Dominic Thiem played Davis Cup in Barcelona. Sort of…

This is a guest post by Peter Wetz.

Last week Dominic Thiem fought his way into the finals of the Barcelona Open by winning against Kyle Edmund, Daniel Evans, Yuichi Sugita, and Andy Murray. Three of these four players play for the same flag and Thiem won against each of them. Thiem is not exactly a champion of the current Davis Cup format–he has opted out of playing for Austria several times and has a rather poor record of 2-3 when he does compete–but in Barcelona he has, at least, shown that he can beat several players from the same country over a short amount of time. And that’s what Davis Cup is about, right?

In this post my goal is to put this statistical hiccup into some context. It is not the first time the Austrian defeated three players of the same nationality at one event: In 2016 at Buenos Aires Thiem already beat three players from Spain. However, given that Spanish players appear much more frequently in draws than Britons do, I will take a closer look.

Since 1990, there have only been three tournaments where a single player faced three players from Great Britain. And only one of these players who faced three Britons won each encounter. The following table shows the three tournaments and each of the matches where a player from Great Britain was faced by the same player. Wally Masur is the only player since 1990 who defeated three players from Great Britain in a single tournament. Thiem remains the only player who achieved this in a tournament outside of the island.

Tournament     Round Winner        Loser           Score
'93 Manchester R32   Wally Masur   Ross Matheson   6-4 6-4
'93 Manchester R16   Wally Masur   Chris Wilkinson 6-3 6-7(4) 6-3
'93 Manchester QF    Wally Masur   Jeremy Bates    6-4 6-3

'97 Nottingham R32   Karol Kucera  Martin Lee      6-1 6-1
'97 Nottingham SF    Karol Kucera  Tim Henman      6-4 2-6 6-4
'97 Nottingham F     Greg Rusedski Karol Kucera    6-4 7-5

'01 Nottingham R32   Martin Lee    Lee Childs      6-4 5-7 6-0
'01 Nottingham R16   Martin Lee    Arvind Parmar   6-4 6-3
'01 Nottingham QF    Greg Rusedski Martin Lee      6-3 6-2

Obviously, there are not many chances to face three Britons in a single tournament. And when one of those opponents is likely to be Andy Murray, a player’s chances of beating all three are even slimmer.

Let’s broaden the perspective a bit and take a look at how often a player defeated three (or more) players from the same country without looking only at Great Britain. The following table displays the results of this analysis. The first column contains the country, the second column (3W) shows how often a player defeated three players of this country, the third column (3WL) shows how often a player defeated two players of this country and then lost to a player of the same country, and so on.

Country  3W  3WL  4W  4WL  5W  5WL
USA      119 179  19  30   1   4
ESP      98  157  17  18   3   2
FRA      28  45   5   2    1   0
ARG      22  26   5   3    0   0
GER      15  18   1   1    0   0
AUS      13  9    0   0    0   0
SWE      9   16   1   0    0   0
CZE      4   5    0   0    0   0
NED      4   4    0   0    0   0
RUS      4   3    0   0    0   0
ITA      2   3    1   0    0   0
BRA      1   3    1   0    0   0
GBR      1   2    0   0    0   0
CHI      1   1    0   0    0   0
SUI      1   1    0   0    0   0

As we could have imagined, USA, ESP, and FRA come out on top here, simply, because for years they have had the highest density of players in the rankings. These are also the only countries of which a player was faced five times at a single tournament. Facing a player of the same country six or more times never happened according to the data at hand. The following table shows the most recent occasions of the entries printed in bold in the above table (5W).

Tournament    Round Winner        Loser             Score
'91 Charlotte R32   Jaime Yzaga   Chris Garner      7-6 6-3
'91 Charlotte R16   Jaime Yzaga   Jimmy Brown       6-4 6-4
'91 Charlotte QF    Jaime Yzaga   Michael Chang     7-6 6-1
'91 Charlotte SF    Jaime Yzaga   M. Washington     7-5 6-2
'91 Charlotte F     Jaime Yzaga   Jimmy Arias       6-3 7-5
'07 Lyon      R32   Sebastien Gr. Rodolphe Cadart   6-3 6-2
'07 Lyon      R16   Sebastien Gr. Fabrice Santoro   4-6 6-1 6-2
'07 Lyon      QF    Sebastien Gr. Julien Benneteau  6-7 6-2 7-6
'07 Lyon      SF    Sebastien Gr. Jo Tsonga         6-1 6-2
'07 Lyon      F     Sebastien Gr. Marc Gicquel      7-6 6-4
'08 Valencia  R32   David Ferrer  Ivan Navarro      6-3 6-4
'08 Valencia  R16   David Ferrer  Pablo Andujar     6-3 6-4
'08 Valencia  QF    David Ferrer  Fernando Verdasco 6-3 1-6 7-5
'08 Valencia  SF    David Ferrer  Tommy Robredo     2-6 6-2 6-3
'08 Valencia  F     David Ferrer  Nicolas Almagro   4-6 6-2 7-6

Finally, we take a look at the big four. Did they ever eliminate three or more players from the same country in a single tournament? Yes, they did. In 2014 Roger Federer beat three Czech players in Dubai. In 2005, 2008, and 2013 he beat three German players in Halle. In 2009 Andy Murray beat three Spanish players in Valencia. In 2007 Novak Djokovic beat three Spanish players in Estoril. In 2013 Rafael Nadal beat three Argentinian players both in Acapulco and Sao Paolo. In 2015 he even beat four Argentinian players in Buenos Aires. And there are many other examples where Rafa beat three of his countrymen at the same tournament.

We can see that this happens fairly often, specifically for countries where the tournament is organized, because more players of this country appear in the draw due to wild cards and qualifications. If we exclude these cases, Federer’s streak in Dubai stands out, as does Thiem’s streak in Barcelona.

Peter Wetz is a computer scientist interested in racket sports and data analytics based in Vienna, Austria.

Monday Topspin: Down From a Mountain

Nadal, again: It doesn’t get much more anticlimactic than Rafael Nadal winning Barcelona.  In his five matches, he lost 21 games; he lost more than two games in only three of his ten sets.

I’m not sure whether David Ferrer will ever manage to beat Nadal on clay–based on the last two weeks, it’s not going to happen anytime soon–but Ferrer does make things interesting.  The outcome is never really in doubt, but Ferrer is one of the few guys (Andy Murray is another, I’m sure Novak Djokovic will add himself to the list soon) who can challenge Nadal in rallies on clay.  Ferrer even managed to string together a few strong points and break serve in the second set yesterday.

I’m standing behind my earlier prediction that Nadal will lose a match on clay, but I’m having a hard time visualizing it.

Rankings: By reaching the semifinals in Barcelona, Nicholas Almagro reached the top 10 for the first time, displacing Mardy Fish.  Ivan Dodig, the other semifinal loser this week, also reached a career high, rising 12 places to #44.

The winner at the Napoli challenger was Thomas Schoorel, who gained 9 places to hit #117, a second career high in as many weeks.  In Santos, Joao Souza won the title, jumping 27 spots to #148.

This week’s loser is Fernando Verdasco, who didn’t even try to defend his title in Barcelona.  He falls three places to #15.  Last year’s finalist, Robin Soderling, stays at #5 but loses 245 points, roughly half of his lead over #6 Ferrer.

Belgrade: This week there are three ATP 250s, and we’re just finishing up qualifying in all of them.  The Belgrade field is headlined by Serbian heroes Djokovic and Viktor Troicki, but the most noteworthy man in the draw is Fernando Gonzalez.  Freddy hasn’t played since the U.S. Open, and he hasn’t won a match since the first round of last year’s French.  He’ll face qualifier Martin Klizan in the first round.

Estoril: The tournament in Portugal probably features the strongest draw of this week’s three events.  Soderling and Verdasco anchor the top and bottom of the draw, respectively, while Milos Raonic and Juan Martin del Potro are among the remaining seeds.  Verdasco faces a potentially dangerous second-round draw in Federico Gil, who reached the quarters in Monte Carlo.

Also of note: favorite Flavio Cipolla (he’s even smaller than Simone Vagnozzi!) qualified for the main draw with a decisive 6-0 6-3 victory over Pablo Carreno-Busta.  World #488 Pedro Sousa, from Portugal, also qualified, beating top seed Albert Ramos in three sets.  Be careful: Also in the main draw is Portuguese wildcard Joao Sousa, who should not be confused with the Brazilian Joao Souza, winner in Santos last week.

Munich: This event is the only one this week without a top-10 player.  Still, the quality of play may be a bit higher than in Belgrade, with Mikhail Youhzny, Marin Cilic, and Stanislas Wawrinka in the field.

Among the qualifiers are Robert Farah, who defeated Dmitri Tursunov in the second round of qualifying, and 20-year-old Russian Andrey Kuznetsov, who beat both Bjorn Phau and Martin Fischer to reach the main draw.  Also worth mentioning is fast-rising Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, who beat both Federico del Bonis and Paul Capdeville before losing a three-setter in the qualifying round to Julian Reister.

It may be a rest week for some of the top players, but there’s more than enough to keep us busy until the next Masters Series event.  See you tomorrow!

Wednesday Topspin: Lucky Winners

Bye bye bye: It only happens a few times a year, and it entertains me every time.  Both Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych had byes in the first round of Barcelona, and both withdrew.  They were replaced by lucky losers, who then got byes straight to the second round.  Good deal, right?  Lose in the qualifying round, then find yourself in the round of 32.

Unfortunately, neither Rui Machado nor Mischa Zverev could convert on their opportunity.  Machado, who replaced Berdych, lost to Kei Nishikori, while Zverev, who took Murray’s place, fell in a close contest to Juan Carlos Ferrero.  Ferrero may benefit the most from Murray’s departure–Nicholas Almagro is the main obstacle now between JC and a semifinal berth.

In fact, the bottom quarter is the most interesting in the draw.  Earlier today, 16th-seed Juan Monaco won only five games in a loss to 5’8″ Italian qualifier Simone Vagnozzi, about as lowly an underdog as you’ll find in an ATP 500.  Vagnozzi only advanced to the second round thanks to Fabio Fognini’s retirement in the first, and today’s victory marks the highlight of his journeyman career.  Vagnozzi is Ferrero’s next opponent.

Almagro may have his work cut out for him, as well.  Nikolay Davydenko reminded us that he’s still alive by knocking out Alexandr Dolgopolov yesterday, and he faces the relatively easy challenge of qualifier Eduoard Roger-Vasselin in the second round.

Catching up: I wasn’t able to follow Barcelona qualifying over the weekend, and looking back at how it played out, there are a couple of things worth mentioning.  Doubles specialist Marc Lopez, who rarely plays singles these days, took a wild card, then got to a third-set tiebreak against Jarkko Nieminen in the qualifying round.  Not bad–he might have fared better against Carlos Berlocq than Nieminen did yesterday.

Up-and-coming clay courter Evgeny Donskoy was the lowest-ranked player in qualifying, yet he beat 9th seed Jesse Huta Galung in the first round, then lost Vagnozzi in the qualifying round.  Oddly, those two faced each other only a couple of months ago in a Futures-level final, and that day, the Russian came out on top.

Looking forward:  Still on the card for today is Milos Raonic’s second-rounder, against Simon Greul, as well as the Davydenko match.  Robin Soderling will begin his Barcelona campaign as well, against Ivan Dodig, who took a set from the Swede back in Miami.  Soderling’s standing as the last man to beat Rafael Nadal on clay makes him one to watch.  He’s seeded to face Nadal in the semis this week.

By the time you read this, Nadal will probably be into the round of 16.  He’s up 5-0 on Daniel Gimeno-Traver, in a match where at least one oddsmaker set DGT at 81-1.  Rafa’s next victim will be Santiago Giraldo, who you wouldn’t think has any more of a chance.

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday Topspin: A New Big Man

Not so wild: Last week marked a big accomplishment for Dutchman Thomas Schoorel–he won his first challenger-level title, and ascended to a career-high ranking of #126.  It’s now more than a big week, it’s a big nine days.

Schoorel entered this week’s tournament in Napoli with points to defend–last year at this time, he won a futures event in Italy.  The task was challenging–after a week of beating guys with rankings in the 100s, he drew top-seeded wild card Jeremy Chardy.  Today, he proved himself up to the task, dismissing Chardy in straight sets.  It will only get easier from here–in the second round, he draws world #256 Pavol Cervenak.

The Dutchman is a lefty standing 6’8″, a combination that surely makes it tough for first-time opponents.  His 22nd birthday was a couple of weeks ago, and with his new ranking, he’s among the top 15 players at his age or younger.

Also in Napoli: Thomas Muster is turning into an object lesson for former pros considering a comeback.  It’s a rare man who returns to the tour with any level of success, but Muster is setting new lows.  This week, he fell to Uladzimir Ignatik 6-3 7-5, moving his record on the year to 0-4.  I’m sure the former #1 is drawing the crowds … but that’s why there’s a champions tour.

Nadal’s next victims: In Barcelona, we’re still plowing through an uneventful first round.  Of the seven final scores so far today, the headline-grabber is Juan Carlos Ferrero’s successful return to the tour, as he dropped only six games in beating Xavier Malisse.  He’ll face Andy Murray in the second round, if the Brit plays–his elbow is still an issue, and he may withdraw.  If he does, it will create one of my favorite quirks of the tournament entry system–a lucky loser will get a bye into the second round.

The best matches of the day are still to come.  The second round gets underway as Gael Monfils plays Robin Haase, in a match that has upset potential, if only due to Monfils’s rustiness and the usual crapshoot of whether good Gael or bad Gael takes the court.  Finishing up the first round, Milos Raonic plays Radek Stepanek and Alexandr Dolgopolov takes on Nikolay Davydenko.

Yesterday I ran a full projection of the draw–if you haven’t seen it, click here.

That’s all I’ve got for today–see you tomorrow!

Barcelona Projections

It’s not quite Monte Carlo, but it may be the strongest field of any ATP 500 this year. Below find the full draw, along with each player’s chances of reaching each round.

One thing you may notice is the relatively low chance of Nadal winning the tournament. Intuitively, it’s tough to imagine him losing. For this sort of projection, 39% is actually fairly high for any one player, but Nadal on clay, of course, is in a class by himself. If the sportsbooks odds last week are anything to go by, my system just isn’t built to handle such extreme players.

With all that said, there are definitely some interesting matchups in the early rounds, and some tight matches in the first round that might not otherwise make the headlines. My system stubbornly loves Davydenko, to the extent of making him the favorite over Dolgopolov tomorrow, something that very few humans outside the Davydenko family would agree with.


Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W 
(1)Rafael Nadal         100% 94.2% 85.2% 71.5% 52.1% 39.0% 
D Gimeno Traver          50%  3.0%  1.2%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0% 
Potito Starace           50%  2.7%  1.1%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0% 
R Ramirez Hidalgo        40%  8.2%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(WC)Albert Ramos         60% 17.2%  1.2%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0% 
Santiago Giraldo         37% 25.3%  2.8%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0% 
(13)Thomaz Bellucci      63% 49.4%  8.1%  3.6%  1.2%  0.4% 
Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W 
(9)Richard Gasquet       70% 56.4% 29.0%  7.0%  2.7%  1.1% 
Juan Ignacio Chela       30% 18.2%  5.5%  0.7%  0.1%  0.0% 
Tobias Kamke             50% 12.5%  2.8%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0% 
Blaz Kavcic              50% 12.9%  2.9%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Flavio Cipolla        29%  3.7%  1.0%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Robin Haase              71% 18.6%  7.9%  1.1%  0.2%  0.1% 
(7)Gael Monfils         100% 77.6% 50.9% 13.6%  5.6%  2.5% 
Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W 
(3)Robin Soderling      100% 91.5% 75.6% 55.9% 25.8% 16.2% 
(q)Vincent Millot        42%  3.0%  0.9%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Ivan Dodig               58%  5.5%  2.0%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0% 
Robert Kendrick          45%  9.2%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Simon Greul           55% 12.9%  1.4%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0% 
Radek Stepanek           38% 28.5%  5.9%  2.2%  0.4%  0.1% 
(15)Milos Raonic         62% 49.4% 13.5%  6.3%  1.4%  0.5% 
Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W 
(12)G Garcia Lopez       60% 36.1% 12.7%  3.3%  0.7%  0.2% 
Denis Istomin            40% 18.9%  5.0%  1.0%  0.1%  0.0% 
Feliciano Lopez          63% 31.2%  9.7%  2.2%  0.4%  0.1% 
Mikhail Kukushkin        37% 13.8%  3.1%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0% 
Kei Nishikori            71% 22.7% 13.2%  3.6%  0.7%  0.2% 
Pere Riba                29%  4.4%  1.6%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
(5)Tomas Berdych        100% 73.0% 54.8% 23.6%  7.8%  3.7% 
Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W 
(6)Jurgen Melzer        100% 78.5% 54.7% 26.7% 11.0%  3.1% 
Marcel Granollers        53% 12.0%  5.1%  1.1%  0.2%  0.0% 
Daniel Brands            47%  9.5%  3.8%  0.8%  0.1%  0.0% 
(q)Benoit Paire          74% 27.9%  7.8%  1.7%  0.3%  0.0% 
(WC)P Carreno Busta      26%  4.8%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Teymuraz Gabashvili      28% 14.4%  3.7%  0.8%  0.1%  0.0% 
(11)Albert Montanes      72% 52.8% 24.3%  8.8%  2.9%  0.5% 
Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W 
(14)Kevin Anderson       45% 18.1%  3.6%  1.1%  0.2%  0.0% 
Pablo Cuevas             55% 26.1%  5.7%  2.0%  0.4%  0.1% 
Andrey Golubev           69% 42.9% 13.0%  5.9%  1.7%  0.4% 
Victor Hanescu           31% 12.9%  2.2%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0% 
(q)Jarkko Nieminen       55%  8.4%  3.5%  1.2%  0.2%  0.0% 
Carlos Berlocq           45%  5.4%  2.1%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0% 
(4)David Ferrer         100% 86.2% 69.8% 48.7% 26.9% 10.6% 
Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W 
(8)Nicolas Almagro      100% 86.4% 56.5% 27.4% 14.6%  4.8% 
(WC)G Granollers Pujol   21%  1.0%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Pablo Andujar            79% 12.6%  3.8%  0.7%  0.2%  0.0% 
(WC)Andrey Kuznetsov     51%  9.8%  1.8%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0% 
(q)E Roger-Vasselin      49% 10.2%  1.8%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0% 
Nikolay Davydenko        60% 50.1% 24.8% 10.7%  5.4%  1.7% 
(10)Alexandr Dolgopolov  40% 29.8% 11.2%  3.9%  1.5%  0.3% 
Player                   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W 
(16)(WC)Juan Monaco      67% 45.3% 13.4%  4.9%  1.9%  0.4% 
Grigor Dimitrov          33% 16.8%  2.9%  0.7%  0.2%  0.0% 
Fabio Fognini            67% 29.1%  5.8%  1.7%  0.5%  0.1% 
(q)Simone Vagnozzi       33%  8.8%  0.9%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Xavier Malisse           40%  5.0%  2.2%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0% 
Juan Carlos Ferrero      60% 10.7%  5.8%  2.1%  0.7%  0.1% 
(2)Andy Murray          100% 84.2% 69.0% 46.7% 30.7% 13.6%

Monday Topspin: Seven in a Row

King of Clay: It’s no shocker, but it’s still mighty impressive.  Rafael Nadal won his 7th consecutive Monte Carlo championship, defeating David Ferrer in a tight match.  It’s a sign of just how dominant Rafa is on clay that his last two matches actually represent a step forward for the field–Andy Murray took a set on Saturday, and there was very little separating Nadal and Ferrer yesterday.

In fact, if I were a fellow player watching those matches, I might think–for the first time in at least a year–that Nadal can be beaten.  Murray showed that you can beat him (at least for a string of several games) at his own game, with a heavy dose of patient defense and the occasional attack.  Yesterday, Rafa was off his game, and it was enough to give Ferrer several chances.  In fact, here’s a bold prediction for you: I’m going on record saying that Nadal will lose a match on clay this year.

Betting on it: I don’t think the oddsmakers agree with me.  The betting lines on Nadal’s matches last week were absolutely off the charts.  Before Rafa’s second-rounder with Jarkko Nieminen, at one point you could have gotten 120-1 odds on the Finn.  Sportsbooks were giving both Richard Gasquet and Ivan Ljubicic about a 3.5% chance of winning, and even Andy Murray merited only a 9% chance.  Hey, maybe those odds are correct, but … a top 5 player going off at 11-1?  Amazing.

Rankings: The biggest points gainer of the week is Ferrer, who improved on his previous result in Monte Carlo, but he stays at #6, merely closing the gap separating him from Robin Soderling.  Other players whose rankings benefited from the tournament include Milos Raonic, up 6 places to #28, Ivan Ljubicic, up 7 to #33, and surprise quarterfinalist Frederico Gil, up 18 to a new career high of #64.

Two challenger winners climbed to new career highs: Matthias Bachinger, champion in Athens, breaks into the top 100 for the first time at #99, while Thomas Schoorel, the Rome titlist, jumps 36 places to 126.  Also notable is Tallahassee winner Donald Young, up 24 to #98.

The loser of the week is, without question, Fernando Verdasco.  Finalist last year in Monte Carlo, he lost his first match and his place in the top 10, falling four places to #12.

Barcelona: The first round in Spain is in progress, and after the star-studded cast in Monte Carlo, it’s a bit of a letdown.  While there’s plenty of firepower at the top of the draw–Nadal, Murray, Ferrer, and Soderling are all present–the top eight seeds have byes in the first round, leaving something that looks more like Monte Carlo qualifying.  The highlight of today’s action is probably the last match of the day, between Juan Monaco and Grigor Dimitrov.

We’ll have to wait until tomorrow for the biggest story of the opening round: the return of Juan Carlos Ferrero.  He hasn’t played since last year’s U.S. Open, and has seen his ranking fall to #77 in that time.  He’ll begin with a match against Xavier Malisse for a chance to play Murray.

Beyond that, it’s a clay-courter’s paradise.  14 of the 56 men in the main draw are Spainards, and the percentage of locals may climb even higher after the first round.  Also of interest in the country count: There’s only one American in the draw, and it’s Robert Kendrick.  That must be a first for him at the ATP level.

Housekeeping: As regular readers surely noticed, I wasn’t able to keep up my daily schedule last week.  Unfortunately, that’s probably a sign of things to come.  I’ll keep posting as much as my schedule allows.

Also, later today, as soon as I can get my databases updated, I’ll post my projections for Barcelona.  It will be a little silly with so much of the first round on record, but I like to get this stuff on record.