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To fluke or not to fluke.

1216 Views 47 Replies 19 Participants Last post by  bandabou
No Fluke
When Thomas Johansson won his Australian Open title last year, the reaction seems to be that it was a fluke. At the end of 2002, we looked at the question of "what is a fluke?" A year later, with three one-time Slam winners this year on the men's side (Juan Carlos Ferrero, Roger Federer, Andy Roddick), it's probably time to re-examine the matter.

The key question is, what, exactly, is a fluke? We've heard people say that there are no fluke Slam winners. (To which we say, "Chris O'Neil.") We've also heard multi-slam winners dissed as flukes -- Martina Hingis suffers this a lot, and we've even heard Pete Sampras called a fluke!

As far as we're concerned, anyone who can win five or more Slams, and three of the four distinct Slams, can't be a fluke. Even a player with two Slams seems safely "non-flukey" to us. Not Hall of Fame material, maybe (at least, Mary Piece doesn't strike the author as an all-time great) -- but certainly no fluke.

But one Slam? Well, O'Neil aside, there isn't much doubt that Slam winners are good players. But a player can be a good player, and still be a fluke as a Slam winner -- good but not that good.

So we thought we'd look at some of our alleged flukes.

Let's look back at all the one-Slam winners in the past eleven years (adding one year to the ten years we studied last year), and label them as best we can. We can't claim to have asked everyone what they think of all these players, but we've tried to take consensus opinions.

We'll start with the women.

Women Who Won Their Only Career Slam Since 1992

Player: Jana Novotna
Slam Won: Wimbledon 1998
Status: Not a fluke
Comment: Novotna spent ten years as "the best player without a Slam." Her Great Wimbledon Choke is famous. The surprise is that her one win didn't come sooner. Had there been an indoor Slam during her career, or more than one grass Slam, it might have.

Player: Iva Majoli
Slam Won: Roland Garros 1987
Status: Fluke
Comment: At the time, some people regarded this as a non-fluke; Majoli was still young, and reasonably successful to that point. But it seems clear in hindsight that her head wasn't that of a Slam winner.

Player: Conchita Martinez
Slam Won: Wimbledon 1994
Status: Not a fluke
Comment: Wimbledon was hardly the Slam anyone expected Martinez to win, but she had been to the final of two of the other three, plus she has dozens of career titles. Like Novotna and Majoli, her head has stood in her way. But her overall results make her a non-fluke.

Analyzing the women for what constitutes "flukiness" seems almost hopeless. The sample is too small. Amazing as it sounds, since Barbara Jordan won the 1979 Australian Open (a clear fluke win), we've had only four women with only one Slam: The three above, and Gabriela Sabatini (U. S. Open 1990). That's right, for more than ten years, from mid-1979 to late 1990, every player to win a women's singles Slam ended up with more than one. (Of course, the 43 Slams in that period were divided among a mere eight women: Austin, Evert, Goolagong, Graf, Mandlickova, Navratilova, Sanchez-Vicario, Seles. We've seen that many different Slam winners than that just in the past five years -- clearly, the women are deeper than they used to be) In the almost-23-year span since Jordan, we've seen more than twice as many players with four or more Slams (Evert, Navratilova, Mandlickova, Graf, Seles, Hingis, Sanchez-Vicario, Venus Williams, Serena Williams) as we've seen players with one! So we'll just have to let women's flukiness lie and look at the eight male "One Slam Wonders."

Men Who Won Their Only Career Slam Since 1992

Player: Andy Roddick
Slam Won: U. S. Open 2003
Status: Not a Fluke
Comment: Most players are still playing Challengers at Roddick's age; he still has a bit to prove on clay, but he's definitely turning into one of the top performers in the game.

Player: Roger Federer
Slam Won: Wimbledon 2003
Status: Not a Fluke
Comment: Has won big events on all surfaces; has perhaps the most fluid game out there. The only problem is his head.

Player: Juan Carlos Ferrero
Slam Won: Roland Garros 2003
Status: Not a Fluke
Comment: Not the all-around player Federer is, but currently the best clay player active, and solid on hardcourts; he's even made some noise indoors at the Masters Cup.

Player: Albert Costa
Slam Won: Roland Garros 2002
Status: Fluke
Comment: Had almost completely disappeared from view by the time he won his Slam, and has re-disappeared since. Results away from clay are almost non-existent.

Player: Thomas Johansson
Slam Won: Australian Open 2002
Status: Fluke
Comment: Won his Slam two months before turning 27, and to that time had only six career titles. He's been injured so much lately that his chances of any sort of comeback seem pretty slight.

Player: Goran Ivanisevic
Slam Won: Wimbledon 2001
Status: Not a fluke
Comment: His Wimbledon title was a surprise when it came, but he did have 21 titles already; people had expected to win there years before, and then gave up as his results declined.

Player: Marat Safin
Slam Won: U. S. Open 2000
Status: Not a fluke
Comment: Everyone "knows" he had the skills. The question is, when will he win another?

Player: Carlos Moya
Slam Won: Roland Garros 1998
Status: Marginal, but probably not a fluke
Comment: A pretty good player when healthy, as he's shown this year and last. It's just that he suffered about three years of injuries.

Player: Petr Korda
Slam Won: Australian Open 1998
Status: Fluke
Comment: This was the last title of a fairly long career

Player: Richard Krajicek
Slam Won: Wimbledon 1996
Status: Probably not a fluke
Comment: Seventeen career titles despite constant injuries; quarterfinals at all four Slams and semifinals at all but the USO. Probably would have stood higher had it not been for injuries.

Player: Thomas Muster
Slam Won: Roland Garros 1995
Status: Not a fluke
Comment: The guy won 44 titles despite what should have been a career-ending injury.

Now we have something to work with: Three flukes (Johansson, Costa, Korda), two perhaps marginals (Krajicek, Moya), three new youngsters who show clear signs of non-flukedom (Federer, Ferrero, Roddick) three definite non-flukes (Ivanisevic, Moya, Safin).

Let's stack up some statistics for these guys and see what we find.

Statistic: Total career titles
44: Muster
22: Ivanisevic
17: Krajicek
14: Moya
12: Costa
11: Roddick
11: Safin
10: Federer
10: Ferrero
10: Korda
7: Johansson

Obviously this doesn't tell us much. Safin has fewer titles than Costa, but is considered less of a fluke. Why? Age.

So let's try a twist: Years between the player's first title and his first Slam.

Statistic: Years Between First Title and First Slam
1: Safin
2: Federer
2: Roddick
3: Moya
4: Ferrero
5: Johansson
5: Krajicek
7: Costa
7: Korda
9: Muster
11: Ivanisevic

That doesn't tell us anything either. How about this?

Statistic: Titles at the time of first Slam
4: Moya
4: Safin
6: Johansson
8: Federer
9: Ferrero
9: Korda
9: Krajicek
10: Roddick
11: Costa
21: Ivanisevic
28: Muster

The problem with this, of course, is that some of these guys won their Slams early, others late. Maybe a better test is to take an arbitrary period early in their careers. Say, the four years from the time each man won his first title. (Unfortunately, this year's Slam winners haven't hit the four year mark yet, but we'll give their totals to date. They're quite interesting in this context, though hardly conclusive)

Statistic: Titles in four years after first title (inclusive)
11: Roddick
11: Safin
10: Federer
9: Ivanisevic
8: Costa
8: Ferrero
7: Krajicek
6: Korda
5: Moya
5: Muster
4: Johansson

This is getting rather frustrating, isn't it? (At least for us, since we're having to look this stuff up. Maybe not for you.) Muster, for instance, is clearly no fluke -- but he comes in next to last on this list.

So let's try a different approach....

Statistic: Number of surfaces on which has won titles
4 (Clay, Grass, Hard, Indoor): Federer, Ivanisevic, Krajicek, Roddick
3 (Clay, Hard, Indoor): Korda, Muster, Safin
3 (Grass, Hard, Indoor): Johansson
2 (Clay, Hard): Ferrero, Moya
1 (Clay): Costa

This isn't a great help, either. Sure, Costa is at the bottom, but Muster stands below Krajicek, and Johansson and Korda above Ferrero.

Frankly, we're stumped. It's clear that people's assessment of flukes is based largely on those people's assessments of their games. But we've no way to figure that in! It's pretty obvious that some players are flukes, and others aren't -- but it's going to take a lot more than one statistic to determine which is which. Career titles would probably do it -- but it's awfully early to be counting Safin's, or even Moya's, total career titles, let alone Roddick's!

Excerpt from Bob Larson´s tennisnewsletter.
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Korda was caught using steroids, so it was not a fluke :D
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