Saturday, August 25, 2007

Straight From The Horse's Mouth: US Open Draws

Okay, people. Here you go. Spin this any which way you want, but something is amiss in The Jungle. Thanks to Kathleen McElroy, we get a glimpse of just how "out in the open" the draw is conducted.

August 22, 2007, 3:45 pm
Live From the 71st Floor, It’s Tennis!
By Kathleen McElroy

Of course, there were no jokes about the high drama of the United States Open draw even though the United States Tennis Association held it in a small conference room of the 71st floor of the Empire State Building. A view of the Statue of Liberty was framed by oversized photographs of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe.

But today’s draw, which started at about 11 a.m. and was over about an hour later, was a relatively tame, polite affair because only 30 seeded players — not the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds and the other 96 — are drawn out of an Open trophy. Placed near the door were two already printed draw sheets for the men and the women, with those selections having been made the night before with representatives of the International Tennis Association and the men’s and women’s tours.

Before the draw began, Davis Cup captain and tennis commentator Patrick McEnroe, looking quite spiffy in a pinstriped suit, was already speculating about a potential matchup between 6-foot-9-inch John Isner and 6-foot-10 Ivo Karlovic. Now that would be taking tennis to new heights.

Alas, we later learned that Karlovic will face the significantly shorter Arnaud Clement in the first round, but he is in top-seeded Roger Federer’s quarter of the draw. Before the ceremony, Federer’s drawsheet read like this:

1. Federer, Roger (1)
2. Qualifier
3. Qualifier
4. Qualifier
5. Qualifier
6. Qualifier
7. WC: Isner, John
8. ____________

When Novak Djokovic was drawn to No. 2 Rafael Nadal’s side, Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated said under his breath, “Federer just went back to sleep.” The No. 8 spot was filled with Jarkko Nieminen, the 26th-seeded Finn.

Deitsch was also sitting next to The Times’ Liz Robbins, and the two traded comments and quips about the men’s draw as it continued. The question is, of course, who ends up on whose side? The draw works like this: No. 3 and No. 4 are chosen for one side or the other. Then 5-8 are decided, next 9-12, followed by 13-16. The last seeded players to be positioned are 17-24, ending with 25-32. So instead of facing Nieminen in the third round, Federer could have faced Marat Safin, seeded 25th, a former Open champion.

Everyone was buzzing after Andy Roddick was put in Federer’s quarter. If they both get that far, it’s a safe bet that USA Network will ensure that match will never see the light of day (wink).


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So. Unless I'm missing something, Raja didn't draw five qualifiers "randomly." The ITF and the ATP put together the drawsheet the night before the 30 seeds were drawn before the audience. One would think that if the ITF and ATP were interested in a balanced draw, those five qualifiers after Raja's name would've been redistributed. But they weren't.

So. If anyone wants to claim that a draw can't possibly be fixed or rigged or whatever word you want to use, then tell it to someone who can't see, can't hear, and can't read.

21 comments:

Karen said...

Hi Craig: Couple of questions: Do you believe that Roger is as good as he looks on the court? Do you believe that most of the players on the ATP can beat Roger? Do you think that Roger needs any help to win any of the majors, includng the French Open? Do you believe that at some point in time we will count Roger if not the GOAT then at least one of the GOAT? Do you think that Andy Roddick will ever win another major tournament? Do you believe that Roger needs a coach, and if so, what aspect of his game does Roger needs to work on? I ask these questions because I have been watching tennis for many years. I play, but not competitively, just club tournaments. I have been a fan of this game since the days when I was forced on Sundays to watch either Martina or Chris win every single event that was played. We only had 1 television station in Jamaica at that time, and we would be "treated" to tennis when the majors were on. I swear that I am not following the hype of the tennisheads who know the game, but I swear I have never seen as complete a player as Roger Federer. He makes it look so darned easy. He plays well and he carries himself well on the court. I believe it is disingenous and wrong for anyone to imply that Roger needs help with draws in order to make it through a major tournament. He has been given draws that people, including you, have said were brutal and should see him shaking in his boots. As I have said previously I do not like when the appearance of favouritism is inferred for Roger because to my mind he does not need it. I read the article in its entirety, twice over, as a matter of fact, and while I am sure that I am a reasonably intelligent person, I am unable to find the conspiracies that you are alluding to in this article. Please enlighten me. Look forward to hearing from you.

Karen said...

Craig, I read your response twice to ensure that my response was on point and addressed the matters that you have raised. You have indicated that Roger is not only gifted, but extremely lucky. I believe that is what we would call an oxy-moron. There is absolutely no way that someone of his immense talent can be gifted as well as extremely luck in his chosen profession. In essence you are saying that where he is today is not as a result of his talen, but in actuality the lack of talent and the luck of the draw (so to speak). In essence then we could say the same for all players in every era. At some point in time we have to be in a position where we give someone the credit that they deserve, not as a result of being lucky, but that they are gifted and have used that gift wisely. Recently the question regarding talent was raised by Jon Wertheim, and he inferred that the Williams sisters were not talented but that they were blessed with other attributes (i.e. mental toughness) which allowed them to be superior to the rest of the field. I believe we do a disservice to these athletes when we praise one aspect of their game and undermine the rest of it and put it either on luck or on other attributes. To me it is an all encompassing thing, that is, every aspect of the person's game is essential for them to succeed. Talent, gifted, athleticism, and mental toughness. Roll that all into one and we would then say that the person was lucky to be born with all these gifts. If it is that Roger was only talented, he would not have been where he was today. To infer that he has needed luck to be where he is today is to my mind insulting. The fact that he is heads and shoulders above all other players on tour says something about his mental fortitude and not about luck. At Wimbledon this year he was simply outplayed by Nadal. Nadal had 2 opportunities in the deciding set to take the match away from Roger. What did he do. He played as if his life depended on it. Do we then describe Nadal as being mentally weak, of course not. If anything, we then say that as a result of injuries and tiredness, Nadal was unable to take advantage of his chances against Roger. The same thing was said in Hamburg. At what point do we start giving him some amount of credit and not ascribe his victories to other situations. On the issue of him being an egomaniac, believe me, to get to the top and stay there, you need to be an egomaniac. You have to believe in yourself and your abilities. Otherwise, whats the use.

Craig Hickman said...

Karen,

I don't do GOAT discussions because we as human beings cannot discern the "greats of all time". None of us have or will have lived that long. Add to that, there may be greater players on the planet who never got the opportunity to play tennis but who might possess more talent than anyone currently playing or who has ever played.

Federer is a great player. I've never said otherwise. I do, however, also believe that the field, his "competition," if you want to call it that, makes him appear better than he is. And that goes for my favorite in Andy Roddick. He's a mental midget.

Will Andy ever win another Slam? I can't know. But I hope (believe?) he will win Wimbledon before his career ends, even if it's like a Goran Ivanisevic swan song.

When I say players such as Lleyton Hewitt will never win another Slam that's also my hope and belief. But I certainly can't know.

I think all players can benefit from a coach, but if Raja is as self-assured (read: egomaniacal and narcissistic) as I take him for, then, no, he doesn't need a coach. I've even written that Roddick doesn't need a coach right now. I think all players can benefit from their own independence, from having to try to figure things out for themselves, as it appears they had to do in the early days of the sport for the most part.

Back to Raja. I think Raja's biggest weakness is his ego. Therefore, he can certainly benefit and might actually need help from a soft draw. Because if he faces an opponent who doesn't think he's god, who believes he has every right to win the match as the "GOAT", and who is solid enough with enough talent and fight to get into Raja's kitchen and presses through till the end of the match like Pippo Volandri did in Rome, then, yes, Raja might need more help than it appears.

I've seen those "rare" matches where he is out-toughed by a competitor with half his natural talent. (Volandri, Canas, Berdych, Roddick, etc.... come to mind.)

And that's the thing: talent in and of itself isn't enough. You need guts and you need luck.

No one gets anything in life without luck. Some say you create your own luck. Sometimes you do; sometimes you don't. Sometimes that luck is created for you or, as is your life journey, you are just flatout lucky.

In think Raja is gifted. And extremely lucky. Whether or not he could win 20 Slams without soft draws isn't something we can discuss with any knowledge. But the fact remains, at least from where I sit: that Raja is gifted and lucky and that is all to his benefit in the sport he chose to play professionally. I far too many of his opponents genuflect to him because of who he is. You may not agree with that, but that's what I see.

As for the article. I'm not alluding to any conspiracies. And let's be real, conspiracy by defintion is simply a plan by two or more people. The connotation of conspiracy as "impossible" is bullshit. Many conpiracies are facts, not theories. That said, I'm only commenting on the facts presented in this article.

My beef with Raja's draw since it was released remains: he's hoarding qualifiers. That's it. I don't care who those qualifiers end up being, but as of right now, 5 qualifiers under his name represents an imbalance that even you admitted looks strange and gives people reason to question what's going on. And he hoarded qualifiers a few months ago in London. It's a repeat occurrence that I will not overlook no matter who benefits from it.

If the ITF and the ATP can see this draw a day before it goes public, I also see no reason why representatives from those orgnazations couldn't override the "computerized" draw. But you also have to believe that it's computerized. I don't. Did you see the computer spit out these results? I didn't. But even still, why not alter it so that any appearance of impropriety is removed?

Just because you don't believe Raja needs any assistance doesn't mean that someone else (with the power to provide it, no less) thinks just the opposite.

Craig Hickman said...

"There is absolutely no way that someone of his immense talent can be gifted as well as extremely luck in his chosen profession. In essence you are saying that where he is today is not as a result of his talen, but in actuality the lack of talent and the luck of the draw (so to speak)."

I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that his extraordinary gifts coupled with his extraordinary luck position him to become the most accomplished player who's ever played professional tennis. That doesn't make him the GOAT because as I've already said, we can't actually judge such things. Accomplishments are measurable. Greatness is not.

I've always been of the belief that, ulitmately, it isn't my place to give someone credit. I feel as though I give credit where credit is due, but even that phrase contains a subjective judgment. When is credit due? You and I might disagree on what makes credit due.

Roger Federer deserves credit for rising to the top of the sport and remaining there for as long as he has. He didn't not do that on pure luck. He had to produce. He had to deliver. He had to execute his considerable gifts. Where's the insult in also saying that luck has been a part of the equation?

I don't see it that way at all.

Has Serena also been lucky? You better believe she has.

It's not either/or from where I sit. It's both/and, and, and, and....

Raja can't beat every professional tennis player on one leg with one hand tied behind his back. He's good, but he's not that good.

Karen said...

And is his rise to the top as a result of talent, luck of the draw or the lack of talent in the ATP pool. I believe as you say that it is probably a combination of factors. Perhaps because I am a Christian minded woman why I do not believe in luck. I believe in people using the talents that God has given them to either succeed and/or fail in life. I believe that Roger could have gone 2 ways with his talent. He could have either succeeded or failed. He succeeded. For people to say then that he needs luck to be where he is today is not a good thing, or for people to imply that as a result of a luck of the draw, rain delays, overplaying by competitors, lack of belief by his peers, is doing him a disservice and not giving credit where it is due, that Roger's greatness (and I respect and agree with your thoughts on GOAT) is due to luck, or a combination of luck and talent and the lack of competition of the ATP pool. As to Serena, I believe it is pure unadulterated (sp?) talent which has brought her to the pinnacle of the sport. There is absolutely no way that she could have risen to where she is by luck. Sharapova had mental belief (no talent). She was groomed to be a tennis player. It was what led her to her first major win (and here people will say that it was because Serena was injured). No, it was because Sharapova at the time felt that she had nothing to lose. She was playing one of the greatest players who ever played the game and she never knew she could beat her. Since that time, she has met her match and she has found to her detriment that while you are healthy you are basically unbeatable, when injuries set in that is when the vultures start circling.

Craig Hickman said...

Karen, one more thing: If you take my remarks as insulting Federer please understand that I'm not insulting you for being a fan of his.

I've never "spoken" to him, so it's not my intent to insult him. But I have spoken to you, and I know I'm not trying to insult you.

I'm just telling it how I see it, as we all do.

I see Raja differently than you do. That's all, really.

Craig Hickman said...

I consider myself a Christian (though I belong to no earthly church) and I still believe in luck. Or fortune. Or God's favor. Whatever you want to call it.

Roger Federer (or Serena Williams) didn't consciously choose what family they were born into. (Perhaps they did metaphysically, but that's a whole other discussion.) Therefore, they were both fortunate to have the support they had to become the tennis champions they've become.

They were lucky.

As I said earlier, there might be several children born at the same time who would have been just as talented (if not moreso) who weren't born into families that gave them the opportunity (finances, encouragement, etc...) to develop their skills as tennis players. Instead, they might have had to farm or turn tricks or complete traditional schools in order to make the most of their lives.

Roger and Serena are superstars. They are lucky, no matter how talented.

Karen said...

Craig, I did not take the remark as insulting to me in a personal sense. I meant the term figuratively speaking. I dont know Roger either (hopefully some day I will get to meet him. I keep entering the Mercedez Benz play of the week, but am yet to win). As regards luck, I guess there would be more than one definition of luck - fortune, destiny, the stars aligning, God Blessed etc. It is just that to me luck does not have much to do with the way things are for some people. I have been described as lucky by a lot of people, but looking at my life, I would not say that it was luck, I usually call it being blessed. The ability to rise from adversity (as I have done) and/or to make the best of a bad situation, is to me pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and not waiting for luck to come your way. You either have to create your own "luck" or as you say have people who believe in your gifts, talents, ability to guide you and believe in you. I guess if Roger/Serena/Maria did not have the Peter/Richards/Yuris of this world to believe in them, I guess we would not have heard of them, but of others. But they make our lives so much more interesting because of their abilities etc. (perhaps should not have put Pova in that group, but what the hey). I am off work for a couple of days. My son has chicken pox (I have never been so happy to see a child sick - LOL) and I have to be out of the office for a few days. Was planning on being in Jamaica, but forbidden to travel as well. guess what I will be doing - watching the early rounds of the US Open on the USA Network, man I love chicken pox - LOL

Craig Hickman said...

Here's my thing: I've followed tennis on and off for most of my life and I can't say I ever recall the draws being so picked apart. Obviously, the Internet didn't exist when I first started watching tennis, but commentators/journalists certainly did and there was never this much discussion from every corner about both Slam draws.

Craig Hickman said...

Take care of yourself and you son, Karen. Enjoy the chicken pox (I never had them. At this point, I better not get them either...) and the early rounds of the US Open!

Karen said...

In all my years of watching tennis, I myself have never seen a draw like this, especially on the women's side. To say it is top heavy is putting it mildly. Today I was watching the Pilot Pen women's final (I dont care what anyone says, Svetlana needs to lose some weight - and then they talk about Serena) and Mary Carillo and Bil McCatee could not stop talking about it. They thought it was a joke. As to the men, I believe I have expressed my views about this on many occassions and I will let that one rest. As has been said no player worth his/her salt should ever wish for an easy draw - you may want one or two good matches to get you in your groove, but not all the way to the finals. When you get there, what usually happens is that you meet someone who has to kick, scratch and bloody some people along the way and is now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and you are basically standing in that player's way. What do you think will happen. You will be blown away. AO 2007 anyone. Another thing that was shown today during the CBS broadcast was the players on each half of the draw - Serena should actually have been on Sharapova's side of the draw.

Craig Hickman said...

The less said about the women's draw, the better.

Even with the qualifier hoarding, the men's draw, overall, is still pretty balanced in my view.

Karen said...

Hey Craig, popping out for dinner. My boss is treating me. Good work and all that. She has already had chicken pox. I will talk to you later. Watching the Fish/Blake match as well. Not really impressed by either guy but its tennis, so what the heck

Craig Hickman said...

Exactly. What the heck.

Blake won.

andy29786 said...

Time to call the wahmbulance!

Helen W said...

You can actually calculate the probability that positions 2 through 6 are filled with qualifiers pretty easily. There are 128 positions to be filled, and 16 qualifiers, so the probability =
16/128 * 15/128 * 14/128 * 13/128 * 12/128 = 0.0000153

Craig Hickman said...

thanks, helen w.

LOL.

Helen W said...

If you factor in the probability that position 7 is a wildcard you can multiply the above number by 6/128 (there are 6 WCs in the draw), yielding a probability of 0.000000715.

hth

Craig Hickman said...

Very lucky.

Savannah said...

I was a lit major so anything with numbers gives me a raging headache. But the numbers are small so that means the probabilites are small too no?

Helen W said...

Well, the latter probability (0.000000715) means that the chance of it happening is less than one in a million.