Why More Players Should Have Skipped the Olympics

The Olympics only come every four years, and they have everything: precious metals, prestige, and national pride, along with extremely fit and horny women.

That’s good enough for most top players.  18 of the top 20 men are slated to participate, and nearly every player in the 64-man draw is ranked inside the top 100.  This is a Masters-quality field, if not a touch better.

But aside from status and off-court perks, the competitors will not be rewarded accordingly.  The ATP treats the Olympic singles event as less than a Masters tournament, giving the winner 750 ranking points and the runner-up 450.  As Ben Rothenberg has pointed out, that means the silver medalist–probably one of the top four players in the world–will receive fewer points that week than the winner in Washington.  Only one player in top 20 (Mardy Fish) is scheduled to compete in the US event.

More players should have made the sensible decision, skipping the Olympics in favor of Washington, perhaps adding Los Angeles or Kitzbuhel as well.  Ranking points are as cheap at those events as they are expensive in London.

At a gut level, it’s unthinkable to skip the Olympics.  All those intangibles count for a lot.  If you’re a top-ten player, a few hundred extra ranking points wouldn’t make much of a difference, and an extra $50,000 in prize money barely registers.  For mid-packers, though, “intangibles” sounds like a cynical euphemism for no money and a mediocre ranking boost.

Consider the case of Mardy Fish, the highest ranked player to opt for Washington over London.  Based on a simulation of possible Olympic draws (see below for details), Fish could expect to net about 80 ranking points at the Olympics.  The odds would favor him to win an opener, give him a decent shot at reaching the round of 16, and then turn against him.  Two or three matches, no prize money, not much national pride.

In Washington, the story is much different.  There, Fish is the runaway favorite.  If he’s healthy (a big if), he has at least a 1 in 5 chance of winning the tournament.  By my simulation, he can expect to gain 176 ranking points (with, of course, a decent chance of as many as 500), along with a cool $72,000.

An even more instructive example is that of Donald Young.  Young is in the midst of a horrible losing streak, and he’ll head to London with a roughly 2 in 3 chance of heading home without a single victory.  Expected ranking points: 24.

For Young, more is at stake than a few thousand dollars in prize money.  He reached the semis in Washington last year, so he is defending 180 points this week.  Losing all of those points will probably knock him out of the top 80.  There’s a big difference between a ranking in the 50s and one in the 80s: The first gets you direct entry into almost every tournament; the second leaves you in qualifying (unseeded, sometimes!) for most Masters.  Had Young elected to play Washington, he could have expected to defend at least half of his points.  That wouldn’t just earn him about $30,000 for his week’s work, it would give him a ranking that would make it enormously easier for him to earn points and prize money for the next several months.

The American’s situation is unique in that he may be at a crossroads in his career.  But the same reasoning applies to every player who doesn’t feel like he has a legitimate shot at a medal.  The odds are against Radek Stepanek reaching the second round in London–he’ll lose almost all of the 500 points he’s defending from last year’s Washington title.  Or Carlos Berlocq: It’d be hard to back the dirtballing counterpuncher at a grass-court challenger.  He could’ve spent next week as a top-four seed on clay, at Kitzbuhel.

Maybe for Stepanek, Berlocq, or even Young, the experience will be worth it.  But every scheduling decision made by a player–especially a veteran–has an impact on his prospects for months to come.  Is the experience worth dropping down to qualifying at the next several Masters-level events?  Would missing the experience be acceptable in exchange for getting a cheap ranking boost and earning a seed at the U.S. Open?

As much as it goes against our nationalist, media-driven instincts, Mardy Fish, Alexander Dolgopolov, and a very small number of other non-Olympians made the smart choice.  As the first-round losers start to pile up next weekend in London, Washington will look like an excellent place to be.

After the jump, find a quick explanation of my tournament simulations, along with expected ranking points and prize money for top players in Washington and London.

To determine “expected ranking points” and “expected prize money,” I started with the current fields for both Washington and the Olympics.  The 64-man field is set for London, with Feliciano Lopez replacing Rafael Nadal.  Qualifiers and WCs are undetermined for Washington, so I used the first eight men on the alternates list instead.  If anything, that overstates the quality of the Washington field, since a few more players will probably withdraw, and the wild cards are unlikely to be as strong as the first few alternates, who are all ranked in the top 130.

With those projected fields, I used this week’s rankings to determine seedings, and then randomly generated brackets for monte carlo simulations of the two events.  Given each player’s chance of reaching each round, we can calculate a weighted average of each player’s points and prize money.  For instance, Fish has a ~20% chance of winning Washington (500 points, $252,000), a ~30% chance of reaching the final (300 points, $114,000), and so on.

Listed below are all the players scheduled to be in action at one of the two events, ranked by expected ranking points. The players I used to stand in for qualifiers and wild cards in Washington are also included, even though many of them may not end up in the main draw.

Event  Player                           p(W)  ePts     e$  
OLY    (2)Novak Djokovic (SRB)         24.8%   309      0  
OLY    (1)Roger Federer (SUI)          22.4%   293      0  
OLY    (3)Andy Murray (GBR)            11.4%   206      0  
WASH   (1)Mardy Fish (USA)             20.5%   177  72053  
OLY    (4)David Ferrer (ESP)            6.7%   159      0  
OLY    (8)Juan Martin del Potro (ARG)   5.4%   139      0  
OLY    (5)Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA)      5.2%   137      0  
WASH   (2)Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR)     9.3%   117  43662  
WASH   (8)Sam Querrey (USA)             9.4%   116  43103  
WASH   (3)Kevin Anderson (RSA)          7.5%   105  37923  

Event  Player                           p(W)  ePts     e$  
OLY    (6)Tomas Berdych (CZE)           2.8%   103      0  
WASH   (6)Tommy Haas (GER)              6.0%    93  33053  
WASH   Xavier Malisse (BEL)             6.1%    89  32440  
OLY    (10)John Isner (USA)             2.1%    88      0  
OLY    (7)Janko Tipsarevic (SRB)        1.5%    81      0  
OLY    (15)Gael Monfils (FRA)           1.6%    78      0  
WASH   Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP)     4.5%    77  27317  
WASH   (5)Benoit Paire (FRA)            3.6%    74  25334  
WASH   Benjamin Becker (GER)            4.1%    74  25884  
OLY    (13)Marin Cilic (CRO)            1.3%    73      0  

Event  Player                           p(W)  ePts     e$  
OLY    (16)Kei Nishikori (JPN)          1.2%    71      0  
WASH   (7)Jeremy Chardy (FRA)           2.9%    67  22754  
WASH   Nicolas Mahut (FRA)              3.0%    63  22023  
WASH   Igor Andreev (RUS)               2.8%    62  21495  
OLY    (12)Juan Monaco (ARG)            0.8%    62      0  
OLY    Andy Roddick (USA)               1.1%    61      0  
WASH   James Blake (USA)                2.6%    60  20640  
OLY    David Nalbandian (ARG)           1.0%    59      0  
WASH   Jesse Levine (USA)               2.4%    58  19924  
OLY    (11)Gilles Simon (FRA)           0.7%    57      0  

Event  Player                           p(W)  ePts     e$  
OLY    Mikhail Youzhny (RUS)            0.9%    56      0  
OLY    (9)Nicolas Almagro (ESP)         0.6%    56      0  
OLY    (14)Fernando Verdasco (ESP)      0.6%    54      0  
OLY    Milos Raonic (CAN)               0.8%    53      0  
WASH   Marinko Matosevic (AUS)          1.9%    52  18046  
WASH   Bjorn Phau (GER)                 1.8%    52  17849  
OLY    Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI)         0.7%    52      0  
WASH   Matthew Ebden (AUS)              1.8%    52  17731  
OLY    Richard Gasquet (FRA)            0.7%    50      0  
WASH   Michael Russell (USA)            1.7%    50  17193  

Event  Player                           p(W)  ePts     e$  
OLY    Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER)      0.6%    49      0  
WASH   Jurgen Zopp (EST)                1.4%    47  16140  
WASH   Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA)     1.3%    46  15794  
OLY    Jurgen Melzer (AUT)              0.5%    45      0  
OLY    Feliciano Lopez (ESP)            0.5%    45      0  
OLY    Bernard Tomic (AUS)              0.5%    44      0  
WASH   Flavio Cipolla (ITA)             1.1%    43  14820  
OLY    Marcos Baghdatis (CYP)           0.4%    42      0  
WASH   Tobias Kamke (GER)               1.0%    41  14169  
OLY    Ivo Karlovic (CRO)               0.3%    40      0  

Event  Player                           p(W)  ePts     e$  
WASH   Igor Kunitsyn (RUS)              0.8%    38  13472  
WASH   Paul Capdeville (CHI)            0.8%    37  13175  
OLY    Victor Troicki (SRB)             0.3%    37      0  
OLY    Radek Stepanek (CZE)             0.3%    36      0  
OLY    Nikolay Davydenko (RUS)          0.2%    36      0  
OLY    Grigor Dimitrov (BUL)            0.2%    33      0  
OLY    Ryan Harrison (USA)              0.2%    33      0  
OLY    David Goffin (BEL)               0.2%    32      0  
OLY    Denis Istomin (UZB)              0.2%    32      0  
WASH   (4)Pablo Andujar (ESP)           0.4%    32  11438  

Event  Player                           p(W)  ePts     e$  
OLY    Andreas Seppi (ITA)              0.1%    31      0  
OLY    Jarkko Nieminen (FIN)            0.1%    31      0  
OLY    Ivan Dodig (CRO)                 0.1%    31      0  
WASH   Tommy Robredo (ESP)              0.5%    31  11363  
OLY    Lukasz Kubot (POL)               0.1%    30      0  
WASH   Paul-Henri Mathieu (FRA)         0.4%    28  10836  
OLY    Steve Darcis (BEL)               0.1%    28      0  
OLY    Lukas Lacko (SVK)                0.1%    27      0  
OLY    Santiago Giraldo (COL)           0.1%    26      0  
OLY    Thomaz Bellucci (BRA)            0.1%    26      0  

Event  Player                           p(W)  ePts     e$  
OLY    Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ)          0.1%    26      0  
OLY    Dmitry Tursunov (RUS)            0.1%    25      0  
OLY    Alejandro Falla (COL)            0.1%    25      0  
OLY    Donald Young (USA)               0.1%    25      0  
OLY    Alex Bogomolov Jr (RUS)          0.1%    25      0  
OLY    Lu Yen-Hsun (TPE)                0.1%    24      0  
OLY    Olivier Rochus (BEL)             0.1%    24      0  
OLY    Sergiy Stakhovsky (UKR)          0.0%    23      0  
OLY    Gilles Muller (LUX)              0.0%    23      0  
WASH   Leonardo Mayer (ARG)             0.2%    23   9502  

Event  Player                           p(W)  ePts     e$  
OLY    Robin Haase (NED)                0.0%    22      0  
WASH   Federico Delbonis (ARG)          0.2%    22   9354  
OLY    Vasek Pospisil (CAN)             0.0%    21      0  
OLY    Malek Jaziri (TUN)               0.0%    21      0  
OLY    Fabio Fognini (ITA)              0.0%    20      0  
OLY    Tatsuma Ito (JPN)                0.0%    20      0  
WASH   Joao Souza (BRA)                 0.1%    20   8981  
WASH   Horacio Zeballos (ARG)           0.1%    19   8901  
OLY    Go Soeda (JPN)                   0.0%    19      0  
OLY    Martin Klizan (SVK)              0.0%    19      0  

Event  Player                           p(W)  ePts     e$  
OLY    Somdev Devvarman (IND)           0.0%    18      0  
OLY    Blaz Kavcic (SLO)                0.0%    18      0  
WASH   Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo (ESP)      0.0%    16   8272  
OLY    Carlos Berlocq (ARG)             0.0%    14      0  
OLY    Lleyton Hewitt (AUS)             0.0%    14      0  
OLY    Adrian Ungur (ROU)               0.0%    11      0

3 thoughts on “Why More Players Should Have Skipped the Olympics”

  1. Don’t you think the points are cheaper at Washington because the other players are at London?

    1. That’s a big part of why. If 1 player switched, he’d get a really good deal–i.e. he’d have a shot at considerably more points. If 2 players switched, both players would get a better deal, though not as good as the first one. Eventually, some number of switchers would make things even out, but I’d guess it would take 6 or 7 of the top 20, even without considering prize money.

  2. Totally love the way you approach stats. And I dig your writing style tool. In the opening paragraph of this post, I agree with the precious metals, prestige, and national pride. But the horny women part only applies to the men who are interested in women. None of the top athletes are out, but statistically, quite a number of them would be more interested in horny men.

Comments are closed.