September 8, 2008

Chasing Rabbits: U. S. Open

Our recent move has reunited us with our TV for the first time in a couple of years so I got to watch a little U. S. Open this weekend for the first time in quite a while.  Saw some pretty good matches and was glad to see Federer back in good form but disappointed that there wasn't another epic rematch with Nadal in the finals, a la Wimbledon since I missed that one.  A couple of thoughts:

1.  Nadal looked really tired during his match with Murray and it struck me that tennis seems to be one of the few sports where consistent success puts the top players at a distinct disadvantage.  Unlike team sports you play matches only if you keep winning, obviously the more matches you play the better chance you have of winning and the greater your earnings, etc., but there is no set number of matches that everyone has to play.  Thus, it seems that come the end of the season the physical wear and tear on the bodies of the top players can be much greater than that of the lower or mid range players by simple virtue of number of matches played.  Obviously there is a correlation between greater physical ability and success so maybe it's a moot point, maybe you are a little more tired than the 131'st ranked player in the world you are playing in round one but your greater skill makes up for it (but it could account for at least part of why it isn't unheard of for that kind of upset to happen) however here are the year to date stats (matches won/lossed) on the last four men standing in this year's Open (who also happen to be the current top four players in the world, in c, a, d, b order):

a.  Roger Federer - 54/12
b.  Andy Murray - 27/11
c.  Rafael Nadal - 70/8
d.  Novak Djokovic - 49/12

Nadal played in 78 matches this year!  What was he thinking - it's no wonder he ran out of steam against Murray - who played 40 fewer matches this year(!) and looked incredibly fresh the entire match against Nadal.  I would wager that he drops at least two or three tournaments next year so that he is fresher for the U. S. Open.  Are there other sports that have similar "handicaps" on consistent winning?

2.  I really like the instant replay/challenge system.  Like I said, we haven't had a TV for a while so this is the first tournament that I've seen since it was instituted in 2006.  It's a great use of technology, has a very small footprint on the flow of the game (time players would have used arguing with officials is now used to actually reviewing them, and much quicker at that) and can really make a difference.  There could have been a great case in point tonight during the Federer/Murray final when at a crucial point in the second set (I forget which game) Murray had two break point opportunities and Federer hit one long that would have given Murray the game and possibly put him in position for serving for the set, suddenly it's one set a piece and you're playing the best two out of three for the championship - the psychological lift alone might have been enough to keep Murray around a bit longer, although he was clearly outclassed tonight, as he fell apart mentally pretty early in the third set and it was over - however, Murray didn't challenge the shot.  Chalk it up to inexperience, his first grand slam final, or maybe was just so into the game he didn't even see how close it came - it could have made a big difference.

During one of the matches this weekend one of the commentators mentioned that next year the women's tour will be allowing coaches to consult with players once per set - coaching of any sort, even from the stands, has long been against the rules in both the men's and women's game so it's a big shift.  I'm not sure it will make much of a difference but someone like Murray, fairly inexperienced on the big stage, might have benefitted from a little calm down pep-talk midway through the second set.  However, I do think it might be interesting if they gave coaches the ability to challenge one call per set, again something that would have benefitted someone like Murray tonight.

The U. S. Open has a great page up showing all kinds of data on the player challenges.  Here's a tournament overview for singles play:

Men challenged almost twice as much as women and averaged more than two more challenges per match, but they also play a best 3 out of 5 as opposed to the women's best 2 out of 3 - it would be interesting to see averages per set maybe.  Here's how the last four men's players break down - challenges/# overturned (won)/percentage:

a. Roger Federer - 28/5/17.86%
b. Andy Murray - 21/5/23.81%
c. Rafael Nadal - 11/4/36.36%
d. Novak Djokovic - 10/3/30%

In addition to the data summary the U. S. Open site also has a page with links to video for every point that was challenged during singles tournament play.  Kudos to the U. S. Open for a good use of technology all around.

3.  They also streamed tonight's final online.  Again, kudos on utilizing the technology - sports like tennis and golf in particular have nothing to lose and lots to gain from going online as often as possible and I hope we see more of it.

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