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January 11, 2013 Article

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Between The Lines By Ray Bowers
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Melbourne Preview, 2013
by Ray Bowers

Ray Bowers Photo
Ray Bowers

The main draw for Australian Open 2013 has been announced. The earlier favorites were the heros and heroines of last year -- the seven men and women who as a group captured all the Slams of 2012 and also the Olympics and year-end finales. These megastars composed a clearly defined elite -- Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, and Murray among the men, Azarenka, Sharapova, and Serena Williams among the women. Of the seven, only Nadal will be missing in Australia. Rafa has been sidelined since last summer with knee trouble and now reports recent viral illness. Will the megastar monopolies persist in 2013?
There is another question, one that seems less fanciful this year than usually. Could two Classic Grand Slams be achieved in 2013, where a male and a female superstar both capture all four Slams in this calendar year?
A Little History
The roots of Australian Open extend back to the Australian national championships of more than a century ago, when travel time inhibited participation from other nations. Australian players were almost always the winners. But by the 1930's the Australian championship had joined the traditionally prestigious British, French, and U.S. crowns as tennis's major events, i.e., the four Slams.
The several Classic Grand Slams of tennis history all began with triumphs at the Australian. Don Budge's Grand Slam in 1938 started with his victory in Adelaide. Californian Maureen Connally's in 1953 began at the Kooyong club (Melbourne). Rod Laver's in 1962 and Margaret Court's in 1970 began at the White City courts (Sydney).
Laver turned pro soon after his 1962 triumphs, and in 1969 it was the Rocket who in Brisbane won the first Australian Open (i.e., "opened" to professionals). That began Rod's second Grand Slam -- still the only men's Grand Slam not tainted by the exclusion of pros.
In 1988 Australian Open moved to a new permanent home in Melbourne, where the modern facilities helped the slightly declining event regain parity with the other Slams in prestige and star participation. With the move to what was later named Melbourne Park, the Australian became the first of the Slams to be played on paved courts. A teen-aged Steffi Graf would launch her Grand Slam of 1988 there, where Steffi defeated veteran Chris Evert in the final.
The dominance of Aussie pros, successors to Laver, Rosewall, Newcombe, and others, faded starting in the 1980's. Indeed, no Australian male or female player has yet won an Australian Open played at Melbourne Park. (Rafter, Hewitt, and Stosur all won Slams elsewhere.) Americans Courier, Sampras, and Agassi won at Melbourne a total of six times during the decade 1991-2000, and Agassi won again in 2001and 2003. Since then, Federer and other European players have won in every year. The opposite trends happened among the women, as European players won eight Australian crowns in the decade ending in 2000, and Americans Capriati and Serena Williams won a total of seven times in the twelve years since.
The Setting
It was at first intended that the hard courts at Melbourne Park provide a playing surface intermediate in playing speed between the slower-bouncing clay at Garros and the faster surfaces at U.S. Open and Wimbledon. But with the new Rebound Ace came extreme foot traction along with too-frequent leg and ankle injuries, prompting conversion to smoother but faster courts. Thus the current Plexicushion surface is not very different in bounce speed from that at U.S. Open. Melbourne Park and U.S. Open now produce similar bounce-indicating statistics -- i.e., less-frequent aces and more service breaks than on the faster grass at Wimbledon, the opposite compared with the slower clay at Garros.
January at Melbourne Park often brings extreme midsummer heat. This year, high temperatures and wildfires troubled the southeast of Australia in the week or so prior to the Open. Conditions can be windy, and insect life sometimes becomes a nuisance.
The two prime courts have retractable roofs, which are closed during rain or dangerous heat and humidity. Their high sides offer partial protection from wind and sun. A third show court, Margaret Court Arena, is being redesigned as another retractable-roof facility. Several other outside courts have modern seating and capacity.
Our analysis and predictions rest heavily on two primary indicators --
Indicator 1. Basic Indicator. Each player's results in various recent tournaments are weighted and then tallied. The weights depend on how well each predictor tournament has, historically, predicted results at the next Australian Open.
Indicator 2. Quality-Win Quotient (QWQ). Here we compare each player's number and quality of match wins over elite-level opponents in 2012 against the player's total number of losses to all opponents in 2012.
The composite of the above indicators gives rank order and relative values representing each player's chances at Australian Open 2013. By calibrating the composite numbers using a separate determination of the top player's probability of winning, we obtain each player's probability Pw and odds for triumphing at the coming Open.
The above calculations determine each player's chances to triumph at Melbourne Park Pw. The top ten thus reached are listed here.
1. Novak Djokovic, age 25, height 6-2. Pw 40.0% (odds 3-2). Having won U.S. Open, Shanghai, and the year-ender in London 2012, Novak wears our current Il Primo mantle. He is also the clear favorite at Melbourne Park, he having won Australian Open in 2011 and 2012 and having ended both years with world ranking #1. Not surprisingly, he is tops in both our Basic Indicator and QWQ. Especially convincing was his riveting victory over Federer in the final match in London, achieved indoors where Federer's attacking game would be its strongest.
Like the other members of the Big Four, Djokovic commands all aspects of the game -- speed of reaction and afoot, shot-making consistency and accuracy, power in serving and stroking, match temperament. Like the others he is superb at moving to the corners to turn back an opponent's forcing blows, usually with neutralizing pace and placement of his own. A distinctive strength is Novak's resolve in winning extended points, a quality that seems to contradict his sometimes jocular or sometimes boastful manner. But as well-contested points lengthen, he becomes absolutely determined not to yield, unwilling to allow himself a lazy but risky try.
Novak has seemingly overcome past breathing problems, and he recovers quickly and fully after tiring exchanges. He prefers playing in back court, and he is usually less interested than his opponent in taking net. But his game can hardly be called defensive, as all his deliveries are usually at least moderately forceful.
Novak won three of the four Slams in 2011. Now at prime age of 25, his chances of attaining the first male Grand Slam since Laver's are undeniable, despite the unusually high quality of the others of the first ten.
2. Roger Federer, 31, 6-1. Pw 16.04% (odds 5-1). Roger is the all-time leader in Slam singles championships, having won a total of seventeen -- three more than Sampras. He collected his 17th at Wimbledon 2012, and age 31 he continues to contend at the highest level. He is second to Djokovic in our Basic Indicator, third behind Djokovic and Nadal in QWQ.
Over the years Roger has been free of injuries requiring long absences, able to scale down physical demands on himself when playing most opponents. But now Roger's foremost rivals are about six years younger and have sometimes been able to outlast him. In both 2010 and 2011, Roger lost to Djokovic in five sets at U.S. Open after leading, and he lost to Nadal at Australian Open in 2012 after winning the first set.
Although Roger is a superb defender, he knows he cannot stay ahead of elite opponents expert in baseline play by relying heavily on defense. Whatever the price in stamina, Roger must play forcefully, with high aggressiveness, avoiding the fierce and extended exchanges that help his rivals in outlasting him.
3. Andy Murray, 25, 6-3. Pw 14.35% (odds 7-1). Andy remains an enigma, his gifts comparable to Djokovic's but his achievements well behind those of his Serbian rival. Andy's court movement is close to Novak's if a bit less elegant, his easy power in serving and stroking yet more severe. It seemed that Andy's preference for defensive play in deep court was preventing his greater success. Thus until 2012 Andy's results on the biggest stages remained distinctly behind the other Big Four members.
His fortunes turned in summer 2012, perhaps helped by a new coach, Ivan Lendl, and a more aggressive style of positioning and striking. Andy attained the final at Wimbledon, losing to Federer. The tall Scot then captured the Olympics on Wimbledon grass, defeating both Djokovic and Federer in straight sets. Then Andy won his first Slam, defeating Djokovic in a final-round five-setter at U.S. Open.
4. Juan Martin del Potro, 24, 6-6. Pw 6.25% (odds 15-1). Juan Martin was at the verge of superstardom after winning U.S. Open 2008 and soon attaining official world rank #5. But wrist trouble sidelined him for most of 2010, necessitating a two-year climb to approach his former level. His strong finish in 2012, when he won tournaments in Basel and Vienna and forced Djokovic to three sets in London, suggests readiness to penetrate the Big Four.
Tall and strong, Delpo has devastating, easy power in serving and stroking, and his long reach helps his adequate but less than extreme quickness and court mobility. His preferred style is relentless pounding from back court -- like Nadal, with less athleticism but with greater potency in serving.
5. David Ferrer, 30, 5-9. Pw 5.98%, odds 16-1. With neither age nor height in his favor, David was the player closest to penetrating the Big Four in 2012, temporarily holding the official rank of #4 prior to the summer surge of Murray. Then by winning Paris Indoors in November and winning and two matches in the round-robin phase in London, he missed by an eyelash finishing the year inside that elite foursome.
6. Tomas Berdych, 27, 6-5. Pw 3.97% (odds 25-1). Tall and powerful, Tomas remained a solid member of the Second Four, capable of extending the top group in close matches and occasionally beating one of them -- i.e., Federer at U.S. Open, Murray at Monte Carlo 2012. He led Czech Republic to its second consecutive Davis Cup crown in 2012, though he failed to complete his personal triumph by losing to Ferrer in third-day action at the Cup final.
7. Jerzy Janowicz, 22, 6-8. Pw 2.91% (odds 34-1). Strong results in early-year Challengers and a third-round finish at Wimbledon 2012 moved this strapping player from Poland into the ATP top hundred and onto our summer 2012 watch list of likely risers. Then at Paris Indoors in November Jerzy defeated Andy Murray and four other top-twenty stars enroute to a final-round loss to Ferrer. He emerged as the top male riser of 2012 (measured by comparing his year-end ranking with his historical best ranking prior to 2012).
In Paris Jerzy showed extreme power in serving and stroking along with impressive court movement and variety, all frequently reinforced by extremely deceptive drop-shots. Jerzy scored well in our QWQ indicator, his score benefiting from his relatively few losses in main-tour action. Will his dazzling accuracy seen in Paris be produced in 2013 regularly or only occasionally?
8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 27, 6-2. Pw 1.66% (odds 60-1). Jo-Wilfried has remarkable speed, power, and attacking skills. His QWQ score was low, however, reflecting a low number of recent match wins. His prospects were recently brightened by his three wins without loss at Hopman Cup.
9. Janko Tipsarevic, 28, 5-11. Pw 1.39% (odds 72-1). Janko's playing style is solidly aggressive, though he is one of only two players listed here who stands less than six feet. He broke into the top ten in 2011 and attained his best-ever official ranking at #8 in early 2012 amid efforts to improve his fitness and mental focus.
Janko defeated Djokovic in Madrid last spring but otherwise showed little success in 2012 against the elites, thus producing a low QWQ score here. His career-long winning percentage on hard courts is higher than on clay, further improved by his four hard-court victories in capturing the recent tournament in Chennai.
10. Milos Raonic, 22, 6-5. Pw 1.36% (odds 73-1). Milos burst upon world tennis by winning three main-draw matches as a qualifier at Australian Open 2011, then winning the San Jose indoor tournament, and soon afterwards reaching the final at Memphis, all while barely aged 20. His devastating serve if well-placed was impossible to return -- he struck 38 aces against Stepanek in Memphis. Set back by a right-hip injury, the young Canadian returned from surgery in fall 2011 to resume his upward climb, again winning at San Jose and finishing second at Memphis 2012. He beat Andy Murray indoors in the Tokyo semis in October 2012, but after that his late-year results were not lustrous.
The below predictions are guided by the calculations, the record of head-to-head meetings, and other data, including information on recent injury problems, all subjectively applied. The absence of last year's close runner-up, Nadal, severely affects the picture.
Top Quarter
This is the domain of Novak Djokovic, who has won his quarter in every one of the last ten Slams. The head-to-head records overwhelmingly favor Novak, as he has defeated his five most likely opponents in this quarter more than twenty times and has not lost to any of them in more than four years. Another possible foe, Sam Querrey, surprised Novak at Paris Indoors 2012, though Djokovic won all four of their other meetings. Novak's superiority in movement is marked in any match-up here.
-- Djokovic over Stepanek. The latter has excellent net-attacking skills and is able to vary his game to fit the immediate challenge.
-- Wawrinka over Querrey. Stan has a slight edge in our indicators and has won both past meetings.(Both were in split sets and both happened about three years ago.)
-- Djokovic over Wawrinka. Novak has won their last ten meetings including at U.S. Open 2012.
-- Berdych over Monaco. Tomas has won all six of their past meetings.
-- Djokovic over Berdych. Novak won their last nine meetings.
Second Quarter
Nadal's absence places David Ferrer among the high-seeded four. The draw too favors David, as the other members of the generally acknowledged top-ranked eight are all placed in other quarters, thus smoothing David's path to the semis.
-- Tipsarevic over Almagro. Janko leads in both of our indicators and, being more prone to attacking, is at his best on hard courts. He has surged nicely of late, having won the tournament at Chennai in early January.
-- Ferrer over Nishikori. The younger player here, Nishikori, has been rising impressively, but knee trouble forced his withdrawal at Brisbane.
-- Ferrer over Tipsarevic. David won their two meetings in 2012, both on hard courts, though his win at U.S. Open came via a tiebreaker in the fifth set. On the date of this year's draw in Melbourne, David reached the final in Auckland by defeating Monfils in the semis 61 62.
Third Quarter
The #3 and #4 candidates to win the tournament by our indicators, Murray and del Potro, are both in this quarter. Of the two, Andy is the clear leader in both Basic and QWQ, and also has the clear head-to-head edge, having won five of six including all four played on hard courts. Murray won the tournament in Brisbane; del Potro has not competed in 2013.
-- Murray over del Potro. This could be a classic quarter-final, but the one slightly better in all areas along with superior court mobility is Andy.
Bottom Quarter
Sir Roger's route to the semis is fairly safe. His main obstacle is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, an athletic and energetic opponent who has sometimes been troublesome, over the years having split sets with Roger often and defeating him three times.
-- Tsonga over Gasquet. The latter has a narrow edge in their head-to-head meetings. Tsonga leads in our composite of indicators, though his margin in QWQ is negligible. Both seem ready for battle, Gasquet having won the tournament in Doha in January, Tsonga wining his three matches in Hopman Cup.
-- Federer over Raonic. The younger player's powerful serving and stroking make him always dangerous.
-- Federer over Tsonga. Just as against Raonic, Roger's skills and knowledge at age 31 should lift him over Jo-Wilfried.
Semis and Final
Djokovic vs. Ferrer. Djokovic won all three meetings with Ferrer in 2012, winning eight of their nine sets. One of those wins came in the quarters at Melbourne Park. With a similarly strong edge favoring Novak in our indicators, this verdict is clear. Djokovic over Ferrer.
Federer vs. Murray. Andy is six years younger and has raw weaponry essentially equal to Roger's. Roger leads in our indicators. The verdict of career-long head-to-head play favors Andy, 10 wins vs. 9. They met in two major finals last year, Andy winning at the Olympics in straight sets, Roger winning at Wimbledon in four. Murray's brilliance in summer 2012, winning Olympics and U.S. Open, faded only slightly late in the year, and his upward trajectory resumed in his winning Brisbane to start 2013. Andy's time has come. Murray over Federer.
Djokovic vs. Murray. These two met in the magnificent final match at Australian Open 2012. Djokovic won that day in five sets, recovering from behind after three sets. The two again met in the U.S. Open final, where this time the winner, again in five sets, was Andy. Novak then took revenge later in the year, winning twice in split-setters.
We will see screaming serves and strokes by both men, superb court movement by both, plenty of emotion from both. The two are essentially the same in height, weight, and tennis talent. Which one will produce his best when it matters most? Past history argues that the more tenacious and mentally stronger player is Djokovic. Djokovic over Murray.
We identify our top candidates and calculate their chances for winning the tournament using calculations similar to those used for the men.
1. Serena Williams, age 31, height 5-9. Pw 46.1%, odds 7-6. The violence in Serena's forcing game is accentuated by her superb court mobility. No woman player is able to dominate her during matches, so that if Serena is fully healthy and administers her serving and stroking power without excessive errors, the outcome is all but assured. Her triumphal run in capturing the crowns at Wimbledon, Olympics, U.S. Open, and year-end finale 2012 has few if any equals in tennis history. She is a close second in our Basic Indicator and is far ahead of all others in QWQ, thus ranking first in our composite by strong margin. Her recent comment that she is capable of further improvement seems highly plausible.
Serena is a five-time past champion at Australian Open. But once again, fresh physical questions have intruded for Serena, who in mid-December announced recent minor surgeries on the large toes of both feet. It seems unlikely that her preparations for Melbourne Park have been altered, as she swept through four matches without losing a set to capture the tournament at Brisbane in early January.
2. Victoria Azarenka, 23, 6-0. Pw 13.3%, odds 6-1. Victoria won Australian Open as part of a 26-match winning streak at the start of 2012. Having captured a total of six tournament crowns during the year and reaching the final round at U.S. Open, she finished 2012 atop the official WTA rankings. Here, she is third in our Basic Indicator and second in QWQ, second in our composite. Hers is a relentless and firm, baseline power game, backed by quickness, mobility, and consistency. She withdrew with toe injury prior to facing Serena at Brisbane.
3. Maria Sharapova, 25, 6-2. Pw 12.5%, odds 7-1. Maria became a superstar at early age, winning Wimbledon as a teenager in 2004 and U.S. Open two years later. Shoulder trouble starting in 2008 sidelined her for nearly a year, and necessitated changes in serving technique that took time to master. But her reliance on an all-out power style of play remained, so that behind improved court mobility Maria gradually returned to her former prominence.
Maria captured Garros 2012, thus becoming the tenth woman in history to achieve a Career Grand Slam. Though always thought to be disadvantaged on clay, Maria won all three of her 2012 crowns on that surface. Meanwhile she was a runner-up six times during the year, all on nonclay, losing three times to Azarenka in final rounds including at Australian Open, twice to Serena Williams. She is first in our Basic Indicator, third in QWQ, third in our composite.
Scarcely auspiciously, Maria withdrew at Brisbane with collarbone inflammation.
4. Agnieszka Radwanska, 23, 5-8. Pw 7.5%, odds 12-1. Behind a varied and controlled playing style, Agnieszka has established a place halfway between the Big Three above and the sport's second tier below. During 2012, she won only one time in ten matches against members of the Big Three, defeating Sharapova in the final round in Miami. But she scored a W-L record of 8-2 against the others of the top ten. She won the recent tune-ups at Auckland and Sydney without loss of a set. Agniezka is capable of good power but uses it sparingly. A further rise in the rankings probably requires a heavier style.
5. Petra Kvitova, 22, 6-0. Pw 4.4.5%, odds 22-1. One year ago Petra was the La Prima of women's tennis. She had captured Wimbledon 2011, led her nation to the Fed Cup crown, and won the year-end finale in Istanbul. Tall, young, left-handed, and powerful in serving and stroking, she seemed poised for long superstardom. But too often in 2012, her magnificent rocketry to the corners turned into spells of dismal error-making. Like Serena capable of dominating any opponent, perhaps even Serena, Petra struggled to find her optimum level of aggression without loss of consistency. Until she succeeds, she will remain behind the leaders.
Petra had a good run in North America prior to U.S. Open 2012, and she again contributed greatly in Czech Republic's winning of Fed Cup. Bothered by injuries during the year, Petra ended 2012 withdrawing at Istanbul because of viral illness. She began 2013 with a first-round loss at Brisbane.
6. Li Na, 30, 5-6. Pw 3.1%, odds 28-1. Na can be a difficult opponent, typically in employing her firmly struck forehands and backhands in moderately aggressive and long rallies, often with almost perfect avoidance of error. She became a star celebrity in her homeland, China, and worldwide when she became champion of Garros 2011. But her results declined in 2012 when she showed little success against the Big Three and slipped two notches to official world rank #7. She began 2013 by winning the tournament at Shenzhen.
7. Angelique Kerber, 24, 5-8. Pw 3.0%, odds 32-1. Left-handed Angelique has a game nicely balanced between defensive and offensive strengths. She lacks the easy power in serving and stroking seen in most of those ranked above her, but her concentration and match sense enable her to compete well against top opponents. (She scored wins in 2012 over Sharapova and Serena.) She finished as 2012's leading riser (measured by comparing year-end ranking with historical best rank at the end of 2011). To start 2013, however, she lost in the quarters at Brisbane and in the semis at Sydney.
8. Caroline Wozniacki, 22, 5-10. Pw 2.3%, odds 44-1. Caroline finished 2010 and 2011 officially ranked world #1, showing a knack for outlasting opponents in critical situations by employing softish, absolutely error-free tennis. To improve against the more powerful women who were capturing the Slams, Caroline in 2012 appeared to be stepping up her forcefulness, but her successes became less frequent and she briefly slipped outside the world top ten, even as her wins over other top players remained few. (She ranks #7 in our Basic Indicator but only #11 in QWQ.) A 2012 late-year surge included triumphs in Seoul and Moscow, suggesting that the New Caroline might have found her zone, but there were no victims in these events ranked higher than Caroline in our composite of indicators here. Her start in 2013 was dismal.
9. Sara Errani, 25, 5-5. Pw 1.8%, odds 55-1. Sara finished 2012 officially ranked #6 -- up from #45 a year earlier. Small of stature but favored with excellent mobility, her best successes came on clay in winning tournaments in Acapulco, Budapest, and Barcelona and in reaching the final at Garros. Like Wozniacki, Sara ranks significantly poorer in QWQ (#12) than in Basic Indicator (#9).
10. Venus Williams, 32, 6-1 Pw 1.4%, odds 73-1. Venus has never won Australian Open, and her intermittent play in 2012 necessitated by chronic disease argues against her chances to do so now. But an excellent QWQ rank of #4 propel her composite indicator upward to #10 here despite her thin activity. Venus remains a powerful server and stroker with excellent court speed, along with an ability, still seen in 2012, to compete well against top-tenners.
Top quarter
There is no serious threat to Azarenka in the upper half of this quarter. Her opponent in the quarter-finals then should be either Errani or Wozniacki.
-- Wozniacki over Errani. Wozniacki has the slight edge in both indicators, is three years younger and five inches taller, and won their most recent meeting, in 2010. The verdict here goes to Caroline despite Sara's strong rise in 2012 and her impressive match-play strengths.
-- Azarenka over Wozniacki. Victoria is distantly ahead of Wozniacki in our indicators, which are based mainly on 2012 results. The two have been rivals since childhood, but the more powerful game of Azarenka has now established its supremacy.
Second Quarter
If Serena Williams is close to her best, her only conceivable danger is if Petra Kvitova can find the sustained rocketry she showed in 2011.
-- S. Williams over Kvitova. Serena's readiness seemed proven at Brisbane.
Third Quarter
This seemed the draw's weakest quarter until Agniezka Radwanska completed her triumph at Sydney with a final-round victory, score 60 60, which happened on the day of the draw at Melbourne. She must, however, surmount several young players, Begu and Barthel or Watson, and then either Ivanovic or Jankovic, in order to reach a date with Li Na in the final match of the quarter.
--A. Radwanska over Li Na. Na has the career head-to-head edge, including three wins on hard courts in 2012. She usually performs well in Australia. Agnieszka won their recent meeting in Sydney, however, in straight sets, and she leads in Basic Indicator and also, with her win over Na in Sydney, in QWQ.
Bottom Quarter
The critical question is Sharapova's shoulder problem. Without full serving and stroking power, Maria will have trouble in this quarter against the likes of Venus Williams and Kerber.
-- Kerber over Bartoli. Bartoli has the career edge but Angelique won their only meeting in 2012. With clear edge in both our indicators, Kerber is the choice here.
-- Sharapova over Kerber. If the shoulder is only mildly impaired Maria should manage to survive. She defeated Kerber at Australian Open by strong scores and also won two of their other three meetings during 2012. If the shoulder is fully healthy, Maria's extreme power in serving and stroking should end matters quickly.
Semis and Final
Sharapova vs. A. Radwanska. These two were close last fall at the year-end finale in Istanbul. Maria won their meeting in the round-robin phase in three sets, all of them close, behind a strong lead in aces. Both lost to Serena in the final weekend, where Agnieszka showed the closer scores. Agnieszka won their only other 2012 meeting, in Miami. Outdoor conditions should favor Agnieszka, and the tournament's added wear on Maria's shoulder could become telling. A. Radwanska over Sharapova.
Azarenka vs. S. Williams. Atop Serena's strong lead in our indicator QWQ, she shows overwhelming success in head-to-head play against Victoria. Over their careers, the powerful American has beaten Azarenka by margin 11 wins vs. 1, including in the finals of U.S. Open, Wimbledon, and Olympics 2012. During 2011-2012 Serena won 14 of their 15 sets. Victoria is powerful and fast, but Serena is more powerful and faster. Serena Williams over Azarenka.
A. Radwanska vs. S. Williams. After Agnieszka's final-round victory at Sydney without loss of a game, her victim, the fine player Cibulkova, disavowed injury or even playing poorly. Agnieszka's tennis was simply overwhelming. But results at the early-year tune-ups usually correlate less well than expected with those at Australian Open. Here, Serena is favored in her extreme edge over Agnieszka, not only in our indicators but also in the head-to-head past record. Agnieszka has never beaten Serena, and has won only one of their nine sets. Most recently, Serena won, 62 61, in the semis at Istanbul. If Serena is at her best, there is almost no chance that Agnieszka's beautiful game can withstand the power and mobility of the sport's current La Prima. Serena Williams over Radwanska.
The males from Spain and France seem almost equally capable for compiling match-wins at Melbourne. Spain's compiled the highest total at Melbourne last year, but will now be weakened by Nadal's absence. Both contingents list four seeded singles players, where each foursomes will produce a total of 12 singles wins if all members attain their seeded level. France has the deeper singles line-up overall, including unseeded Monfils. In doubles, the recent capture of the year-end crown in London by Marc Lopez and Granollers bodes well for Spain. Last year in Australia both members of that pair lost in the first round with other partners. Candidate nations for third place are Serbia, U.S.A., Argentina, and Switzerland. I choose Spain.
The Russian women were far ahead last year and should win again. U.S.A. should narrow the margin, as both Serena and Venus Williams seem healthy and Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys are rising fast.
At the moment it seems likely that both Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams will be the favorites at all four Slams of 2013. Novak, of course, came close to winning all four in 2011, and Serena in 2002-2003 won four consecutive Slams though not in a single calendar year. Could both achieve the Classic Grand Slam in 2013?
If we assign to Novak a Pw at each Slam of 40%. the probability of his winning all four is only 2.56%. If we assign to Serena a Pw at each Slam of 50%, then her overall probability to win all four is 6.25%.
Thus for both to succeed, the chances are just 0.16% -- i.e., almost zero, well beyond the fanciful. It would be a miracle among the most notable in all of sports history.
--Ray Bowers, Arlington, Virginia
Basic Indicator
Twenty-four events of 2012-2013 were used here for calculating Basic Indicator. The most-heavily-weighted events for predicting the men's singles at Australian Open 2013 were:
U.S. Open 2012, 9.46%
Wimbledon 12, 8.49%
Australian Open 12, 7.47%
Garros 12, 6.44%
Miami 12, 6.35%
Indian Wells 12, 6.05%
Weights were separately calculated for predicting the women's singles, where the heaviest-weighted predictor became Miami, at 10.14%.
In counting prestige victories for determining a male player's Quality-Win Quotient, the player's match wins over Top Four players (identified from Basic Indicator) were triple-weighted, wins over Second Four players were double-weighted, and wins over Second Eight players were single-weighted. The resulting total was then divided by the player's number of losses in main-tour action against all players, thus reaching the raw QWQ. (For the women, wins over Top Three players were double-weighted and wins over the other members of the Top Ten were single-weighted.)
Raw values of Basic and QWQ were adjusted to attain equal weight for both in reaching the composite.
The Calibration
The composite scores were converted into Pw and odds for each player by calibrating against a Pw value for the leading player, obtained separately. In ascertaining the Pw of Djokovic, the leading male player, we made five different determinations from the historical record, where each of the five exercises used results from different mixes of surfaces, time periods, and event magnitudes. Our final value, Pw 40%, was the median of the five results.
Late last summer we began tracking what amounted to a race for the seeded 32 places at Australian Open 2013. Working from the officially announced rankings each week, adjustments were made in order to include all ranking points that would be counted but none that would be excluded on 7 January 2013 -- the date when the official rankings would determine the seeded list for Melbourne. As our unofficial race unfolded, each week brought a few shifts in the standings, sometimes including changes in the identity of the favored 32.
At the finish on 7 January, five male players who had not been among the top 32 in September now claimed seeded places at the Open. The most dramatic penetrations had been by Jerzy Janowicz and Martin Klizan -- the runner-up at Paris Indoors and the winner at St. Petersburg last fall, respectively. Marcos Baghdatis capped some good results during the fall to finish just behind Klizan in our race, while Radek Stepanek and Julien Benneteau both finished slightly inside the cut-off. (Radek was the player whose comments here in 2011 illustrated how players strive for seeded status as Slams approach.) Of the five players displaced from September's prospective seeded list, three were individuals not playing at the Open because of injury and two had been overtaken in our race by the five penetrators just listed.
Gyrations were similar in the women's race, though the final list looked a lot like the one in September. (There were no injury withdrawals.) Of the prospective seeds in September, North Americans Wozniak and McHale both lost their places, overtaken by Urszula Radwanska, sister of Agnieszka, and S.W. Hsieh, the unseeded winner at Guangzhou.
It's hard to discern evidence that players near the cut-off increased their tournament appearances as the target approached. It will be interesting to see whether those finishing inside the 32 indeed take advantage of their seeded edge by reaching the third round at Melbourne.

Green DotGreen DotGreen Dot

Between The Lines Archives:
1995 - May 1998 | August 1998 - 2003 | 2004 - 2015

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This column is copyrighted by Ray Bowers, all rights reserved.

Following interesting military and civilian careers, Ray became a regular competitor in the senior divisions, reaching official rank of #1 in the 75 singles in the Mid-Atlantic Section for 2002. He was boys' tennis coach for four years at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Virginia, where the team three times reached the state Final Four. He was named Washington Post All-Metropolitan Coach of the Year in 2003. He is now researching a history of the early pro tennis wars, working mainly at U.S. Library of Congress. A tentative chapter, which appeared on Tennis Server, won a second-place award from U.S. Tennis Writers Association.

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