Davis Cup, U.S. Open & Olympics: 12 numbers that matter

Let’s examine some intriguing numbers about what happened at the tennis event of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, U.S. Open and Davis Cup semifinals, and elsewhere this summer.

Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl pose with the Aegon Championships trophy. During Lendl's first and also highly successful stint as coach, Murray had won Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles and an Olympic gold medal.   -  Getty Images

Karolina Pliskova... "If you believe in yourself you can beat anyone. Especially in girls' tennis, it's not only about a game and tennis, but it's more about the mental things sometimes."   -  AP

The confluence this year of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, U.S. Open and Davis Cup semifinals within six weeks brought us plenty of excitement, including a few shockers. Let’s examine some intriguing numbers about what happened there and elsewhere this summer.

1 — That’s how many singles matches Juan Martin del Potro played in Argentina’s nail-biting 3-2 upset over defending champion Great Britain in the Davis Cup semifinals in Glasgow. That del Potro didn’t play both singles matches was a shocker in itself because he had quickly regained the form with which he won the 2009 U.S. Open.

 

Delpo, who was sidelined by several wrist surgeries during most of 2014-15, first signalled his resurgence by stunning No. 4 Stan Wawrinka at Wimbledon. Then he shocked No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 5 Rafael Nadal at the Olympics before losing the gold medal match to Andy Murray.

Twelve days after reaching the U.S. Open quarterfinals, Delpo upset No. 2 Murray 6-4, 5-7, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 in the gruelling Davis Cup opening rubber. The five-hour and seven-minute marathon left the 6’6” Argentine physically and emotionally drained and feeling dizzy. “I’m so tired. I’ve got cramps everywhere,” said del Potro.

Less than 24 hours later, Andy and his brother Jamie, who is the No. 4 doubles player in the world, were heavily favoured to win the pivotal doubles rubber — no matter whom they faced. Inexplicably, Argentina captain Daniel Orsanic picked the exhausted Delpo to team with Leonardo Mayer.

“How can you play Delpo in the doubles?” rightly blasted Tennis Channel analyst Justin Gimelstob. “You rest him because you [will] have a huge advantage on the final day. This is shocking, shocking!”

Not surprisingly, del Potro and Mayer lost the doubles. And even less surprising, Delpo was so burned out after the nearly-three-hour match that he couldn’t play on that Sunday. A rested del Potro would have been strongly favoured to defeat Britain’s Daniel Evans, world-ranked No. 53.

After Argentina announced that del Potro, who was in no condition to play on the final day, would be replaced by Mayer, Gimelstob again lambasted the decision: “I can’t believe Argentina is going to be in a position where their best player is going to be a cheerleader.”

Fortunately, Mayer saved the day for his country going for its first Davis Cup title. Poised and proficient, he overpowered Evans to give the Argies a 3-2 victory and a berth in the final against Croatia.

But... what was Orsanic thinking in what could easily have turned into a colossal blunder?

0 — Believe it or not, that’s how much the results of the Rio Olympics, the Davis Cup, and the Fed Cup count in the ATP and WTA singles and doubles rankings. That means, for example, that Murray’s six wins at the Olympics and 3-1 record in Davis Cup don’t count in singles rankings that are supposed to be based on results throughout the year.

 

And what about Monica Puig? The unseeded, 22-year-old Puerto Rican made history but got no ranking recognition for winning the gold medal in Rio after upsetting three Grand Slam champions — Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber. You cannot be serious!

What’s the rationale?

“In the Olympics, you play for honour, for your country, and that is the main reason why no points will be distributed at the [Rio] Games,” International Tennis Federation (ITF) president David Haggerty told puntodebreak.com.

Steve Simon, WTA Chief Executive Officer, gave me a completely different reason: “The Olympic and Fed Cup competitions do not provide for the awarding of WTA Ranking Points as the events have specialised entry systems and requirements that do not provide for equal entry opportunities for all players.”

The WTA is making the perfect the enemy of the good. The entire WTA ranking system is severely flawed in the first place because not all WTA tournaments count (some of the worst results are thrown out). Second, byes give seeded players an unfair advantage by playing fewer matches in some WTA tournaments.

The only way the WTA Tour can produce accurate, fair, and credible rankings is to count all tournament and Fed Cup results and discontinue byes.

“It strains credulity that the governing bodies of tennis cannot figure out a way to award ranking points to the events that mean so much to the sport,” rightly avers Mary Carillo, the authoritative Tennis Channel analyst. “For players like Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Murray, their Rio and Davis Cup heroics made no impact on their standing. If it is an honour to represent your country, as well as an added burden to an already congested calendar year, how can it be disregarded by the computer? Shouldn’t such acts be rewarded instead of ignored?”

7 — Either Andy or Jamie Murray has appeared in a singles or doubles final at the last six Grand Slam events, as well as the Rio Olympics. Not even the legendary Williams sisters can match that feat. Jamie and John Peers were runners-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2015, while Jamie paired with Bruno Soares to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open this year. Andy captured his second Wimbledon and second Olympics gold medal this summer and also reached the Australian and French final.

Serena took the past two Wimbledons and lost in the 2016 Australian and French finals, and Serena and Venus won the 2016 Wimbledon doubles.

In the unofficial sibling competition, the Murrays defeated the Williamses 7-5.

0 — That is how many matches Laura Siegemund and Mate Pavic had played together in mixed doubles before the U.S. Open. They became good mates quickly at Flushing Meadows. The unseeded German-Croatian duo breezed through five opponents in straight sets to capture the mixed title.

“It’s really kind of a blind date,” said Siegemund afterward. “Honestly, I didn’t know him before. I had never seen him or heard his name.”

Fortunately, it turned out to be love at first sight in terms of their complementary games. “Mate has a really good lefty serve and also puts a lot of pressure on opponents from the baseline,” explained Siegemund, “so I can do a lot at net [to finish off points]. He said my returns were really solid, even against the guys’ serves, and that made it easy for him. He did trust me a lot, which not all the guys do. So that was a great thing.”

Siegemund and Pavic may not be household names yet, but this compatible team might be by January. “We would like to play the Australian Open and have a good time again,” said Siegemund.

5 — This represents the total number of wins over top 10-ranked opponents that Karolina Pliskova scored at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati and the U.S. Open during a four-week period this summer. Though the 24-year-old Czech improved her ranking for 10 straight years, she hadn’t advanced past the third round at a major until the U.S. Open.

Often the quality of one’s wins matter as much as, or even more, than how far a player advances. The significance of Pliskova’s career “breakthrough” is that she defeated No. 10 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 4 Muguruza, and No. 2 Kerber in Cincinnati, and No. 6 Venus Williams and No. 1 Serena at Flushing Meadows.

“If you believe in yourself you can beat anyone,” Pliskova said. “Especially in girls’ tennis, it’s not only about a game and tennis, but it’s more about the mental things sometimes.”

Pliskova beat all three Grand Slam champions this year, though she didn’t win a major herself. Wait ’til next year. She’ll very likely achieve this breakthrough then.

24 — World No. 1 Novak Djokovic slumped during mid-season, losing in the Wimbledon third round and Olympics first round, but rebounded to reach the U.S. Open final. That gave him 24 semifinal or better finishes at the last 26 majors. For a comparable stretch, only Roger Federer’s perfect 23 straight semifinal or better finishes — from the 2004 Wimbledon to the 2010 Australian Open — surpassed the amazing high-level consistency of Djokovic. The Serb, however, faced tougher elite competition against Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, and Stan Wawrinka during his 2010-16 stretch.

 

27-3 — This is Andy Murray’s splendid won-lost record since re-uniting with coach Ivan Lendl in early June. Murray won Wimbledon and an Olympic gold medal this summer. During Lendl’s first and also highly successful stint as coach, Murray grabbed Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles and an Olympic gold medal.

What is The Lendl Effect?

“When Murray is with Lendl, he goes from mopey to motivated,” explained ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe during the first week of the U.S. Open. “Because he knows Lendl is not going to take any of that stuff [Murray’s antics]. Lendl is going to get up and walk out. That was actually part of the reason they first split up [in March 2014]. Murray learned that you can get mad, but you can’t get down on yourself.

Murray had wasted so much energy doing that. Lendl forced him to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to get my act together.’”

Not even the no-nonsense Lendl, though, could prevent 29-year-old Murray from regressing and self-destructing in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

10 — In an article in The Telegraph (UK) headlined “Andy Murray enters full meltdown mode in Kei Nishikori U.S. Open defeat — but will he ever change?”, sports columnist Charlie Eccleshare noted 10 things that upset the skittish Scot and contrasted him with the rest of the “Big Four”: “The crowd talking, the roof, the floodlights, a butterfly, the rain, his box not cheering enough, his box standing up too much, supporters returning to their seats late, the umpire, the malfunctioning PA system. Some of those are more understandable than others, but clearly none of Murray’s traditional ‘Big Four’ rivals would have been distracted by anything to the same degree. After the malfunctioning PA system meant a let had to be played with Murray up a break point at 1-1 in the fourth set, he ranted and raved and lost the next seven games.

This was not behaviour befitting a multiple Grand Slam champion, neither was slamming his racquet on the net when broken in the fifth set with Nishikori no more than a few feet away.”

46% — A record-high 46% of the men (23) in the top 50 of the ATP singles rankings are age 30 or older. The average age of the men’s top 10 is 29. Ivo Karlovic, 37, ranks No. 20, only six places below his career-high ranking. In July, journeyman Pablo Lorenzi became the oldest first-time winner in ATP World Tour history by winning the Generali Open in Kitzbuhel at the age of 34 years, seven months; and in September, he ascended to a career-high No. 35 ranking. What’s the explanation for the aging of the men’s tour?

Perhaps Lorenzi has the answer: “Every year I have one more year of experience.”

0 — At the other end of the age spectrum, no woman 20 or younger ranks among the top 20 in the WTA’s singles rankings. And the average age of the top 10 is nearly 28. The era of “teen queens” seems a distant memory. The last teenage champion came in 2006 when 19-year-old Maria Sharapova took the U.S. Open.

According to Chris Evert, who captured two of her 18 major titles as a teenager, “Nowadays it takes longer for a player to develop the physical, the mental, and the emotional aspects they must have to be a top tennis player.”

 

2 — That’s how many Canadian boys have the potential for top-notch pro careers, according to experts and fellow players. “Felix Auger Aliassime is incredibly gifted,” says former World No. 1 Jim Courier, an ESPN analyst. “Check him out on YouTube. He is going to be a very good pro.” The blazing-fast, 6’2” Auger Aliassime, 16, easily captured the U.S. Open boys’ event.

After winning the Wimbledon boys’ title in July, Denis Shapovalov, a 17-year-old lefty, shocked world No. 19 Nick Kyrgios 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 in the Rogers Cup first round in Toronto. “He has a great future,” Kyrgios said.

“I think he can have a very bright future,” agreed No. 6-ranked Milos Raonic, the Wimbledon runner-up to Murray. “He’s much further along than I was at his age. He has much more capacity than I had at that age. So he’s figured it out quicker than I have.”

3, 5 — Who says real men don’t cry? The first number represents the number of the five leading men who cried at the Rio Olympics and the 2016 U.S. Open.

A distraught Djokovic wept tears of disappointment as he walked off the court following his shocking first-round loss to del Potro at the Olympics, the only great title that he hasn’t won.

“Calling it one of the hardest matches I have had to play for a big title,” Murray cried after he defeated del Potro to become the first player to defend an Olympic singles gold medal. And “Big Match Stan” Wawrinka shed tears of anxiety minutes before upsetting Djokovic in the four-set U.S. Open final.

The second number represents the total number of this male quintet who sobbed in relief, joy, or sadness after high-pressure, high-stakes Grand Slam matches this decade. Federer and Nadal have also experienced this most human emotion, yet one rarely displayed by men champions before this century.