Category Archives: History

Lleyton Hewitt and the Elusive Triple-Hundred

Lleyton Hewitt is within a whisker of qualifying for a very elite club–players who have won 100 matches on each of the three major tennis surfaces, hard, clay, and grass. He has 367 on hard, 120 on grass, and 98 on clay. If he manages to reach this milestone, he’ll be the last player to do so for a long time.

Roger Federer, of course, is already a member. Hewitt would become only the seventh, joining Fed, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, John Alexander, and Stan Smith. Arthur Ashe and Stefan Edberg are close: both retired with 99 grass-court wins.

Typically, the grass-court threshold is the most difficult to reach, but that’s not the issue for Hewitt.  In fact, the Aussie is one of only 16 players in ATP history to win 100 or more matches on grass courts.

Federer has 123 career wins on grass, good for second of all time, behind Connors. Hewitt, at 120, is the only other active player even close.  Next on the active list is Andy Murray at 74, followed by Novak Djokovic, Mikhail Youzhny, and Tommy Haas, all tied at 53. Of the 80 players in ATP history who have won at least 50 matches on grass, 73 are retired.

Of the active players with 50 or more grass-court wins, only Hewitt and Murray have won more matches on grass than on clay. That’s all a long-winded way of saying, if someone’s going to reach the 100-win milestone on three surfaces, you wouldn’t expect them to need a few more wins on clay.

No other active players are anywhere near striking distance of the 3×100 mark. While Murray could reach 100 wins on grass with a few more good seasons, his clay win total lags far behind–on that surface, he only recently got to 50.  And as we’ve seen, no other active player has more than 53 career wins on grass. The extended grass-court season, starting next year, will help players like Djokovic, but it’s safe to say that Haas’s window has closed.

In an era that barely rewards grass-court specialists, Hewitt has put himself in position to join this elite group by performing at a very high level on the surface. It’s ironic, then, that he’ll cross into such rarefied territory with a win on red clay.

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One Year of Heavy Topspin

A few weeks ago, a glance through my archives revealed that, today, HeavyTopspin.com is one year old!  We’ve come a long way in that time, pushing tennis research in new directions, getting advanced tennis stats in The Wall Street Journal, and more recently, launching TennisAbstract.com.

Thanks to everyone for reading, and thank you especially to those who comment, whether here on the blog, by email, or on Twitter.  Nods are due in particular to Rick Devereaux, Tom Welsh, Carl Bialik, and Eric from stevegtennis.com.  Slowly, analytical tennis research is getting more popular as well as more fruitful.

Here’s to an even better year two!

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Bernoulli and Court Tennis

As if you needed more proof that there’s nothing new under the sun.

Most of us are fairly new to the mathematical study of tennis.  It turns out that probabilistic analysis of tennis goes back almost as far as probability theory itself, to Jacob Bernoulli, a Swiss mathematician best known for the Law of Large Numbers.

In the late 17th century, Bernoulli wrote a Letter to a Friend on Sets in Court Tennis.  I haven’t given it a thorough reading yet, but for now, I have to share a line that ought to be the epigram to just about every work of statistical analysis in sport:

You cannot conceive, as you say, that one could measure the strengths of players with numbers, much less that one could draw from these numbers all the conclusions I have drawn.

Bernoulli was born, taught, and died in Basel, which must be why tennis is still so popular there today.

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