer: Charmeleon. Without pity, its sharp claws destroy foes. If it encounters a strong enemy, it becomes agitated, and the flame on its tail flares with a bluish white color.” Ferrer is the ultimate competitor. He is the embodiment of the ‘never say die’ attitude. He is the Charmeleon to Nadal’s Charizard as shown by his 6-24 record against Rafa; considering how good Rafa is this is an incredible compliment, and not a slight. Ferrer can match the intensity, but he lacks the weapons to evolve into Charizard.

Mewtwo PokemonNovak Djokovic: Mewtwo. A Pokémon that was created by genetic manipulation. However, even though the scientific power of humans made its body, they failed to give it a warm heart.” Disclaimer: Djokovic is my favorite player. For some reason, however, the public has never fully warmed up to Nole. Despite his incredible form and his record-breaking exploits, he does not seem as well-liked as Federer or Nadal. One this is for sure, though, Djokovic’s form these past few years point to the fact that he is no normal human being, and that some sort of genetic manipulation is involved.

Alakazam PokemonAndy Murray: Alakazam. “Its brain can outperform a supercomputer. Its IQ (intelligence quotient) is said to be around 5,000.” I doubt it Andy’s IQ is that high, but he’s an incredibly smart tennis player and comes off as a smart guy. It’s not easy being a third wheel, but for most of his career Murray has done an admirable job of being the fourth wheel (which I guess is good enough for a car, so maybe it’s not that bad to be a fourth wheel). With Rafa and Fed on the decline and with Novak having to tire at some point, Alakazam is in a good position to add a few more slams over the next few years putting him in a position worthy of his IQ. 

Snorlax Pokemon
Marcus Willis: Snorlax. Some may interpret this as a low blow, but this is meant as a compliment on multiple levels. One, Snorlax is loved by the public, as is Willis. Two, Snorlax is very powerful, and I find it amazing how good Willis was considering how overweight he was; he wasn’t ‘overweight for a professional athlete’, he was very overweight even for an average Joe. I’m really excited to see how Willis’ career continues now that he is in much better shape and seems to be very motivated. Maybe he can cash in with some wild cards and, with some luck, shoot up the rankings.

Shout out to Bulbapedia for having everything you could possibly want to know about the world of Pokemon.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Fantasy Glory: Wimbledon Week 2 Recap

I wrote last week that I had decided to fill out a bracket for Wimbledon in my search for fantasy sports glory. The way points were awarded in the site I used were as follows: 30 points for getting the winner right, 20 points for correct semifinal picks, 10 points for correct quarterfinals picks, 5 points for correct fourth round picks, 3 points for correct third round picks, 2 points for correct second round picks, and 1 point for correct first round picks. Out of a total of 326 points (if my math is correct), I finished with 185, or 56.7%. I got 52 out of 64 first round picks correct, 20 out of 32 second round picks, 11 out of 16 third round picks, 4 out of 8 fourth round picks, 2 out of 4 quarterfinal picks, 1 out of 2 semifinal picks, and 0 out of 1 final picks (I had Djokovic winning it all) for a total of 90 correct picks out of 127 (70.8%). Not too bad, I guess, but hopefully I'll do better at the U.S. Open. As for my thoughts on the second week of Wimbledon:
Andy Murray:
All hail Sir Andy Murray (well technically he has yet to be knighted, but it’s almost a certainty at this point, I’d imagine. How weird is the whole knighthood thing anyway? Also, I assume the English are aware that Murray is Scottish, right? This support ‘issue’ becomes even more interesting with Brexit and Scotland’s chance at independence, but I digress) This Wimbledon final was the only slam final where Murray’s opponent was not Djokovic or Federer and Andy did not waste his chance (in slam finals he has a 2-5 record against Djokovic, a 0-3 record against Federer, and now a 1-0 record against Raonic). Murray’s title further demonstrated how incredibly dominant the ‘Big 4’ have been. Ever since 2005 the only two slams to not feature Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, or Murray, have been the 2005 Australian Open (Safin def. Hewitt) and the 2015 US Open (Cilic def. Nishikori) and out of those 47 slams they have won 42 (Safin, Wawrinka (2), and Cilic being the other champions). With his 3rd slam plus his gold medal at the 2012 Olympics, Murray is slowly creeping up the greatest of all time list. Considering most people have John McEnroe (7 slams, 77 titles, #1 in the world) around number 10, it would be tough to see Andy breaking that mark; however, one has to ask how much weight should be placed on the fact that Murray has managed to accomplish all he has while having to deal with the (arguably) three greatest players of all time in Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic.

Milos Raonic:

Feast your eyes on this beauty from back in 2011: An Ode to Raonic. Pairing with Carlos Moya at the start of the year was clearly the right move as 2016 has been a breakthrough year for Milos. He started the year by winning Brisbane (beating Federer for only the second time in 11 attempts in the final), he then reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open (beating Wawrinka in 5 sets in the round of 16), and he made first Grand Slam final appearance at Wimbledon (beating Federer in the semifinal and improving his record against the GOAT to 3-9). Raonic will now turn his focus to the Rogers Cup Masters 1000 in his homeland and then the Olympics where he will play both singles and doubles (pairing with Pospisil).

Roger Federer:

I truly think Wimbledon 2016 was Federer’s last chance at a slam (though to be fair I’ve saying that since 2013 and Federer keeps coming back and making runs). Even if Federer had beaten Raonic and made it to the final, I am pretty sure Murray would have beaten him in 4 sets at most. Fed will turn 35 in August; he had knee surgery earlier this year and once again has had to deal with back problems (when asked before Wimbledon about his back problems Federer delivered one of his typical humblebrags: “Look, this back has won me 88 titles, so I’m okay with that back. It’s okay if it messes around with me sometimes”). Maybe he’ll summon a last bit of magic to win the Olympics, or at least win another gold medal with the Stanimal in doubles. Though I'm not rooting for the Fed Express, it would be a shame for him to retire having won everything (all four slams, World Tour Final, Davis Cup) but a gold medal in singles. 

Tomas Berdych:

If there’s anyone out there looking to turn their fortunes around, be sure to take a page out of Berdych’s notebook and lose 6-0 6-0. Or whatever the equivalent in your field is. Since getting double bagel by Goffin (he only won 15 points) at the Rome Masters 1000 and splitting with his coach, Berdych has gone on to make the quarterfinals at the French Open (losing to Djokovic) and the semifinals at Wimbledon. He’s gotten some undeserved slack for his 49-115 mark against top-10 players— a record number of losses to top-10 players. However, when viewed in context Berdych’s career has been tremendous. He’s currently on a run of 52 straight Grand Slam appearances, he’s reached the semifinal or better at every slam (he has one slam final to his name— Wimbledon 2010 where he lost to Nadal), has been top 5 in the world (#4 in 2015), has won two Davis Cups representing Czech Republic (2 out of their 3 Davis Cups have been won by Berdych), and has won a Masters 1000 title (Paris back in 2005). So don't worry Tomas, there will be no jokes on my part.

Theater of the Absurd:

  • Pee-Gate: "At triple match point down in their men’s doubles third-round clash with Britain’s Jonny Marray and Canada’s Adil Shamasin on Monday, Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas and Marcel Granollers of Spain staged a sit-in on Court 7 after one of them was accused of threatening to relieve himself in a ball can."
  • Cut it out: "Wimbledon organizers are tired of players taking away the towels after every match. Novak Djokovic admitted he takes away at least one Wimbledon towel after every match, Andy Murray admitted to have 'stolen' some towels for his wife and friends, and it seems Serena Williams is in this big club as well as Venus Williams, who has a Wimbledon 1997 towel. But at junior level this is an even more common thing: they were competing with each other to see who could get away with the most! So organizers now have found a solution: they will offer them plain white towels, instead of the senior players' brightly-colored versions."

Watch out for:

  • Team Canada: Denis Shapovalov won his first junior slam at Wimbledon at 17 years old beating Tsitsipas from Greece in 3 sets in the semifinal, and Alex de Minaur from Australia in 3 sets in the final. Felix Auger-Aliassime, who shares a birthday with Federer and will be turning 16 in August, reached the quarterfinals losing in 3 sets to de Minaur. I could see a team of Raonic, Pospisil, Shapovalov, and Auger-Aliassime being a strong Davis Cup team in about 5 years, good fortune permitting. With a veteran Raonic pulling his weight in singles and Pospisil doing damage as a doubles specialist, Canada could improve on their 2013 semifinal showing and just maybe go all the way. It's far off, but don't let that stop you from dreaming Canada. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Journey to Fantasy Glory - Wimbledon 2016 Week 1

I recently read Matthew Berry's Fantasy Life. Matthew Berry is a Hollywood screenwriter turned fantasy sports expert who now works for ESPN as their Senior Fantasy Sports Analyst. The book talks about his life and career change, and about the world of fantasy: the "brilliant trash talk. Unbelievable trophies. Insane draft day locations. Shake-your-head-in-disbelief punishments. Ingenious attempts at cheating. And surprisingly uplifting stories that remind us why we play these games in the first place." as he puts it. I follow tennis on a daily basis keeping up with Futures, Grand Slams, and everything in between, so when I saw the advertisement to enter a "Pick your bracket" contest for Wimbledon, I jumped at the chance and began my journey to fantasy glory. 

In an anticlimactic turn, things have not gone as well as I had hoped as I had Djokovic winning the tournament, Delpo reaching the semi, and Kohlschreiber reaching the fourth round, among others. Below is some analysis of my now shattered draw.

Marcus Willis: I feel like we've all heard about Cartman, eh I mean Willis, by now and rightfully so because this is one of the best Cinderella stories in sports history. Willis, Britain's 23rd highest ranked player at the start of Wimbledon, got a wildcard into the qualifying draw by winning the pre qualifier organized by the LTA for British players, which he only got into after a player dropped out. He then beat Japanese journeyman Yuichi Sugita (#99) in round one in three sets after losing the first set 6-1, promising youngster Andrey Rublev (#153) in straight sets in round 2, and Russian Daniil Medvedev (who is only 20 years old and has risen from #329 at the start of the year to a career-high #215 this week) in 4 sets in the final round of qualifying (only the last round is best 3 out of 5). Not wanting his dream run to end he then beat Berankis (current #55, former #1 junior, and winner of the 2007 junior US Open) in straight sets in the first round. A terrible first set in the second round against Federer was followed by two sets of good tennis finishing at a respectable 60 63 64. The dream run of Willis is even better in context: a once promising junior (#15 back in 2008) decides to retire after years of battling out in Futures (he got up to #322 in 2014) with thousands of dollars of debt and about 50 pounds of extra fat in his belly. Earlier this year he was about to travel to Philadelphia for a coaching gig when he met a girl who convinced him to follow his dream. Cue the Rocky training montage. Willis turned this girl into his girlfriend, began taking his training seriously, dropped about 55 pounds, and was dominating in the Coventry & District Lawn Tennis League representing Warwick Boat Club (Is there something more British than Warwick Boat Club?). He then decided to enter in the pre-qualifying and the rest is history. A player once known for being massively overweight, eating candy bars and drinking soda during a match

and being called Cartman by a stranger on Facebook 
is now known for this incredible Cinderella run. Willis will earn about $40,000 (he said he would use this to pay off his debts) and will rise 356 spots to #416 thanks to this performance. "Whatcha talkin' bout Willis?" (I really wanted to find a way to use this organically, but was unable to).

Philipp Kohlschreiber: All you had to do was reach the fourth round and lose to Djokovic, Philipp. I felt pretty confident with this pick at the start of the tournament, but I think I was blinded by the German's beautiful backhand. He has now lost in the first round of every slam this year and has only reached one fourth round since 2014 (and only one quarterfinal his whole career!) Then again it's hard to stay mad at him when he's capable of performances like this:

Viktor Troicki: Oh Viktor. You really lost it here. Waste of a terrific draw to reach the round of 32 losing to a Spanish clay counter who has only reached the second round once at Wimbledon in 3 previous attempts. Troicki had reached the round of 32 at the Australian and the round of 16 at the French, but unceremoniously bowed out in the second round. Shame that a decent player will only be remembered for two things: his doping ban and this terrific temper tantrum: 

Gilles Simon: Well Dimitrov was bound to remember how to play tennis at some point. However, not only did you lose, Gilles, but you threatened to sue the umpire and everyone in the stadium (yes I'm serious) for having to play on "slippery grass". I should sue you for costing me so many points.

Lucas Pouille: While he did have a very favorable draw, I think it might be time for me to get off Pouille's back (I had him losing to Copil in the first round). Pouille managed to break into the top 32 in the world after one of the luckiest tournaments a player could wish for. At the Italian Open, he got in as lucky loser for Tsonga, getting a bye into the second round, then getting a walkover from Monaco in the quarters, until finally getting demolished  by Murray 6-2 6-1. Pouille played a terrific match against Delpo and has now reached his first fourth round at a slam. Along with a hefty $181,900 check Pouille will reach a career-high #26, with a chance for much more should he continue this streak. 

Dominic Thiem: All that goes up must come down. It was clear that at some point Thiem's insane schedule would catch up to him (he has now played an ATP leading 61 matches in 2016). Interestingly enough, Federer after beating Willis said "For anybody with his ranking, it’s really important to set goals: short-term, long-term, how many tournaments to play… I feel like players lose sight of how important practice is. You can play matches every week on tour, but that’s not how you’re going to improve. Have your vacation. The body needs healing and the mind needs resting as well. Listen to good advice, put your head down, work hard and enjoy it while you can because it runs away very quickly." I feel like Thiem should heed Fed's advice and take a break to recoup for the hard court season, otherwise I see many more losses like this in his horizon. And you know that I have incredible foresight (as shown by my perfect draw). 

Though my journey to fantasy riches has been delayed, I refuse to be stopped. I have decided, after much consideration and multiple talks with my team, to continue my journey at the US Open. Next week I'll post how my draw ended up doing. 

My draw: 

Monday, June 6, 2016

ATP 2016: Midyear Review (and emojis)

With the ATP season reaching it's halfway point, I'd thought it would be fun to take a look at and over-analyze what the 2016 season has left us with so far.

On Top of the World🌍

The monkey🐒 is finally off his back. Djokovic is now the proud🤗 owner of all 4 Grand Slams, at the same time🕔, no less. With his titles last year at Wimbledon🍓 and the U.S. Open🗽 and his titles this year at the Australian Open🐨 and the French Open🐌, Djokovic is the first man since Rod Laver👴🏽 in 1969 to win 4 consecutive Grand Slams. Novak's year has not lacked excitement, even without mentioning the slams: a scandal over equal pay🤑, "abuse"🙄 of an umpire in Rome, a mini-feud with Kyrgios🔥, and a near hit of a lineswoman at the French Open (things almost got very interesting🍿). Now to see if he can make this the best year of his life by winning Wimbledon🍓, the Olympics🏅, and the U.S. Open🗽 (this being a realistic scenario says all there is to say about Nole's current dominance).

In Decline📉

One of the most amazing things about Federer’s career (other than the fact that he’s won 17 Grand Slams and is arguably the best player of all time) is how he’s managed to stay relatively injury free. Father Time🕚 waits for no man, however. Earlier this year, Fed tore his meniscus🤕 and had surgery in February, missing all of February and March. He came back for Monte-Carlo and Rome, but dropped out of the French Open🐌 (breaking his 65 consecutive Grand Slam main draw appearances streak) saying he was not 💯% healthy. He’s only played 4 tournaments in 2016. The Fed Express🚂 has not won a slam since Wimbledon🍓 in 2012 and I fear😨 this year might be his last chance.

Nadal had a bad start to the year losing in the first round of the Australian Open🐨 to Verdasco. He did a 180 with a great European clay court swing winning Monte-Carlo and Barcelona, reaching the semifinals in Madrid (losing to Murray), and the quarterfinals in Rome (losing to Djokovic). After trouncing Sam Groth and Facundo Bagnis in the French🇫🇷, Nadal retired with a left wrist injury. Nadal’s last 4 slam results (Wimbledon🍓 2015: 2R, US Open🗽 2015: 3R, Australian Open🐨 2016: 1R, French Open🐌 2016: 3R) are more fitting of a journeyman🛩 than of the ‘King👑 of Clay’. He’s since dropped out of Queen’s👸 and his participation in Wimbledon🍓 is in doubt. How quickly can you go from possible GOAT🐐 to hoping that your body stops breaking down?

Grigor Dimitrov. I’m just beating a dead horse🐴 at this point. When will “Baby👶 Fed” finally hit rock bottom? Spongebob has been there waiting to help him find a bus🚌 home, but there’s no bottom in sight for Dimitrov. From a 50-18 win-loss record and 3 titles🏆 in 2014 to a 51-34 record and 0 titles from 2015 onwards. His racket smash-fest💥🎉 turned default👋 in Istanbul🦃 was entertaining, but at this point Dimitrov should be making deep runs in slams not being the ATP laughingstock. What could have been…

Breakout Star⭐️

Dominic Thiem had, by all measures, an incredible 2015. He won his first three titles🏆 and rose🌹 from #39 at the start of the year to #20. Not disappointing with his second act🎭, the ‘Dominator’🤖 (not a huge fan of the nickname, but I guess it’s to be expected when you happen to be born in the same country as Schwarzenegger💪🏾🏾) has amassed a 41-11 record with another 3 titles🏆 in 2016. He reached his first slam semifinal at the French Open🐌 losing to Djokovic🇷🇸 (we’ll ignore the fact that it was a massacre🔫). With his performance at the French🇫🇷 he's climbed to a career-high #7 ranking. Watch out for the young Austrian🇦🇹.

On the Comeback Trail👣

The year is 2009. A shy 20-year old from Argentina🇦🇷 by the name of Juan Martin del Potro has just defeated Roger Federer🇨🇭 in 5 sets in the final of the U.S. Open🗽 to lift his first Grand Slam title🏆. The world🌎 is at his feet. Fate, however, is a cruel mistress and 2010 would see the ‘Tower of Tandil’ fall prey😵 to a left wrist injury. He would go on to miss most of the 2010 season and be forced to spend the 2011 season coming back (rising📈 from #485 to #11). He would win the bronze medal🏅 at the Olympics in 2012 and finish the year ranked #7. By 2013 he was back into the top 5. However, by early 2014 the pain in his wrist was back. He missed the majority of the 2014 season and only played two tournaments in 2015. This year he mounted his latest comeback in Delray Beach🏖. Surprising😮 many, he reached the semifinal, his first since 2014. Wanting to further recuperate💤, Delpo decided to skip the French Open🐌 and focus on Wimbledon🍓. Welcome back Delpo, you’ve been missed.

On the Rise📈

Akira Santillan: remember the name (either cause he’ll be a 🔝 player in a few years or so you can come back and laugh🏿 😂 at me). Santillan was born in Japan🇯🇵, but moved to Australia🇦🇺 with his family👪 when he was 10. He represented Australia🇦🇺 for a few years and trained with Tennis Australia. The 19 year old had a successful junior’s career reaching #7 in the world and reaching the finals in doubles of the French Open🐌 and Wimbledon🍓. However, after a seemingly bitter ‘breakup’💔 with Tennis Australia, Santillan, who is coached by his father, decided to switch his allegiance to Japan🇯🇵. This year he’s climbed🗻 from #616 to #366, winning 3 Futures titles🏆 along the way. Here’s to hoping that he’s a 🔝 player in the years to come, partly because tennis🎾 will be in need of new stars🌟, but mostly because I want to feel that warm, hipster🕶 satisfaction of having been first on the bandwagon. 

What do you think? What have been your favorite storylines of 2016? Who is your 'hipster' young player you're hoping will make it? 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Predicting Djokovic's French Open Run

We are living in an age of data. This is specially true in sports. Professional sports have turned to analytics in an attempt to find a winning formula. One of the most interesting stories I have read regarding this involves Haralabos “Bob” Voulgaris, one of the world’s top bettors, who turned to analytics in order to find a winning edge when placing bets on NBA games. 

The Rise of Analytics

When he started betting, Voulgaris was a subjective bettor meaning he placed bets on his gut feeling and knowledge of the game. It turns out he was pretty good; he started betting in the late 1990’s and by 2000 he had turned $80,000 in savings into more than $1 million. However, by the 2003-2004 NBA season bookmakers had finally caught on to him. As Voulgaris said, “Every time you make a bet, you’re educating the people taking the bets. They’re learning the right way to make a line. They figure s--- out based on what you’ve already figured out.” 
     With the edge he once had gone, Voulgaris turned to analytics. He hired a partner well-versed in the world of computer science, mathematics, and statistics and together they sought to create a model that would help him regain his edge. Long story short, they finally got the model working properly by the 2008-2009 season and Voulgaris said “I mean, I don’t want to sit here and brag, but this is literally, like, the greatest thing ever when it comes to sports betting.”
     I read the story (full story by Scott Eden: Meet the world's top NBA gambler) a few years back and thought it was incredibly cool. The combination of sports, computer science, and making money was all of my dreams wrapped into one. With the French Open in action and with Djokovic having the chance to make history by completing his career Grand Slam, I set out to create a model that would predict the score of Djokovic’s matches at the 2016 French Open. 

Crunching the Numbers

There’s not nearly as many variables in tennis as there are in basketball. In basketball there are an endless amount of possible lineups, different referees, different coaches, and on and on. Tennis is a bit more simple, I think, due to the fact that it’s an individual sport. Unlike Voulgaris, I would only be spending a few hours over one week on a model that could predict one player’s results at one specific tournament. 
     I used Python, R, and the data available on the ATP site for my model. I focused on Djokovic's previous results at the French Open putting heavier emphasis on his results since 2011. The two main factors are the opponent's rank and the round in which Djokovic plays the opponent. Using this the model comes up with the predicted winner and number of sets. Using the predicted winner, number of sets, opponent's rank, and round it comes up with the game difference Djokovic will win/lose by. It then tries to come up with a score by allocating the game difference into the number of sets. So without further ado, here’s how I did.

Round Opponent Prediction Actual Score # of Sets # of Games Won By
Round of 128 Yen-Hsun Lu 63 63 62 64 61 61 3 vs 3 10 vs 12
Round of 64 Steve Darcis 63 63 61 75 63 64 3 vs 3  11 vs 7 
Round of 32 Aljaz Bedene 62 63 64 62 63 63 3 vs 3 9 vs 10

For the first round, the model correctly predicted the match’s winner, which admittedly is about as impressive as making toast. It also correctly predicted the number of sets in the match and was off by 2 in the number of games that Djokovic would win by (Djokovic won by 12 games, 2+5+5, while the model predicted 10). For the second round, the model correctly predicted the match winner, the number of sets, but was off by a good margin in the number of games Djokovic would win by (Djokovic won by 7, 2+3+2, while the model predicted 11). For the third round, the model correctly predicted the match’s winner, the number of sets, and was only off by 1 in the number of games Djokovic would win by, even getting the correct score for the first two sets. 


All in all, this was a fun little experiment. Once the French Open finishes, I’ll post how the model did over the second week (For what it's worth, the model is predicting a 63 76 67 62 win over Bautista Agut in the fourth round). I learned a lot and this is something I’d like to go back to and improve. I think it’s almost impossible to predict the actual score down to the games in each set, but I definitely think it’s possible to be very accurate as far as the match’s winner, number of sets played, and number of games won by. 

Sources: for the Djokovic's match data
Meet the world's top NBA gambler for the full story on Haralabos Voulgaris by Scott Eden