The Thing with Predictions: Tennis in 2010

antiMatterSenior Analyst IDecember 30, 2009

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21:  A general view of the court during the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals - previews at O2 Arena on November 21, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

For any prediction to be absolutely true, you need a time machine. Or loads of luck.

The thing is, it is not possible to know with absolute certainty all the factors that will affect the outcomes.

Of course, we all have our own mental abstractions of the involved factors. It is a layer of abstraction built upon the one that is the perception of tennis (which again is built upon...).

And some of these could have a quantifiable nature, or nearly quantifiable nature. At least they will have a statistical bearing. Like, you could say that Rafael Nadal will not have as good of a winning percentage next year, as he did in 2008, if he doesn't drive the ball quite as deep, or at least deeper than he did at the end of the last year.

Even that statement is not really accurate or objective. But we will move on using the usual human syllogism, "There are things we take for granted which are far more subjective in nature." (As if subjectivity is quantifiable; is it now?)

Then there are a lot of things that do not have even a seemingly quantifiable bearing on the results—things which we might call random, both on-court and off-court. The off-court things are completely in another domain of prediction which could border on the unpredictable.

Definitely both off-court and on-court happenings have things to say about the result of a match or a tournament. Of course, on-court happenings are among the "more" quantifiable things, like the actual mechanics of the match.

If off-court things keep a low profile next year, or if the players who are affected by them are successful in factoring them out of their games, then a prediction based more on the on-court happenings could probably come true more often than not.

But you could never say. Federer has not been his real self since the mono, you know? He has not been as imposing, and his game not as immense as before. But who can say? He could come back with a bang next year. For all you care, his game may "go bananas with immensity."

But even in such a case where the off-court loses out to the on-court, there could be some years where the odd guy wastes his time on predictions and comes out with headaches. Like 2010. The next year is probably already very proud of its capacity to confuse.

Federer had two slams last year. But the detractors of Federer, who probably are the figments of imagination of the author's deranged mind, or who are the indirect manifestations of the author's wishful thinking, may point out that he won both in the absence of his number one rival.

What if Nadal comes back spectacularly? At best, on clay Nadal is way better, and on grass Federer is better. On slower hard, they are probably equal, and on faster hard, Federer is way better. It is the sort of rivalry which one can call after deep analysis or after a remarkably short one in which the fact that peace is more important now than anything else takes the highest and first consideration, a rivalry that is at best equal.

Then there are things like how much more hungry Federer will be when faced with a wolverine, a younger opponent who is better physically than Federer, when seriously considering whether he will dig deeper and spend himself. Who knows, he might choose the company of his family rather than the froods at the presentation ceremony. Probably he is already grounded.

Then there is also that mysterious racquet which seems to have its own ideas about tennis, and sometimes the wielder and the wielded are in disagreement, at which time Federer starts "spraying" forehands rather than "striking them beautifully." He also misses his first serves sometimes, you know? Will it be "spray" or "strike" next year?

Now, will Nadal come back spectacularly? It is probable that 2010-11 are the years where he should consolidate his career in order to reach a dozen slams.

A completely healthy Nadal at least doesn't fear anyone, and will try out everything that he thinks will be plausible using his racquet.

Then comes the question of what is plausible from his racquet. For some time, it has been nothing much. If a tennis match had been an argument between the fans of the two players concerned, it would have gone something like this:

Fan of Nadal: "Heavy spin serve down the middle."

Fan of Player X: "Deep inside out forehand drive."

Fan of N: (Gulps) "Heavy top spin forehand cross court to service box."

Fan of X: (Laughs a malicious laugh) "Jump-switch backhand down the line. Make it really flat and deep."

Fan of N: (Looks around for something other than his saliva to gulp because the former has become really insignificant in quantity; finding nothing, he nevertheless trudges on bravely) "Run around backhand and inside-out forehand flat and deep into the forehand corner."

The Fan of Player X would then challenge that stroke. The Umpire would over-rule the "flatness" and "depth" of that inside-out forehand drive and grant the point to 'X.'

The fact is, there had been no real friendship between Nadal and his racquet for sometime now. He needs to get back some of that friendship. His racquet better be ready to die for him. With a couple of good matches under his belt, the belief will start coming back. But first he needs to live free of the fear of his knees.

Then also, his parents could re-unite. That would definitely be a mental boost. But what if they divorce again? In such a case will he fall again to Soderling at the French Open and use that knee injury again as a result? God knows.

Then comes the other single slam winners. Probably Djokovic and Roddick are two players whose "destinies have been intertwined, but never joined."

Djokovic has had lots of ups and downs this last season. The last time anything was sighted from him, he was in rather high spirits. Hopefully not in too literal a sense.

Djokovic is seen by many as the second best all-courter of this era behind Federer. Indeed, he is almost as smooth as Federer, but only a bit jerky on the landing. What has been missing is that killer-instinct and the physique. But if anything, the last season would have given him a lot of experience in order to help him mature.

Hopefully he will start performing more in the clutch, rather than clutch his chest during the performance.

Andy Roddick has been seeing some resurgence of late under Larry Stefanki. The new improved Roddick pushed Federer to the limits at Wimbledon.

But it is said that a tennis match is like a physics laboratory. And in this case, it could be pretty engaging to imagine it as a particle accelerator. An experiment was performed and Einstein still seemed to be right—though matter can come quite close to the speed of light, it can never exceed it.

Roddick runs faster, hits better at the net, and has a better backhand and return of serve than he used to. Injuries have had a say on his end-season results. If he picks up from where he left at Wimbledon last year, he is set to have a good year.

In any case, Djokovic and Roddick squaring off in a bar would be welcome entertainment.

It is said that the most difficult thing is not winning the first slam, but the second. And nobody is in fresher memory of his first slam victory than Del Potro.

2009 sort of stopped mattering for Del Potro after he won the big one beating the big one. He sort of trailed off during the later part of the latter part of 2009 compared to his US Open performance.

Nowadays bullies are ruling the roost in tennis. If Nadal bullies with a fist, Del Potro bullies with a knife. The metaphor is really not misplaced, and the author does have an explanation.

Though his strokes are on par with the best, he does have weaknesses imposed by his rather singular physique and a rather young and not yet matured mind. And surely he will be studied with even more fervour than earlier.

It could be possible that he would hit an immediate and short slump from all the self-imposed pressure of having to "be like Federer". For one, that are too many ladies for any normal person to handle.

Probably he will turn his attention to natural surfaces more often. On clay he could hit some immediate success, but on grass he needs to work harder. He better get used to eating some grass like a goat, if he has plans on emulating Federer.

That rounds up all the slam winners in the top 10. There are a couple of honourable mentions for sure.

Andy Murray definitely knows a thing or two more about tennis than Greg Rusedski. At least he has all the consonants in more favourable places.

Murray, like Federer, has a game that is pretty vast in scope. It could be said that he will take time to sort out the aspects of it and order them properly like Federer did. But he probably has taken too much time already and should start prioritising the elements of his game better. Though the deer can run, the cheetah is still faster. True in tennis too.

Davydenko has had a stellar end of season performance. But it is quite possible that the Russian's game peaked only because the others' games were on the customary season-ending wane. In any case, the beginning of the next year will reveal more reliable trends. Davydenko can dig deeper at the slams than he has so far.

The next year promises to be exciting, because the field is deeper now. The matches will feature more dare-devil hitting, and the results will be more uncertain. That is a recipe for a great year.

Here's to a Happy New Tennis Year. The action starts soon...


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