Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Follow-up: Djokovic as GOAT? (III) and COVID distortions

with 3 comments

As a follow-up to an earlier text on Djokovic and COVID distortions:

The arguably best tennis player in the world, right here, right now,* is Djokovic. He was a single match away from winning a Grand Slam in 2021 and he has lost only one match in the majors this year (and that against Nadal in the French Open).

He still is no better than 6th on the world ranking; Nadal, his long-time rival, might retake the number one position on the world ranking presently; and Nadal might outdo him 3 majors to 1 for the year by the end of the ongoing 2022 U.S. Open. (Currently, 2 to 1.) To boot, Nadal might outdo him 23 to 21 overall. (Currently, 22 to 21.)

*Time of writing: September 3rd, 2022.

What is wrong with this picture? Well, firstly, looking at this year, Djokovic has been unfairly banned from two out of four majors (Australian Open,* U.S. Open) where he would have been the favorite** (and Nadal won the Australian Open in his absence, might do the same to the U.S. Open). Secondly, Djokovic’s Wimbledon victory gave him not one single point on the ATP ranking.*** All this for reasons of politics—not tennis.

*My original text, written during this tournament, speaks of the “on-going 2022 French Open”. This should, of course, be the “on-going 2022 Australian Open”.

**Very clearly so for the Australian Open; more narrowly for the U.S. Open.

***However, as unfortunate as this is for the sport of tennis, letting Wimbledon get away with blocking Russians (individual players are not party to the war) and Belorussians (even the country is not party to the war) because of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine would be a greater evil. Also note that the Wimbledon issue has a different cause than the other problems discussed.

(I have not looked into the non-majors, but there is a possibility that Djokovic has been similarly mistreated in other tournaments too. It can certainly not be ruled out that the unnecessary chaos, stress, and lost time has negatively affected him. Moreover, there is a non-trivial risk that he will be either unfairly banned from or unfairly fail to qualify for the ATP Finals, which would ruin his ranking further.)

Looking at the overall count of majors, this is partially caused by the disparities of 2022; however, these problems began earlier: the 2020 Wimbledon, where Djokovic was a clear favorite,* was canceled, while the French Open, won by Nadal, was merely postponed.

*He had won the two previous editions—and has gone on to win the two following.

I have written in detail about why the “majors won” heuristic for GOAT-hood and player comparisons is flawed ([1]). The extreme distortions over the last few years cement this—in a slightly different reality, Nadal might have two resp. three majors less (2020 French Open, 2022 Australian Open; 2022 U.S. Open), while Djokovic might have two resp. three majors more (2020 Wimbledon, 2022 Australian Open; 2022 U.S. Open). In this alternate reality, we would then see the current 22/23 vs. 21 change to 20 vs. 23/24.*

*With other alternate realities showing numbers in between. The point is that the current 22/23 vs. 21 is a clear and artificial distortion of historical greatness through the issues of the last few years.

The much more sensible “weeks at number one” heuristic is still clearly Djokovic’s, but his number is artificially diminished,* understating how great his career has been, while Nadal’s might soon be inflated, potentially giving him an unfair leg up against the likes of Sampras, Lendl, Connors.**

*Twofold: once for the reasons discussed here, which have caused him to be out of the top position when he likely otherwise would have held it; once through an earlier rankings’ freeze, where he did lead but his lead did not count in official statistics.

**But, to avoid misunderstandings, I would tend to give Nadal the nod over these past greats in a more holistic evaluation. Even a good heuristic is still a heuristic.

Excursion on different types of distortions:
Note that these distortions are not comparable with what misfortunes might take place through sheer bad luck (tends to even out over time; you win some, you lose some) and what is rooted in the person of the player (e.g. being disqualified for yelling at an official, being injury prone). Here we have distortions imposed by others, and in a manner that systematically disadvantages one player (or one group of players) relative the other players.

And, no, the bans based on vaccination status can not be put on Djokovic with an imbecilic “He should just get the vaccine! Then he could play!”: Apart from basic human decency and the right to medical self-determination, Djokovic’s decision is perfectly rational and reasonable, and he should be lauded for standing up for what is right: he already has immunity through prior COVID, a man of his age and fitness would be at minimal risk through COVID (as would the other players), and the risks of the vaccines are not trivial for an elite athlete. (Moreover, we know by now that the risks of COVID, in general, are far smaller than were claimed in 2020, and that current strains are even less dangerous than the early ones. Many measures that might have seemed reasonable in 2020 cannot be considered so in 2022.)

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Written by michaeleriksson

September 3, 2022 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , , ,

3 Responses

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  1. […] a recent text, I discussed the artificial handicap given to Djokovic compared to e.g. Nadal in GOAT discussions […]

  2. […] the previous follow-ups (cf. [1], [2]), I noted that “The arguably best tennis player in the world, right here, right now, is […]

  3. […] I have argued repeatedly in the past (cf. [1], [2], [3], [4]), Djokovic is the true number-one player in the world, only failing to be so […]


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