A Guide to Tourneygeek

Tourneygeek grows in a haphazard fashion. For me, that’s what makes it fun to write – I can speculate when I’m feeling speculative, analyze when I’m feeling analytical, draw new brackets when I’m feeling (slightly) artistic, or add new features to my tournament simulator when I’m feeling geeky.

But readers can be forgiven for not sharing my mood of the moment. So in this post, I try explain how the various threads – theory, practice, individual games, resources, and geekery – have developed, and show how to follow the main themes from post to post.

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The 1899 Room, Outside Looking In

The previous post discussed whether the new air-conditioned box seats in “1899 Room” in the new South Building at the Western and Southern Open tennis tournament were good seats for watching tennis. The upshot was that there are some very nice features of the 1899 room, but there are some problematic features too. The 1899 room is, in some ways, isolated from the rest of the stadium, and watching tennis there can be disconcertingly similar to watching tennis on television.

Today I traded tickets with one of my partner’s friends so that she could watch a set or two in the comfort of the 1899 room. I sat in her seat, which was high up (in the shade) along one of the sidelines of the center court.

From that vantage point, and from most of the seats in the stadium, you can see into the 1899 room. In fact, it draws the eye – the huge window wall that separates it from center court acts a little like a picture frame, and the different size and color of the 1899 seats attracts attention. Presumably many of the fans sitting in ordinary seats know that those seats on the other side of the window are the fabulously expensive air-conditioned ones.

So what do folks see when they look into the 1899 room from the outside?

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Tennis Under Glass in the 1899 Room

Let me digress, for one post, from discussing austere abstractions about the design of tournaments to some unusual aspects of being among the spectators at the one I’m attending now: The Western and Southern Open tennis tournament (W&S).

There are good reasons to go and see top-class tennis in person. As so often, no one said it better than David Foster Wallace: “TV tennis is to live tennis pretty much as video porn is to the felt reality of human love.”

There are also, however, some good reasons not to watch tennis live. Watching live tennis often means sitting on hard seats or benches in the hot sun for hours at a time.

This year, for the first time, the folks who run the W&S have a new viewing option for wimpy heliophobes like me: the First Financial 1899 room. “First Financial” is the sponsor who snagged naming rights for the new room, and “1899” celebrates the antiquity of the tourney, which was first held in 1899.

The 1899 room is part of a large new building that has been constructed between center court and the grandstand court. It contains 252 seats which look out through huge windows onto center court, all more or less at the baseline viewing angle familiar from television, and all reasonably close to the action–in the front row there are only eight rows of ordinary box seats between you and the court. The seats are upholstered. The room is air conditioned. There’s a special restaurant that only the holders of 1899 room tickets get to eat at, with tables looking out and the action on center court, and even a few looking the other direction for a good view of the grandstand court. There are squeaky-clean and little-trafficked rest rooms reserved for 1899 room denizens.

These comforts do not come cheap. But leaving aside the cost, it’s worth considering whether this way of watching tennis loses the qualities that David Foster Wallace prizes in live tennis. You’re watching tennis from a comfortable chair in an air-conditioned room through a wall of glass with the accustomed baseline angle used for television. Do these elements combine to create a viewing experience that’s disengaged from live tennis in the same way as viewing tennis on television in your living room? Continue reading “Tennis Under Glass in the 1899 Room”

Tiers, Idle Tiers

The distinctive tiered seeding system used in professional tennis avoids the phenomenon of seeding waves – local effects in the seeding order in which it may be beneficial to be seeded lower rather than higher. This is a good thing.

But it does it at the expense of creating another seeding anomaly – the equal treatment of players with a given tier. Thus at the Western and Southern, where the tiers are 1, 2, 3-4, 5-8, 9-12, and 13-16, it makes no difference to a player’s prospects whether he is seeded 3 rather than 4, 5 rather than 6, 7, or 8, and so forth.

But it does matter, and matter a good deal, when a player crosses a tier boundary, being seeded 2 rather than 3, 8 rather than 9, and so forth. In this post, I’ll try to put a dollar figure on the gain or loss associated with each of these boundaries.

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The Women’s Draw

In the women’s draw at the Western and Southern, something very similar happened to what happened with the men. The punter’s number on choice, in this case Serena Williams, is entirely unseeded, which is bound to cause some serious loss of expectation in whatever quadrant of the draw she lands.

As with the men, I’ve run a pair of simulations to show the particular effects of the women’s draw. First, I ran 500,000 trials with a new, properly tiered draw each time, and then another 500,000 trials of the bracket with the draw that did happen.

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Drawing the Western and Southern

Last night in Cincinnati, the Western and Southern had its “draw party”. I had imagined this as a rather small event, but it was anything but. Hundreds of eager tennis fans crowded into a large tent to eat an indifferent buffet supper and watch as volunteers from the audience, mostly cute kids, came up to the stage one by one to get a picture taken with Angelique Kerber and pull a number from a bowl to allocate one of the 16 seeds to a line in the draw.

This year, there was the potential for dramatic draw effects. Serena Williams is unseeded, and so could have ended up anywhere. And Novak Djokovic, who enters the event as the punter’s favorite but only a modest tier five (9-12) seed might be even more destabilizing, causing other players’ expectations to crash in whatever section of the draw he landed in.

I ran simulations to estimate the effect of the draw. First, I ran 500,000 trials with a fresh draw for each trial to establish a baseline for expectations. (These trials were slightly different from those reported a couple of posts ago because there have been some late scratches, including a couple of the tier six seeds.) Then I ran 500,000 trials with this particular draw.

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The ATP Knows How to Seed

Next week, Tourneygeek will be at the Western and Southern Open, one of the more important tennis tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open. I’m planning to get to Cincinnati early enough to attend the “draw party”, so I’ll presumably be among the first to know how the luck of the draw affects the chances of the various participants.

In preparation for this glad event, I’ve been polishing up my tourney simulator so that I can again report the result of the draw in terms of the difference in the expectation of each player before and after the draw has been made.

It’s too soon to do that now. There will, in all likelihood, be a few late scratches that significantly change the environment, and the betting odds I use as an indicator of true skill need some time to settle down.

But perhaps it’s worth revisiting the issue of the distinctive way tennis tournaments are seeded as reflected by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Rulebook, and to show how this affects expectations.

Note: This post, and the next, appeared briefly with incorrect simulation analysis based on a couple of misconceptions – I had conflated the fifth and sixth seeding tiers, and failed to realize that seeding was based on a more current version of the ATP points list than the one used to determine the direct acceptances. I regret these errors. 

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Seeding Errors

The next post shows the effect of different methods of seeding a tourney like the upcoming Western and Southern Open tennis tournament. But the experiment assumed that the seeding perfectly reflected the actual skill of the various players.

We know that this is not what happens in real life. The ATP points on which seeding is based do tend to correlate with skill – the whole seeding regime would be pretty pointless if they did not. But that’s not all that the ATP is trying to accomplish with their points. ATP points are not just a reflection of skill, but a reward for playing.

Certain players of undoubted skill, especially those who have missed a lot of recent tournaments, have relatively few ATP points, and thus relatively low rankings. Andy Murray has been away from the tour so long that he needed a special “wild card” exemption to even make the W&D field. Like Murray, Novak Djokovic has also been recovering from injury, and will also enter the W&S unseeded.

How much does this gap between a player’s seeding based on ATP points and his or her actual skill affect prospects for success? Some effects are dramatic – as I’ll show below, Novak’s low seeding will cost him, on average, over $100,000.

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