Indian Wells briefing: part 3

Rank disaster

In the ATP rankings, US tennis has never been in a worse state: this week, there are only 4 players ranked in the top 100.

The only other weeks where that happened were for about a month at the start of 2011. On that occasion though there were four players in or around the top 20 (Roddick, Isner, Querrey, Fish). In every other week since rankings began, there have been at least 5 Americans in the top 100. What’s more, this time there is only 1 top 50 player: John Isner (ranked 13).

So the 13 players that comprise Team America this week are, by ATP ranking, the weakest ever put forward for the Indian Wells tournament. Next week’s post will go into some of the possible reasons for that.

Few of this week’s Team America are in form:

  • Only 5 of the 13 have improved their ranking since the cut was made for the Indian Wells tournament on 20 January; 3 have fallen out of the top 100. (Columns 1-4 of table 1 below.)
  • Sam Querrey has won consecutive matches on tour only once since September last year.
  • Steve Johnson’s semi final showing in Delray Beach and John Isner’s title in Auckland are isolated successes for US men’s tennis in 2014.

Silver linings playbook

However, for all that – and until next week’s post – I’m going to be glass quarter-full rather than glass three-quarters empty. For the following reasons:

  • Harrison, Russell, and Isner all have very good records at Indian Wells, winning 60% plus of their matches, a top 20 ranking percentage (see table 1). Harrison has made the fourth round twice, while Isner reached the final in 2012, beating Djokovic along the way. For these three, and for Querrey (58% win-loss record here), Indian Wells will hold reasonably good memories.
  • Many of this week’s Team America win a substantially larger share of matches played in the US compared to their overall career (table 2; data 2008 onwards). 6 out of the 13 players increase their career win percentage by 5 percentage points or more when they play “at home” (represented by the red arrows). Effectively, Querrey, Isner et al receive, at minimum, a 10 per cent bump in performance when playing at home (a similar effect is seen for Tsonga, but not Gasquet, in France).

The 2014 Indian Wells draw, partly by design, partly by luck, has been kind to Team America:

  • Isner has a winnable path to a potential quarter final with Gasquet;
  • Querrey could reasonably expect to find himself in a winnable third round match against a rusty Wawrinka;
  • By design, no wild card or qualifier can be drawn against one of the 32 seeded players in the first round, making first round draws potentially manageable for Team America. Even so, most of the US players have been further fortunate in being drawn for the most part against opponents ranked between 70 and 120. Only Steve Johnson can consider himself unfortunate to be drawn against Del Potro’s Australian Open conqueror, Roberto Bautista Agut.
  • It will not have escaped you that the first round has also spat out three all American clashes: Querrey-Alex Kuznetsov, Young-Russell, and Sock-Smyczek. Well, if nothing else, this will allow the winners to pick up ranking points. However, as I will explore next week, all American clashes on the tour are too frequent and quite possibly damaging for their career prospects.

In summary, Indian Wells is likely to continue a pattern of poor performance for the US’s highest ranked tennis players, although some silver linings exist.

Table 1: US main draw entrants Indian Well 2014; ranking, Indian Wells career win-loss records, and 2014 first round opponents

22 US Indian Wells

 

Table 2: US main draw entrants Indian Well 2014; ATP Tour records vs ATP Tour record in the United States (2008-present)

 

 

22 US Indian Wells table2

 

 

4 thoughts on “Indian Wells briefing: part 3

  1. With Indian Wells appearing to be slower than ATP average, and Isner managing a paltry 9% win record on returns of serve YTD, does this not bode poorly for the big man?

    • Not in this instance for 2 reasons:
      1) Isner has a good record both in Indian Wells and in the US in general. He was the finalist here in 2012 (beat Djokovic, lost to Federer) and his win percentage record in the United States is a good 8 percentage points better than his overall record. Summary: he gets better results here than normally.
      2) The return of serve stat you cite is balanced by a 91 per cent service game win percentage. What this means in practice is more tie-breaks, as anecdotally most people are aware of. Where Isner is different to Karlovic for example is in his ability to win those tie breaks and tight sets. The Clutch Index (see ) shows that Isner is typically able to win these tight sets more than his peers (including similar type players such as Raonic and Karlovic). Put it this way, he’s not just a serve.

    • What might bode more ill for him in this tournament is not having played enough tennis recently. He appears to have had ankle problems since the start of the year.

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