Every four years during the Olympic Games, people everywhere follow the count
of gold, silver, and bronze medals won by athletes of the different nations.
The medal tally appears daily in the world press, adding an interesting
dimension to the grand gathering.
A comparable tally is possible in the realm of pro tennis, as every top pro
specifies a tennis nationality--a kind of professional identity that typically
remains unchanged when the player changes residence or even citizenship. Thus
as a given Slam tournament unfolds, a count of matches won by players of the
different nations can be maintained. In past versions of this column, we have
indeed made tallies of such unofficial competition. Every main-draw match,
whether singles or doubles, is weighted the same--a gesture toward simplicity.
The emerging tally is especially interesting during the early rounds, when
most of the matches take place.
Offered here is a further design--one that takes such results and merges them
with Davis Cup and other team-event outcomes. The product is a mythical
year-end leader among the tennis nations. As will be noted, the objectives in
designing our scheme remain simplicity and balance.
Year 2003 In Men's Tennis
Each new tennis year begins with Hopman Cup, an interesting two-person
singles and mixed-doubles team event held in Perth, Australia. This year the
winner was the U.S. team, consisting of James Blake and Serena Williams. For
Blake's role we award one National Team Point (NTP) to the American men's
team. (U.S. also earns one NTP in the women's team competition, discussed
later.) The runner-up team was Australia (Hewitt and Molik).
At the Australian Open in late January, won by Agassi, in singles the
American males won 19 main-draw matches, just one more than Spain's men. But
in doubles U.S. and Australia both strongly outscored Spain, thus giving the
U.S. the overall lead in total matches won and giving Australia second place.
Three more NTP thus go to the U.S., one to Australia.
Davis Cup play began in early February. In World Group action, the American
men faltered badly, eroding some of their early-year glory. Without Agassi
and Roddick, and unable to cope with the superb serving of Ivan Ljubicic, the
U.S. team lost to Croatia. Meanwhile the five Cup winners of the last five
years--Russia, France, Spain, Australia, and Sweden--all won their first-round
encounters. Noteworthy was Bjorkman's five-set win over Kuerten, which gave
Sweden an unexpected victory over Brazil. Roger Federer's two singles wins
sparked Switzerland's victory over host Netherlands, while Argentina on home
clay swept Germany lacking Haas. Each first-round winning nation earns two
NTP in our model, toward an eventual total of 16 NTP for whichever nation
finally captures the Cup.
With the month of March came the Masters Series tournaments in California and
Florida. Agassi did not play at Indian Wells, won by Hewitt, but five
American men reached the final eight in singles and the Bryans reached the
final round in doubles, thus giving the U.S. a strong lead in total matches
won. We therefore add one NTP to the U.S. tally. Australia and Spain tied for
second. Two weeks later at Key Biscayne, the Americans again triumphed,
thanks to broad strength in the early rounds of singles and doubles. Spain
was a strong second, placing two stars in the semis. Agassi won the singles,
in turn defeating Costa and Moya.
To improve our system's power of definition we also award one-half NTP for
third place in Slams and for second place in Masters events and Hopman Cup.
Spain and Australia benefit in the current count.
Thus the current tally in NTP looks like this:
Argentina, France, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Croatia, each 2
The four winning nations in the next round of Davis Cup play (in early April)
will each earn another three NTP, tightening our standings and probably
pushing the U.S. down to third place. Spain and Argentina should be winners
on home clay against Croatia and Russia, respectively. French depth should
narrowly prevail over Switzerland behind Federer on medium-speed indoor
courts in Toulouse, while the Australians, who will offer their best line-up,
seem superior to host Sweden.
The European spring season will then follow, bringing three Masters Series
tournaments, World Team Cup, and Roland Garros, all on clay. At Garros last
year, Spain's men won the most matches and Argentina was second, so both
nations seem likely to rise in our NTP standings. Farther ahead lie
Wimbledon, the hard-court season in North America, the fall events in Europe,
and the late Davis Cup showdowns.
Note that our practice of simply counting match wins in Slam and Masters
tournaments favors those nations whose strength is in extreme depth over
those nations having just a few warriors but ones close to the very top.
Meanwhile our Davis Cup emphasis somewhat balances this effect, and we
provide further balance by awarding graduated NTP to the year-end Top Eight
players in singles and Top Four pairs in doubles.
The current degree of parity in men's tennis, where a half-dozen nations are
capable of challenging the Americans in our tally, seems healthy and worthy
Year 2003 In Women's Tennis
The strength of the top American women--the Williams sisters, Capriati,
Davenport, and Seles--together with considerable further U.S. depth, means
that no single national team can hope to challenge the current American
supremacy in women's tennis.
The Americans have swept almost everything so far in 2003. Serena scored the
Hopman Cup triumph, while the Williams sisters both reached the singles final
and together won the doubles at Australian Open. At Melbourne Park American
women won 28 of the 127 main-draw singles matches--more than twice the total
of any other nation--and did even better in the doubles. At the
Pan-Pacific--the first of the year's Tier Ones--the Americans captured all
four semi-finalist places in singles. Then at Indian Wells, the Americans
placed three in the singles final eight, Lindsay Davenport was runner-up to
Belgian player Clijsters, and the American pair Davenport-Raymond won the
doubles. At Key Biscayne, three American women reached the semis, and
Serena.won the tournament.
With Venus and Serena scheduled to play for the U.S. in the first round,
American prospects for winning Fed Cup and, with it, 16 NTP seem favorable.
Contenders for second place in our NTP standings include the young Russian
women, who are making an upward surge, and Belgium, which offers two
superstars both in the world's top five. The apparent retirement of the Swiss
Miss, Hingis, seriously weakens competition across the nations.
I hope readers will offer comments to me using this form on the thoughts offered here--the notion of
tracking match wins by nation during tournaments and the concept of linking
the events by awarding NTP.
Footnote: Our scheme awards a total of 110.5 NTP in men's competition, as
summarized in this footnote. Women's NTP are similarly awarded, except there
is no counterpart to World Team Cup.
- Davis Cup, 50 (winning nation receives 16)
- Hopman Cup, 1.5 (winning nation receives 1)
- World Team Cup, 3 (winning nation receives 2)
- Each Slam, 4.5 (nation winning most matches receives 3)
- Each Masters Series and Masters Cup, 1.5 (nation winning most matches
- Year-end singles individual ranking, 18 (first-place earns 4, second-place
- Year-end doubles pair ranking, 5 (first-place pair earns 2, second-place