Things We Learned on Day 13 of the US Open


1. Over at The Wall Street Journal, Carl Bialik wrote about just how useless IBM’s Keys to the Match are:

But often the keys are off-tune. At the Grand Slam men’s matches this year for which IBM computers identified three keys for each players, nearly one-third of the time the loser of the match either achieved as many keys as the winner, or more.

That in itself doesn’t refute IBM’s claims to have identified important insights. Maybe tennis is so difficult to analyze that these keys do better than anyone else could without IBM’s reams of data and complex computer models. Only, it’s not. A much simpler approach, using just the sport’s most basic set of statistics and setting the same targets for each player in each match at a tournament, does at least as well as IBM at identifying performance benchmarks that separate winners from losers.

Jeff Sackmann, who runs the tennis-data website Tennis Abstract, analyzed 5,700 men’s matches over three years, studying players’ percentage of first serves that go in the court, percentage of first-serve points won and percentage of second-serve points won. (He only studied men’s matches because those stats aren’t as readily available for women’s matches.) He computed average numbers for these stats, which are kept at every professional match. And he found levels for all three that tend to separate winners from losers. This deliberately simplistic approach — no customized keys, just the same ones for every player for every match — has done as well as IBM’s keys for the U.S. Open’s men’s competition: There have been more matches in which the winner has achieved more Sackmann keys than his opponent, than matches in which the winner has checked off more IBM boxes.

2. It’s hard not to feel for Stan Wawrinka. Both at the Australian Open and today, he stormed off to a big lead against Novak Djokovic, only to lose in five sets. Had he served better in the second set, it could’ve had a different ending. Djokovic did what he does when he’s not at his best: he outlasted a hot opponent, playing smart, measured tennis in the process.

Unlike the Australian Open, this wasn’t a classic, but Wawrinka gave his best effort and produced some inspired moments in his first career Grand Slam semifinal. Based on the way Wawrinka handled his first heartbreaking five-set loss to Djokovic, I’m guessing it won’t be his last semi.

Also, Stan rules.

3. With his results this week, Wawrinka will move up to No. 8 in the ATP Race rankings, just a spot behind that other Swiss guy whose name escapes me. It would be pretty great to see Wawrinka qualify for the year-end championships for the first time.

4. Rafael Nadal is still living up to his well-earned status as the US Open favorite. It will take a special performance from Djokovic to stop that freight train.

Juan Jose:

1. I did some LiveAnalysis for the Djokovic-Wawrinka semifinal, so you can find all my thoughts about that match here.

2. There was very little to learn from the Nadal-Gasquet semifinal. It’s a tennis mismatch, and one Richie is not well equipped to turn around. However, as the men entered the second set tiebreaker, I learned that Gasquet actually had a perfect record against Nadal in tiebreakers (2 out of 2). That didn’t really last long, and the Frenchman had himself to blame: he double-faulted twice and botched a simple volley.

3. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will play each other for the 37th time on Monday. This meeting will mark a very important milestone: no other men have played against each other more times in the Open era. I’ve always said that this is my favorite rivalry in tennis, so I’m quite happy that both men share this record now.

And the scary thing is, they have quite a bit of time to add to their already ridiculous total. One more Golden Era record that probably won’t be matched in a long, long time.

4. I was actually looking forward to watching the junior semifinal between No. 3 seed Christian Garín from Chile and unseeded Thanasi Kokkinakis from Australia. The latter ended up winning in three sets, but that match wasn’t streamed today. I wish I could’ve seen it – those two are among the crop of intriguing long term prospects for the ATP. Given the dire state of the near-term prospects, any glimpse into a better future would’ve been appreciated.


1. Okay, all kudos to Stanislas Wawrinka, who played extremely well today, despite the fact that he was a huge underdog and playing in the first Grand Slam semifinal of his career. You don’t see many players as up for the task under those conditions as he was.

That being said, that was not the most high-quality affair. Please, everyone, think before you “epic” it. It had it’s moments–the 21-minute game in the beginning of the fifth set for one, but the last couple of sets Stan was clearly hampered, and Djokovic just never found anything close to his top level.

But, not unlike Azarenka, Djokovic just finds a way to win, even/especially when he’s off his game. That’s impressive, and should be applauded.

But if he doesn’t play better on Monday, he’s going to be absolutely steamrolled. Find your footing, Nole! And your backhand.

2. Not only did Wawrinka show a lot of heart today, but he also dropped not one but TWO f-bombs on CBS. Here they are, in all their glory:

(Go to the :37 mark below:)


3. Once again, the US Open schedulers leave something to be desired. It didn’t take rocket science to figure out what the better match was going to be today–and, it was the one that needed to be later due to prior scheduling, too! It was a pretty hard decision to mess up, and yet CBS/US Open managed to again. That takes talent.

4. Gasquet was not terrible today, so that should be commended. I know that sounds patronizing, but really, he has impressed me all tournament. He was thoroughly beaten by a better opponent today–Nadal was great–but it wasn’t because he didn’t show up or was afraid of the moment. If Nadal’s level had been closer to, say, Djokovic’s, that match would have been a different story.

Oh, and ICYMI, here is a great Christopher Clarey article on Gasquet. Our boy’s growing up, you guys.

5. I’m excited for tomorrow. I hope that, after a US Open that won’t really be remembered for much special, our two No. 1 vs. No. 2 finals can change that.

7 Responses

  1. mylardiim
    mylardiim September 8, 2013 at 12:21 am |

    Check out this link that shows all the one-handed backhand winners in the open era (Men’s Singles).

    Its been more than 9 years since Gaudio won the French, the longest drought in history without a new 1st time slam winner with a 1-handed backhand (the second longest drought is 3 years). Only 1 players with a 1-hander has won a slam in that period – Federer.

    Years without a one-handed slam winner – 1974, 2011, 2013.

    I dont see Gasquet, Wawrinka (fitness issues) Dimitrov or any other one-hander in this era winning a slam. And you dont see juniors using it anymore. It might be a very long time until we see new 1st time winner.

  2. jane
    jane September 8, 2013 at 1:02 am |

    Lindsay totally agree with you about (a) Stan’s F-Bombs and (b) the USO bombing out on scheduling.

    Stan was the bomb!
    The USO bombed, as did the atmosphere in the second semi!

  3. jane
    jane September 8, 2013 at 1:02 am |

    But happy Nole won! 🙂

  4. Vamos Faye
    Vamos Faye September 8, 2013 at 1:03 am |

    Great insights, as usual, Changeover team!

    Heartbroken for Stan, he should have won that match with the way Djokovic was playing. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. But kudos to Djokovic, boy does he find ways to win! Loved Stan even more when he dropped those F-bombs and his tweets afterwards.
    The Gasquet-Nadal match was surprisingly competitive! I thought, and many others too, that given their past matches it’ll all be easy, breezy for Rafa. So lovely to see Richie mix it up, chip and charge at the net, wonderful volleys, and that backhand. Rafa was simply too good.
    I’ll be an emotional mess for the finals, like I’ve always been in every Nadal-Djokovic match. 🙂

  5. Jewell
    Jewell September 8, 2013 at 3:08 am |

    “He only studied men’s matches because those stats aren’t as readily available for women’s matches.”

    More institutionalised sexism in tennis? I can’t think of a good reason why the same stats aren’t as available for women’s matches.

  6. jane
    jane September 8, 2013 at 3:26 am |

    Good point Jewell. One wonders… why is that?

  7. wendy
    wendy September 8, 2013 at 3:38 pm |

    I agree w/ Lindsay w/ her thoughts. Espexially the one about Stan. Do you all think this may propel Stan to bigger andbetter things especially since he has Mags w/ him?

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