Monthly Archives: January 2015

Who Do You Love, Racket Ralliers?

Many of you probably know by now: Last week, Ben Rothenberg and I launched Racket Rally, a stock-market-style fantasy tennis game. We were overwhelmed by the initial response, getting well over 2,000 signups in only a few days before play began at the Australian Open. If you haven’t joined in yet, we’d still love to have you–you can start building the perfect portfolio for Indian Wells and beyond.

With so much user data, it’s interesting to see which players are most popular among Racket Rally members.

For the uninitiated, here’s how it works. Each member starts with a budget of $100,000. She can spend that money on shares of any player in the top 300 (along with a few injury-protected players), at prices equal to their ATP or WTA ranking points. Last week, Richard Gasquet had 1,350 ATP ranking points, so you could buy one share of Gasquet for $1,350, two shares for $2,700, and so on, up to a maximum of 50 shares or $40,000, whichever comes first.

Each week, sales are limited, so the perfect portfolio isn’t necessarily optimized for the Australian Open. Since users are stuck with many of their players from week to week, their choices reflect both short-term and long-term expectations.

The numbers

Before the Australian Open began, 1,739 members had purchased shares of at least three players–a reasonable cutoff to define active users who built portfolios. They bought over 63,000 shares of 375 different players, spending just short of 169,000,000 fake Racket Rally dollars.

The most popular player, by almost every measurement, was Novak Djokovic. More than half of users (992) bought at least one share of Novak, and the same is true of Roger Federer, who is to be found in 875 portfolios. Here’s the rest of the top ten:

Kei Nishikori      764  
Maria Sharapova    716  
Serena Williams    708  
Andy Murray        697  
Simona Halep       639  
Milos Raonic       571  
Karolina Pliskova  557  
Nick Kyrgios       517

Interesting mix, huh? Pliskova is the big surprise, and shows the savviness of at least 500 users. Since Pliskova reached the final in Sydney last week, her ranking has since gone up, meaning that members who purchased shares last week got her at a discount. Kyrgios is a more Melbourne-optimized choice, as it’s reasonable to expect Nick to perform well at his home slam.

When we switch our focus to shares purchased, many of the same names remain near the top, but the order changes quite a bit. Users bought 2,412 total shares of Kyrgios, most of any player in the game. Pliskova is right behind him, at 1,990. An unexpected name comes in third: 1,921 shares of Viktor Troicki were picked up, presumably by users who think he will return to something much closer to his pre-suspension form.

Here are the other 15 players who garnered enough interest for users to amass at least 1,000 shares each:

Andy Murray         1732  
Novak Djokovic      1723  
Roger Federer       1636  
Bernard Tomic       1563  
Kei Nishikori       1435  
Maria Sharapova     1366  
Borna Coric         1329  
Serena Williams     1292  
Venus Williams      1205  
Thanasi Kokkinakis  1173  
Simona Halep        1158  
Garbine Muguruza    1130  
Vasek Pospisil      1108  
Milos Raonic        1100  
David Goffin        1048

When we turn to total dollars invested–or, to look at it another way, percentage of portfolio allotted–top players take center stage. Djokovic, Federer, Serena, Sharapova, and Murray make up the top five, while Petra Kvitova and Rafael Nadal make their first appearance in a top ten.

The differences among dollars spent are enormous. Members spent nearly $20 million (more than 10% of in-game currency) on Djokovic, $16 million on Federer, and just over $10 million each on Serena and Sharapova.  10 players are over the $5 million mark, 22 over $2 million, and 30 over $1 million.

Plenty of notable players are another order of magnitude less–Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the best Racket Rally investment, as of this writing–is held in only 49 portfolios, for a total of $120,000. Carina Witthoeft, the unheralded German who has reached the third round, appears in only nine portfolios, for a total of $44,000. One lonely user took a chance on Evgeniya Rodina (5 shares for $2,375)–members spent more money on at least 20 players who aren’t even in the Melbourne main draw.

It may be that not every share purchase was based entirely on interest or potential. 76 players–most of them out of action this week–are held in only one portfolio. I suspect that the member who spent $146 on one share of Anastasia Grymalska had about $146 left in his or her portfolio when that choice was made.

In the near future, I’ll put together a page on the Racket Rally website to show all of this data on a weekly basis. It will also be fascinating to see what players are the most traded each week.

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You Can’t Win Over Our Aussie Sam Stosur … Or Can You?

With the possible exception of the first movement of Schubert’s Bb major piano sonata (D960), the greatest work of art to emerge from the western musical tradition is, of course, “Sam vs OVAs.”

After the six or seven hundredth time through this song, I untied my dancing shoes, put my tennis statistician hat back on, and wondered: Is the conventional wisdom valid? Is it true that players whose names end in “ova” can’t win over Sam Stosur?

Let’s delve into the database and find out.

“Sam vs OVAs” lists 24 potential opponents: 23 Ovas and 1 Galina Voskoboeva. Stosur has faced 21 of the 24 in her career, missing only Nina Bratchikova, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, and Kristyna Pliskova. (For the record, Sam has faced Kristyna’s sister Karolina, losing in their one meeting.)

Sure enough, Ovas usually don’t win over Sam Stosur. The Aussie owns winning records against 13, has losing records against 7, and is even with 1, Yaroslava Shvedova.

Despite all those positive head-to-heads, the numbers aren’t so rosy upon closer inspection. Only 5 of 21 truly “can’t win” over Sam Stosur–Sam has lost at least once to 16 others. (That group of 16 includes Anastasia Rodionova and Jarmila Gajdosova, so the song is correct in those cases.) And while she has a positive aggregate record against the players in the song–holding at 56-52 as we head into the 2015 season–it is heavily weighed down by poor performances against Maria Sharapova (2-14), Petra Kvitova (1-7), and Lucie Safarova (2-9).

However, in Sam’s defense, the song’s lyricist didn’t cherry-pick in her favor. Stosur has faced 36 Ovas (plus Voskoboeva) in her career, 16 of whom weren’t named in the song. Against those players, she is undefeated against 10, and her overall record is a slightly better 15-12. Take out her abysmal 0-6 mark against Nicole Vaidisova, and you could put together a compelling (if biased) case that, as we have been led to believe, Ovas can’t win over Sam Stosur.

As my mother always taught me, a song can only reach its true potential once you thoroughly fact-check it. With that in mind, let’s listen again!

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