Monday, February 05, 2018

the federer bureau of investigation

A couple of thoughts after watching a bit of the men's Australian Open tennis final the other day. Firstly, I should lay my cards on the table and say that I'm delighted that Roger Federer won, as I'm a big fan and I'd like to see him stay ahead of Rafael Nadal at the head of the overall list of Grand Slam singles title winners. I have no beef with Nadal, I should add, as he is wholly admirable and gives every indication of being a lovely bloke, but it seems right to me that Federer, the best all-round tennis player I've ever seen (not that I am any kind of expert) stays at the top of the list. Even the most ardent admirer of Nadal, and there are many (including a substantial contingent of The Ladies, if you know what I mean, and doubtless a few of The Guys too), would have to admit his tennis is a bit more based on power, supreme fitness and bloody-minded persistence and perhaps doesn't have the aesthetic grace and finesse of Federer's. Plenty of overused clichés are available:  the open-topped sportscar versus the Sherman tank, the rapier versus the broadsword, the sgian-dubh versus the shillelagh, if you want something a bit more Brit-centric.

Another reason is that despite both players having achieved the career Grand Slam, Nadal's Grand Slam singles record looks a bit more uneven than Federer's as it's more skewed towards the tournament he's won the most, the French Open. Ten out of his sixteen titles were won here, compared with eight out of Federer's twenty being at Wimbledon. So it occurred to me to wonder: what if we built a list of Grand Slam winners ordered by how many singles titles they'd won that were not at their favourite event? The idea is that this would be some crude measure of their versatility across different tournaments, different surfaces, different times of year, all that stuff. So here's the starting list (shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia): everyone who's won more than five Grand Slam men's singles titles.

PlayerTotal Australian OpenFrench OpenWimbledon US Open
Roger Federer206185
Rafael Nadal1611023
Pete Sampras142075
Roy Emerson126222
Novak Djokovic126132
Rod Laver113242
Björn Borg110650
Bill Tilden100037
Fred Perry81133
Ken Rosewall84202
Jimmy Connors81025
Ivan Lendl82303
Andre Agassi84112
Richard Sears70007
William Renshaw70070
William Larned70007
René Lacoste70322
Henri Cochet70421
John Newcombe72032
John McEnroe70034
Mats Wilander73301
Laurence Doherty60051
Tony Wilding62040
Jack Crawford64110
Don Budge61122
Stefan Edberg62022
Boris Becker62031
Frank Sedgman52012
Tony Trabert50212

And here's the re-ordered list if you exclude the one they won the most:

PlayerFavourite tournamentNumber of titlesCorrected number
Roger FedererWimbledon812
Pete SamprasWimbledon77
Rod LaverWimbledon47
Rafael NadalFrench Open106
Novak DjokovicAustralian Open66
Roy EmersonAustralian Open66
Björn BorgFrench Open65
Fred PerryWim / US35
Ivan LendlFrench / US35
Andre AgassiAustralian Open44
Ken RosewallAustralian Open44
John NewcombeWimbledon34
Mats WilanderAus / French34
René LacosteFrench Open34
Don BudgeWim / US24
Stefan EdbergAus / Wim / US24
Bill TildenUS Open73
Jimmy ConnorsUS Open53
Henri CochetFrench Open43
John McEnroeUS Open43
Boris BeckerWimbldeon33
Frank SedgmanAus / US23
Tony TrabertFrench / US23
Jack CrawfordAustralian Open42
Tony WildingWimbledon42
Laurence DohertyWimbledon51
Richard SearsUS Open70
William LarnedUS Open70
William RenshawWimbledon70

Obviously this is very satisfying to me as it places Federer head and shoulders above the others. It also shunts a lot of the oldsters down to the bottom of the list as back in the day travelling from your home country to other parts of the world was a ridiculously time-consuming undertaking and so a lot of people didn't bother. So Bill Tilden drops from 10 to 3 and the serious one-tournament wonders like Sears, Larned, and Renshaw drop to zero. It's harsh, but fair. Let's try another formula - multiply everything together! Hang on, though, anyone who hasn't done the career Grand Slam will get a product of zero; we'd better add one to everything first, just to be fair. So someone who's won all the Grand Slams once will get a Grand Slam Factor or GSF of 16, whereas someone who's won one of them four times will end up with a GSF of 5. That sounds about right; consistency and versatility is what we're trying to reward here.

Player Total Aus French Wim US GSF  
Roger Federer206185756
Rafael Nadal1611023264
Roy Emerson126222189
Rod Laver113242180
Novak Djokovic126132168
Pete Sampras142075144
Fred Perry8113364
Andre Agassi8411260
Ivan Lendl8230348
Ken Rosewall8420245
Björn Borg11065042
Jimmy Connors8102536
René Lacoste7032236
John Newcombe7203236
Don Budge6112236
Bill Tilden10003732
Mats Wilander7330132
Henri Cochet7042130
Stefan Edberg6202227
Boris Becker6203124
John McEnroe7003420
Jack Crawford6411020
Frank Sedgman5201218
Tony Trabert5021218
Tony Wilding6204015
Laurence Doherty6005112
Richard Sears700078
William Renshaw700708
William Larned700078

The biggest casualties are the two-Slam wonders Borg and Tilden, while the consistent three-Slam guys like Rosewall and Lendl get a leg-up. Once again the oldsters get shunted to the bottom of the list, but, I mean, come on, guys, make an effort - if you can't be bothered to live in the right era of history with high-speed travel and communications, not to mention sports psychologists and Lucozade, then I've no sympathy for you.

That said, I expect if you come up with some suitably contorted formula you can probably work your guy to the top of the list. There's a challenge for all you Laurence Doherty fans out there.

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