Masters Cup Rankings Update
The Masters Cup is unique in many ways. Not least of them is the fact that the outcome is "comprehensible."
Other than the Cup, the smallest tournament on the ATP Tour has 32 players, and there are 31 matches on the way to a winner. Since each of those matches has two possible outcomes, there are two to the 31 power possible outcomes of such a tournament. That's 2,147,483,648 possible outcomes for a tournament.
The Masters Cup is different. Each Round Robin group involves only six matches -- twelve matches total. There are three matches after the Round Robins. That's two to the fifteenth matches -- 32,768 results. Theoretically, if you had an efficient enough coding scheme (one letter for the victor in each match, say, meaning that a tournament could be "keyed" in fifteen letters), you could list every possible outcome on 110 pages of paper (five outcomes per line, sixty lines per page). For the 32-draw, you would need a fuller encoding scheme (there aren't enough letters to list every possible outcome, so you'd need two letters each, meaning you'd get only one outcome per line). To list all the possible outcomes would take almost 36 million pages!
We don't know about you, but we're sure glad we don't have to type all that!
Fortunately for those trying to estimate rankings, they don't have to deal with all those possibilities. Take Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon. There were 64 players he could have played in the final. And those 64 potential opponents had zillions of ways of getting there. (We're tired of typing big numbers, so we won't type that one.) But, rankings-wise, that didn't matter to Hewitt. For him, there were only two outcomes in the final: Either he won the final, in which case he'd earn 200 Race points=1000 Entry points, or he'd lose, in which case he'd have 140 Race points=700 Entry points. There were, in fact, only eight possible scores for Hewitt: lose first round, lose second round, lose third round, lose round of sixteen, lose quarterfinal, lose semifinal, lose final, win. Most tournaments, with smaller draws, offer even fewer possibilities.
Similarly with the Masters Cup. There are over 30,000 possible outcomes -- but only eight players, and each of those players has a finite set of results:
* Lose all Round Robin matches (0 points)
* Win 1 RR match, fail to make SF or lose SF (20 points)
* Win 1 RR match, make SF, lose F (60 points)
* Win 1 RR match, make SF, win Cup (110 points)
* Win 2 RR matches, fail to make SF or lose SF (40 points)
* Win 2 RR matches, make SF, lose F (80 points)
* Win 2 RR matches, make SF, win Cup (130 points)
* Win 3 RR matches, lose SF (60 points)
* Win 3 RR matches, lose F (100 points)
* Win 3 RR matches, win Cup (150 points)
With eight players and nine possible point totals for each, that's only 72 possible outcomes.
You will be glad to know that we won't list them all.
But let's list the Race standings, along with the gap between each player and the one above him, and then work from there.
8 Henman...........443 (did not qualify)
9 Roddick..........409 (did not qualify)
10 Haas.............404 (did not qualify)
So: Hewitt cannot fall below #2. He can assure the #1 spot by earning 63 points -- i.e. reaching the final.
Agassi is guaranteed of finishing no worse than third; only Safin can pass him. He must reach at least the final to pass Hewitt, and that will suffice only if Hewitt doesn't win a Round Robin match. If Hewitt wins a match, then Agassi must win the thing -- and he must win at least as many Round Robin matches as Hewitt. If Hewitt reaches the final, Agassi is done.
Safin, to catch Agassi, has to win the thing, and Agassi cannot win more than two matches. Safin cannot finish below #4, and that only if Ferrero, Moya, Federer, or Novak wins. If he can win three Round Robin matches, or reach the final, he clinches #3.
It will be seen that the gap between #4 Ferrero and #7 Novak is only 21 points; the gap between #4 Ferrero and #6 Federer is only ten points. That's a virtual tie; whichever of these three does best is #4. Novak needs one more match win than everyone else to pass Ferrero, but he's in his own virtual tie with Moya and Federer. While the top three will probably be as they are now (i.e. Hewitt, Agassi, Safin), the #4 through #7 spots are entirely up in the air.
For Albert Costa, the Grand Slam Wildcard and the weakest indoor player in the draw, there really isn't much question of winning this thing. The question is, can he make it into the year-end Top Ten? One Round Robin win puts him at #9. Two leaves him still at #9. Three Round Robin wins, or a final, moves him at least to #8 and might get him even higher if Novak or someone does very badly. But the odds of Costa doing that are extremely slight.
Masters Cup Sketches
The Masters Cup is a law unto itself. In many ways. Not least of which is the fact that it starts on Sunday. And it's not like the Slam lead-ups or the like, where they play some matches on Sunday but don't bring out the big guns till Tuesday. They're all big guns at the Masters Cup.
So we won't be able to give you a true preview. Instead, today, we will offer you sketches of the eight guys in Shanghai, and what their hopes and prospects are there.
Lleyton Hewitt. Hewitt, who has been the #1 player in the world this whole year, is also the defending champion. But it's worth remembering that, when he won last year, the contest was in Australia. With a faintly partisan crowd on his side.
On the whole, indoors has not been his surface. Last year's Masters Cup was his first indoor title -- he'd won eleven titles previously. He did win San Jose this year, but then it was a long, weary drought. He finally made a significant final at Paris -- but he lost. He hasn't won a title since Wimbledon. He just looks tired somehow.
Andre Agassi. If you leave aside the huge difference in their degrees of experience, Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt have pretty similar sorts of results. Agassi has a lot more indoor titles, including wins at both indoor Masters; he also won the Masters Cup in 1990. But it really isn't his favorite surface; he's much happier on hardcourts. His eleven indoor titles sound pretty good -- until you remember that he has 54 overall titles. A balanced player would have rather more indoor titles.
And how will he take to the wear and tear of this event? Theoretically, it's no worse than any other 32-draw event: four three-set matches to the final, then a five-set final. But most tournaments don't feature so many tough customers in the early rounds. He doesn't even get the relief of having Albert Costa in his half.
On the other hand, he has a chance at the year-end #1. It's not very likely; Hewitt finally started picking up ground at Paris. But it's possible. He should be motivated.
Marat Safin missed this event last year due to his extended injury. He's only been to the year-end event once: In 2000, when he went 2-2 and blew a chance to earn the year-end #1. But he does like indoors -- four career titles, including two Masters Series: he's played Paris four times, and reached the final or better three of them.
But is there any guy who reacts more unpredictably to pressure? And pressure will be abundant at Shanghai.
Juan Carlos Ferrero made it here for the first time last year, and he had us muttering to ourselves. After a great first half of 2001, he faded in the second, looked hopeless indoors -- and then made it to the semifinal! This year, he's been less consistent than in the first half of 2001, but more consistent than in the second. Indoors is not his surface. But he's clearly demonstrated that he can win anywhere. Or lose anywhere. It's a thoroughly puzzling mix.
Carlos Moya's situation is a lot like Ferrero's, only spread out over six years instead of just two: He had a strong 1997, an even stronger 1998, then turned inconsistent (due partly to injuries), but he's doing better this year. It brings him back to the Masters Cup for the first time since 1998. Surprisingly, he has a very good record here in his two appearances: In 1997, he made the semifinal, and in 1998, he pushed through to the final.
The flip side is, he's never won an indoor title, and he has a losing record at both indoor Masters. He looked pretty good at Paris this year, but can he keep that up?
Roger Federer doesn't have to worry about his indoor results; for all that he has titles on hardcourts and clay this year, it's pretty definitely his best surface. His first title last year was Milan -- indoors. His first four finals were all indoors. This year, he's expanded his range -- but he still won Vienna indoors.
Federer has a number of interesting distinctions: He's one of only two rookies here (Jiri Novak is the other) -- and he's the youngest player here, a year and a half younger than Ferrero and Safin and half a year younger than Hewitt. He's had a certain tendency to underperform in Slams. How will he react to the pressure here?
Jiri Novak is the other rookie. In terms of results, he and Federer have been fairly similar (each has four career titles). But Novak's best surface has historically been clay. Much of his big improvement this year has been due to his improved results on other surfaces; he did make the Madrid final, after all. But he's the only player in Shanghai with no titles this year, and indoors probably remains his worst surface. How much damage can he do?
That question goes double for Albert Costa, the Grand Slam wildcard. This is a guy who, at 27 and with 12 career titles, has never made an indoor final. In his one previous Masters Cup appearance (1998) he didn't win a match. He's been almost completely ineffective since Roland Garros -- far worse than countrymen Ferrero and Moya, for instance, both of whom took home hardcourt titles this year. He needs one win to end the year in the Top Ten. If he gets it, he's #9. The odds still don't look all that good.
We'll have to save the full rankings update for Monday, when we're reasonably sure we'll know who is actually playing in Shanghai (given the possibility of a withdrawal, and the fact that there is uncertainty over who is the alternate, well, we're over our heads. From where we sit, Tim Henman is the alternate to everyone but Albert Costa, and Pete Sampras or Thomas Johansson is the alternate to Costa -- but that's just logic. Which of course violates the unwritten tennis rule that nothing the governing bodies do can make sense. Henman would be the more logical alternate; he's a good indoor player, and if he's been inconsistent lately, well, so has Johansson, and Pete Sampras hasn't even been playing.)