Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Grand Slam Scores update: Post-2015

And we're back (again). A second stolen computer and a move to a less theft-prone apartment later, and I should be up and running for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, the goal of posting regular ranking updates for the entire 2015 season has vanished just as thoroughly as my previous two laptops, so I'm taking the rest of this year to overhaul the Melog rating in a few ways. If my computer remains my computer, I'll plan to resume regular ranking updates at the beginning of next year.

For now, here's something a bit simpler: an update on where the best players of 2015 now stand in Slam Score.

Shockingly, the biggest story in Grand Slams this year (at least on the men's side) was Novak Djokovic. He entered the year having won "only" one of the last seven Slams (though he lost three finals and two additional semis in that stretch). This year went... slightly better, as Novak reclaimed his accustomed Australian Open title, made the French Open final, and recovered from his upset there to claim the trophies at both Wimbledon and the US Open. In total, he amassed a Slam Score of 3.5 for this year, which is both a career high (exceeding the 3.25 he posted in his exemplary 2011) and ties Roger Federer for the best single-season effort since Rod Laver's calendar Slam in 1969,

Djokovic entered the year with a career Slam Score of 14.05, which was a very respectable 11th among the players in my database. His efforts this year boosted him past Bjorn Borg, Laver, Ken Rosewall, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, and Ivan Lendl, all of whom were pretty good in their respective days. His new total, 17.55, is the fifth-highest I have. And if his level of play remains even what it was in his "down years" of 2012-14, he could climb as high as the #2 spot next year.

That spot is currently occupied by Rafael Nadal, who entered the year in a tie with Pete Sampras at 18.66. His quarterfinal in Australia broke that tie, and he reached the last eight in the French as well, losing only his second Roland Garros match ever at that stage (to Djokovic, naturally). The remainder of his Slam season went less well, bringing early losses at Wimbledon (round of 64 to dreadlocked serve-and-volleyer Dustin Brown) and the US Open (round of 32, falling from two sets and a break ahead of Fabio Fognini). It ended up as Nadal's worst set of Slam results as a full-time professional, and could be taken as a sign of irreversible decline; he's certainly not getting any younger. But Rafa has come back from injury before, and the possibility of his playing at a higher level again should not be completely discounted.

Speaking of injury comebacks... After his 2013 Wimbledon title, Andy Murray failed to make a final of any kind for about 15 months. He rallied late last year to win three relatively small titles and finish in the top 8, but despite reaching at least the quarterfinals in every Slam, his results in the sport's biggest tournaments had been his worst of this decade. That changed quickly in 2015, as he charged through the draw to the Australian Open final. His loss at that stage to Djokovic was not terribly surprising, and he rebounded very nicely, going on to his best clay-court season ever and capping it with his third career French Open semi. A Wimbledon semi followed, clinching Murray's fourth annual Slam Score of 1.0 or higher in the last five years. The Slam season ended for Murray with a disappointing loss to Kevin Anderson in the US Open round of 16, but his efforts still boosted his career score to 8.73, only fractionally below Guillermo Vilas. Vilas is the last player Murray has left to pass before beginning the long climb toward Mats Wilander and Boris Becker and the other five-Slam-winning types.

Let's see, we've covered Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray... who else is left?

Oh, right. There's that Roger Federer fellow, who is very much hoping that if he has another final left in him, it does not come against Djokovic. Novak may have bested him in three finals out of the last six Slams, but Roger is still a force to be reckoned with at the highest level; in the US Open final, the total number of points won by each player was 147 for Djokovic, 145 for Federer. Roger's 1.16 score this year doesn't look particularly noteworthy compared to the rest of his career, but that says more about the rest of his career than it does about the quality of his 2015 season, which has still been extremely high. He continues to widen the gap between his already record-high score (now up to 26.47) and the rest of the non-Novak world a bit more each year.

That covers the Big Four - except that it doesn't, not exactly. Because in the 2015 Grand Slams, the four best players weren't Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray - they were Djokovic, Federer, Murray, and Stan Wawrinka. Stan entered this year having made it to two Grand Slam semifinals in his career; he then made it to three of the four this year, plus a quarterfinal at Wimbledon (which he lost 11-9 in the fifth set). He went down to Djokovic in the Australian semis and Federer at the US - but in the French Open, he beat both of them, taking the second Slam title of his career and denying Novak both the career Slam, and an excellent shot at the calendar Slam.

Not only was Wawrinka's 1.63 Slam Score the second-highest of 2015, but it equaled his entire pre-2014 career total. In the last two years, he has moved to the edge of the top 30 all time in Slam Score (he currently sits at 4.52, good for #31), and when Lleyton Hewitt retires after next year's Australian Open, Stan will most likely have the highest score for an active player outside of the Big Four (assuming neither David Ferrer nor Tomas Berdych wins the Australian).

Novak, Roger, Andy, and Stan took up all eight of this year's slots in Slam finals, and twelve of the sixteen semis. Only one spot remained in each outing, and they went to Berdych (at the Australian), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (French), Richard Gasquet (Wimbledon), and Marin Cilic (US). All four of these players are veterans who had reached this stage before at their respective tournaments, and all of them progressed respectably as a result of doing so again. Meanwhile, the long-awaited breakthrough of a young player (like, any young player at all) will be awaited at least a little longer.

Of course, there's still plenty of tennis to be played in 2015 - just none that ESPN will spend more than 90 seconds discussing. All of that will go into the Melog rankings once they're resumed. Until then, I'll be having a bit more fun with Slam Scores - and in particular, with single-year Slam Scores.

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