7. Five into three doesn’t go: forecasting the qualifiers for the ATP World Tour Finals

Gasquet and Raonic likely to miss out. Both Federer and Wawrinka to make it, Federer more comfortably than many think.

With the Shanghai Masters 1000 tournament completed, four players have qualified for the year-end ATP World Tour Finals in London. They are: Nadal, Djokovic, David Ferrer and, following his demolition of Nadal on Saturday, Juan Martin Del Potro. With Andy Murray withdrawing following back surgery, four places remain up-for-grabs; and the ninth person in the race will take Murray’s place.

The current standings of the so-called “Race to London” (to determine who qualifies for the year-end Tour Finals) look like this:

7 atp race to london

There are three weeks of tournaments remaining. They are:

  • This week (14 October): Stockholm, Moscow, Vienna. 250 points to the winner
  • Next week (21 October): Valencia, Basel. 500 points to the winner.
  • Two weeks’ time (28 October): Paris. 1,000 points to the winner.

So, there are a potential 1,750 points for a player to win. In theory it means even Kevin Anderson, ranked 20th in the Race to London, has the opportunity to qualify. And in 2001 (Sebastian Grosjean) and 2008 (Tsonga), the winner of the Paris Masters 1000 event booked the last place at the Tour Finals. (Both winners were French, which we’ll come back to.) However, the reality is that a player will not be able to put together a run of three weeks back-to-back given the depth of competition in the men’s game and attendant physical constraints. Save for some inspiration in Paris, when there are a large number of points available and where all players will play, a points differential right now of 200-300 points is significant.

Accordingly, given Tomas Berdych’s points advantage over his nearest challengers, he has all but qualified and should be confirmed at some point over the next two weeks. He would be the fifth player to qualify.

Forecasting the Qualifiers

With Berdych all but qualified, it is likely is that the remaining three places will come from what we’ll call the “Five”, those currently ranked 7 to 11: Wawrinka, Federer, Tsonga, Gasquet, Raonic.  (Given how far Tommy Haas is away from Tsonga in ninth, it is unlikely that Haas will qualify.)

What can we do to forecast who those three will be?

Firstly, I have taken an average over the past five years of the ATP points that each of the Five has earned in the last three weeks of the season. I have then applied a coefficient to that average to help determine whether we can expect a player to do better or worse this year. This coefficient is based on a comparison of a players’ Q1 to Q3 results between 2013 and 2012.

For example, over the last five years, Gasquet averages 116 points for these three weeks. However, he has gained more points in Q1 to Q3 this year than last year (about 30 per cent more) and so his coefficient is 1.3. Accordingly I have forecast that he will score 30 per cent more points for the last three weeks for the season: a total of 150 points.

Secondly, given the number of points available at the Masters 1000 event in Paris, I have given myself the option of applying a manual override to the forecast based on how well each of the Five players plays at the Masters 1000 event in Paris, and in France more generally. For example, of the Five players, Tsonga has won 68 per cent of his ATP matches in the last five years. That number rises to 78 per cent for ATP matches in France. In addition, Tsonga secured his place at the Tour Finals in 2008 with a run to the Paris title. Gasquet on the other hand has not historically performed better in France compared to his overall record.

Thirdly, the peculiarities of the ATP rankings system are such that only a certain number of lower tier tournaments can count towards a player’s Race to London points total. Without going into too much detail, Gasquet has to get to the final in Moscow this week to improve his overall points total; Tsonga to the final in Vienna; and Raonic to the semi-final in Stockholm. Not impossible tasks by any means, but potentially a lot of fatigue for not too many points. On the other hand, any match wins for Federer will count towards his year end total because he has played a smaller number of tournaments.

Finally, we should acknowledge, quite literally, “the luck of the draw”. The Basel tournament (beginning 21 October) will feature an elite field: four of the Five contenders in the same tournament, in addition to Nadal, Del Potro and Berdych. The draw will be crucial: avoiding Nadal and Del Potro until the semi-finals could be the difference between qualifying and not qualifying for the Tour Finals. All players will avoid Andy Murray, currently recovering from back surgery. In my forecast, I have applied an arbitrary 10 per cent increase to each of the Five’s points total as Murray’s absence would surely mean that one of the Five contenders would advance further in a tournament where Murray might have blocked him.

The forecast

7 Forecast ATP Race to London

So not much change from the current situation.

  • Federer should make it, save for a bad draw in Basel and Paris.
  • Tsonga essentially has to do as well in Vienna as Gasquet does  in Moscow and has Paris in his pocket if he needs it.
  • Wawrinka needs one more good tournament and is resting this week. Like Federer, his one good tournament might be his home tournament in Basel.
  • Gasquet and Raonic need to play well this week and probably “go deep” in Paris to force their way in. Both have played a lot of tennis over the last three weeks.

We’ll pick this up again on future posts of Cleaning the Lines.

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