By correlating results across different tournaments, I recently explored how
well Roland Garros 2001 had been predicted by preceding tournaments of
2000-2001. Not surprisingly the strongest predictors proved to be the
clay-court events including, especially, the previous year's Garros.
I then ascertained how the preceding tournaments should be weighted in order
to reach a composite prediction closest to the actual Garros results. (I
dropped Wimbledon from the exercise, as its results correlated negatively
with Garros's.) Here were the weightings for best predicting Garros 2001.
--German Open, 17.3%
--Italian Open, 17.3%
--Monte Carlo Open, 17.3%
--Key Biscayne, 7.9%
--Indian Wells, 7.9%
--Australian Open, 4.2%
--U.S. Open, 1.4%
--the preceding year's Garros, 26.7%
I then took each player's results in the same tournaments in 2001-2002 and
applied the above weightings to them. I thus obtained a composite score for
each player measuring his likely success in Garros 2002. (The calculations
are described in a footnote at the end of this column.)
Here, then, are the players identified by the computations as most likely to
succeed in Garros 2002, in order of rank.
#1 Gustavo Kuerten
Atop our list is three-time Garros winner and last year's undisputed clay
champion, the lanky Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten. Guga, 25, underwent hip
surgery in February this year but returned to competition surprisingly soon,
in early May. He then competed at Mallorca and Rome, and reached the final
eight in the German Open, where he was the only player to win a set from the
eventual tournament winner, Federer. With another week for rehabilitation and
training, it seems likely that we will once again witness Guga's wonderful
brilliance in Paris.
#2 Roger Federer
Roger Federer, 20, was dazzling in capturing the German last week, his
first-ever clay-court triumph. The Swiss star displayed his best all-court,
attacking style featuring hard and consistent shotmaking, excellent footwork,
and a solid, forcing serve. His one-handed, closed-stance backhand
consistently produced precise and reliable overspin deliveries, along with
frequent nasty underslices. Although Federer is generally regarded as
strongest on hard courts, he reached the final eight on Garros clay last year
and the fourth round the year before.
#3 Juan Carlos Ferrero
Ranking third in our scheme is Spanish star Juan Carlos Ferrero, 22,
semi-finalist the last two years at Garros. Early 2002 was troublesome for
this fine, all-court player, when he missed several events and withdrew from
several others with a knee injury and a pulled abductor. He returning to the
wars in April, capturing the Monte Carlo Open, defeating Moya and Grosjean.
But he bowed out early in both the Italian and German, leaving his readiness
to win at Garros unproven.
#4 Marat Safin
Marat Safin, 22, has the big serve and baseline power game that can prevail
over strong opponents on any surface. The tall Russian has reached the fourth
round or better at Garros the last four years, losing in the round of eight
last year to his erstwhile nemesis, Fabrice Santoro. He reached the final in
the German Open last week, defeating several strong clay-court artists and
also Lleyton Hewitt, but in the final round Federer's court skills answered
Safin's power and matched it with Federer's own.
#5 Lleyton Hewitt
The computations next produce the mercurial Australian superstar, Hewitt,
still just 21 and probably as fast afoot as anyone in the game. His U.S. Open
triumph last year, his superb Davis Cup record yearlong, and his finishing
atop the year's ATP points race all brought deserved recognition worldwide.
Staying on top in 2002 was hindered by a troublesome bout with chicken pox
early on. But he returned to win at Indian Wells in March and to reach the
semis at Key Biscayne. On clay, he lost early to Moya at both Monte Carlo and
Rome, but he made his way to the semis at Barcelona before losing to a Gaudio
on a winning streak. Movement on clay is very different from on hard courts,
but the more Hewitt competes on this relatively unfamiliar surface the better
he should respond. His smallish frame (he is 5-11, 150 pounds vs. Kuerten's
6-3, 178) seems a handicap in sustaining seven best-of-five matches on slow
clay given his hard-working style of winning.
#6 Sebastien Grosjean
At age 24 and only 5-9 tall, Marseilles-born Grosjean is a former Garros
semi-finalist, having lost to Corretja last year. Like Ferrero, Grosjean is a
righty with a backhand two-hander. His court speed, matching Hewitt's, is
probably his strongest asset, along with fine shotmaking ability from back
court. His pattern this year has been to bow out in the middle rounds of
tournaments, though he excelled at Monte Carlo, where he defeated four strong
opponents before losing in a three-set semi to Ferrero. But the
disappointments returned at Rome and Hamburg.
#7 Andre Agassi
Over his long career, the popular American has competed relatively little on
clay, usually playing just one of the Masters Series clay-court events as
preparation for Garros. But his shot-making skills--his unusual ability at
wearing down opponents by relentlessly pounding on the rise--is generally
effective on clay and especially in best-of-five marathons. Agassi captured
Garros in 1999, and last year he won four tough matches there before losing
to Grosjean. This year he won the Italian Open in early May without loss of a
set. Then, following his pattern, he withdrew from the German to be fresher
for Garros. His physique, 5-11 and 170 pounds, seems close to ideal for clay.
#8 Alex Corretja
Alex Corretja was runner-up for the second time at Garros last year and, at
28, is now leader of the Armada. Early this year, Corretja produced a
stunning victory over Pete Sampras in Davis Cup play on grass. His win,
however, came with a hand injury that removed him from the rest of the
three-day competition, thereby dooming the chances of the Spanish team.
Corretja has had other successes on non-clay surfaces, but his favorite Slam
is clearly the French, where he shows a lifetime 29-10 record. He can produce
good power in serving and ground-stroking, has good net skills, can produce
excellent variety and wield great patience. I can watch endlessly the
Corretja backhand one-hander.
Our Second Eight produces several strong contenders. Leading the group at #9
is Tommy Haas, 22, a solid all-courter with fine clay-court skills. Haas was
runner-up in Rome this spring, won three matches at Monte Carlo and two in
Hamburg before losing to Ferrero and Robredo, respectively. Shoulder pain
sidelined him at Dusseldorf this week, however. Former Garros champions
Yevgeny Kafelnikov (1996) and Carlos Moya (1998) are also in our second
eight, where Moya, at 25, seems the solider candidate. Other second-eighters
are rising stars Tommy Robredo, 20, and Andy Roddick, 19. Robredo reached the
final four in the German but retired from his semi with Safin with foot
trouble. Roddick's strong serve and his consistent baseline power brought him
an 8-3 record in the leading clay events in Europe after he won the
clay-court tournament in Houston. His growing experience on clay surely
improves his chances. But he split two matches in team play at Dusseldorf
this week, then stepped down with wrist and knee pain. Completing the Second
Eight are Jiri Novak, Tim Henman, and Albert Costa, all of whom could and
should reach the middle rounds.
The official tournament seeds are chosen based on the last 12 months of play
without any weighting that might reflect court surface. Five members of our
Top Eight also appear in the officially seeded first eight. Ferrero,
Grosjean, and Corretja, all dirt-ballers, in our group replace the officially
seeded top-eighters Haas, Kafelnikov, and Henman.
My selections are based almost wholly on the computerized results, above,
except that my usual rules against choosing too many high-seeded players
remain in effect. Here are the eight sections of the draw and my picks. (The
upper sixteen seeds are indicated in parentheses.)
--Hewitt (1), Canas (15), Moya, Schalken, Philippoussis. A miserable draw for
the tournament's highest seed, as he must surmount heavy-hitting Moya, who
has twice defeated Hewitt on clay recently. But reassured by our computer, we
hold to Hewitt in the thought that he should have now learned an answer to
--Kuerten (7), Sampras (12), Costa, Escude, Gaudenzi, Gasquet. Kuerten.
--Haas (3), El Aynaoui (16), Lapentti, Pavel, Mantilla.. Our computer wants
shoulder-troubled Haas but picks Pavel next. Pavel.
--Kafelnikov (5), Johansson (9), Corretja, Ljubicic, Clement, Squillari. The
computer clearly tells us this one. Corretja.
--Federer (8), Ferrero (11), Gaudio, Schuettler, Boutter. Two of the top
three from our study are in this section. Though the margin is narrow, we
slide to Ferrero on his favored surface and his 2-0 lifetime head-to-head
record over Federer. Ferrero.
--Agassi (4), Novak (14), Santoro, Robredo, Youzhny. An easy choice. Agassi.
--Henman (6), Grosjean (10), Chela, Mirnyi, Malisse, Blake. Our computer
leaves no ambiguity here. Grosjean.
--Safin (2), Roddick (13), Enqvist, Nalbandian, Arthurs. Safin and Roddick
are similar in their strengths and are close in our computer hierarchy,
though Safin is preferred. Safin.
I choose Kuerten to win the tournament, Agassi as runner-up, and Corretja and
Safin also to reach the final four.
THE WOMEN'S SINGLES
I lacked the time for similar calculations to identify the favorites among
the women. Instead, we here define our Top Eight using competitive results of
2002 to date--a period that included three months on hard courts and two
months on clay. Lindsay Davenport is not listed, as she has been inactive
since undergoing knee surgery early in the year. Here are the rankings in
official WTA points earned from January 2002 through May 20.
- Venus Williams
- Serena Williams
Here are the W-L records of the Top Eight in head-to-head play within the
group during 2002. The dominance of Serena, not evident in the point
standings, is disclosed here.
Serena Williams, 8-1
Venus Williams, 5-3
Serena's only loss to an elite player came at the German Open in Berlin,
where she lost to Henin in a third-set tiebreaker. Williams answered a week
later by defeating the Belgian star in two close sets in Rome. Especially
persuasive are Serena's three victories this year over the defending Garros
champion, Capriati, without loss.
Serena is the heavy-hitter extraordinaire. She moves to the ball with
excellent speed, then prepares energetically for her delivery. Her
inclination is to rip most shots with all her strength and good topspin,
pounding away toward the lines and corners, ever up on the baseline ready to
find the extra angle. Her serve is simply the best in women's tennis, capable
of aces beyond even sister Venus's. Her powers of concentration are superb.
When spells of frequent errors intrude, she persists in her attacking mode
for better or worse, confident that she can prevail if and when control
Unquestionably the Garros clay will reduce slightly the advantage of Serena
and the other heavy hitters of our Top Eight. But it remains very unlikely
that an outsider to the game's elite can win seven consecutive matches at
Garros including perhaps three matches against members of the top group.
Indeed, the combined W-L record this year of the eight superstars listed
above against lesser-ranked players is 162-16.
The most successful outsider has been Patty Schnyder, who scored three wins
against members of the group, all at Charleston. Smashnova and teenagers
Hantuchova and Dokic, who rank #9-11 in 2002 results, each have two.
Hingis will not compete at Garros because of recent ankle surgery. Venus and
Seles missed the last major tune-up at Rome, but both are expected to play in
Paris. For our enjoyment, the slow clay will bring forth variety, touch, and
the off-speed and spin shots. But the final champion will be the superstar
best able to pound away with weight and consistency, meanwhile neutralizing
opponent's power with her own superior mobility. In my opinion, the only
player who can beat Serena this year at Garros is Serena.
--Capriati (1), Tulyaganova (14), Schnyder, Stevenson, Frazier, Kournikova.
Schnyder is the only possible problem here for the defending champion.
--Dokic (7), Shaughnessy (12), Myskina, Coetzer, Martinez. Myskina recently
defeated Dokic in Rome. Myskina.
--S. Williiams (3), Sanchez Vicario, Smashnova, Sugiyama. A comfortable path
--Henin (5), Farina Elia (9), Tanasugarn, Torrens Valero, Pierce, Nagyova.
Both Nagyova and Farina Elia offer plausible alternatives to favored Henin.
--Testud (8), Mauresmo (10), Raymond, Dechy, Schwartz, Serna. Mauresmo.
--Clijsters (4), Dementieva (13), Maleeva (22), Bedanova (25). No alternative
here to last year's runner-up. Clijsters.
--Seles (6), Hantuchova (11), Panova, Majoli, Montolio. Youth over
--V. Williams (2), Schett (16), Kremer, Grande, Rubin. Venus.
I strongly believe that Serena can and will win the tournament, defeating
probably Clijsters in the final. Capriati and Venus should also reach the
Best wishes to all for a great tournament.
*(footnote on the computations) A score was first obtained rating each
player's performance in each predictor tournament and in the target event,
Garros 2001. How well the individual-player scores correlated between each
predictor and the target event were measured by spreadsheet analysis,
yielding the slope and intercept of the straight-line equation describing the
predictor-target relation along with the correlation coefficient. The
weightings were obtained in proportion to the products of the slope and
correlation coefficient of each predictor-target pair. Note that a common
weighting for the three clay-court Masters Series events was employed, and
the Indian Wells/Key Biscayne hard-court events were also treated commonly.
In then applying the weightings to predict Garros 2002, a player absent from
a predictor event was assigned a score for that event equal to 15% of his
average score elsewhere.
The above is a shorter and arguably more valid version of the procedures
described in the Australian Open preview column earlier this year. The method
could be used to determine objectively a tournament's seedings while giving
appropriate weight to past performance on given surfaces. It should be
especially interesting to explore correlations next month in the case of
Wimbledon, as the idea of seeding that event based on past grass-court
performance has been widely suggested.