Category Archives: Cincinnati

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the (Extremely Specific) Post-Masters Blues

Two days after winning a Masters title in Toronto, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga played his first match in Cincinnati. Betting odds had the Frenchman as a heavy favorite over the unseeded Mikhail Youzhny, but a sluggish Tsonga dropped the match in straight sets.

An explanatory narrative springs to mind immediately: After playing six matches in a week, it’s tough to keep a winning streak going. Losing the match, even against a lesser opponent, is predictable. (Of course, it’s more predictable in hindsight.)

As usual with such “obvious” storylines, it’s not quite so straightforward. On average, ATP title winners who enter a tournament the following week perform exactly as well as expected in their first match of the next event. The same results hold for finalists, who typically played as many matches the previous week, and must also bounce back from a high-stakes loss.

To start with, I looked at the 1,660 times since the 2000 season that an ATP finalist took the court again within three weeks. Those players won, on average, 1.93 matches in their post-title event, losing their first matches 29% of the time. Their 71% next-match winning percentage is virtually identical to what a simple ranking-based model would predict. In other words, there’s no evidence here of a post-final letdown.

More relevant to Tsonga’s situation is the set of 1,055 finalists who played the following week. Those men won 1.7 matches in their next event, losing 31% of the their first matches at the follow-up event. That’s about 1% worse than expected–not nearly enough to allow us to draw any conclusions. Narrowing the set even further to the 531 tournament winners who played the next week, we find that they won 2.0 matches in their next event, losing 26.3% of their first matches, just a tick better than the simple model would predict.

Some of these numbers–1.7 match wins in a tournament; a 70% winning percentage–don’t sound particularly impressive. But we need to keep in mind that the majority of ATP tournaments don’t feature Masters-level fields, and plenty of finalists are well outside the top ten. Plus, the players who play an event the week after winning a title tend to be lower ranked. Masters events occupy back-to-back weeks on the schedule only a couple of times each season.

If we limit our scope to the more uncommon back-to-back tourneys for Masters winners, a bit of a trend emerges. The week after winning a Masters tournament, players win an average of 2.9 matches, losing their first match only 20.4% of the time. That sounds pretty good, except that, in the last 15 years, the group of Masters winners has been extremely good. That 80% first-match winning percentage is 5% below what a simple model would’ve predicted for them.

If we limit the sample even further, to Masters winners ranked outside the top five–a group that includes Tsonga–we finally find more support for the “obvious” narrative. Since 2000, 17 non-top-fivers have shown up for a tournament the week after winning a Masters event. They’ve won only 1.8 matches in their next events, losing their first match more than 40% of the time. That’s 20% worse than expected.

This small set of non-elite Masters winners is the only group I could find that fit the narrative of a post-title or post-final blues. (I tested a lot more than I’ve mentioned here, and nearly all showed players performing within a couple percent of expectations.)

Tsonga cited low energy in his post-match press conference, but we shouldn’t forget that there are plenty of other reasons the Frenchman might lose a first-round match. He’s split his six career matches against Youzhny, and 7 of his 19 losses in the past year have come to players ranked lower than the Russian. Losses don’t always need precedents, and in this case, the precedents aren’t particularly predictive.

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The Unbreakable and Record-Setting Cincinnati Finalists

When Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic met in the Cincinnati final on Sunday, they represented a unique event in tennis history: Neither one had been broken.  Four matches each, no breaks of serve.

That’s not just a Masters-level record, it’s a first for the ATP tour, at least since 1991, the time span for which point-level stats are available.    That’s over 1500 tournaments, including nearly 200 Masters events.

It’s very rare to even come close.  Of the 195 Masters tournaments for which data is available, only four pairs of finalists entered the title match with three or fewer breaks.  Djokovic leads the pack: When he met Rafael Nadal in the 2011 Miami final, Nadal had been broken once, Djokovic not at all.  When Djokovic and Federer met in the 2007 Montreal final, each player had only been broken once.  The Miami achievement is particularly notable because each player had won five pre-final matches, compared to only four each in Cincinnati and Montreal.

Federer set some records on his own, as well.  By holding his serve against Djokovic, he made it through an entire Masters tournament without suffering a break.  That’s the first time it has ever happened at this level.  Eight other times the winner has only been broken once–twice that winner was Federer, including Cincinnati two years ago.  Ten additional times, the winner was only broken twice–and Roger is responsible for three of those.

At lower level tournaments, it’s somewhat more common–the winner of a non-Masters event has made it through without losing serve a total of 17 times.  Surprise, surprise: Two of those are Federer, at Doha in 2005 and Halle in 2008.  Four other men have done it twice: Andy Roddick, Joachim Johanssen, Richard Krajicek, and Ivan Ljubicic.  Milos Raonic did it earlier this year in Chennai.

Federer set at least one more record last week, and it might be the most impressive of all.  He only faced three break points all week–the lowest known total at a Masters tournament.  The previous record was four, set by Andre Agassi at the 2002 Madrid Masters.  Fed’s total in Cinci was only the 10th ever in single digits–and Roger is now responsible for four of those top ten results.

At lower-level events, Fed’s mark has been bettered a couple of times.  At the 2007 Memphis tournament, Tommy Haas claimed the trophy without facing a single break point.   At San Jose this year, Raonic faced only two break points, though Tobias Kamke converted one of them.  Two other players–Andy Murray at 2009 Queen’s Club and Roddick at Lyon in 2005–got through an event facing only three break points.

No breaks, and record-settingly few break points. If hard courts are truly becoming slower, it seems that someone forgot to tell Roger.

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Does Cincinnati Matter in Flushing?

After months of clay and grass tournaments, the best players on tour are finally competing on hard courts.  For many, Cincinnati is the extent of their North American hard court preparation leading up to the US Open.  No matter who wins this week, we’ll be tempted to anoint him the favorite in New York.  Should we?

Traditionally, Cincinnati features one of the strongest draws of the ATP season.  As the only tournament scheduled two weeks before the US Open, there are no alternatives for players preparing for the slam, and it still allows a week off.  This year’s draw, missing three top 10 players due to injury, is an aberration.

It’s no surprise, then, that the list of winners in Cincinnati is particularly impressive.  19 of the last 20 champions have career peak rankings of 1 or 2.  (The black sheep in the group is Thomas Enqvist, who “only” reached #4.)  Not only do the best in the world show up to play, they show up to win.

More than some warmups, Cincinnati seems to tell us who is in form.  Let’s see if tells us who is going to win the Open.

Since 1991, there have been four seasons when the same man lifted the trophy in Cincinnati and New York: Pat Rafter in 1998, Andy Roddick in 2003, and Roger Federer in 2005 and 2007.  Five more times, the Cincinnati winner reached the US Open final.  Not counting 1999, when Pete Sampras didn’t compete in Flushing, the Cincinnati champion has failed to reach the US Open round of 16 only twice in the last 21 years.

So, the Cincinnati winner has won the US Open about 20% of the time, and reached the final another 25%.  Sounds good, though not as good as we’d expect from the top seed.  On the other hand, Cincinnati winners aren’t always the top seed in New York, so we can’t expect them to perform at that level.

In fact, the Cincinnati winner has been the top seed in Flushing only six times.  On average, the Cinci champion has been seeded 4th in New York.  Compared to the performance we’d expect from a #4 seed, a 20% shot at winning the tournament, along with a nearly 1-in-2 chance of reaching the final, is extremely good.

Since 1991, #4 seeds at the US Open haven’t performed nearly so well during the final weekend as have Cincinnati champions.  Both groups have a roughly 6-in-10 chance of reaching the semis (#4 seeds: 57.1%, Cinci winners: 60%), but the #4 seeds have won only half of their semifinals, for a 28.5% chance of reaching the final, compared to the 45% of Cincinnati titlists.

The biggest difference is where it matters most: the final itself.  Cincinnati winners go on to win almost half of their US Open finals, winning 4 titles in 20 attempts, as we’ve seen.  But #4 seeds have won only 2 titles.  It’s not a huge sample, but if we expand our view to consider all four slams since 1991, the performance of #4 seeds stays about the same.

Much to my surprise, it seems that Cincinnati results do have something to say about the final rounds in Flushing.  This week’s winner isn’t exactly a lock to triumph in New York, but his performance in Ohio will tell us to expect that much more from him at the US Open.


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The High-Quality Cincinnati Draw

It’s tough to imagine a Master’s series event featuring a higher-quality field than the one assembled in Cincinnati this week.  With the exception of Robin Soderling, virtually every “name” player is present.  Just as importantly, almost all of the players awarded wild cards are legitimate competitors at this level.  The same is true of most of the seven men who qualified.

For tennis fans, it’s an enjoyable outcome: With the possible exception of Robby Ginepri, everyone present “deserves” to be here.  The event gave the other three wild cards to Ryan Harrison, Grigor Dimitrov, and James Blake, three men inside the top 85 who excel on hard courts.  Four of the top seeds in qualifying advanced to the main draw, all of whose current rankings put them right on the cusp of making the cut in the first place.

All this made me wonder: How does the Cincinnati draw compare to other 56-player Masters fields?  Is Cinci always this strong?

I’ve previous looked at the field quality of ATP 250s, so it was a small step to point the guns at the bigger tourneys.  Here are all 48- and 56-draw Masters events since 2009, along with the average entry rank and median entry rank of players in the field, sorted by the latter:

Year  Event        Field  AvgRank  MedRank  
2011  Madrid          56     37.7     30.0  
2010  Paris           48     38.1     30.5  
2011  CINCINNATI      56     50.1     31.5  
2010  Shanghai        56     56.5     31.5  
2009  Paris           48     57.5     31.5  
2009  Cincinnati      56     38.5     32.0  
2009  Montreal        56     83.6     32.5  
2010  Cincinnati      56     38.5     33.5  
2009  Rome            56     42.0     33.5  
2009  Shanghai        56     54.8     33.5  
2011  Rome            56     42.2     34.5  
2009  Madrid          56     43.6     34.5  
2011  Montreal        56     50.7     35.5  
2009  Monte Carlo     56     45.1     36.5  
2011  Monte Carlo     56     51.9     36.5  
2010  Rome            56     43.1     38.5  
2010  Toronto         56     57.7     40.5  
2010  Madrid          56     59.5     43.0  
2010  Monte Carlo     56     50.6     43.5

There’s not a huge difference in quality–after all, players are required to show up for most of these events–but there is a noticeable differentiation into “haves” and “have-nots.”  Of course Monte Carlo is near the bottom, as it is not mandatory.  Rome is required, but it does get skipped.  Madrid is an interesting case, as this year’s new schedule meant all the best players showed up, while last year, it was near the bottom of the list.

Setting aside Paris, which is near the top of the list because its field has eight fewer players, Cinci appears to consistently offer one of the best Masters fields.  This makes sense, as even if it weren’t a required stop on the tour, it’s a perfectly scheduled warm-up for the U.S. Open.

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ATP Cincinnati Predictions

If last week’s tournament in Montreal taught us anything, it’s that predicting the outcome of ATP matches is a fool’s errand.  With that in mind, let’s see what the draw has in store for us in Cinci!

The draw this week is what the Master’s series is all about.  With the exception of a couple of late withdrawals (Tsonga?) that may yet come down the pike, nearly every top player in the men’s game is in Cincinnati.  Andy Roddick is trying to return from injury; David Ferrer makes his summer hard-court debut, and we’re already set for a Federer/del Potro showdown in the second round.

Del Potro’s mere presence makes every tournament a little more interesting.  He’s laid a couple of eggs recently, losing to Gulbis and Cilic, but he tore up the spring hard court circuit and lost only to the best of the best on clay.  My ranking system still gives him a lot of respect, keeping him within the top five, which makes Federer’s route to the semifinals (heck, the third round!) look particularly challenging.

Djokovic (who, once again, is in Fed’s half) could face a slew of Americans on their home turf.  His probable second-round opponent is Ryan Harrison, who I favor heavily over Juan Ignacio Chela.  After that, it’s easy to see John Isner in the third round, and possibly Andy Roddick in the quarters.  It’s theoretically possible, but a little less likely that another American, James Blake, will make it through the semis to be Novak’s opponent in that round.

Here is my full projection.  For purity’s sake, it doesn’t reflect the results of today’s two matches, in which Delpo and Blake both advanced.

Player                        R32    R16     QF         W  
(1)Novak Djokovic          100.0%  90.1%  74.4%    29.61%  
(WC)Ryan Harrison           71.5%   8.6%   3.2%     0.07%  
Juan Ignacio Chela          28.5%   1.3%   0.3%     0.00%  
(q)Radek Stepanek           43.6%  18.2%   3.0%     0.09%  
John Isner                  56.4%  24.7%   5.0%     0.24%  
Andrey Golubev              23.2%   8.4%   1.0%     0.02%  
(16)Stanislas Wawrinka      76.8%  48.7%  13.0%     1.41%  

Player                        R32    R16     QF         W  
(11)Andy Roddick            63.7%  43.3%  23.0%     1.34%  
Philipp Kohlschreiber       36.3%  20.8%   9.1%     0.24%  
Juan Carlos Ferrero         23.9%   4.3%   0.9%     0.00%  
Feliciano Lopez             76.1%  31.6%  13.3%     0.29%  
Ivan Dodig                  39.4%  10.9%   3.9%     0.05%  
(q)Ernests Gulbis           60.6%  24.3%  11.6%     0.32%  
(6)Gael Monfils            100.0%  64.9%  38.2%     2.22%  

Player                        R32    R16     QF         W  
(3)Roger Federer           100.0%  58.9%  44.5%    10.38%  
Juan Martin del Potro       82.9%  38.8%  27.9%     5.00%  
Andreas Seppi               17.1%   2.4%   0.8%     0.01%  
(WC)James Blake             23.3%   8.1%   1.1%     0.01%  
Marcos Baghdatis            76.7%  46.2%  15.2%     1.02%  
Fabio Fognini               26.1%   7.6%   0.9%     0.01%  
(14)Viktor Troicki          73.9%  38.1%   9.6%     0.40%  

Player                        R32    R16     QF         W  
(9)Nicolas Almagro          62.0%  32.1%  14.0%     0.25%  
Albert Montanes             38.0%  13.8%   4.0%     0.03%  
Ivo Karlovic                32.6%  14.0%   4.6%     0.04%  
Florian Mayer               67.4%  40.2%  18.2%     0.56%  
Tommy Haas                  13.2%   0.8%   0.1%     0.00%  
Juan Monaco                 86.8%  28.8%  13.9%     0.21%  
(8)Tomas Berdych           100.0%  70.4%  45.3%     2.43%  

Player                        R32    R16     QF         W  
(5)David Ferrer            100.0%  75.5%  44.7%     2.52%  
(q)Marsel Ilhan             38.3%   7.5%   1.9%     0.00%  
(WC)Grigor Dimitrov         61.7%  17.0%   6.0%     0.05%  
Janko Tipsarevic            70.3%  31.7%  15.3%     0.43%  
(q)Edouard Roger-Vasselin   29.7%   8.2%   2.2%     0.01%  
Jurgen Melzer               44.2%  25.0%  12.0%     0.35%  
(10)Gilles Simon            55.8%  35.2%  17.9%     0.72%  

Player                        R32    R16     QF         W  
(15)Jo-Wilfried Tsonga      57.2%  46.4%  19.8%     2.28%  
Marin Cilic                 42.8%  32.7%  12.2%     0.85%  
(q)Alex Bogomolov Jr        57.7%  13.7%   3.0%     0.04%  
(WC)Robby Ginepri           42.3%   7.2%   1.1%     0.01%  
(q)Kei Nishikori            46.5%  10.6%   4.5%     0.14%  
David Nalbandian            53.5%  13.1%   5.9%     0.27%  
(4)Andy Murray             100.0%  76.3%  53.6%    10.62%  

Player                        R32    R16     QF         W  
(7)Mardy Fish              100.0%  63.6%  42.6%     3.59%  
Nikolay Davydenko           68.5%  28.8%  16.7%     0.99%  
Sergiy Stakhovsky           31.5%   7.6%   3.0%     0.04%  
Xavier Malisse              55.4%  21.5%   6.7%     0.11%  
Kevin Anderson              44.6%  15.4%   4.5%     0.04%  
Alexandr Dolgopolov         47.8%  29.6%  12.4%     0.39%  
(12)Richard Gasquet         52.2%  33.4%  14.0%     0.52%  

Player                        R32    R16     QF         W  
(13)Mikhail Youzhny         54.6%  28.3%   7.7%     0.41%  
Michael Llodra              45.4%  20.5%   4.9%     0.17%  
Thomaz Bellucci             36.9%  15.1%   3.1%     0.05%  
Fernando Verdasco           63.1%  36.0%  10.4%     0.61%  
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez      60.5%  13.3%   6.3%     0.19%  
(q)Julien Benneteau         39.5%   4.9%   1.8%     0.03%  
(2)Rafael Nadal            100.0%  81.8%  65.8%    18.36%

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