Monday Mailbag! AO Champions, Big Four, 2 Year Rankings

Posted by Brodie under: Mailbag

27 Jan 2014

Every Monday I take some of the best questions and give some answers in hope of creating further discussion. If you would like to send in a question, Tweet me (@MindTheRacket) or e-mail me at brodie@mindtheracket.

A big thanks to everyone for all of the great questions this week, and apologies if I didn’t get to yours. Great questions, as always.

I have to be honest and say that Twitter and presumably most people’s reaction to the final was quite well measured, considering the freak outs that we often get in sports related #fauxoutrage. This was Stan’s title, but the effect the injury had on that specific match can’t be ignored. (It can also be noted that Wawrinka only played six matches after Pospisil withdrew.)

What Stan achieved was incredible, and simply put, no one can take that away from him now. In the long term, there won’t be any blight attached to this win – these things tend to fade over time. In the short term? It certainly needs to be acknowledged. Which brings me to…

It’s important to acknowledge Rafa’s injury, because Stan only really needed to win a set and a half against a fully functioning Rafa. He even managed to choke a set away – something he fully admitted to. This doesn’t really matter for the past, but the future. Wawrinka is far from the favourite to win Roland Garros suddenly. That said, if he sticks in the top 4 ranking spots until RG he could find himself with an incredibly friendly draw. In theory, he will still have to go through Nadal and Djokovic, the top two players in the world, but this wouldn’t be until the semis and final. This ups the chance of one of those players losing in the quarters or semis, and giving Stan a player to pick off in the next round. Stanimal the Manimal has always had great success on clay, too, as it gives him bonus time to really load up the backhand. The high ranking will see him seeded well in other tournaments as well. I’m not sure if Stan will win another slam, but he could be a threat to sneak a Masters title this year.

Two interesting things have happened after this Australian Open. People have talked about the potential asterik on the Wawrinka title after the Nadal injury. The highest ranked player Li Na needed to beat was Makarova, but because she’s a top player and former slam champ, no one is claiming it as less “legitimate” (as if these things matter).

It isn’t unfair to say that the big names in the ATP had a rough go, certainly opening things up for Wawrinka. As I wrote earlier, there should be real questions about the longevity of Federer’s career from here. Murray has just returned from back surgery and undoubtedly was not in peak form, and Nadal got hurt during the final; neither of these two examples being faults of their own. The only real remaining, serious threat to the Australian Open title would be Novak Djokovic – who Stan beat. In other words, the narrative of “things are evening out” is an easy story to pick out with Stan winning, but in reality, Nadal and Murray will be fit and ready to go again, and Djokovic was beaten fair and square, though barely. These three have a ways to go yet.

(Read more on my thoughts on the uncertainty of the future of the ATP here.)

At one point, I was highly in favour of this idea. In my eye, the ranking system would be like Wimbledon does when they include grass court success. You would use your points from the past 12 months, and then half of the points from the 12 months prior, which would disappear after a two year period.

I ran a full simulation of this on the top 20 of both the ATP and the WTA at the time, and was surprised to find that this made almost zero difference to the overall rankings of players. The odd one would jump or drop a spot, but it was rare, and even rarer for the players at the very top.

The attitude around this change comes from the idea that a player needs to “defend” points, and therefore can’t gain more if they win a tournament in a second year, and that is therefore unfair. I would argue against this idea. A player receives the points they get from a tournament and can use them for their ranking for a whole 12 months – after that, they’re gone. This is a huge window of opportunity particularly players that receive a very good, flukier result. This will boost their chance at getting a higher seed in a slam, or being seeded in smaller tournaments. In my opinion, letting a player keep half of those points for another following months is a bit ridiculous. The ranking system isn’t perfect, but we should want it to reflect the current form of players as to appropriately seed them. 24 months is just far too long. Use ’em or lose ’em.

This is a great question, and certainly a possibility. What impressed me the most about Li Na was her ability and interest in trying to finish points more quickly. The narrative was “net approaches”, but it wasn’t always necessarily net rushing, and more a willingness to follow in, even if just several steps inside the baseline. This means instead of reacting to short responses from opponents, she expected them after hitting a great shot. She’s a player that likes time to load up, and so already being in position to crush the short stuff helped, and kept her away from losing on needlessly long rallies.

One would think this would translate well on clay. She loves clay as, again, it gives her a bit more time to load up her huge shots (think Robin Soderling), but a new found interest in backing up a solid shot and improved net play might help her be just that much better. And let’s be honest, she’s rocking the best backhand in women’s tennis right now. That shot is pure gravy right now. Delicious.

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