Monday Mailbag! What Is Hype, Anyway?

Posted by Brodie under: Halep, Mailbag, Sloane Stephens

20 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. Thanks, everyone.

More and more, I’m starting to find the idea of “hype” an incredibly fascinating thing. It certainly pops up in all sports, but in an individual sport like tennis, it’s always an unavoidable topic when talking about young players, or groups of players.

What is “hype”, anyway? To start, our idea of how much a player has been hyped is our own personal experience – there is no master “Hype Truth” out there. So what is it?

1) The weight of other voices (or lack there of) telling us how good or bad a player is

2) Our idea of whether or not that hype is either warranted or over done according to our own ideas of a) how much any one player should be talked about and b) our own projection of how good their talent level is

3) Whether or not we believe the hype is describing the player’s current form, or their potential in the future

Sloane Stephens has become one of the most interesting cases of being fed through The Hype Machine. If you live in the United States or Canada and watch ESPN, you’ve had her talked about at you endlessly, yet you might not think the talent or the results quite match up. On the other hand, if you don’t watch ESPN (I don’t), and get most of your tennis commentary through individual matches, online articles, and your own personalized Twitter feed (I fall into this category), Sloane Stephens has barely been a topic of discussion. Maybe it’s because her break through came a year ago, maybe it’s because people would much rather debate the ceiling of Bouchard, I’m not sure. Personally, I view Stephens as nearly underrated in my own personal circle. She hasn’t put it all together, but 1) I don’t see a ton of people talking about her, 2) I certainly think she deserves to be talked about a great deal and 3) believe that she isn’t fantastic right now, but will be in the future.

If you follow the same checklist for Simona Halep, you will almost certainly come up with a different answer. I have even had Romanians say that they’re excited that she will make the top 10 in hopes that she will get more attention back home. To be honest, she hasn’t played that many big matches, either. And so while it frustrates me that people say “she hasn’t done anything in the slams”, they might just be saying “I haven’t really seen her play much.” So unless you follow only five people on Twitter and one of them is me, you almost certainly don’t think Halep has gotten much hype. (I’m here for you, girl.)

Winning solves all problems in sports, ultimately. I picked Halep to qualify for the YEC this year, and she has a solid shot at making the semifinals in Melbourne. She’ll finish out the week in the top 10. Outside of semifinal points in Rome, most of her points come post Wimbledon, and the points that she should rank up over the clay season and at Roland Garros should see her staying in the top 10 well into the summer. Eventually everyone will have to reckon with Simona, give it time.

This is always an interesting debate. I was on a conference call with Shahar Pe’er once, where she said that it is always important to get match play and confidence in during the summer before the US Open… and then laughed that, of course, you don’t want to play too much.

Certainly, our own recency bias of a player getting injured a week before a slam will stick with us much longer. There’s nothing to suggest that a player is more likely to get hurt the week before a slam as opposed to two or three weeks. While it could be argued that having a week off gives more recovery time, there are plenty of examples (Pospisil being a recent one) that injuries can obviously last longer than a week. Getting injured is just crap luck, regardless.

It is different for every player, but I would argue that playing far too many matches before a slam is a much bigger problem than playing the week before. It’s not a guarantee that a player will make the final, and even then, they are likely done on Saturday, might not play until Tuesday, and get every other day off. Most players are also realistic about how far they can go in a slam – if they think they can make the fourth round, that’s still only going to be four matches in eight days, which is perfectly manageable for a professional athlete.

In other words, if your favourite player gets hurt the week before a slam, don’t get mad at them for playing – they’re just as likely to get hurt any other time of the year.

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