Friday Topspin: Bopanna, Blake, and a Bagel

If you’ve found your way here from the Wall Street Journal, welcome! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read what Carl Bialik has to say in today’s paper, and in an online follow-up.  I’ve written at length about my rankings and prediction system and published full odds for Indian Wells here.

Big day for qualifiers: 10 of the 12 qualifiers played in opening round at Indian Wells yesterday, and six of those came through with victories, including four Americans.  Because the top 32 players are seeded with byes, those six qualifier wins don’t include any massive upsets, but that doesn’t take away from the individual accomplishments.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is Michael Russell‘s victory over Kevin Anderson–Anderson is near his career high ranking and is only six weeks removed from his first career title.  Also of note is Ryan Sweeting‘s win against Marcel Granollers, a strong player on hard courts.

There are only two qualifiers in the bottom half of the draw: Rohan Bopanna, who plays the young Aussie Bernard Tomic, and Chris Guccione, who drew James Blake.

Del Potro serves a bagel: Radek Stepanek may be past his prime, but he’s still a tricky opponent.  That didn’t stop Juan Martin del Potro, who defeated the Czech 6-4 6-0.  Del Potro won an astonishing 58% of points against Stepanek’s first serve.

Next, the Argentine faces Ivan Ljubicic, and he has to be favored in that match as well.  Sure, Ljubicic is the defending champion, but his body isn’t 100%, and we have to resume looking at del Potro the way we saw him 18 months ago–he’s certainly playing that way.

On the card: The two best matches today are the ones with qualifiers involved.  Guccione played two solid matches in qualifying, going straight sets in both, needing a tiebreak only once.  Both contests were against Spanish clay-courters, though, so they hardly guarantee a good showing against Blake.  Their styles presage quite the battle, as the match pits Guccione’s serve against Blake’s once world-class return game.

And then there is Bopanna-Tomic.  Tomic is rapidly becoming a tennis “bad boy,” and not in the vaguely charming sense of Andre Agassi wanting to wear black at Wimbledon.  Bopanna, on the other hand, is impossible not to like, between his inspirational doubles partnership with Aisam Qureshi, his persistence in singles, and his hard-fought battle in last weekend’s Davis Cup.

Betting odds heavily favor Tomic, as does common sense.  But if you’re ever going to cheer for an underdog, this is the time to do it.

Everybody in: When I said “best matches” a moment ago, I might have been limiting myself to singles.  Seven of the top 10 singles players in the world are playing doubles–and that’s just on today’s schedule.

Last week I marveled at the doubles entry list, saying that “for now, all that’s missing is Federer/Wawrinka.”  Not any more.  The Swiss players are not only in the draw, but they’re on Stadium 1 today, facing in the second seeds Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor.  Rafael Nadal and Marc Lopez are also playing a center-court doubles match today.

More results: Indian Wells is rightfully dominating our attention, but there’s still plenty of tennis being played elsewhere.

I haven’t mentioned the Kyoto challenger at all this week–not that great of a draw, really.  But credit where credit is due: Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, a 20-year-old German, qualified for the main draw and has since plowed through the likes of Yuichi Sugita and Andre Begemann to reach the semifinals.  He’s building a great start to the season, having won two futures tournaments in Turkey.  This week’s showing should get him into the top 300 for the first time.

In Texas at USA F7, Devin Britton has qualified and reach the quarters, his best result since last September.  Also in the quarters is Wayne Odesnik, who isn’t finding the level of competition very challenging.

A little later on today, I’ll post the hard-court-specific rankings generated by my system.  Be sure to check back in a few hours.

Indian Wells Projections

If you’ve found your way here from the Wall Street Journal, welcome! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read what Carl Bialik has to say in today’s paper, and in an online follow-up.

I’ve developed a fairly sophisticated algorithm to predict the outcome of tennis matches.  It seeks to remedy some of the flaws in the present ranking system and do a better job of forecasting which players will perform better at certain times, on certain surfaces, against certain opponents.

In the past, I’ve written about the predictiveness of ATP ranking points–which are pretty darn good, for all their flaws.  By just about any standard, however, my system is better.  It’s not perfect–it’s far, far from it–but it does give you a valid second opinion on a player’s abilities at any given time.

The components

My algorithm does several things that traditional ranking points do not.  Here are a few of the components:

  • Points are awarded based on the quality of opponents, not on the round or tournament.  Thus, beating Mikhail Youhzny in the quarterfinals in Moscow is worth the same as the semifinals of Indian Wells.  Losing to a low-ranked player counts against you more than losing against Roger Federer.
     
  • These points, and everything else, are adjusted for surface.  Beating Federer counts for more on hard courts than on clay; beating Juan Carlos Ferrero is the opposite.
     
  • The algorithm generates a set of overall rankings, and it also generates two sets of surface-specific rankings, one for clay courts, one for everything else.  (There isn’t enough data on indoor hard courts or grass courts to treat them separately from any other type of fast court.)  So for Indian Wells, I’m using the hard-court rankings.  Of course, this drastically impacts the chances of many players.
     
  • The points awarded for any tournament are also based on how recent the event was.  Beating Andy Murray last week is more relevant than beating him last year.  Thus, Milos Raonic does better in my rankings (24th overall) than in the ATP rankings (37th).  Sure, it would help if Raonic had played more ATP-level events last year, but my algorithm recognizes that February results count for more than wins from last June.
     
  • My system considers matches from the last two years, not just one year, as the ATP rankings do.  This and the ‘recency’ adjustment remedy what I consider to be the most ridiculous part of the ATP ranking system.  A player can fall dozens of spots in the rankings simply because a tournament result “falls off.”  
     
     So, a match from 51 weeks ago tells us a lot about a player’s current skill level, but a match from 53 weeks ago does not?  In my system, both are counted; a match from 51 weeks ago counts for about 55-60% of the value of a match from last week, while a match from a few weeks earlier counts for a little less.
     
  • Grand slams count for a bit more, but not a lot more.  The main reason for this is that the winner of a five-setter is more likely to the more skilled player than the winner of a three-setter.  A couple of bad bounces in a tiebreak can turn a three-setter against you, but it’s awfully hard to win a five-setter with luck.
     
  • There is a bit of home court advantage in tennis, though with the increasing use of the challenge system (which limits officiating bias), it seems to be decreasing.  It still exists, and it’s considered.
     
  • For whatever reason, it appears that qualifiers and wild cards do worse in ATP main draw matches than my system would otherwise expect.  So they are penalized a small amount.
     
  • Finally, there is a head-to-head component.  It turns out that the head-to-head component can’t improve that much on the rankings-based algorithm, but it does have some value.  So I do consider the history of each matchup, giving a slight edge to the player who has won more matches in the past.  (Depending, of course, on how long ago it was, what surface the matches were on, and so on.)

Whew!

Thanks for reading this far.

As I post this, a few matches have already been played.  But these numbers were generated this morning, after the full draw was released.  It shows the probability that each player reaches each round of the tournament.  I’ll have a little more to say at the bottom.

Player            R64   R32   R16    QF    SF     F     W 
(1)Nadal         100% 94.6% 78.3% 56.3% 40.1% 24.1% 13.0% 
(q)De Voest       54%  3.1%  0.8%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Riba              46%  2.3%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Sweeting       42%  8.4%  0.8%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Granollers        58% 17.2%  2.0%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(27)Monaco       100% 74.4% 17.7%  7.5%  2.9%  0.8%  0.2% 
(19)Baghdatis    100% 86.1% 52.9% 21.3% 11.3%  4.7%  1.6% 
(q)Devvarman      43%  5.0%  1.0%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Mannarino         57%  8.9%  2.2%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Cipolla        28%  4.0%  0.7%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Malisse           72% 22.1%  6.6%  1.5%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0% 
(15)Tsonga       100% 73.9% 36.7% 12.2%  5.9%  2.0%  0.6% 

(11)Almagro      100% 81.5% 51.0% 22.4%  7.8%  2.7%  0.8% 
(q)Russell        45%  8.1%  2.0%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Anderson          55% 10.4%  3.1%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Istomin           41% 13.1%  4.6%  1.0%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
Nieminen          59% 24.4%  9.3%  2.8%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0% 
(23)Montanes     100% 62.5% 30.2% 10.8%  3.1%  0.8%  0.2% 
(28)Simon        100% 73.1% 27.2% 14.5%  4.6%  1.4%  0.4% 
Schuettler        40%  8.3%  1.2%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Haase             60% 18.7%  4.0%  1.3%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Matosevic      29%  2.7%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Karlovic          71% 12.7%  5.0%  1.8%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0% 
(6)Ferrer        100% 84.6% 61.9% 44.1% 22.2% 10.8%  4.4% 

(4)Soderling     100% 89.0% 71.0% 46.8% 27.3% 15.8%  7.6% 
Phau              37%  3.0%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Berrer            63%  8.0%  3.4%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Smyczek        48% 10.5%  1.1%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Marchenko         52% 13.4%  1.5%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(32)Kohlsch.     100% 76.1% 22.0%  7.7%  2.3%  0.6%  0.1% 
(20)Dolgopolov   100% 68.8% 24.4%  8.9%  2.8%  0.9%  0.3% 
Hanescu           39% 10.5%  1.8%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Seppi             61% 20.8%  4.9%  1.1%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
Stepanek          30% 12.1%  6.7%  2.3%  0.8%  0.2%  0.1% 
(PR)Del Potro     70% 46.4% 35.6% 20.8% 11.1%  6.1%  2.9% 
(14)Ljubicic     100% 41.6% 26.5% 10.6%  4.4%  1.7%  0.5% 

(9)Verdasco      100% 86.2% 60.7% 23.2% 10.1%  4.2%  1.3% 
(WC)Berankis      52%  7.4%  2.2%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Bogomolov      48%  6.3%  1.7%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Tipsarevic        71% 34.2% 12.2%  3.3%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0% 
Kamke             29%  8.2%  1.7%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(21)Querrey      100% 57.6% 21.5%  5.8%  1.5%  0.4%  0.1% 
(25)Robredo      100% 70.8% 16.9%  7.6%  2.2%  0.6%  0.1% 
Zverev            62% 20.9%  2.9%  0.8%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Ebden          38%  8.3%  0.8%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Young          37%  2.2%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Starace           63%  6.3%  2.6%  0.7%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(5)Murray        100% 91.4% 76.3% 57.7% 35.6% 21.5% 11.1% 

(8)Roddick       100% 84.9% 63.0% 43.4% 21.7%  8.7%  3.9% 
(WC)Blake         63% 11.3%  4.5%  1.4%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0% 
(q)Guccione       37%  3.8%  1.1%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Ram-Hidalgo       34%  5.1%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Mello             66% 16.4%  2.7%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(30)Isner        100% 78.4% 28.1% 12.6%  3.6%  0.8%  0.2% 
(18)Gasquet      100% 73.4% 34.8% 14.2%  4.6%  1.2%  0.3% 
Cuevas            72% 22.8%  6.7%  1.7%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0% 
Andujar           28%  3.9%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Benneteau         46% 16.1%  7.1%  2.3%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0% 
Lopez             54% 18.9%  9.0%  3.1%  0.8%  0.2%  0.0% 
(10)Melzer       100% 65.0% 41.9% 20.4%  8.2%  2.7%  0.9% 

(16)Troicki      100% 82.3% 40.1% 10.5%  4.3%  1.1%  0.3% 
(q)Bopanna        30%  3.1%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(WC)Tomic         70% 14.6%  3.1%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Giraldo           55% 14.6%  6.0%  1.0%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0% 
Gim-Traver        45% 10.9%  3.8%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(24)Llodra       100% 74.5% 46.7% 15.8%  7.1%  2.2%  0.7% 
(31)Gulbis       100% 56.7% 12.5%  6.0%  2.3%  0.6%  0.1% 
Hewitt            75% 37.3%  7.5%  3.7%  1.4%  0.4%  0.1% 
Lu                25%  6.0%  0.6%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Mayer             66% 12.7%  7.2%  3.8%  1.6%  0.4%  0.1% 
Golubev           34%  3.7%  1.5%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(3)Djokovic      100% 83.6% 70.8% 57.7% 42.5% 24.8% 15.4% 

(7)Berdych       100% 84.1% 64.8% 33.2% 12.6%  5.6%  2.3% 
Kukushkin         48%  7.6%  2.8%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Kubot             52%  8.3%  3.1%  0.5%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
De Bakker         48% 20.6%  5.3%  1.3%  0.2%  0.0%  0.0% 
Becker            52% 21.9%  5.9%  1.5%  0.2%  0.1%  0.0% 
(26)Bellucci     100% 57.4% 18.1%  4.9%  0.9%  0.2%  0.0% 
(17)Cilic        100% 81.7% 37.2% 20.7%  6.6%  2.6%  1.0% 
Gabashvili        49%  9.6%  1.5%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Serra             51%  8.7%  1.2%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Davydenko         84% 49.6% 32.8% 21.0%  8.7%  4.4%  2.1% 
Fognini           16%  3.5%  1.1%  0.3%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
(12)Wawrinka     100% 47.0% 26.2% 15.5%  5.2%  2.2%  0.9% 

(13)Fish         100% 64.5% 41.9% 13.0%  6.4%  2.7%  1.1% 
(WC)Raonic        81% 33.0% 17.9%  4.3%  1.7%  0.6%  0.2% 
Ilhan             19%  2.5%  0.6%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
(WC)Harrison      26%  5.7%  1.0%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Chardy            74% 32.1% 12.0%  2.4%  0.8%  0.2%  0.1% 
(22)Garcia-Lopez 100% 62.2% 26.6%  5.9%  2.3%  0.8%  0.2% 
(29)Chela        100% 59.2%  7.7%  2.6%  0.7%  0.2%  0.0% 
Petzschner        66% 30.5%  3.4%  1.1%  0.3%  0.0%  0.0% 
Brown             34% 10.3%  0.7%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0%  0.0% 
Andreev           41%  3.0%  1.4%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0%  0.0% 
Nishikori         59%  6.4%  3.7%  1.4%  0.4%  0.1%  0.0% 
(2)Federer       100% 90.6% 83.1% 68.7% 52.4% 36.7% 24.5%

You’ll probably notice right off that Federer and Djokovic have the best chances of winning. Indeed, they are the top two players on hard courts, according to my rankings. Yes, Nadal has won the slams lately, but he has also lost to a few players he shouldn’t have (Baghdatis, Melzer, Garcia-Lopez) in the recent past. I personally wouldn’t put money on Federer over Nadal in the final, but my algorithm disagrees.

A few other players my system likes are Juan Martin Del Potro, Nikolay Davydenko, and Marcos Baghdatis. It picks out some players for scoring wins over top-ranked players. It likes Del Potro both because of his strong record in the last few weeks and because the algorithm still considers his torrid summer of 2009, leading up to his U.S. Open win.

One more thing, and then I’ll shut up for now. In the first-round matches, there are very few that stray beyond a 70/30 split. Even Tomic-Bopanna is 70/30, and Bopanna barely plays singles. The narrow divides are partly because no top players are involved in the first round, but it also shows you the depth of the men’s game — even someone ranked outside of the top 150, like Flavio Cipolla, has a decent chance of advancing.

Of course, Flavio doesn’t have quite the same odds against Tsonga, and you can tell from Nadal’s second round odds that neither Pere Riba nor Rik de Voest stand much of a chance against him.

Enjoy the tennis … and the numbers.

Thursday Topspin: Rohan Bopanna, Singles Champion

Indians at Indian Wells: It’s no surprise that Somdev Devvarman came through qualifying–he was the second seed and won both his matches in straight sets.  Rohan Bopanna, on the other hand–he may have been the lowest ranked player in the qualifying draw.

Yet, after a tough three-setter against Peter Polansky and a tight two-tiebreak match against top seed Daniel Brands, Bopanna finds himself in the main draw.  This is the first time he’s made it this far in singles at a 1000-level event.  He’ll face wild card Bernard Tomic in the first round.  If he wins, he faces none other than Viktor Troicki, the man who he pushed to five sets in Davis Cup last week.

Opportunities for qualifiers: The 96-player draw is unusual, and it gives a big opportunity to qualifiers and others who just missed the cut.  In most draws, non-seeded players can show up just to face Rafael Nadal in the first round.  Here, you’re guaranteed to get at least one match against someone outside the top 30.

A couple of players in position to take advantage of the format are Ryan Sweeting and Matthew Ebden.  Sweeting plays the Spainard Marcel Granollers in the first round and would then face Juan Monaco, one of the most beatable seeds in the tourney.  Ebden battles Mischa Zverev for a chance to play Tommy Robredo.

Match of the day: The top half of the draw is in action, meaning a lot of qualifiers get to play their third match in three days.  That doesn’t apply, however, to the marquee event: Juan Martin Del Potro vs. Radek Stepanek.  Stepanek can be a challenge for any player, and that might be particularly true for Del Potro, who has faced a barrage of aggressive big servers in Memphis and Delray Beach.

If I were setting the schedule, the undercard would be the matchup of Richard Berankis and Alex Bogomolov Jr. Bogie is playing well, having just won the title in Dallas and qualified here, and of course Berankis has big potential.

Elsewhere: Speaking of big potential, Grigor Dimitrov isn’t going to display it this week.  Seeded #1 in Sarajevo, he lost in the first round to Karol Beck.  That means no semifinal matchup with Dmitri Tursunov, though the Russian is through to the second round thanks to an injury to Igor Sijsling.

Miami wild cards: We’re already talking about the next tournament, apparently.  Miami has given main draw slots to James Blake, Ryan Harrison, Jack Sock, Milos Raonic, and Tomic.  I’m a bit surprised by the love for Tomic stateside; yes, he’s young and talented, but he’s only a fan favorite until the fans get to know him.  After he showed up in Dallas and tanked a match, you have to wonder why the Miami tournament is doing this for him.

After all, I’m guessing Evgeny Donskoy is available.

See you tomorrow!

Wednesday Topspin: Start hydrating

Indian Wells draw: The most interesting quarter, by far is Robin Soderling‘s.  In the first round, Juan Martin Del Potro must face Radek Stepanek–most likely an easy match for the Argentine, but with both players’ health issues, you never know.  The winner plays defending champion Ivan Ljubicic–again, an outcome that will depend in part on injury status.

The winner of that match will probably play Alexandr Dolgopolov, and whoever comes out on top then, most likely, gets Soderling.

In the other half of that quarter are Andy Murray and Fernando Verdasco, both guys with a shot at winning the tournament.  Verdasco, however, will probably need to beat Richard Berankis in his first match.

Also of note: James Blake faces a qualifier in the first round, and if he wins, he draws Andy Roddick.  Milos Raonic opens up against Marsel Ilhan, and the winner faces Mardy Fish.  Raonic-Fish could easily be the highlight of the second round.  Another potential second-rounder is Roger Federer vs. Kei Nishikori, assuming Nishikori beats Igor Andreev.

It’s nice to have all the top players in the world together again, isn’t it?

Speaking of Milos: Raonic’s rapid rise is creating all sorts of oddities.  He’s currently ranked 37th, and since he doesn’t have many points to defend, a decent performance at either Indian Wells or Miami will push him into the top 32.   Once there (or even close), he’ll be seeded at the French Open.  I wonder how many times it has happened that a player has to qualify for one grand slam and then is seeded at the next?

Miami creates another unique situation for the Canadian.  Because the cut is determined so early, Raonic is not yet in the main draw of Key Biscayne.  Anyone ranked higher than 78th got into the main draw.  As is, Milos will be the top seed in qualifying (ranked in the 30s!), unless he gets a wild card, or enough players withdraw to move him into the main draw the old-fashioned way.

A little more from the desert: Yesterday was the first day of qualifying, and frankly, it wasn’t very interesting.  But one result stuck out: Rohan Bopanna took down Peter Polansky, 7-6(6) 3-6 7-5.  Bopanna has never had much success as a singles player, but his five-set effort against Viktor Troicki has got to have given him some confidence.

Today, Bopanna will face top seed Daniel Brands for a spot in the main draw.

Little brother: A single note from Futures this morning:  One of the qualifiers at Ukraine F2 is 17-year-old Leonard Stakhovsky.  Yep, he’s Sergiy’s brother.  He currently has a lone ranking point to his name, but he’ll get at least one more this week.  After winning three matches to get into the tournament, he beat Grzegorz Panfil, a Pole ranked in the top 500, to reach the second round.

Sergiy withdrew from Indian Wells, so this may be the first week that Leonard has the best result of the family.

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday Topspin: Back in the USSR

This is what we in the tennis blogging world call a “slow news day.” Davis Cup is over, and the Indian Wells main draw hasn’t been released. Oh well, we’ll make do.

Star maps: Indian Wells has done a great job ensuring that the game’s young stars are in the main draw, granting wild cards to Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Ryan Harrison, and Richard Berankis.  Any tournament that gives more than half of its wild cards to foreign players gets a thumbs up from me.

Missing from the draw, however, is Grigor Dimitrov.  The Bulgarian followed the European challenger circuit to Sarajevo, where he will again be the top seed.  Also following the circuit is Nicholas Mahut, Dimitrov’s opponent in last week’s final.  The more interesting potential opponent for the Bulgarian, though, is in his half of the draw: fourth-seeded Russian Dmitri Tursunov.

Others to watch: Like I said, slow news day, so let’s glance through the futures draws.  Bizarrely, Marc Gicquel is playing France F4 in Lille.  His stock has fallen in the last couple of years, but one would hope that (a) he’s getting a nice appearance fee, and (b) he wins easily.

In McAllen, Texas, at USA F7, here’s an unlikely pair of wild cards: 16-year-old Thai-Son Kwiatkowski and drug cheat Wayne Odesnik.  Odesnik has been on entry lists the last couple of weeks but hasn’t played; I wonder if he decided he wouldn’t play qualifying and has waited for his next wild card.  It’s an interesting draw beyond those two, as well.  Joining the Texas futures swing are two American 19-year-olds, Jordan Cox and Andrea Collarini.

That Russian Davis Cup team: Without Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youhzny, Russia’s Davis Cup team last weekend was the weakest it has put forth in a long time.  While Russia lost to Sweden, Kazakhstan triumphed over the Czechs and moved into the quarterfinals.

Of course, Kazahstan (among many other countries in Europe and Asia) used to be part of the USSR.  The Soviets were generally not much of a factor, spending only five years in the World Group.  But my oh my, what a team they would have right now.

Of course, the Russian contingent isn’t that bad.  You have the Kazakhs.  There are two Ukrainians in the top 40.  Belarus sports one of the best doubles players in the world in Max Mirnyi.  Even Latvia and Lithuania each have a player in the top 100.

Which got me wondering: What would Russian tennis look like if it still spanned the entire USSR?  Here are the singles rankings:

13   Mikhail Youzhny         RUS  
23   Alexander Dolgopolov    UKR  
34   Ernests Gulbis          LAT  
38   Sergey Stakhovsky       UKR  
39   Andrei Goloubev         KAZ  
42   Nikolay Davydenko       RUS  
55   Denis Istomin           UZB  
62   Mikhail Kukushkin       KAZ  
74   Richard Berankis        LTU  
77   Teimuraz Gabashvili     RUS  
96   Igor Andreev            RUS  
99   Ilia Marchenko          UKR  
103  Igor Kunitsyn           RUS  
104  Dmitry Tursunov         RUS  
125  Yuri Schukin            KAZ  
144  Alexandre Koudriavtsev  RUS  
153  Konstantin Kravchuk     RUS  
197  Jurgen Zopp             EST  
200  Vladimir Ignatik        BLR

Pretty impressive, huh?  With a potential doubles team of Mirnyi/Stakhovsky, you could come with a Davis Cup team on par with anyone except for a healthy Spain or France.

Alas, the Russians will have to settle for watching their former compatriots.

See you tomorrow!

Prospect Rankings, 3/7/11

I’m always on the lookout for promising young tennis talent, and I know I’m not the only one. According to the most recent ATP rankings, here are the top 20 players in the world who are, respectively, 18 or younger, 20 or younger, and 22 or younger. It’s a great way to get some perspective on guys like Marin Cilic and Donald Young–it’s easy to forget that they are still so young.

One note on the 18-and-under list: As far as I can tell, the Australia F2 results didn’t go on the computer this week, so next week Benjamin Mitchell will get credit for his tournament win. I believe that will move him into 5th place, ahead of David Souto.

18 AND UNDER
152  Ryan Harrison            USA    5/7/92  
187  Bernard Tomic            AUS  10/21/92  
334  Facundo Arguello         ARG    8/4/92  
405  Diego Schwartzman        ARG   8/16/92  
443  David Souto              VEN   3/26/92  
460  Denis Kudla              USA   8/17/92  
491  Yuki Bhambri             IND    7/4/92  
519  Alexander Rumyantsev     RUS   8/16/92  
524  Benjamin Mitchell        AUS  11/30/92  
535  Jason Kubler             AUS   5/19/93  
545  Agustin Velotti          ARG   5/24/92  
559  Carlos Boluda            ESP   1/22/93  
582  Tiago Fernandes          BRA   1/29/93  
592  Jack Sock                USA   9/24/92  
607  Renzo Olivo              ARG   3/15/92  
624  Suk-Young Jeong          KOR   4/12/93  
639  Yasutaka Uchiyama        JPN    8/5/92  
652  Roberto Carballes-Baena  ESP   3/23/93  
656  Richard Muzaev           RUS   3/21/92  
675  Micke Kontinen           FIN  12/18/92  

20 AND UNDER
37   Milos Raonic        CAN  12/27/90  
71   Grigor Dimitrov     BUL   5/16/91  
74   Richard Berankis    LTU   6/21/90  
140  Federico del Bonis  ARG   10/5/90  
152  Ryan Harrison       USA    5/7/92  
165  Jerzy Janowicz      POL  11/13/90  
187  Bernard Tomic       AUS  10/21/92  
200  Vladimir Ignatik    BLR   7/14/90  
205  Evgeny Donskoy      RUS    5/9/90  
213  Marius Copil        ROU  10/17/90  
219  David Goffin        BEL   7/12/90  
224  Andrey Kuznetsov    RUS   2/22/91  
229  Filip Krajinovic    SRB   2/27/92  
252  Alexander Lobkov    RUS   10/7/90  
273  Jonathan Eysseric   FRA   5/27/90  
275  Ilya Belyaev        RUS    8/9/90  
289  Rafael Camilo       BRA   3/13/90  
290  Guillaume Rufin     FRA   5/26/90  
292  Pablo Carreno       ESP   7/12/91  
295  Javier Marti        ESP   1/11/92  

22 AND UNDER
20   Marin Cilic            CRO   9/28/88  
23   Alexander Dolgopolov   UKR   11/7/88  
34   Ernests Gulbis         LAT   8/30/88  
37   Milos Raonic           CAN  12/27/90  
53   Thiemo de Bakker       NED   9/19/88  
59   Adrian Mannarino       FRA   6/29/88  
63   Kei Nishikori          JPN  12/29/89  
71   Grigor Dimitrov        BUL   5/16/91  
72   Pere Riba              ESP    4/7/88  
74   Richard Berankis       LTU   6/21/90  
90   Juan Martin del Potro  ARG   9/23/88  
117  Benoit Paire           FRA    5/8/89  
124  Joao Souza             BRA   5/27/88  
140  Federico del Bonis     ARG   10/5/90  
143  Donald Young           USA   7/23/89  
152  Ryan Harrison          USA    5/7/92  
165  Jerzy Janowicz         POL  11/13/90  
167  Thomas Schoorel        NED    4/8/89  
169  Martin Klizan          SVK   7/11/89  
172  Roberto Bautista       ESP   4/14/88 

Monday Topspin: Kazakhstan is not weak

(Yes, I know the Seinfeld reference is about the Ukraine.  It seemed appropriate nonetheless.)

Sure, Radek Stepanek didn’t play, and Tomas Berdych may not have been 100 percent.  But really, did anybody see Kazakhstan advancing to the World Group quarterfinals?  Wow.

The hero for the Kazakhs was Andrey Golubev who, astonishingly, defeated Berdych in yesterday’s fourth rubber to even the tie.  That set the stage for the underrated Mikhail Kukushkin to clinch the victory by winning his match against Jan Hajek, exhausted from his five-set effort on Friday.  Next, the Kazakhs will play in Argentina, which may just be winnable for them, depending on who is healthy enough to represent the Argentine side.

The other drama-filled tie yesterday was in Zagreb, between Croatia and Germany.  After Marin Cilic handily won the fourth rubber, both captains went with substitutes, so the tie was decided by Ivo Karlovic and Philipp Petzschner.  It’s too bad Ivan Dodig was too worn out to play again; I’m liking this guy more every week, and I suspect he could’ve beaten either Petzchner or Florian Mayer.  As it was, Karlovic wasn’t strong enough, and the Germans advance to a tough quarterfinal matchup with France.

Elsewhere: In Cherbourg, Grigor Dimitrov took the final in straight sets against Nicholas Mahut.  It must have felt good: In Dimitrov’s last final, he played Mahut and lost in three.  In Dallas, Alex Bogomolov Jr. beat Ranier Schuettler for his second challenger-level championship since November.

Rankings update: Since it was a Davis Cup weekend, there’s very little movement at the top of the rankings.  Juan Monaco, Golubev, Jeremy Chardy, and Somdev Devvarman all gained a few spots thanks to their wins in live rubbers, while Joachim Johansson lept more than 200 places to 537th.

With his victory in Cherbourg, Dimitrov ascends to 71st, a new career high for the Bulgarian.  Bogomolov gains 24 spots to #128, and Andres Molteni, champion in Salinas, breaks into the top 200 for the first time, landing at #185.

Indian Wells: Another day, another withdrawal: It seems like I just mentioned Tommy Haas‘s comeback, to find out that he isn’t playing this week after all.

Looking at the entry lists, what’s fun about the upcoming tournament is that nearly everyone is playing doubles.  In addition to the usual pairs, Rafael Nadal is teaming with Marc Lopez, Novak Djokovic with Viktor Troicki, Robin Soderling with Jarkko Nieminen, Andy Murray with brother Jamie, and Tomas Berdych with Janko Tipsarevic.  I’m sure we’ll see a few of these teams withdraw, but for now, all that’s missing is Federer/Wawrinka.

Check back later today–I’ve got an interesting new feature I’ll be adding to the site.