November 27, 2011

Mean Reversion

It's a common phenomenon of statistics -- day-to-day events can deviate from a trend, sometimes very drastically, but eventually, over time things go back to normal, and the trend is resumed, almost as if nothing changed.

The past two years have felt a bit like an aberration in men's tennis, as the man we've come to expect to dominate the sport has taken a spot on the sidelines as younger upstarts stole the show. But this week's action in London brought us all back down to earth, and put Roger Federer back on top.

The long-time world #1 came to the year-end championships with his lowest ranking since 2003, but he was riding a solid streak during the fall that brought with it titles in Basel and Paris. He dominated his round robin matches earlier in the week, dropping sets here and there but handing Rafael Nadal, last year's runner-up, a one-sided defeat in which the Spaniard only won three games. Against David Ferrer in the semis, he needed less than ninety minutes to take out the 2007 Masters Cup finalist.

In Sunday's final he took on the man who's come to be his new nemesis this year. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga staged one of the biggest upsets of the year, when he came back from two sets down to take out Federer in the Wimbledon quarters and repeated the win a few weeks later in Montreal. He'd lost their most recent meetings, but made a valiant stand post-U.S. Open with two titles and a Master's final of his own. In the round robins the Frenchman was able to make up for a three-set loss to Roger with wins over Mardy Fish and Rafael Nadal and exacted revenge over Tomas Berdych in the semis for his Beijing loss. The win gave him entry to his first World Tour Final championship match -- not bad for what was just his second appearance at the year-ending event.

In Sunday's final both men came out on fire, but for the first half of the opening set at least, it seemed Tsonga was the stronger one, dropping just a handful of points on his serve. But in the eighth game, Federer built up a 0-40 lead and converted the only break chance of the set. The Swiss built up a 4-2 lead in the second and had a few chances to get an insurance break, when things turned around -- Tsonga denied Fed the chance to serve out the championship and forced a tiebreak. He came back from a 2-5 deficit and saved match point, finally winning the set and forcing a decider.

Things stayed close in the third to start, but the stats favored the sixteen-time Grand Slam champion. Federer lost just one point on his first serve, three on serve in total. He made a bigger dent on return, too, converting his third break chance of the set and finally closing out the match in just under two-and-a-half hours.

The win brought Roger his record sixth year-end championship, sending him ahead of both Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras in total titles. And maybe more importantly, it reminded us all he's still a real contender for the big titles in 2012 -- despite what we may have been taught the last few years. It's clear Roger Federer's career is far from over, as his run over the last several months proves, and with the year culminating in his biggest trophy of the season, it might mean his trend is on course for quite some time.

No comments: