Wednesday, October 7, 2015

USA Race to Rio: Olympics update #1

Next August, 128 men and women from around the world will gather in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to participate in the singles tennis portion of the quadrennial Summer Olympic Games. Given the state of American pro tennis, It's quite likely, assuming decent health, that like in 2012 the USA will field a full team of 4 players for both the men's and women's tournaments.

The question now becomes: who will those players be?

To qualify for one of the direct entry spots in the Olympics, a player must be among the top 56 in the WTA or ATP rankings as of June 6, 2016 (immediately following Roland Garros) who also is one of the top 4 players in his or her own country. Given the number of Spanish men, Czech women, etc. in the top 56, this means the effective rankings cut-offs are around #70. (There are additional requirements about making oneself available for Fed Cup and Davis Cup, but as far as I know, this does not affect any of the Americans.) So like in 2012, it's almost certain that several American women in the Top 70 will not make the cut, and very possible that one or two Top 70 American men will also miss out.

Looking back to 2012

Before seeing how today's players are doing in their races, let's look back 3 years.  In 2012, the race for who would represent the USA came down to the final tournament.  Serena Williams and Christina McHale had already wrapped up their spots by the time Roland Garros rolled around, leaving the final two spots up for grabs between Venus Williams (1175 points), Vania King (987), Varvara Lepchenko (929), and Sloane Stephens (837). All four players won their first round matches, but then Venus and King fell in the 2nd round, while Lepchenko and Stephens advanced. That put the race at Venus (1275), Lepchenko (1089), and Stephens (997). (King was eliminated with 1087 points, just 2 less than Lepchenko.)

When both Lepchenko and Stephens won their 3rd round matches, that put them at 1209 and 1117, respectively (and ensured both were inside the Top 60 and thus well within the direct entry cut-off). If either player had won her 4th round match, she would have leapfrogged Venus with an additional 220 points. However, on Day 8, Stephens fell in a 7-5 6-4 match to Samantha Stosur, and was eliminated from Olympic contention. Lepchenko was in - a huge moment for the women who had chosen to make the USA her home.

For the men, it was a little less dramatic, with all the contenders for the 4th spot (after John Isner,  Mardy Fish, and Andy Roddick) all losing in the Roland Garros first round. That meant Donald Young was in, and when Fish couldn't compete, Ryan Harrison (then #52) was able to take his spot.

The 2016 race looks to be pretty interesting for both sides. We're about a third of the way through the race, which started right after Roland Garros 2015, and as of today (Wednesday, October 7), there are only 16 points separating the #4 and #5 women (Sloane Stephens and CoCo Vandeweghe). Serena Williams is, of course, a shoo-in, and Venus Williams is looking very solid as well. Madison Keys is in 3rd place, but she's less then 100 points ahead of Vandeweghe for also-ran status.

As for the men, Isner has more than twice as many points as surprise 2nd place Denis Kudla. Steve Johnson is currently 3rd with 481 points, while 4th place Jack Sock's win in the 2nd round of Tokyo Beijing earlier today gave him a 55 point lead over 5th place Sam Querrey (it was just 10 points prior to today).  There's still a lot of tennis to be played, obviously, and technically anyone who enters Roland Garros 2016 - even qualies - will have a theoretical chance to make the team with, say, a dream run to the semis.

See the charts below for the races as they stand.  The full list of the WTA Race to Rio, for all countries, is available at Tennis Forum (as you can see, the 4th-ranked American should have no trouble making the 56 cut); I don't know of a similar tracking effort for the ATP. Edited to add: Based on current rankings, the #56 WTA player has 985 points, while the #65 player has 889 points. So Keys is assured of making the cut-off, and Stephens and Vandeweghe are all but assured. The #56 ATP player has 822 points, so only Isner has already made the cut-off; the #65 player has 745 points, so things look very good for at least 4 Americans to reach that threshold.

These points are updated as of 12:15 p.m. CDT on October 7, 2015. Players who are still active in their tournaments as of that time have their points in red. See the full database of Americans in the Top 200 and where they stand in their respective races.

UPDATE: I have updated the rankings to include all points received last week in Beijing, Tokyo, and various challengers.

Race to Rio - USA Women as of October 11, 2015
Player
Race to Rio points
10/11/2015
S. Williams
4060
V. Williams
1642
Keys
966
Stephens
896
Vandeweghe
880
Mattek-Sands
657
Lepchenko
644
McHale
478
Brengle
388
Falconi
388
Tatishvili
373
Davis
340
Riske
328
Gibbs
276
Rogers
249
Pegula
233

Race to Rio - USA Men as of October 11, 2015
Player
Race to Rio points
10/11/2015
Isner
1190
Kudla
558
Johnson
481
Sock
460
Querrey
405
Young
345
Ram
331
Krajicek
269
Fratangelo
254
Donaldson
207
Novikov
190
Smyczek
167
Harrison
161


Thanks to @theAdamsJr for suggesting this post!

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