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Djokovic takes another unfair hit / Follow-up: Various

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It appears that Djokovic has, again, lost the first place on the ATP ranking through unfair treatment.

(And Nadal appears to have dropped out of the top-10, but for more legitimate reasons, viz. injuries.)


Over the weekend, Carlos Alcaraz won the 2023 Indian Wells Masters, in the forced absence of Djokovic,* and appears to have passed him by 260 points, while a mere semi-final from Djokovic would have netted him 360 points and kept him ahead. This even assuming that Alcaraz would still have won, for which there is no guarantee, and even ignoring the much bigger hits that Djokovic has taken through his literally pointless Wimbledon victory in 2022 (2000 points lost vs. 180 (?) for Alcaraz) and his forced non-participation in the 2022 US Open (won by Alcaraz; up to 2000 points more for Djokovic, with a chance of less points for Alcaraz). This further ignoring other negative effects of the mistreatment, including his non-participation in last year’s Miami Open (won by, surprise, Alcaraz; up to 1000 points more for Djokovic, with a chance of less points for Alcaraz).

*Note a discussion of the Miami Open situation in [7] (see below for links). Indian Wells is the tournament before Miami, and his absence follows for the same reasons.

This is the more absurd, as whatever COVID restrictions might have seemed plausible at an earlier stage clearly are not even remotely plausible today. Indeed, they were implausible already by last year’s Australian Open (as the first major event on the 2022 calendar, and the point where the Djokovic issue really took off).

While Alcaraz would currently be a very worthy number 2 and, considering his youth, might eventually prove a true all-time great in his own right, the rightful current number 1 is Djokovic.

I will likely drop the topic for the foreseeable future, as the general idea should be clear and further installments would soon become tedious. However, past installments in this saga include [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7].


Written by michaeleriksson

March 20, 2023 at 6:37 pm

More unreasonable comparisons in sports

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Recently, I have seen two disputable men/women comparisons: Djokovic “overtaking” Graf in weeks-at-number-one (tennis) and Shiffrin “overtaking” Stenmark* in world-cup races won (alpine skiing).

*This at least in Sweden. I have not paid attention to what is said internationally, and the issue has likely been given more weight in Sweden (both Stenmark and I are Swedes). However, I note that several instances of a Shiffrin-win closing the distance, one or two near misses, the original tie, and, today, the actual surpassing of Stenmark’s mark have all been in the news, which seems highly excessive—especially, as it was less a matter of “whether” and more of “when”.

A comparison of this type is of dubious value even when fixed at one sex, and is usually best viewed as a curiosum.* When we make a comparison that includes both sexes, unless the sport or whatnot is not segregated by sex to begin with, we are basically wasting our time, as the respective competition is too different (cf. excursion). For instance, the headline that informed me that Djokovic had overtaken Graf said that he was now “better”** than Graf, but by what standard? Certainly, even a sub-par Djokovic would have outclassed even a prime Graf in a fair competition match, had such a match been arranged by time travel,*** and there can be no doubt that he has been the better in a non-segregated comparison since long before overtaking her on this dubious criterion. On the other hand, if we make a segregated comparison, the currently very small difference in weeks is negligible in light of the many other factors that play in, e.g. that Graf was younger when she retired than the (still active) Djokovic is today/was at the time of overtaking her.

*Cf. some of the many earlier texts dealing with tennis, GOATs, and/or Djokovic, in particular Tennis, numbers, and reasoning: Part II. In tennis, weeks-at-number-one might be an exception to the “curiosum”, as it is a much better heuristic for comparisons than “majors won” or, in alpine skiing, “world-cup races won”; however, it is still just a heuristic, and more holistic comparisons are better—and it has no true value when comparing a male and a female player.

**Or something to a very similar effect. I did not keep references at the time.

***Graf arguably had the best year of her career in 1988, while Djokovic was born in 1987. Had Graf extended her career longer than she did, we might conceivably have had a 30-something Graf playing a teenaged Djokovic.

Comparing Shiffrin and Stenmark borders on the ridiculous, even the sex issue aside: there are roughly four decades between them, the sport has changed considerably (contrast e.g. 1970s skis with modern skis), the number of races per season has not been constant, and Super-G was not even a part of the world cup during Stenmark’s prime (while Shiffrin has won at least some Super-G races; the lack of Super-G might also have increased the competition in the other disciplines).* We are now at a point where a comparison between e.g. Djokovic and Tiger Woods makes as much (little) sense.

*I will leave research of details to those with a large enough interest.

For that matter, while Stenmark long had a hard-to-dispute claim as the (male) GOAT of alpine skiing, chances are that he already has been surpassed by Marcel Hirscher in a more holistic comparison, which pushes the “curiosum” angle further. If we were to make a male–female comparison, would not a comparison between Shiffrin and Hirscher make more sense? (But note the complication caused by their career overlap. Cf. excursion.)

Excursion on issues with inter-sex comparisons:
The most obvious issue is that men and women face different competitors, which, even the greater physical abilities of men in most sports aside, makes the comparison flawed. Firstly, a different set of competitors inherently makes a comparison hard, as with e.g. two male tennis players competing in different eras. Secondly, if the objects of comparison are contemporaries, the comparison can be near impossible.* Consider e.g. the 400m hurdles and the recent successes of respectively Warholm (man, gold medals in multiple recent championships, unbelievable world records) and McLaughlin (woman, gold medals in multiple recent championships, unbelievable world records)—clearly, at least one of them would look far less impressive had they been in direct competition, and their relative stature is contingent on being in separate competitions.** (Ditto, but with less overlap, the aforementioned Shiffrin and Hirscher.)

*Unless they are of the same sex, in which case the comparison becomes more relevant, as they are in direct competition with each other.

**Imagine, similarly, that the world of athletics was split into countries where only the 370m hurdles resp. the 430m hurdles were run. We might now have two men looking unbeatable at the respective distance, at the same time, and with the knowledge that at least one would be diminished if the distances were unified to the 400m hurdles. Also note the old split into amateur and professional tennis and how that might have affected the success of various players. (As briefly discussed in one of the older texts.)

However, other issues exist, e.g. that there might be more men (women) than women (men) competing in a certain sport, which makes the level of competition higher;* that the number of competitions available might differ;** and that the rules might differ,*** making the events less comparable.

*Even had men and women been otherwise interchangeable. To revisit an earlier footnote, say that there were twice as many running the 370m hurdles compared to the 430m hurdles, and note how much harder it would be to be competitive in the former than the latter (all other factors equal).

**For instance, the German soccer Bundesliga for men has 18 teams and 34 games per team, while the women’s has something considerably lower (maybe, 12 and 22). Does it really make sense to compare the number of goals made by some male player with those of some female player? (Note that such issues might have an effect on more reasonable seeming measures, e.g. goals per game, too. For instance, fewer games mean a greater risk that statistical fluctuations are important; for instance, fewer teams in the league can imply that the weakest teams are relatively stronger, which reduces the possibility of scoring cheap goals.)

***For instance, tennis majors are played in best-of-five for men but best-of-three for women; for instance, male and female boxers have different rules for where punches are forbidden.

Written by michaeleriksson

March 11, 2023 at 11:57 pm

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

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As 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 officially due to artificial restrictions placed upon him. Moreover, these restriction have skewed various measures of GOAT-ness, including weeks-at-number-one (his lead artificially shortened) and majors-won (temporarily trailing Nadal, when he might well have been one or a few ahead).

Looking at the official ATP rankings, Djokovic began the day with at least three artificial strikes against him: he had not been allowed to compete in the 2022 Australian Open and U.S. Open, and his victory at Wimbledon had not brought him any ranking points—a penalty of potentially 6,000 points.* With today’s final of the 2023 Australian Open, a mere one of these artificial strikes were removed, as Djokovic won—and this is still enough to allow him to return to the official number-one position on Monday (when the next official rankings are released).

*An enormous amount. Compare this with e.g. the overall numbers given in [4].

Looking at his last 12 months, he has won three out of the five largest tournaments (2023 Australian Open, 2022 Wimbledon, 2022 ATP Finals), reached the quarter-finals in one (2022 French Open),* and been artificially barred from one (2022 U.S. Open). As a comparison, this would have been a banner year even for someone like Pete Sampras and it exceeds the career best of any active player except for Djokovic, himself, and Nadal.

*Losing against eventual champion Nadal. A negative side-effect of the knock-out format is that someone unlucky enough to meet the eventual champion early might go out in a, in some sense, “too early” round, and a quarter-final is best seen as the lower limit of the accomplishment. I note that Djokovic was the defending champion and likely is the second best clay player (after Nadal) among the currently active players. (But this is the same for everyone and moves on a very different level from the other issues.)

Looking at the Australian Open, this was Djokovic’s 10th (!) victory, and it comes in a series of three straight victories (2019–2021), one missed tournament (2022), one victory (2023). Now, had Djokovic not been artificially barred in 2022, what are the chances that Nadal would still have won? That Djokovic would have won instead? This is impossible to say in detail, but giving Djokovic a better than 50% chance borders on the cautious, in light of both his success at the Australian Open and at such tournaments that he was allowed to play during the surrounding year. Nadal, then, correspondingly well below 50%, as he does not just have to fend of Djokovic but also has to consider the risk of losing against someone else as the events are reshuffled.*

*Note e.g. [5] and how strongly chance plays in for any player who is not highly dominant.

Looking at the overall majors won, Djokovic has now caught up with Nadal at 22, but should likely be a few ahead. Just turning last year’s Australian Open would make it 23 to 21; with a 22 to 21 resulting from a partial change (Nadal does not win, but neither does Djokovic). Ditto replacing a 2020 scrapped Wimbledon and a Nadal-victory in the French Open with a scrapped French Open and a Djokovic-victory in the Wimbledon. A 2022 U.S. Open victory for Djokovic would have made it 23 to 22. All taken together, 25 to 20.* (And I might well have forgotten some artificial disadvantage for Djokovic.)

*But note that the probability of all is much smaller than the probability of at least one, and that the latter is all that it takes to put Djokovic in an outright lead.

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January 29, 2023 at 2:56 pm

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

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To further make my point from yesterday, the new ATP rankings are in.

First, to revisit an older rankings discussion, we then had a ranking that made Djokovic a strong candidate for the true number one (see there for argumentation):

The official ATP ranking currently* has a top-7 of:

*Note that this page is regularly updated. Data used represent the current state.

1 Carlos Alcaraz 6,740
2 Casper Ruud 5,850
3 Rafael Nadal 5,810
4 Daniil Medvedev 5,065
5 Alexander Zverev 5,040
6 Stefanos Tsitsipas 4,810
7 Novak Djokovic 3,570

Today, the same official ranking has a top-5 of:

1 Carlos Alcaraz 6,820
2 Rafael Nadal 6,020
3 Casper Ruud 5,820
4 Stefanos Tsitsipas 5,550
5 Novak Djokovic 4,820

Djokovic is now exactly 2000 points from a tied number one—and this is exactly the points that were withheld from him for his Wimbledon victory.* Alcaraz, too, has some points missing from his Wimbledon exploits, but far fewer, and even with this lone adjustment, Djokovic would be a clear number two and nabbing at Alcaraz’s heals. However, Djokovic was unfairly denied a chance at both the Australian Open and the U.S. Open, and even a very sub-par effort at even one of them would have been enough to bring him to number one.**

*Intended as a punishment of Wimbledon, not Djokovic, but he is the one who might see the largest negative effect.

**Alcaraz, in turn, missed the ATP Finals due to injury. However, injury is something relating to the player, e.g. in that a player who trains harder and plays more often has a larger injury risk (and might, therefore, have avoided the injury by earning less points in the past). Moreover, the maximum payout at the ATP Finals is 1,500 points to 2,000 for each of Djokovic’s missed majors.

Conclusion: in a fairer world, Djokovic would right here and right now be the number one on the ranking, and, as this is the final ranking of the year,* Djokovic would have just earned his 8th (!) end-of-the-year top spot, thereby extending his lead in the ATP era. (Sampras 6, Federer/Nadal/Connors all 5. Cf. Wikipedia on ATP number ones.) It would also make him highly competitive with the likes of Pancho Gonzales from the pre-ATP era.** (I caution that I, personally, do not give the end-of-the-year ranking a greater weight than the weekly ranking; however, many others consider it important—especially, for comparisons with the pre-ATP era.)

*At least in terms of top players and movements between them. There might or might not be other changes through lesser tournaments.

**Rankings from these times are often disputed and comparisons tricky.

Combine this with the artificial damage done to counts of majors-won and weeks-at-number-one, and it is clear that the last few years have been a travesty (cf. earlier texts), which makes just going by numbers impossible—but where it is to be feared that most future judges will just go by numbers.

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November 22, 2022 at 12:57 am

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

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In the previous follow-ups (cf. [1], [2]), I noted that “The arguably best tennis player in the world, right here, right now, is Djokovic.”, with further remarks on how he was artificially disadvantaged and how he, among other consequences, might miss the ATP Finals through these artificial disadvantages.

As it happens, Djokovic just won these ATP Finals, even be it in the absence of Carlos Alcaraz, the injured number one on the world ranking, giving further support to my assessment. To wit: out of the five most important tournaments of the year, Djokovic won two (Wimbledon and the ATP Finals), lost against the eventual winner in the French Open (Nadal), and was artificially barred from both the U.S. Open and the Australian Open. In contrast, Nadal won the Australian Open and French Open, the first in the absence of Djokovic. (And flopped badly in the ATP Finals.) The sole other winner, Alcaraz had “only” the U.S. Open—again, in the absence of Djokovic.

The existence of the ATP Finals is, of course, yet another reason to discount the “majors won determines the GOAT” idea: While the relative value of the ATP Finals and the majors can be discussed back and forth, neglecting the former is silly. Looking at this year, Djokovic went undefeated* in five matches against players all in the top-9 of the world-ranking. Winning a major, seven matches against players in the top-128, or so,** is standard, and beating even one top-9 player is not a requirement—beating more than two is rare. If we look at totals of majors and ATP Finals for the “Big Three”, we find Djokovic at 21 + 6 = 27, Federer at 20 + 6 = 26, and Nadal at 22 + 0 = 22. (Yes, Nadal has never won.)

*Unlike the majors, the ATP Finals are divided into two round-robin groups, followed by semi-finals and finals. Correspondingly, it is possible to win the overall despite an imperfect record in the group phase.

**There are 128 slots for each major, but some are filled with wild cards, qualification players, and the like, that are not necessarily in the top-128 ranking-wise.

In a correction to my earlier claims: My fears that Djokovic would miss the ATP Finals were a little misguided, as there is a wild-card rule for those who have won one of the four majors during the year. Due to this rule, it would have taken a very unfortunate constellation for him to be excluded (barring more COVID-nonsense, of course).

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November 20, 2022 at 10:55 pm

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

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Disclaimer: Proof-reading the below, I realize that I have neglected to give the other players their lost Wimbledon points in the comparison—the text was simply thrown together a little too haphazardly. I will not redo the text, but I note that Alcaraz, per Wikipedia, went out in the fourth round, which is peanuts, comparatively speaking. Runner-Up, Nick Kyrgios, is too far down on the ranking to make a difference. Etc. The details of the below change a little to Djokovic’s disadvantage, but the main idea holds. (The overall comparison is also complicated by some opting not to participate in the Wimbledon to begin with, or being banned from doing so, like Medvedev. This could conceivably have had a larger pro-Djokovic effect.)

In a recent text, I discussed the artificial handicap given to Djokovic compared to e.g. Nadal in GOAT discussions through political meddling. The corresponding distortion through this year’s U.S. Open was lesser than I had feared, as Nadal neither won nor managed to get back to number one on the ranking. However, there is still a severe ranking effect:

The official ATP ranking currently* has a top-7 of:

*Note that this page is regularly updated. Data used represent the current state.

1 Carlos Alcaraz 6,740
2 Casper Ruud 5,850
3 Rafael Nadal 5,810
4 Daniil Medvedev 5,065
5 Alexander Zverev 5,040
6 Stefanos Tsitsipas 4,810
7 Novak Djokovic 3,570

Djokovic a lowly 7, even worse than before? Give Djokovic his 2,000 points for winning the Wimbledon, as he is already at 4, needing only 280 points to tie for second. What are the chances that he would have failed to gain more than 280 points combined over the Australian Open and the U.S. Open? Slim indeed. Getting to 1 is harder, as he would be missing 1,170 points. However, this could be achieved just by reaching the final (1,200 points) in one of the two majors, or by reaching the semi-final in both (2 x 720 points)—and we are talking about a man who won the one last year and reached the final in the other. (And this not counting any other tournaments in which he might have been disadvantaged, be it directly or through an artificially worsened seeding, cf. below.)

Of course, this ranking disadvantage does not just prevent him from improving his “days at number 1” statistic, it also implies a handicap in future tournaments, as he will be seeded worse than if he had been at 1 or 2. Then, again, we have the issue of the ATP Finals: his margin to remain in the top-8 is small indeed—and that is if he is even allowed to play, should he qualify.*

*I have not looked into details, but I would suspect that Djokovic has a larger number of points to defend during the autumn than most of the competition, which makes his chances even smaller.

All in all, this is just bullshit.

Looking at the current actual/official/whatnot number 1, Carlos Alcaraz: At 19, he is apparently the youngest in history and has, at least to me, come up out of nowhere.* In contrast, Félix Auger-Aliassime, who was hailed as a new superstar since his mid-teens, is old enough, at 22, to be at or shortly before his prime by historical standards, but he has achieved less, and appears to have just dropped from 8th to 13th on the ranking. The new number 2, Casper Ruud, is 23 and has also torn ahead relative Auger-Aliassime. Using the likes of the Big-3 as a comparison for Auger-Aliassime shows that he could have a great many years to prove himself; however, he is slowly reaching an age at which only a minority of the best-of-the-best, the Big-3 included, has failed to have a larger or considerably larger success. (Ages and ranking-drop according to the above rankings page.)

*But note that I have not followed tennis particularly closely the last few years.

Interestingly, members of the Big-3 have won three out of four majors this year, but we might still have seen the end of the Big-3 era. Federer is unlikely to ever make it back to the top and even Djokovic and Nadal must be approaching a day when age and accumulated wear-and-tear prove problematic. Going down the list, the next player of the same or higher age relative Djokovic/Nadal is a mere 32nd (Gael Monfils, at age 36).

Written by michaeleriksson

September 12, 2022 at 1:47 pm

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

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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.)

Written by michaeleriksson

September 3, 2022 at 3:48 pm

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Djokovic as GOAT? (III) and COVID distortions

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I have repeatedly mentioned Djokovic as the potential GOAT of tennis, including in at least [1] and [2].

Last time around ([2]), I wrote that:

Should Djokovic add this [2021] year’s U.S. Open, winning the Grand Slam, this would probably close the debate for me. If he does not, I suspect that the developments over the next one or two years will leave the same conclusion. (But let us wait and see.)

While Djokovic was “only” the runner-up, I see it as time to close the books on the current* candidates: Djokovic is the GOAT of at least the Open Era.**

*What future candidates might achieve is yet to see.

**For reasons discussed in older texts, a comparison outside the Open Era is even trickier, but there are precious few candidates that are even on the table as superior, even should we drop the “Open Era” restriction.

This for two reasons:

  1. Djokovic has torn ahead on my main proxy criterion, weeks at number one, and has an overall record in almost any other category that matches the best of the best, including Federer.

    Specifically, he now stands at a massive 356 weeks (Federer 310; no-one else above 300) and counting. This despite being shortchanged 22 weeks due to a COVID freeze.* True number, then, 378 or well over 7 (!) years. (Cf. Wikipedia.)

    *At the time of other texts on the topic, I was under the impression that these weeks had counted in his favor. Note that he would almost certainly have had the same set of weeks at number one even had there been no freeze.

  2. The arbitrary removal of Djokovic from the on-going 2022 French Open makes any future comparison with Federer and Nadal flawed. Djokovic has now missed two majors, in which he would have been the favorite, for reasons external to him.* He has already lost the chance of taking the Grand Slam this year and he risks an unfair and premature end to his time at number one, as he has been given a severe points handicap. Unless one of the other two achieves far more than is currently likely, any edge that they might gain in some criterion (especially, majors won**) would be unfair. This especially should such a gain be made when Djokovic is unfairly absent and would have been favored to win, e.g. a gain through a Nadal*** win at the on-going French Open.

    *To be contrasted with e.g. missing a major due to injury, as there is a trade off—train and compete harder and increase the injury risk or reduce the injury risk and risk less success while healthy.

    **And note that the low usefulness of “majors won” was an early motivation behind my writings on tennis—even before the current situation arose.

    ***Federer is not participating due to an injury.

    Worse, there have been rumors that Djokovic might be prevented from competing at other tournaments too, including the other majors of 2022 or some of the future Australian Open tournaments. I have yet to hear a final word on this, but it would turn a severe distortion into a catastrophic one.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 20, 2022 at 9:15 am

Djokovic as GOAT? (II) / Follow-up: Tennis, numbers, and reasoning

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As I suggested earlier this year, a strong case can be made for Djokovic as the GOAT of tennis. As he now has added another two majors, for a three-way tie with Federer and Nadal, even those obsessed with the flawed proxy of majors won (Cf. [1]) should slowly be caving.* This especially as his Wimbledon victories in 2019 and 2021 (this year) point to his being a clear favorite for 2020, had there been a tournament. In a reality just a little different, with Wimbledon postponed and the French Open canceled, Djokovic might lead 21 to 20 to 19 over Federer and Nadal.

*Except that tennis fans are often religious and might change criteria after the fact.

As to my own main proxy, weeks at number one, he has built a lead on Federer (while Nadal is not a factor) and will necessarily extend it further after his Wimbledon defense.

Moreover, as I wrote in [1]:*

*Footnotes removed for brevity.

The best way to proceed is almost certainly to try to make a judgment over an aggregate of many different measures, including majors won, ranking achievements, perceived dominance, length of career, … (And, yes, the task is near impossible.) For instance, look at the Wikipedia page on open era records in men’s singles and note how often Federer appears, how often he is the number one of a list, how often he is one of the top few, and how rarely his name does not appear in a significant list. That is a much stronger argument for his being the GOAT than “20 majors”. Similarly, it gives a decent argument for the Big Three being the top three of the open era; similarly, it explains why I would tend to view Djokovic as ahead of Nadal, and why I see it as more likely that Djokovic overtakes Federer than that Nadal does (in my estimate, not necessarily in e.g. the “has more majors” sense).

Look at the same page today, roughly two years later, and note how the distance between Federer and Djokovic has grown smaller or even reversed in various measures.

Should Djokovic add this year’s U.S. Open, winning the Grand Slam, this would probably close the debate for me. If he does not, I suspect that the developments over the next one or two years will leave the same conclusion. (But let us wait and see.)

Excursion on Federer as GOAT:
Now, if I were to argue Federer as GOAT, which is a position closer to my heart, I would probably rely on two things. Firstly, rivalries tend to favor the younger player, and will almost certainly have done so in the case of players this long-lived. This would give Federer a greater handicap from competing with the other “Big Three” than it does Djokovic and Nadal. Secondly, the great slowdown of surfaces has certainly favored the immensely strong defensive players and runners that are Djokovic and Nadal over Federer, who has a faster and more attacked based game. The downside of this argument, is that we cannot know how other players would have fared without a slowdown—and maybe all three would have seen their success diminished relative some even more attack based, and/or younger, and/or more canon-serving players. (Maybe, for instance, we would have had a four-way tie with Sampras at 14 in terms of majors won, with Sampras still leading in weeks at number one?)

Written by michaeleriksson

July 11, 2021 at 9:06 pm

Djokovic as GOAT? / Follow-up: Tennis, numbers, and reasoning

with 4 comments

In light of Djokovic now being set to overtake Federer in weeks-at-number-one and having just taken his 18th major, while Nadal has caught up with Federer at 20, it is time to briefly revisit a text on how to determine the tennis GOAT (Part II in a series)—or rather on why doing so is next to impossible.

As this blog is closed-ish, I will not dig deep into details or re-analyze what is said in the old text, but I do note that:

  1. I still consider weeks-at-number-one the best of the “easy” proxies. If we apply this proxy, Djokovic would (in just a few weeks) be the GOAT (of at least the Open Era). This especially as he is a fair bit younger than Federer (and a-year-or-so* younger than Nadal).

    *Here and elsewhere, note that I will not do any fact checking either. There might be minor errors here and there, but nothing that changes the “big picture”.

  2. I would still rate Federer’s career as the better overall, but not by that much and, again, Djokovic is the younger. Certainly, while Federer’s longevity is (was?) extreme, it appears that both Nadal and Djokovic are similar—possibly, even better.
  3. Federer’s dominance at his height was almost unsurpassable, and that might in the end be the strongest argument pro-Federer in a GOAT discussion and/or in a discussion of who was the best among the “Big Three”.
  4. Nadal’s fatal flaw remains that he has achieved too little (relatively speaking!) outside of clay and that he has mostly been second to either Federer or Djokovic at any given time. I can still see no true case for Nadal being more than the “Clay GOAT”. My old estimate of “Federer > Djokovic > Nadal” might now be “Federer = Djokovic > Nadal”, or Federer marginally ahead of Djokovic or Djokovic marginally ahead of Federer.

    However, Nadal has improved in the comparison of feats that formed Part III of the aforementioned series. The comparison made there was based on 12 French-Open titles, while he now stands at 13. (On the other hand, Djokovic reaching 9 Australian Opens, at a lesser age and on a more competitive surface, weakens the accomplishment in comparison.)

  5. The already tricky comparisons are made trickier by the effects of COVID, which include several weakened playing fields, including for Nadal’s 13th French Open and, maybe, the current/2021 Australian Open for Djokovic; a canceled Wimbledon (Djokovic reigning champion; Federer a strong victory candidate, had he played*); and a long period where the ATP ranking** was frozen or otherwise used exceptional rules.

    *Independent of the COVID issue, Federer appears to have taken portions of 2020 off for an injury break or operation or similar. I have not followed tennis in enough detail after 2019 to say for certain.

    **But I suspect that Djokovic would have remained at number one even with the regular rules, and would still be set to take over in weeks-at-number-one.

Skimming through the articles of the series, I note at least one faulty math statement (others might very well be present):

In Part I, I say that “For instance, the probability that the sum of two fair and six-sided dice exceeds* seven is 5/12 a priori but 5/6 given that we already know that one of the dice came up six.”, which is correct in the first half but not in the second: I had my mind on a scenario where one die (dice?) is thrown, it comes up six, and then the other die is thrown. As the order is not specified, another view is necessary. To this, there are 11 (independent) outcomes with at least one six, viz 1–6, 2–6, …, 5–6, 6–6, 6–5, .., 6–2, 6–1. Of these, all but two (6–1, 1–6) exceed seven and the true probability, barring other errors on my behalf, should be 9/11. Looking at the difference, 9/11 – 5/6 = (54 – 55) / 66 = – 1 / 66, making the new result slightly smaller. (The difference is an implicit, faulty, double-counting of 6–6, which unlike e.g. the 5–6/6–5 pair only appears once.)

*Used in the “strictly greater” sense. Another weakness is that this formulation could be interpreted as “greater or equal”. In the latter case, both the old and the new “given that” probability is 1, as the event is unavoidable. (The probability for the first half of the statement would rise to 7/12.)

Written by michaeleriksson

February 21, 2021 at 1:01 pm