Predicting Slam outcomes mostly calls for observation, judgment, and a lot of
guessing. In thinking ahead to the coming Australian Open recently, I did
some parlor calculations using my middle-aged personal computer. My goal was
to study correlations in Slam outcomes numerically and, in particular, find
help in predicting Australia 2002.
By comparing individual-player performances, I determined how well each of
the four preceding Slams predicted the results of Australian Open 2001. I
then weighted the 2000 Slams to produce the composite prediction that best
fit the actual results of Australia 2001. (A description of the method is
given in the footnote at the end of this column.*)
Here is the weighting that best predicted Australia 2001.
2000 U.S. Open, 30.1%
2000 Wimbledon, 15.9%
2000 Roland Garros, 7.0%
2000 Australian Open, 47.0%
I was surprised that Australia 2000 proved a stronger predictor than U.S.
2000, which was much closer in time to the target event.
The final step was to take the above weights and apply them to the subsequent
results of the 2001 Slams. The object was to predict player performance in
Australia 2002. Here, then, is the outcome--the top eight players in order of
probable success at Melbourne Park 2002, according to the calculations.
Note that Pat Rafter should be in second place but is not shown here, as he
is not playing in Australia 2002. Three other members of the world's official
top nine failed to attain our short list--Kuerten, Ferrero, and Haas. They
are replaced here by Clement, Safin, and Sampras.
I'll now use the results of the calculations in sorting out what might happen
on the Rebound Ace courts in Melbourne Park this month.
OUR PRIME EIGHT
Andre Agassi's top place in our ranking in large part reflects his triumph in
Australia 2001, his second Australian Open championship in two years and his
third in six tries. His relentless heavy-hitting style from the baseline,
backed by speed, stamina, and a heavy serve, thrives on slow hard courts and
hot temperatures like those often seen at Melbourne Park. Even though his
achievements fell off in the second half of 2001, Agassi, now 31,
unquestionably stands with the front-runners for 2002. Agassi won the tune-up
event at Kooyong last year, and again this year he won his first two matches
there. As of this writing, he awaits Sampras in the final.
Our #2, Lleyton Hewitt, finished 2001 as world Number One and is officially
seeded first at Melbourne. His blinding speed and his shot-making and
serve-returning abilities are probably the best in pro tennis today. It seems
likely that his U.S. Open victory in 2001 at age 20 will be the first of
several, perhaps many, Slam triumphs for him. His Masters Cup win over Agassi
on a slowish indoor court at Sydney in November indicates that he is ready to
surpass the American veteran henceforth. Last week he played the Hopman Cup
in Perth but, stricken with chicken pox, he withdrew after winning two
matches. But he played and won an exhibition match this week.
Two French stars, Clement and Grosjean--#3 and #7 above--have both done well
the last two years at Melbourne Park. Last year, the two met in the semis,
where Clement won in five sets. Both are speed merchants and back-court
shot-makers in the pattern of Hewitt and, like Hewitt, should not be
considered clay-court specialists. Both are smallish in stature, in their
early 20's. Last year, Clement won three matches at Wimbledon and three more
at U.S. Open, but late in the season Grosjean became the stronger of the two,
winning the Paris indoors on slowish courts and reaching the final at Masters
Cup. Both men started 2002 poorly. Clement lost two matches at Hopman Cup and
both lost in the first round in the tune-up this week at Sydney. A third
French star, Nicolas Escude, whose heroics brought the Davis Cup to France in
2001, won two matches at Sydney this week but then withdrew with a groin
Kafelnikov and Safin, ranked #4 and #5 here at age 27 and 21, respectively,
again lead the Russian contingent. Kafelnikov won the Australian in 1999, was
runner-up in 2000, and reached the quarters last year--excellent results
though the pattern is downward. Safin's powerful serve and baseline game can
be overwhelming--strong enough to triumph at Melbourne Park--if the Russian
star is healthy and playing his best. His success in reaching our top eight
was remarkable in that he was not right physically throughout 2001. Both
stars showed mediocre results in the early 2002 events.
Narrowly behind Safin at our #6 is Pete Sampras, a two-time champion at
Melbourne, who also possesses weaponry ample to collect the 2002 crown. Pete
reached only the round of sixteen last year at both Melbourne and Wimbledon,
but defied skeptics like me in a dazzling run at U.S. Open, where he in turn
defeated Rafter, Agassi, and defending champion Safin. Without benefit of a
rest day before the final, he lost to Hewitt in straight sets. In early 2002
play, Sampras lost a three-setter to Todd Martin in the first round at
Adelaide, then won his first two matches at Kooyong.
It's sometimes said that serve-and-volley players reach their peak at
relatively late age, and Pat Rafter is usually cited as an example. Tim
Henman, our #8, has finished in the world's top twelve for the last four
years. But except at Wimbledon where his net skills are well suited, he has
never passed the fourth round in a Slam. Henman, now age 27, achieved a fine
10-3 record at the non-clay Slams last year, and began the new year
lustrously by winning the tournament at Adelaide last week, defeating
Rusedski and Philippoussis. The possibility of a career break-through for the
stylish Britisher in 2002 remains open.
The chances are good that one of our elite eight, above, will be the
tournament winner. But as we descend in our list, we find several other stars
who are plausible dark-horse candidates.
At #9 in our ranking is American Todd Martin, the player who last year at
Melbourne defeated Pete Sampras and eventually reached the quarters. A
finalist in 1994, Martin has the serving, serve-returning, baseline, and net
skills that would seem perfect for winning at Melbourne. He began 2002 by
defeating Sampras at Adelaide. Martin could reach the late rounds, but at age
31 his chances for a first-time Slam triumph seem faint.
I prefer the overall chances of Roger Federer, our #11, who is clearly a
rising player at age 20. He almost single-handedly carried the Swiss team
over the U.S. in Cup play last year, and subsequently ended Sampras's long
undefeated run at Wimbledon. Federer later won three matches at U.S. Open
before bowing to Agassi, thus completing a 9-3 record in the non-clay Slams.
Federer's pattern of upward jumps in the annual rankings seems likely to
continue, and a good performance at Melbourne Park seems likely.
Disturbingly, he began the new year with losses to Hewitt and Robredo at
Hopman Cup, but he won his first four matches, reversing the loss to Robredo
and defeating Roddick, to reach the final at Sydney, now in progress.
Robredo, Roddick, and Youzhny are strong teen-agers who require our
attention. At #16 in our calculated ranking is Moscow-born Mikhail Youzhny,
19, who last year achieved a combined 7-3 record in the three non-clay Slams
including a victory over American Andy Roddick at Wimbledon. Youzhny finished
2001 unimpressively, however, and began the 2002 season with an early loss at
Qatar and another, to Ivanisevic in three sets, at Auckland. Meanwhile
Roddick, our #18, recorded a 6-2 won-loss record in the Wimbledon and U.S.
main draws last year, though his results slightly declined thereafter.
Roddick's rocket serves will lose a little of their effectiveness at
Melbourne, but the young American's strong baseline game should stand him
well. Finally, Spain's Tommy Robredo, who ranks #37 in our tally, at 19 had
good wins over Todd Martin and Ferrero at U.S. Open before bowing to Roddick.
He began the new year by leading the Spanish team to victory at Hopman Cup.
Inexperienced players have won the Australian sometimes in recent years, but
none were as inexperienced as Youzhny, Roddick, or Robredo. (Agassi won in
his first appearance there in 1995 at age 24, Sampras won in his fourth try
at age 22, and Courier won in his third try at age 21.)
The Rebound Ace courts are sometimes said to be equalizers, helping
clay-court baseliners compete effectively against the big servers and net
artists. Spanish star Carlos Moya, #10 here, was a Melbourne finalist in
1997, Garros champion in 1998, and world's Number One briefly in early 1999,
Moya reached the quarters at Melbourne Park last year, losing to Grosjean.
Also raised on clay and showing considerable past success on hard courts is
Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten, our #15 and a three-time champion at Roland
Garros. Kuerten is a sweeping striker of the ball capable of ending points
from either back or front court, who ought to relish the true and relatively
slow bounce at Melbourne Park. He has never passed the second round there in
five tries, however. Kuerten's downhill finish to year 2001, including three
losses in round-robin play in Masters Cup, bodes poorly. Another past
finalist at Melbourne and former world Number One is Marcelo Rios, whose
brilliance of early 1998 has never quite returned. I watched him early in his
comeback last summer in Washington, when he seemed the old Marcelo except
slightly lacking in his former shot-making consistency. Rios scored well at
Sydney this week, winning twice and finally losing to Federer in a close
Big servers Rusedski and Ivanisevic, our #12 and #14, respectively, are
always threats on hard courts. Of the two, Rusedski probably has the better
net skills, Ivanisevic the stronger ground game. They met this week in
Auckland, where Rusedski defeated Ivanisevic in three sets. Ivanisevic had
won all nine of their previous meetings. Clouding the Croatian's chances are
recurring questions about his shoulder. Another likely contender is Mark
Philippoussis, who missed all four Slams in 2001 and thus does not appear in
our ranking. The tall Australian, at 6-4 and age 25, slimmer by 20 pounds,
likes to hammer the ball full power. When playing his best he is
overwhelming, especially on hard courts. Two years ago, his record in the
non-clay Slams was an impressive 8-3. He returned to the wars from knee
surgery in late 2001 and began the new year with a good start at Adelaide,
defeating Todd Martin in the quarters before losing a split-set final to
Offered here are odds for winning Australia 2002. Several young and rising
players (Hewitt, Roddick, Federer, and Youzhny) are shown more favorably here
than in our above ranking.
Sampras, Henman, each 15-1
Safin, Federer, Philippoussis, each 20-1
Clement, Kafelnikov, Roddick, Grosjean, each 30-1
Martin, Kuerten, Youzhny, Enqvist, Moya, each 45-1
all others, 50-1 or longer
THE DRAW AND THE PREDICTIONS
Here are the eight sections of the draw and my predictions. Within each
section players are listed in the order of their official seed. Also shown is
the weighted composite score of each player obtained in my prediction
exercise. I generally followed these scores in making the choices.
--Hewitt (4.6),Clement (4.3), Lapentti (1.2), Schalken (1.2), A. Martin
(0.8), Rios (0.8). A healthy Hewitt should survive this treacherous road. The
choice is Hewitt.
--Haas (1.7), Federer (2.9), Moya (2.9), Malisse (1.3), T. Martin (3.0). Our
computer analysis shows Federer, Moya, and Martin close. I choose the
youngest of the three, Federer.
--Agassi (7.3), Roddick (2.1), Gambill (0.6), Pavel (1.0), Ljubicic (0.6).
The official seeds agree with our analysis. Agassi and Roddick should meet in
round four. Agassi.
--Sampras (3.7), Safin (3.7), Santoro (1.4), Escude (1.6), Youzhny (2.2). A
safe path for Pete until round four against Safin or Youzhny. Sampras.
--Grosjean (3.6), Ivanisevic (2.4), Portas (0.9), Novak (1.1), Kiefer (1.5),
Arthurs (1.2), Hrbaty (2.5). Grosjean's slow start into 2002 belies his
strong number here. Looking for the magic of last year's Wimbledon, Ivanisevic.
--Kafelnikov (4.2), Corretja (1.0), Arazi (1.1), Robredo (1.3), Mirnyi (1.5).
Unseeded Mirnyi has the firepower to unseat the favored Russian star, but
probably not on these slowish courts. Kafelnikov.
--Henman (3.3), Canas (1.6), Enqvist (1.1), Rusedski (2.7), Philippoussis (no
score). An unfortunate draw for three premier candidates. Rusedski and
Philippoussis must meet in round two, the winner to face Henman. In the
biggest story of the first week, Philippoussis.
--Kuerten (2.4), Johansson (2.2), El Aynaoui (0.5), Vinciguerra (1.8).
Recalling the hard-hitting Swede of two years ago in Canada, the choice over
a recently out-of-form Kuerten is Johansson.
Having survived the early rounds, Hewitt should find a way over Federer.
Likewise, Agassi should win over Sampras and Kafelnikov over Ivanisevic.
Philippoussis, now approaching his promise of four years ago, should
comfortably prevail over Johansson. In the semis, Agassi should outlast
Hewitt, while Philippoussis should outpound Kafelnikov. Then in the final,
Agassi for the fourth time should claim this title--the Slam that ought to be
his favorite tournament.
THE WOMEN SUPERSTARS
The withdrawal of Lindsay Davenport because of knee trouble leaves three
clear favorites among the women. Almost surely at least one of them will
reach the final. All three--Venus Williams, Jennifer Capriati, and Serena
Williams--are large and strong, able to dominate weaker opponents with endless
heavy artillery off the serve and from both sides. Venus and Serena have
superior court mobility, enabling them to neutralize the power of any
opponent into the corners. The defending champion, Capriati, has excellent
mobility and power but may be temporarily weakened by minor hip injuries, one
at Hong Kong last week, another at Sydney this week. Meanwhile Serena's
chances abruptly came under question when an ankle injury forced her to
withdraw from her semi in Sydney. Venus has won four Slams, Capriati two, and
The second rung consists of three-time champion Martina Hingis (1997-1999),
four-time champion Monica Seles (1991-1993, 1996), Belgian teen-agers
Clijsters and Henin, both of whom penetrated the world's top eight for 2001,
and French star Amelie Mauresmo, who reached the finals at Melbourne in 1999
at age 19.
Recent player performance strongly suggests that Venus Williams will win the
tournament. She captured U.S. Open late last summer without losing a set,
indeed without losing more than four games in any set. Her victims included
Serena, Capriati, Clijsters, and Testud. She did not compete again until
January, when she won the Australian tune-up at Gold Coast, defeating Henin
in the final.
But for her latest injury, Serena would have been Venus's most dangerous
rival. Serena was runner-up at U.S. Open, showing victories over Hingis,
Davenport, and Henin. She then won the year-end indoor event in Munich, which
brought together most of the world's top sixteen. Meanwhile Capriati's
results slipped during the fall, though she began 2002 by winning the
exhibition event at Hong Kong, defeating Dementieva in a three-set final. But
she lost to an aggressively playing Alexandra Stevenson this week at Sydney
upon incurring the aforementioned hip injury.
Martina Hingis hurt her ankle early last October and exited the tennis wars.
She returned at Sydney this week, winning three matches and, as of this
writing, now awaiting the final. Meanwhile Kim Clijsters, 18, won the October
event in Luxembourg, lost narrowly to Davenport at Munich (7-6 in the third
set), and with Henin swept all her matches in leading Belgium to victory in
Fed Cup. This week, she defeated Henin in straight sets in a quarter-final
meeting at Sydney but then lost to Hingis. Clijsters is a large and strong
player at 5-8 1Ž2 and 151 pounds, and now, foremost among the current teen-aged
crop, seems ready to join the topmost superstars.
Here are the odds, wildly influenced by the current injury report, as I see
Venus Williams, 3-2
Serena Williams, 8-1
Hingis, Clijsters, each 15-1
Mauresmo, Testud, Dementieva, each 75-1
all others, 100-1 or longer
THE DRAW AND PREDICTIONS
Here are the eight sections of the main draw and my predictions. To an
unprecedented degree, the highest-seeded player should prevail in every
section. Allowing myself to choose only four of the top eight, as is
customary here, requires some difficult choices.
--Capriati, Tulyaganova, Grande, Panova. Capriati.
--Mauresmo, Shaughnessy, Montolio, Tanasugarn. Shaughnessy.
--Clijsters, Sanchez-Vicario, Sugiyama, Likhovtseva. Clijsters.
--Henin, Dementieva, Serna, Suarez. Dementieva.
--S. Williams, Farina Elia, Nagyova, Torrens Valero. Only because of Serena's
late injury, the choice is Farina Elia.
--Hingis, Coetzer, Schett, Kremer. Hingis.
--Seles, Testud, Bedanova, Schiavone. A player showing a rising pattern of
--V. Williams, Maleeva, Raymond, Hantuchova. Venus Williams.
To reach the semis then--I choose Shaughnessy, Clijsters, Hingis, and Venus.
To reach the final--Clijsters and Venus. Finally, the only player making the
picking easy--Venus Williams--will capture her first Australian.
On the men's side at Melbourne last year, the U.S. contingent, paced by
tournament champion Agassi, led all nations in singles matches won. France
was second and Australia third. But Australian strength in doubles gave the
Australian men the highest total in singles and doubles combined. Meanwhile
the American women dominated, led by champions Capriati in singles, the
Williams sisters in women's doubles, and Morariu in mixed. The commanding
U.S. lead on the women's side gave the U.S. first place overall.
With American Andy Roddick now on the scene and with Australian Rafter now
absent, the U.S. is likely to score highest on the men's side in 2001 and is
certain to do so among the women.
As the first Slam of the new tennis year, the Australian Open has large
implication for what lies ahead. Last year's winners, Agassi and Capriati,
dominated the first half of 2001 and maintained their leads in the year's
standings until near the end. Meanwhile it will be interesting to watch for
progress among the younger stars already close to the top--Roddick, Federer,
Youzhny, and, on the women's side, Clijsters, Henin, and Dementieva.
For fellow tv watchers amid the Northern hemisphere winter, please enjoy two
weeks of middle-of-the-night tennis from Melbourne.
* Footnote on the Calculations. A numerical score is first obtained for
each player's performance in each tournament. A player's score consists of
his matches won, refined for sets won and lost, tiebreaks, and
subsequent-round performance of last opponent.
Correlations between tournaments are measured by comparing individual
numerical scores. To do this, player scores in two events--in our case
Australia 2001 and, in turn, each of the predictor tournaments--are aligned
in two columns on a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet software (Excel) then
readily calculates the straight-line relations of the two sets of data--i.e.,
slope and intercept, along with the correlation coefficient, which measures
the tightness of the relation. The correlation coefficients or slopes can
provide our preliminary weights.
A larger spreadsheet is then created for multiplying the weights by each
player's numerical scores in each predictor tournament, thus obtaining a
weighted composite performance. The spreadsheet should be designed so that
the weights can be altered throughout the spreadsheet by single keystrokes,
thus permitting refinement of weights by systematic tinkering to attain
maximum correlation coefficient between the composite predictor scores and
the actual results in Australia 2001. Where a player does not compete in one
of the predictor tournaments, a percentage of his weighted average score in
the other events is awarded. I calculated that an absentee-score percentage
of 15.3% gave highest correlation to target-event actual results. This value
along with the four tournament weightings listed early in this column produce
a correlation coefficient, 0.58832086, that is higher than any coefficient
produced by altering the absentee-score percentage or any pair of tournament
weights by 0.1%.
I hope that Tennis Server readers will provide expert comments on my