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Cincinnati Scene Setter, August 18

Andrew Burton



Aaron Doster - USA TODAY Sports

Greetings from Cincinnati!

We’ve made it through to Finals Day. Mens Doubles started at 12:15 p.m. on Grandstand, then the WTA and ATP singles finals will be played on Center at 2 p.m. and NB 4 p.m. If you correctly picked Madison Keys and Svetlana Kuznetsova to contest the WTA final, and Daniil Medvedev and David Goffin to compete for the ATP title I’d like you to text me your lottery picks before any draw.

I thought that I’d take a look at what the season to date can tell us about where the two tours are. Cincinnati is the 7th Premier Mandatory/Premier 5 tournament for WTA players, and the 7th Masters 1000 tournament for the ATP. On both tours, 56 quarterfinal spots have been filled, 28 semifinal spots, there are 14 finalists, and by this evening we’ll know the identity of 7 champions.

I use a metric I call “stability” to assess the diversity of players who get to the business end of significant tournaments. I’ve tracked this over the last two decades for the Majors, and I thought I’d try something similar for the next tier down tournaments in 2019.

Here’s how it works, using the Grand Slam tournaments to illustrate.

In any year, there are four of these tournaments, and 16 semi final slots. It’s possible for all of these slots to be taken by different players – so far in 2019 12 WTA players have competed in the semifinals at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon. On the other hand, a tour could be dominated by a handful of players – a hypothetical “Big 4” – who always make it through to the semis.

So, the minimum number of players on this metric would be 4, and the maximum 16. I would describe a tour where the same 4 players compete for the title as highly stable, and one where no player plays in more than one semifinal in a year as highly unstable.

Stability isn’t the same thing as quality, and it’s also different from depth. I think of quality as a wholly subjective attribute, based on your assessment of how good you think the tennis is. The same is true for depth; some people use it to mean that a lower ranking player has a good chance to defeat a higher ranking one, or that there are lots of occasions where this happens.

For me that could mean the higher ranked players are only capable of playing at a moderate level, or are inconsistent.

I think of depth as a measure of the quality of mid tier players – say those ranked between 40 and 60 on a tour. However, this is also going to be a subjective metric.

Stability has the merit of being completely objective – it’s just a count of names. We can debate whether high instability or high stability is good for tennis, or for a tour.

Many people may like seeing the same players battling out a decade long rivalry: others will find that boring, and delight in fresh faces at each major event. I tend to prefer something in the middle, with established stars challenged by up and coming future stars and some veterans enjoying a good run.

OK, enough, um, scene setting. So far in 2019, a total of 19 WTA players have reached at least 1 semifinal at the Premier Mandatories/5s (out of a possible 28), and 17 ATP players have gotten that far at Masters 1000s. Not a lot of difference between the two tours. If we extend our metric to the quarterfinal stage, 34 men and 29 women have gotten through to at least one quarterfinal – suggesting that the ATP is marginally more volatile in 2019 than the WTA.

Things get interesting when we start to look at the two tours by generations, dividing the players up into 5-year cohorts by date of birth. As you may know, I’ve spent several years analyzing the ATP by Generations, and saw some time ago that the group born between 1989 and 1993, which I call #GenerationGrigor, has underperformed on the biggest stages. This group has won no Major titles and only 4 M-1000 tournaments so far.

In 2019 to date, here are the M-1000 quarterfinal slots taken by each generation:

GenerationDate of Birth, YearsQF Appearances


The two dominant groups are GenerationNick, aged between 21 and 25, and GenerationRafa, aged 31-35. This should be the peak period for GenerationGrigor, but they’re not showing up in the numbers we’d expect.

Here’s the equivalent table (Pemier Mandatory/Premier 5) for the WTA:

GenerationDate of Birth, YearsQF Appearances


The most successful cohort on the women’s tour is aged from 26-30, with the next most successful aged 21-25 – a pattern much more consistent with prior decades of experience in tennis.

It’s much too early to say whether dominant players are going to emerge on either tour to displace the ATP Big 3 of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, or to emulate some of the feats of Serena Williams in the WTA. Even the recent success Daniil Medvedev has enjoyed won’t necessarily translate into success in the Slams, as Djokovic pointed out yesterday:

Q. He’s won a ton lately. Finals at Washington, Montreal, and now here. Do you think he could be ready to win the US Open?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Well, look, you know, he deserves to be in the mix, certainly, with all his results. He’s working his way to top 5 of the world. He’s definitely one of the best players in the world at this moment.

He deserves to be in the contention for the championship in New York. But again, it’s best of five. It’s two weeks. It’s Grand Slam. It’s a different environment, different experience. It just takes, you know, much more, I think, than just your game. I think it takes patience and ability to know how to deal with all the off-court things, the importance of a slam.

It’s going to be toasty here in Mason, Ohio, with temperatures forecast to exceed 91 degrees this afternoon. Bring your sunscreen and lots of water if you’re coming, and feel free to say “hi” (@burtonad).

Enjoy today’s tennis!

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