Monday Morning: Roddick, Raonic, Rankings

Raonic and Roddick: The big story from the weekend is, once again, Milos Raonic.  He fought Andy Roddick to a third set in the Memphis final, before falling to this highlight reel shot.  While he didn’t match his result from San Jose, his run in Memphis was more impressive, as he beat Fernando Verdasco (again), Radek Stepanek, and Mardy Fish to get as far as he did.

Raonic has climbed all the way to 37 in the ATP rankings, guaranteeing him entry to just about every tournament for the rest of the year.  This week, he’s one of the few players jumping to Acupulco, where he’ll meet Carlos Berlocq in the first round and face a possible second-round matchup with Alexander Dolgopolov.

Given Milos’s extreme serve-oriented game, it’s tough to imagine him having much success on clay–at least right now.  Indeed, he only played two matches on clay in all of 2010, and those were Davis Cup against Colombia.  (He lost both.)  You have to go back to 2009 to find some tournament results on clay, and let’s just say those aren’t pretty.

Elsewhere: In other finals yesterday, Robin Soderling beat Marin Cilic, and Nicholas Almagro beat Juan Ignacio Chela.  Both men won their second consecutive tournament.  Raonic ensured that the US circuit has gotten the most attention, but the quality of play in Europe and South America has probably been higher.  Marseilles was only an ATP 250, but four of the top 11 players, plus Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, were in the draw.

Wozniacki #1: Caroline Wozniacki won in Dubai, giving her the #1 spot in the WTA rankings.  That sparked a lengthy back-and-forth at which reveals one problem with any ranking system: It’s not at all clear what it’s supposed to accomplish.  It is supposed to be fair, whatever that means?  Should it work like a club ladder?  Which sorts of players should it allow into tournaments?

These are all tough questions, and the presence of Kim Clijsters and the Williams sisters–extremely talented players who are not #1 but could win any tournament they enter–makes it all the more complicated on the women’s side.

I’ve tinkered a fair bit with alternative methods of ranking players, and a frequent surprise is that the rankings are actually pretty good at predicting who will win any given match.  There are various ways to make them a little better, but if a primary goal of the rankings is to present an understandable system to the fans, nothing I’ve devised constitutes an improvement.

This week: The men are playing in Acupulco, Delray Beach, and Dubai.  The lineups in Acupulco and Delray Beach look familiar, since they aren’t that different from Buenos Aires and Memphis, respectively.

Dubai, though, looks like they spent some serious money on appearance fees, with both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic on board.  It’s too bad Soderling is taking the week off; it would be nice to see him in his current form against one or both of those guys.

Most of the top women are in Doha, including Wozniacki, while Acupulco is hosting a WTA event as well.

Check back tomorrow for updates on these tournaments, and more.

Introduction to Heavy Topspin!

My name is Jeff Sackmann, and I am fascinated by professional tennis.

The goal of is to provide running commentary on the tennis world, from an analytical perspective.  As a hardcore fan and a numbers guy, I’ve often been frustrated by the lack of tennis statistics.  While entire industries have sprung up offering quantitative analysis of sports such as baseball and football, we still talk about tennis more or less the same way we always have.

Don’t worry–this site isn’t going to be full of equations, computer code, and decimal points.  (Okay, there might be a bit of that.)  On the flip side, we won’t be discussing who’s dating whom, or why Serena is going out in public dressed like that.

I’ll be writing about what happens on court, and I’ll try to make some sense out of it as we go along.

You can subscribe to the site with this RSS feed, and you should follow me on Twitter.

Talk to me in the comments, in this post or any post.  And enjoy!