Tuesday, April 28, 2015

New USA Career-High Rankings, April 27, 2015

Each week I will bring you a list of USAmerican players who have reached a new career-high ranking (CHR). This list covers all players in the Top 1000. Any player outside the Top 1000 will not be included unless they actually have earned at least one point from their previous career-high ranking. See all the CHR posts.

New WTA Career-High Rankings, April 27, 2015

Player name
Last wk
*= previous   CHR
+  from last week
If prior to last wk
Date achieved
If prior to last wk
Madison Brengle

Louisa Chirico

Katerina Stewart

Caitlin Whoriskey

Lauren Embree

Ellie Halbauer
Rianna Valdes

Alexandra Stiteler
Marie Norris
Claire Liu
Jessica Failla
Sofia Kenin
Jessica Ho
Kaitlyn McCarthy

Dasha Ivanova

Alexa Graham

Erica Oosterhout

Raveena Kingsley

Carolyn Xie

Not included: Sophie Chang (1130).

The big story of the week is yet again Ms. Madison Brengle, who rocketed through the Stuttgart draw to reach her first career Premier level semifinal, beating Petra Kvitova along the way. She's defending absolutely nothing until Wimbledon, and some women ahead of her are defending points. In other words, notwithstanding her tough loss this morning to Barbora Strycova, she's got a Wimbledon seed nearly in her pocket. And honestly, losing early in Prague isn't the worst thing, given that she had a long week in Stuttgart and has two big weeks coming up in Madrid and Rome. A decent draw in either one, and she'll be seeded in Paris. Fantastic.

Dothan $50K: Louisa Chirico beat Katerina Stewart in the final and both had huge ranking rises associated with that. If she somehow doesn't win the French Open wild card, Chirico will be seeded in the French Open qualies and given her love of the surface, you have to think she'll have a great chance. Then comes grass: a surface she's never played a pro match on. I'll be surprised if she can make the transition easily but I hope she can! Stewart, meanwhile, almost certainly missed out on French Open qualies but she could still nab the wild card (a win Wednesday in her Chirico rematch will help). She's defending points in the next two months so Wimbledon qualies are certainly riding on what happens the next couple of weeks. But she should be playing juniors regardless, so that's nice.

Marie Norris and Kaitlyn McCarthy each picked up a point by winning a round in qualies. Caitlyn Whoriskey picked up a point for playing in the first round, and also added points from the prior week's second round at the ...

Pelham $25K: Ellie Halbauer qualified and won a round, and Raveena Kingsley was a wild card who won a round and is making her debut in the WTA rankings!!  Alexandra Stiteler qualified.  Erica Oosterhout won a couple of rounds in qualifying.

Dasha Ivanova picked up 1 point for playing a match (as a wild card).

Heraklion $10K: Carolyn Xie won a round and picked up 1 point.

The other players moved up thanks to others moving down.

New ATP Career-High Rankings, April 27, 2015

Player name
Last wk
*= pvs CHR
+  from last wk
If prior to last wk
Date achieved
If prior to last wk
Austin Krajicek

Bjorn Fratangelo

Jared Donaldson

Jason Jung
Connor Smith
Adam El Mihdawy
Kevin King
Frances Tiafoe

Alexander Sarkissian

Eric Quigley

Tommy Paul
Wil Spencer

Eduardo Nava

Michael Grant

Oscar Fabian Matthews
Matt Seeberger

Big news from the challenger circuit, as twin North American events in Savannah, Ga. (on green clay) and Guadalajara, Mexico (on hard) benefitted several players.

Savannah: Bjorn Fratangelo and Frances Tiafoe each reached semifinals to position themselves as #2 and #1, respectively, in the French Open wild card race. Fratangelo has only 18 points from a Futures title to defend until after Wimbledon, so depending on how his trip to Europe goes, we could be seeing him knock on the door of the Top 120. After that he's got some real work to do. Tiafoe, meanwhile, has literally THREE POINTS to defend until February 2016. And just tonight he beat his first Top 100 player in Facundo Bagnis. I think it's fair to say that, as long as he's healthy and schedules smartly, he has not reached his 2015 ceiling.

Jared Donaldson reached the quarters and is showing flashes of brilliance. But he has a LOT of points looming in June - last year he won three Futures events that month. Hopefully he doesn't put too much pressure on himself on his European adventure. 17-year-old Tommy Paul won his first-ever challenger match in Savannah, a feat he repeated today in Tallahassee, so he'll move up yet again.

Guadalajara: Although Austin Krajicek was poised to have a good week (and did in doubles, winning the title), he fell in the first round, winning only 2 games against Giovanni Lapentti. But he moved up thanks to Andrey Golubev's drop. However, great weeks were had by Jason Jung (first challenger final), Connor Smith & Kevin King (first challenger semifinals), and Adam El Mihdawy (quarterfinal). 

USA F13/Little Rock: Jason Jung won this a couple of weeks back, which added to Guadalajara assured him a place in the Roland Garros qualies. A massive achievement for the former University of Michigan stalwart. Eric Quigley reached the semis, which Alexander Sarkissian and Oscar Fabian Matthews got to the quarters. Wil Spencer and Matt Seeberger each won a round to pick up a point.

Eduardo Nava and Michael Grant each advanced due to others' retreating.

Monday, April 27, 2015

This Week in American Tennis: 5 Takeaways

1. Madison Brengle is 36. Yes there were withdrawals and yes her draw conveniently had her avoiding some big names but DAyuMMM Brengle played like a woman on a mission this past week in Stuttgart … a mission to outer space!!

Brengle from last year's Quebec City tournament

She just played such smart tennis (and without a coach along for the ride!) in reaching her first Premier-level semifinal. Moving the ball around the court with good depth, and stepping into her backhand that she is so confident in. Looks to me like she’s got good disguise on that backhand, allowing her to hit winners her opponent was nowhere close to. And that serve! (insert emoji with hearts in his eyes)

Angelique Kerber was a much different test than Petra Kvitova or Caroline Garcia. Both of those women can hit their way out of any match, but resurgent/peak Kerber will grind you the hell down. I didn't watch the match but from reports and these highlights suggest, the eventual champion was at her retrieving, crafty, squatting best.

As for Brengle on European clay, her experience is different than many of the other Americans who have been mostly below the Top 100 in their careers. She has taken several trips to Europe over the years, in 2009, 2011, and last year, playing ITFs there instead of in the US. Her movement on red clay is quite good and her point construction is excellent.

Where does Madison Brengle go from here? Well, tomorrow she goes against Barbora Strycova in Prague. It will be a great test of whether she truly has taken that next step as a potential Top 20 player. She's absolutely not sneaking up on anyone anymore. This time last year, the Artist Formerly Known as Beezus won their clay match in the former Czechoslovakia (an ITF event in the Slovak Republic, to be specific) in two tiebreaks. Much has changed for the better for these two women in the ensuing year. Should be a good 'un.

2. Six American men reached challenger semis.  While it's disappointing that none of the six US men in the Top 100 found their way either this past week or this current week to Europe to play ATP events, it was a very good week for several players in the next tier, as Rajeev Ram, Jason Jung, Kevin King, Connor Smith, Bjorn Fratangelo, and Frances Tiafoe all reached semis at the ATP Challenger level. The first four made the Guadalajara semifinals an all-American affair, with Ram beating Jung in the final, while the latter two fell in their simultaneous Savannah semis to Chung Hyeon and James McGee, respectively.

Unfortunately, some of the bigger names in Guadalajara fell inexplicably early, in their first-round matches - Austin Krajicek won only two games against Giovanni Lapentti, Denis Kudla lost in straights to Remi Boutillier, and Ryan Harrison lost to Juan Ignacio Londero - but that opened up the draw for some of the aforementioned players. (Edited to add: Krajicek did have a nice week in doubles, taking the title with Ram.)  Jung, King, and Smith are now all in brand new territory. Jung and (likely) Smith will be contesting their first-ever major qualies next month at Roland Garros. King, meanwhile, is finally into the Top 300, although with two Mexican Futures titles coming off his ranking in the coming weeks, he'll have to do a lot of work very soon to maintain that.

2a. Shout-out to Mitchell Krueger. Mitch played great against Liam Broady to reach his first career challenger quarterfinal in Savannah. If you didn't get a chance, definitely watch the match.

2b. USTAPCHTWCC - Men. With two weeks and one day gone in the USTA Pro Circuit Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge, here's where we stand: All the American players still remaining in the Tallahassee Challenger - and only those players - are still alive. If any of them wins the title, he wins the French Open wild card. Any player who reaches the final could also win it, if neither Tiafoe nor Fratangelo reaches the semis, and if no American reaches the other final. (Chase Buchanan chose to play two challengers on the red clay in Brazil which, in hindsight, looks like a decision that could well cost him the French Open wild card. Oh and he lost first round in both events.)

Tiafoe currently leads the challenge with 47 points; he can only add to that with a semi (the USTAPCHTWCC only counts a player's best 2 of 3 events). If he ties with Fratangelo or Jared Donaldson, the other player will get the wild card due to higher ranking.

My literal back-of-the-envelope calculations show basically the following scenario (apologies for the lack of formatting):

PLAYER        SF       F       W
Tiafoe             58       77      109
Fratangelo      58       77     109
Donaldson      47       66      98
Krueger          XX      63      95
Krajicek         XX      56     87
Sandgren      XX      55     87
Paul               XX       55     87
Kevin King, Jean-Yves Aubone, Rhyne Williams, Alex Kuznetsov, and Dennis Novikov: 48 points with a final, 80 points with a title.

3. Louisa Chirico and Katerina Stewart lead the USTAHTWCC charge! These two intriguing teens gave us a fantastic start to the women's side of the Har-Tru Challenge as both survived tricky draws to reach the Dothan $50K final and then gave us a topsy-turvy final that ended, oh so rightly, in a third set tiebreak. Chirico was the far better player in that final game, and so has a commanding lead in the race. Any other American player will need a semi and a final to beat her, and that's if she doesn't reach another final this coming week in Charlottesville or Indian Harbour Beach.

Stewart, meanwhile, will rue her inability to serve out the match at 5-3 5-4 (thanks Colette!) in the 3rd - particularly as a win might have been enough to make the French Open qualifying cut-off (generally around #200 for women - she would have been at around #208). But hopefully she doesn't dwell on it, as she proved she is already close to a Top 100-level talent, and has the shots and court sense to put a scare into a lot of people right now. A few more weeks of the level she's playing and we could just see her in the Wimbledon qualies.

Sadly, incredibly, the two Dothan heroines drew each other in the first round of Charlottesville. Tennis can be so cruel.

4. BMS! Well well, guess who got another title with her friend and doubles partner Lucie Safarova? Why it's none other than Bethanie Mattek-Sands who, with doubles partner Lucie Safarova, is, thanks to their title in Stuttgart and previously undefeated Sania Mirza/Martina Hingis falling in their first match, in first place in the doubles Road to Singapore a third of the way through the season! There are some other good teams out there but with the dissolution of Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci, there's every hope that those two teams will face each other multiple times this season. I can't think of a better advertisement for women's doubles if they do.

5. Little success in Futures. This past week in Bangkok, Thailand, Andre Dome qualified and made the quarters. I point this out because he was the ONLY American man to reach the quarters at any level other than the two above-mentioned challengers. In fact, only four American men were in the main draw of any of the 11 Futures events around the nation. That's 4 out of 352, or only 1.14% of all the Futures main draw participants. I know it's rough when no such tournament is happening on your continent (while two challengers are happening there) but I do wonder whether the USTA could be doing more to put players in the right place to get points, and help flood the rankings with Americans. Perhaps instead of 35 players in the Top 500, we could have 40 or 50. I honestly don't know.

Sure, the ultimate goal is to have Grand Slam champions. The French, with their 15 Futures quarterfinalists last week, are no closer to that goal than they've been in decades. Spain, the greatest men's tennis nation, has had only one such champion, Rafael Nadal, in the past dozen years. But at the same time, it's nice to have more guys with a chance to compete on tour, and quite often the difference between #120 and #320 is just a few good draws and a lot of good health.

This coming week, three Americans made the trip to Abuja, Nigeria, to participate in the $15K+H there. Already Eric Quigley and recent birthday boy Deiton Baughman have secured first round wins, and Evan Song is favored to do the same on Tuesday. I love this move. Earlier today, Ian DW did a nice analysis of why it pays sometimes to go out of your way in the search of extremely valuable points.
Gold stars: Adam El Mihdawy (first career Challenger QF in Guadalajara), Tommy Paul (upset Savannah #2 seed Ruben Bemelmans 76(6) 67(5) 63 in Savannah), Malika Rose (first career QF in Guadalajara), Nicholas Monroe (ATP doubles final in Bucharest - lost 36 75 [17-15] to local wildcards Marius Copil & Adrian Ungur), Jessica Pegula (Dothan QF), Samantha Crawford (Dothan QF), Alexandra Stevenson (Dothan QF including a first round upset of top-seed Grace Min), and all the college conference champions!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

In the final(s) analysis

When, last Sunday, three Americans played in the finals of ATP and WTA events, it was first time since July 2012 that had happened in the same week, and only second time since February 2010.

In honor of this achievement, I thought it might be interesting to track and compare the finals appearances for Americans over the past few years.  So I did some Wikipedia research (admittedly, not foolproof) and came up with some charts, and thought I'd share them with you, along with some analysis.

I decided to focus on finals rather than titles because (a) there are a LOT more data points to work with, (b) it goes along with the Sporcle quizzes I created (men here, women here), and (c) finalists get trophies too! But you'll get stats from finals as well.

Also, rather than just compare American men to American women, I decided to separate American women into two categories: Serena Williams, and everyone else. To do otherwise would be to skew the results massively. Serena has more finals, and far, far more titles, than all other American women combined over the past 5+ years.  I just thought it would be more instructive, in the final(s) analysis.


Total finals: 43 (23 titles)
Total finals in US: 31 (17 titles)
% of finals in US: 72% (75% of titles)
Number of players: 9 (6 with titles)
Most finals: John Isner - 17 (9 titles)
% of finals by Isner: 40% (39% of titles)

Outdoor hard: 25 (13 titles)
Indoor hard: 4 (2 titles)
Clay: 9 (4 titles)
Grass: 5 (4 titles)
% of finals on hard: 67% (65% of titles)
% of finals on clay: 21% (17% of titles)
% of finals on grass: 12% (17% of titles)

Tournament Level
250: 34 (21 titles)
500: 4 (2 titles - both Memphis)
1000: 5 (0 titles)
ATP Tour Finals: 0 (0 titles)
Grand Slam: 0 (0 titles)
% of finals at 250 level: 79% (91% of titles)


Total finals: 31 (27 titles)
Total finals in US: 12 (11 titles)
% of finals in US: 39% (41% of titles)

Outdoor hard: 18 (14 titles)
Indoor hard: 3 (3 titles)
Clay: 8 (8 titles)
Grass: 2 (2 titles)
% of finals on hard: 68% (63% of titles)
% of finals on clay: 26% (30% of titles)
% of finals on grass: 6% (7% of titles)

Tournament Level
International: 1 (1 title - Bastad)
Premier: 19 (16 titles)
WTA Championships: 3 (3 titles)
Grand Slam: 8 (7 titles)
% of finals at International level: 3% (4% of titles)

Non-Serena WOMEN

Total finals: 26 (10 titles)
Total finals in US: 3 (0 titles)
% of finals in US: 12% (0% of titles)
Number of players: 13 (5 with titles)
Most finals: Venus Williams 10 (6 titles)
% of finals by Venus: 38% (60% of titles)

Outdoor hard: 15 (4 titles - 3 Venus)
Indoor hard: 3 (1 title - Venus/Luxembourg)
Clay: 4 (2 titles - both Venus)
Grass: 4 (3 titles)
% of finals on hard: 68% (50% of titles)
% of finals on clay: 15% (20% of titles)
% of finals on grass: 15% (30% of titles)

Tournament Level
International: 17 (6 titles)
Premier: 9 (4 titles - 3 Venus)
WTA Championships: 0 (0 titles)
Grand Slam: 0 (0 titles)
% of finals at International level: 65% (60% of titles)


The number one thing that jumps out is the trends - men's final appearances fell dramatically over four years, coinciding with Andy Roddick's retirement and Mardy Fish's health issues. Last year was the nadir for men, with a mere two finals appareances - a number that has already been surpassed this year. Meanwhile, non-Serena women were in the doldrums for years until their breakout last year - the ten finals they reached in 2014 was two more than the previous three years combined.  Through one-third of 2015, they seem to be on track for a similar year to 2014.

Serena's 12 finals in 2013 is pretty stunning in comparison to everything else. Note that in 2010 and 2011 she was facing major health concerns as well.

Locations & levels: It's really amazing - 72% of the men's finals took place in the USA vs. only 12% of the non-Serena women's finals. Similarly, 75% of the men's titles were in the States, while no American woman, other than Serena, has won a tournament in the USA since Lindsay Davenport won the Tier III Memphis tournament in 2008. That's an incredible difference.

One reason for this is the level of tournaments being played - nearly 80% of US men's finals and 65% of non-Serena women's finals happened at the smallest levels of each tour: the ATP 250s and the WTA International tournaments. Those tournaments give players outside the Top 10/Top 20 the best chance to pick up a title, as rarely do the best players compete.  To wit: the reason Serena only has one International title in the past 5+ years on tour is because she's only played one International tournament over that time. She's earning her titles via majors and Premier events, which makes her title haul all the more impressive.

So here's the thing - low-level tournaments are not equally distributed geographically.

Take 2014:  Of the 39 ATP 250 events, 6 were in the US (15%). Meanwhile, of the 31 International WTA tournaments, only 1 was in the US (3%).  Tournaments in which US men have reached finals - like Delray Beach (Donald Young), Houston (Jack Sock, Sam Querrey, Isner, and Ryan Sweeting), Atlanta (Isner, Fish, and Roddick) and Newport (Isner and Fish) - don't have comparable tournaments for US women. Instead, the women are in Luxembourg (Venus), Tianjin (Alison Riske), and Quebec (Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Venus).

However, the geographic correlation goes beyond the lowest tournaments. To wit: of the 9 ATP 500 & Masters Series 1000 finals that Americans reached since 2010, 8 (89%) were in the US (Fish in Montreal in 2011). Conversely, of the 9 Premier finals non-Serena US women have reached, only 3 (33%) were in the US.

(When it comes to overall percentage of finals in the US, Serena (39%) splits the difference between the men (72%) and non-Serena women (12%).

Surface: As for surface, there's a remarkable similarity: hard court finals were between 67-68% for all three categories, while hard court titles accounted for between 63-65%. Perhaps a bit surprising is that men in our sample did a bit better on clay than the non-Serena women did. Men reached 4 finals in Houston, yes, but also 1 in Nice (Brian Baker) and 2 in Belgrade in 2010 (Querrey and Isner). Venus had a couple back in 2010, and then other than Serena, no clay finals until Shelby Rogers last year in Bad Gastein and then Madison Keys this year in Charleston.

Grass, by contrast, has been a bit friendlier to women, with Keys, CoCo Vandeweghe, and Melanie Oudin all recording their first titles there.

Serena has only played Wimbledon the past few years. Hopefully we'll see her at another tournament this year with the extra week of grass, although I haven't heard anything yet.

Number of players: 14 different women - including Serena - having reached finals since 2010 is an impressive number. Five of them (Serena, Venus, Keys, Vandeweghe, and Mattek-Sands) have reached multiple finals, but only the Williams Sisters have multiple titles in that time. The question of whether these finals and titles are blips or building blocks are big questions for players such as Keys, CoCo, and Rogers.

The nine US men who have reached finals have them more spread out - only Sock, Baker, and Sweeting have just one final; Young has two; Querrey, Roddick, Fish, and Isner all have had at least 7.

Ages: I didn't track ages but we've seen a few finals by men under 25 - Querrey, Young, Sweeting, and Sock. Querrey built his amazing 2010 (5 finals, 4 titles) into a Top 20 position, but struggled after that.  The question of whether Sock can build on his own title is a huge story for US tennis moving forward.

As for women - we know that Serena has gotten better with age, but it seems like US women have as well. Brengle,  Lepchenko, and Riske all achieved their first career finals well into their careers. Again, though, whether they can build upon those results is yet to be determined.

Final question: Given how much better US women have been doing in the rankings over the past couple of years, a question worth asking is whether the relatively high number of ATP tournaments in the US is helping or hurting American men. On the one hand, would they be getting to ANY finals if there were fewer tournaments on US soil? Or are the too dependent on the home courts, making it less likely they'll go on the road, take their lumps, but ultimately be stronger players who rely on themselves more than a home environment?

I think to figure the answer to this, it might be necessary to look down into the lower levels of tennis - challengers and ITF events. Are Americans at those levels having as large a contrast between gender based on geography?

Problably not - based on a cursory review of 2014 results, 16 of 150 ATP Challengers (11%) were in the US; Americans secured 12 of the 32 final spots in those. (There were 8 finalists in the other 134 non-US tournaments.)

13 of 56 ITF women's tournaments at the $50K level and above (23%) were in the US, and Americans reached an impressive 15 finals in those. Remarkably, there was only 1 American finalist in the other 43 events - Maria Sanchez at the $50K in Toronto. (None of the WTA $125K events were in the US, and Americans did not reach any finals in those.)

A full analysis of lower levels of tennis is beyond the scope of this piece.

I'd love to get your feedback on this - what pops out at you, and what should we expect given the trends going forward?