Monday Topspin: First-timers

New titlists: We have two first-time champions on the ATP tour: Pablo Andujar and Ryan Sweeting.  Andujar got better as the week went on in Casablanca, going three sets in the first round against Florent Serra, to a tiebreak against Jeremy Chardy in the second, and finally disposing of Potito Starace 6-1 6-2 in yesterday’s final.  He is definitely a man to watch over the next two months; he’ll next play in Barcelona.

Sweeting was the upset winner over Kei Nishikori in Houston, surprising just about everybody by playing so well on clay.  It was a very close match: the American won 51% of total points, and a lower percentage of service points than his opponent did.  Nishikori may be the more heralded prospect, but Sweeting is working his way up the scale.

New rankings: Champions Andujar and Sweeting are two of the biggest gainers in this week’s rankings, as both ascend to new career highs.  Andujar rises to #52, Sweeting to #67.  Also notable is Nishikori’s jump to #48, also a personal best for him.

The biggest losers are last year’s titlists in Casabalanca and Houston: Stanislas Wawrinka and Juan Ignacio Chela, neither of whom played this week.  Wawrinka drops two spots to #15, while Chela crashes 14 places to #42.

Challenger winners last week were Julian Reister, who breaks into the top 100 for the first time, Tatsuma Ito, who defeated the weak field in Recife, and Paolo Lorenzi, winner in Pereira.  Also of note is Tiago Fernandes, a wild card who reached the final in Recife before he withdrew.  His three-set battle with Julio Silva in the semifinals helped him jump 129 ranking points to #380.

Monte Carlo: If you missed them yesterday, be sure to check out the results of my Monte Carlo simulation.  My clay rankings are in many ways more interesting than the hard court rankings, since they differ so much more from the standard ATP list.

A couple interesting examples of the difference have already been on display.  Yesterday, oddsmakers heavily favored Alexandr Dolgopolov over Ernests Gulbis, only to see the higher-ranked Dolgo lose in straight sets.  By contrast, my system recognizes his three straight quarterfinal appearances in last year’s clay season, including a win over Roger Federer.  Accordingly, it saw the Gulbis win coming, giving the Latvian a 67% chance of advancing.

Here’s another one: Olivier Rochus just snuck by Chela in three sets.  Sportsbooks gave Chela a roughly 65% chance of winning, while my predictions set him at a more modest 54%.  Rochus has had plenty of success on clay, especially at the challenger level, while my system sees Chela as somewhat overrated on the surface.

Of course, we could cherry-pick all day, and we’d be sure to find plenty of examples where my system went wrong.  All I want to highlight is that predicting clay court results is tricky, and it’s easy to give too much weight to recent results (Dolgopolov) or clay reputation (Chela).

In addition to the two matches I’ve already mentioned, today has already seen a notable upset: Florian Mayer over Mikhail Youzhny.  It’s another strong step forward for Mayer, and a couple more wins on clay will get him in position for a seed at Roland Garros.  It’s an equally strong sign for Youzhny, who has seen his results yo-yo over the last few years.  His only strong showing so far in 2011 was a victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga back in February.

See you tomorrow!

4 thoughts on “Monday Topspin: First-timers”

  1. Mayer is incredibly tricky to play. Even watching him drives me crazy, with all his drop shots and off-speed shots. Youzhny is a rhythm player too, so not too surprised, although his game has gone off the boil.

    Interesting interview with Sweeting about how he played a lot on clay over the years. That bodes well for his Davis Cup career when they get sent on a Latin American or Spanish mission!

    1. Yep, I agree on Mayer. I hadn’t seen him for a while before watching him in Miami, and just watching his forehand backswing throws me off.

  2. The US Clay Court Championship is the only major event I know of that’s played on this funny “green clay” stuff. Supposedly faster than your regular red clay.

    1. Yep, I think you’re right. Strange event all around–it’s the clay court tournament for guys who don’t play on clay.

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