TheBoiledEgg

Jul 30th, 2003, 02:17 PM

http://www.tennisone.com/Larson/Larsonnews.home.htm

by Bob Larson

Excuses, Excuses

How often have you heard it: "Hingis was only a transitional #1." "Graf only won all those Slams because Seles was stabbed." "Sanchez-Vicario only won all those Slams because Seles was stabbed." "Evert only won all those Slams because Navratilova was too unfit/too young/too unstable/too whatever...."

All these arguments have some merit -- but the best player is always measured against her competition. Would (say) Billie Jean King, wood racquet and all, be able to beat Lindsay Davenport on a modern hardcourt? It seems most unlikely. Grass, maybe. Hardcourt -- nah. Would Monica Seles, had she not been stabbed, have bumped Steffi Graf into oblivion? It seems unlikely, given that Graf already had 11 Slams by then.

Similarly, to say that Martina Hingis was a "transitional" player between Graf and Venus Williams ignores the fact that, for all you can prove from results so far, it is not Hingis but Venus who is transitional: Venus was the transitional player between Hingis's falling apart with injuries and the rise to the top of Serena Williams.

Everything depends on something else. If Graf had still been at the top of her game in 1997, then Hingis might not have been -- but if Graf had still been on top in 1997, it might be because she hadn't used herself up so thoroughly in 1988-1989. Who can say? It's all hypothetical anyway.

So we thought we'd try something. Suppose, for the sake of the argument, that all the top players had "freak" years -- years in which some funny circumstance allowed them to have exceptional results. Suppose we took away those freak years. How does it affect their status?

This, of course, gets tricky, because it assumes we can somehow grade players across eras. And it is our firm opinion that you can't grade players that way. Can't be done. Not possible. There are too many variables. Surfaces. Number of years since the start of the Open Era. Number of tournaments. Ranking system. Even the emigration laws of the various countries hosting tournaments. But we're going to produce a formula, arbitrarily and by fiat, and crank the data, and see what happens.

We had hoped to examine all past #1 players or players with four or more Slams in the Open Era. But it's not possible; the WTA data is too inaccurate for early players (up to and including Goolagong). So our list omits Court, King and Goolagong; we will look at Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, and Hana Mandlikova. Just to give a couple of extra references, we will throw in the top doubles players of recent years (Natasha Zvereva, Gigi Fernandez, Helena Sukova, Pam Shriver, Jana Novotna). We will examine all data through Wimbledon of this year.

We will count both singles and doubles, while giving much greater weight to singles. Here are the criteria we propose to use (and you can crank your own formulae if you like; we'll give you the data):

Singles Slam win: 10 points

Singles title other than Slam: 3 points

Doubles Slam win: 4 points

Doubles title other than Slam: 1 point

Year-end rankings: 5 for each year-end #1, 3 for #2, 2 for #3, 1 for #4.

BONUS: Grand Slam in Singles: 5 points

BONUS: Grand Slam in Doubles: 3 points

BONUS: Highest singles ranking reached: 5 points for #1, 3 for #2; 1 for #3

BONUS: For reaching #1 in doubles: 3 points

Note: In utter frustration at the WTA's treatment of Seles, we're going to give her 0 points for her 1995 ranking but 4 for her 1996 ranking. Events which bear no points (Olympics, Fed Cup, Hopman Cup, Grand Slam Cup) are not included.

First, here is the data we use to compile the above results:

Player.....SSla STit DSla DTit YERa GSs BeRank D#1

Austin........2...29....0....4....9.........1

Capriati......3...12....0....1....5.........1

Davenport.....3...37....3...35...18.........1....Y

Evert........18..154....3...32...50.........1

Fernandez.....0....3...17...68....0.......>10....Y

Graf.........22..106....1...11...48..Sing...1

Hingis........5...40....9...37...20..Doub...1....Y

Mandlikova....4...27....1...15....6.........3

Navratilova..18..167...31..171...57..Doub...1....Y

Novotna.......1...24...12...76....8.........2....Y

Sanchez-Vic...4...29....6...64...13.........1....Y

Seles.........9...52....0....6...18.........1

Shriver.......0...21...21..106....4..Doub...3....Y

Sukova........0...10....9...68....0.........4....Y

WilliamsS.....6...22....6...10....5.........1

WilliamsV.....4...27....6....9....9.........1

Zvereva.......0....4...18...80....0.........5....Y

Key: "SSla" = Singles Slams won, "STit" = Singles titles won, "DSla" = Doubles Slams won, "DTit" = Doubles titles won; "YERa" = Year-end rank (calculation of "value" based on formula above); "GSs" = Disciplines in which won a Grand Slam; "BeRank" = Best career (singles) ranking; "D#1" = Doubles #1

Applying the formula, we get the following points for each player:

Player......SingPts..DubPts...Total

Austin..........115.......4.....119

Capriati.........67.......1......68

Davenport.......155......47.....202

Evert...........643......41.....684

Fernandez.........9.....122.....131

Graf............530......14.....544

Hingis..........180......70.....250

Mandlikova......116......18.....134

Navratilova.....689.....270.....959

Novotna..........90.....115.....205

Sanchez-Vic.....133......85.....218

Seles...........242.......6.....248

Shriver..........68.....175.....243

Sukova...........30......98.....128

WilliamsS.......118......28.....146

WilliamsV.......123......27.....150

Zvereva..........12.....137.....149

The first column of numbers shows the points the player earned for singles; the second, her points for doubles; the third is the total points.

Sorting this based on total points, we get:

Player......SingPts..DubPts...Total

Navratilova.....689.....270.....959

Evert...........643......41.....684

Graf............530......14.....544

Hingis..........180......70.....250

Seles...........242.......6.....248

Shriver..........68.....175.....243

Sanchez-Vic.....133......85.....218

Novotna..........90.....115.....205

Davenport.......155......47.....202

WilliamsV.......123......27.....150

Zvereva..........12.....137.....149

WilliamsS.......118......28.....146

Mandlikova......116......18.....134

Fernandez.........9.....122.....131

Sukova...........30......98.....128

Austin..........115.......4.....119

Capriati.........67.......1......68

I.e., combining singles and doubles, Navratilova is our strongest player and Capriati our weakest.

As a footnote, since she might become #1 this week, Kim Clijsters currently has a total of 48 singles points and 15 doubles points (total of 63 points); she may pass Capriati this year even if she doesn't win a Slam! (In fact, she might do it this week if she wins San Diego and becomes #1. Though, if we could, we'd be tempted to discount her doubles results in this Hingis-less, Novotna-less, Williams-less year.) Her best year is of course this year, with 15 singles and 11 doubles points.

For those who wish to separate singles and doubles, here are the rankings based on singles only (if you wonder why Navratilova comes out so strong, it's that her huge edge in total titles offsets Graf's slight lead in total Slams. This is also why Hingis still leads Serena. A different formula, stressing Slams more and titles less, might have changed this.):

Player......SingPts..DubPts...Total

Navratilova.....689.....270.....959

Evert...........643......41.....684

Graf............530......14.....544

Seles...........242.......6.....248

Hingis..........180......70.....250

Davenport.......155......47.....202

Sanchez-Vic.....133......85.....218

WilliamsV.......123......27.....150

WilliamsS.......118......28.....146

Mandlikova......116......18.....134

Austin..........115.......4.....119

Novotna..........90.....115.....205

Shriver..........68.....175.....243

Capriati.........67.......1......68

Sukova...........30......98.....128

Zvereva..........12.....137.....149

Fernandez.........9.....122.....131

Not surprisingly, the doubles specialists fall to the bottom -- though it's interesting to see that Novotna's unspectacular-but-solid career outshines Capriati's one year of brilliance.

Just for completeness, let's sort based on the doubles, too.

Player......SingPts..DubPts...Total

Navratilova.....689.....270.....959

Shriver..........68.....175.....243

Zvereva..........12.....137.....149

Fernandez.........9.....122.....131

Novotna..........90.....115.....205

Sukova...........30......98.....128

Sanchez-Vic.....133......85.....218

Hingis..........180......70.....250

Davenport.......155......47.....202

Evert...........643......41.....684

WilliamsS.......118......28.....146

WilliamsV.......123......27.....150

Mandlikova......116......18.....134

Graf............530......14.....544

Seles...........242.......6.....248

Austin..........115.......4.....119

Capriati.........67.......1......68

Obviously Navratilova wins this. That was predictable; while there may be debate over the best singles player of all time, there can't be any real doubt about the best doubles player. The genuinely interesting thing here (if you ignore how weak Capriati is) is Hingis's number. On the numbers, Hingis looks like she could have threatened Zvereva on the "career greatness" scale, and might even pass Shriver; if she were to become a doubles specialist (and we remain convinced she could play doubles, even if she can't play singles), her numbers project out second only to Navratilova's!

But this is all a mathematical game, and not the point. We're looking at which players benefited most from a particular year. But we're out of space for today; that will have to wait for next time.

by Bob Larson

Excuses, Excuses

How often have you heard it: "Hingis was only a transitional #1." "Graf only won all those Slams because Seles was stabbed." "Sanchez-Vicario only won all those Slams because Seles was stabbed." "Evert only won all those Slams because Navratilova was too unfit/too young/too unstable/too whatever...."

All these arguments have some merit -- but the best player is always measured against her competition. Would (say) Billie Jean King, wood racquet and all, be able to beat Lindsay Davenport on a modern hardcourt? It seems most unlikely. Grass, maybe. Hardcourt -- nah. Would Monica Seles, had she not been stabbed, have bumped Steffi Graf into oblivion? It seems unlikely, given that Graf already had 11 Slams by then.

Similarly, to say that Martina Hingis was a "transitional" player between Graf and Venus Williams ignores the fact that, for all you can prove from results so far, it is not Hingis but Venus who is transitional: Venus was the transitional player between Hingis's falling apart with injuries and the rise to the top of Serena Williams.

Everything depends on something else. If Graf had still been at the top of her game in 1997, then Hingis might not have been -- but if Graf had still been on top in 1997, it might be because she hadn't used herself up so thoroughly in 1988-1989. Who can say? It's all hypothetical anyway.

So we thought we'd try something. Suppose, for the sake of the argument, that all the top players had "freak" years -- years in which some funny circumstance allowed them to have exceptional results. Suppose we took away those freak years. How does it affect their status?

This, of course, gets tricky, because it assumes we can somehow grade players across eras. And it is our firm opinion that you can't grade players that way. Can't be done. Not possible. There are too many variables. Surfaces. Number of years since the start of the Open Era. Number of tournaments. Ranking system. Even the emigration laws of the various countries hosting tournaments. But we're going to produce a formula, arbitrarily and by fiat, and crank the data, and see what happens.

We had hoped to examine all past #1 players or players with four or more Slams in the Open Era. But it's not possible; the WTA data is too inaccurate for early players (up to and including Goolagong). So our list omits Court, King and Goolagong; we will look at Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, and Hana Mandlikova. Just to give a couple of extra references, we will throw in the top doubles players of recent years (Natasha Zvereva, Gigi Fernandez, Helena Sukova, Pam Shriver, Jana Novotna). We will examine all data through Wimbledon of this year.

We will count both singles and doubles, while giving much greater weight to singles. Here are the criteria we propose to use (and you can crank your own formulae if you like; we'll give you the data):

Singles Slam win: 10 points

Singles title other than Slam: 3 points

Doubles Slam win: 4 points

Doubles title other than Slam: 1 point

Year-end rankings: 5 for each year-end #1, 3 for #2, 2 for #3, 1 for #4.

BONUS: Grand Slam in Singles: 5 points

BONUS: Grand Slam in Doubles: 3 points

BONUS: Highest singles ranking reached: 5 points for #1, 3 for #2; 1 for #3

BONUS: For reaching #1 in doubles: 3 points

Note: In utter frustration at the WTA's treatment of Seles, we're going to give her 0 points for her 1995 ranking but 4 for her 1996 ranking. Events which bear no points (Olympics, Fed Cup, Hopman Cup, Grand Slam Cup) are not included.

First, here is the data we use to compile the above results:

Player.....SSla STit DSla DTit YERa GSs BeRank D#1

Austin........2...29....0....4....9.........1

Capriati......3...12....0....1....5.........1

Davenport.....3...37....3...35...18.........1....Y

Evert........18..154....3...32...50.........1

Fernandez.....0....3...17...68....0.......>10....Y

Graf.........22..106....1...11...48..Sing...1

Hingis........5...40....9...37...20..Doub...1....Y

Mandlikova....4...27....1...15....6.........3

Navratilova..18..167...31..171...57..Doub...1....Y

Novotna.......1...24...12...76....8.........2....Y

Sanchez-Vic...4...29....6...64...13.........1....Y

Seles.........9...52....0....6...18.........1

Shriver.......0...21...21..106....4..Doub...3....Y

Sukova........0...10....9...68....0.........4....Y

WilliamsS.....6...22....6...10....5.........1

WilliamsV.....4...27....6....9....9.........1

Zvereva.......0....4...18...80....0.........5....Y

Key: "SSla" = Singles Slams won, "STit" = Singles titles won, "DSla" = Doubles Slams won, "DTit" = Doubles titles won; "YERa" = Year-end rank (calculation of "value" based on formula above); "GSs" = Disciplines in which won a Grand Slam; "BeRank" = Best career (singles) ranking; "D#1" = Doubles #1

Applying the formula, we get the following points for each player:

Player......SingPts..DubPts...Total

Austin..........115.......4.....119

Capriati.........67.......1......68

Davenport.......155......47.....202

Evert...........643......41.....684

Fernandez.........9.....122.....131

Graf............530......14.....544

Hingis..........180......70.....250

Mandlikova......116......18.....134

Navratilova.....689.....270.....959

Novotna..........90.....115.....205

Sanchez-Vic.....133......85.....218

Seles...........242.......6.....248

Shriver..........68.....175.....243

Sukova...........30......98.....128

WilliamsS.......118......28.....146

WilliamsV.......123......27.....150

Zvereva..........12.....137.....149

The first column of numbers shows the points the player earned for singles; the second, her points for doubles; the third is the total points.

Sorting this based on total points, we get:

Player......SingPts..DubPts...Total

Navratilova.....689.....270.....959

Evert...........643......41.....684

Graf............530......14.....544

Hingis..........180......70.....250

Seles...........242.......6.....248

Shriver..........68.....175.....243

Sanchez-Vic.....133......85.....218

Novotna..........90.....115.....205

Davenport.......155......47.....202

WilliamsV.......123......27.....150

Zvereva..........12.....137.....149

WilliamsS.......118......28.....146

Mandlikova......116......18.....134

Fernandez.........9.....122.....131

Sukova...........30......98.....128

Austin..........115.......4.....119

Capriati.........67.......1......68

I.e., combining singles and doubles, Navratilova is our strongest player and Capriati our weakest.

As a footnote, since she might become #1 this week, Kim Clijsters currently has a total of 48 singles points and 15 doubles points (total of 63 points); she may pass Capriati this year even if she doesn't win a Slam! (In fact, she might do it this week if she wins San Diego and becomes #1. Though, if we could, we'd be tempted to discount her doubles results in this Hingis-less, Novotna-less, Williams-less year.) Her best year is of course this year, with 15 singles and 11 doubles points.

For those who wish to separate singles and doubles, here are the rankings based on singles only (if you wonder why Navratilova comes out so strong, it's that her huge edge in total titles offsets Graf's slight lead in total Slams. This is also why Hingis still leads Serena. A different formula, stressing Slams more and titles less, might have changed this.):

Player......SingPts..DubPts...Total

Navratilova.....689.....270.....959

Evert...........643......41.....684

Graf............530......14.....544

Seles...........242.......6.....248

Hingis..........180......70.....250

Davenport.......155......47.....202

Sanchez-Vic.....133......85.....218

WilliamsV.......123......27.....150

WilliamsS.......118......28.....146

Mandlikova......116......18.....134

Austin..........115.......4.....119

Novotna..........90.....115.....205

Shriver..........68.....175.....243

Capriati.........67.......1......68

Sukova...........30......98.....128

Zvereva..........12.....137.....149

Fernandez.........9.....122.....131

Not surprisingly, the doubles specialists fall to the bottom -- though it's interesting to see that Novotna's unspectacular-but-solid career outshines Capriati's one year of brilliance.

Just for completeness, let's sort based on the doubles, too.

Player......SingPts..DubPts...Total

Navratilova.....689.....270.....959

Shriver..........68.....175.....243

Zvereva..........12.....137.....149

Fernandez.........9.....122.....131

Novotna..........90.....115.....205

Sukova...........30......98.....128

Sanchez-Vic.....133......85.....218

Hingis..........180......70.....250

Davenport.......155......47.....202

Evert...........643......41.....684

WilliamsS.......118......28.....146

WilliamsV.......123......27.....150

Mandlikova......116......18.....134

Graf............530......14.....544

Seles...........242.......6.....248

Austin..........115.......4.....119

Capriati.........67.......1......68

Obviously Navratilova wins this. That was predictable; while there may be debate over the best singles player of all time, there can't be any real doubt about the best doubles player. The genuinely interesting thing here (if you ignore how weak Capriati is) is Hingis's number. On the numbers, Hingis looks like she could have threatened Zvereva on the "career greatness" scale, and might even pass Shriver; if she were to become a doubles specialist (and we remain convinced she could play doubles, even if she can't play singles), her numbers project out second only to Navratilova's!

But this is all a mathematical game, and not the point. We're looking at which players benefited most from a particular year. But we're out of space for today; that will have to wait for next time.