The 2017 season – a bit of a change

After much deliberation during the off-season and discussions with various parties this is how the 2017 tennis season will look in terms of previews:

Due to an excessive workload (and a son who regards sleeping as an occasional hobby, rather than a necessity) I’ll be reducing the amount of my tennis previews this coming year.

This means no Betfair daily or outright previews from me in 2017, but I will be continuing to work with Unibet, for whom I’ll be writing daily previews and also this year the outright previews – at least for the opening months of the season and probably beyond.

There’ll also be a change of style to the Unibet daily previews, with no further focus on the loss-making ‘sure thing’ wager and instead a return to my favoured approach of looking for the best value wagers of the day.

So, another season of free tennis previews is to come in 2017 and hopefully a few more big-priced winners like these.

Best of luck in 2017,

Sean

Profit and loss details 2016 season

Another long, tough ATP season is over and once again we’ve emerged with a profit in total on the year.

A quick glance at the breakdown of the Unibet wagers for 2016 shows clearly that by far and away the biggest loss-maker was the ‘sure thing’ wager, which I’m obliged to write on a daily basis, proving that there really is no such thing as a certainty.

The other fairly obvious point to make is that once again the clay swing was by far the poorest part of the season, which is no surprise, as it’s a huge challenge every season (for me at least) to find decent results on the red dirt.

Full details of the season’s profit and loss and also the P&L from previous seasons can be found at any time at the following link:

Profit and loss

Thanks to everyone that read and hopefully enjoyed the previews in 2016 and I’ll be back refreshed in 2017. Not sure what format and frequency and for who I’ll be writing for in 2017 yet, but the chances are it’ll be something fairly similar to this season.

Enjoy the off-season!

Sean

Does tennis have a problem with doping?

Below is an article I wrote back in February 2012 that was originally published on my previous website. A few people have requested that I re-upload it, so here it is in full…

The unseemly ongoing row between French TV station Canal+ and the Spanish Tennis Federation over the former’s insinuations of the latter nation’s doping issues are a lighthearted view of what could be a ticking time bomb in tennis.

I say lighthearted, but the depiction of Rafa Nadal as a muscular puppet signing papers with a syringe and filling his car’s gas tank up with his own urine leaves little to the imagination and may yet escalate into a legal argument.

But it has pushed a serious issue to the forefront of people’s minds, at least for the moment in the fortnight that we have seen high profile cyclists Alberto Contador and Jan Ullrich banned for doping offences.

When discussing drugs in cycling, most people’s reaction is a cynical roll of the eyes, so widely held is the belief that the majority of competitors are likely to be ‘juiced’ from the sheer amount of cases witnessed in recent years.

And it has been announced recently that London 2012 will incorporate the most stringent doping tests ever seen to discourage the use of banned substances in this year’s Olympics.

But what about tennis? Mention drug abuse in tennis and most casual observers will struggle to name a well-known tennis star who has been the subject of a doping offence involving performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

That in turn leads to the assumption that tennis is pretty much completely free of the scourge of drug cheats and combined with the well documented grumblings from the players via social media about the ‘constant’ doping tests they must undergo, then the façade is complete.

But dig just a little deeper into the facts about tennis drug testing and you find that the ITF’s most recent disclosures on anti-doping leave rather a lot to be desired and sizeable opportunities do exist for players to enhance their performances.

During 2009, there were just 2,126 tests undertaken by the ITF for the entire calendar year of both men’s and women’s tennis.

Of those 2,126 tests just 135 were blood tests and none of those 135 were out-of-competition tests, plus during 2009 only 21 tests were specifically undertaken for Erythropoietin (EPO – used to increase the red blood cell count and enhance oxygen uptake and utilization) for all of the players for the entire year.

So, the likelihood of a tennis player getting caught with EPO in his or her system during 2009 was extremely slim and given that EPO clears the athlete’s system within a day, the amount and frequency seems wholly inadequate.

In 2010, the ITF opted to only release a summary of their testing, rather than a detailed analysis, but the total number of tests actually fell to 2,075 in the year 2010.

For those not clued up about doping, there are several performance enhancing drugs that are not detectable through urine tests and require a blood test to discover their presence.

According to the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), blood tests are the best way to find banned substances in players’ systems and 150 tests of that nature per year (2010 stats) appears woefully inadequate.

To only take 10 blood tests out-of-competition, when players are most likely to be building up their bodies for the forthcoming tournaments, is surely a major oversight and could be related to the cost of such a regime.

WADA has issued a directive to signatories of it’s code, of which tennis is one, to increase the amount of blood tests, yet a WTA memo dated December 5th, 2011 clearly states the following.

“In 2012, player test samples may include urine samples, blood samples, or both. However, no blood samples will be taken while a player is in-competition unless the test is collected after a player’s last match, withdrawal, or default or if a player is a no-show at a tournament.”

So, the players on the WTA Tour know that this year they won’t be blood tested until they lose a match or win the tournament, which is good to know if you intend to cheat.

The ITF’s yearly doping budget around $1.5 million – a drop in the ocean when compared to cycling’s $16 million budget, which is catching more offenders by far than tennis, as recent developments have highlighted.

This could, of course, be because cycling by its very nature as an endurance sport is more likely than tennis to attract its competitors to products that aid recovery and stamina and there may not be a problem in tennis at all. But how do we know without adequate testing? And is tennis not becoming much more endurance based thanks to the slowing down of the courts?

How is it that the obviously less physically demanding sport of table tennis had 12 anti-doping rule violations in the year 2010 compared with just three in tennis? (Source: WADA statistics)

But back to the testing itself and a quick glance at the 2009 stats reveals that by and large at Grand Slams, players weren’t tested in the tournament until they were eliminated, which concurs with the WTA’s memo.

This means that using the 2009 Men’s Australian Open champion as an example, Rafa Nadal was tested only once in the tournament – after he’d played seven matches on the 2nd February in an event that began play on the 19th January.

Given that some recovery and stamina-aiding drugs, such as synthetic testosterone can clear the body within 12 hours there is surely every opportunity for cheating to take place within a major tournament – and many more opportunities at the smaller events.

If you know there’s a very good chance that a player will reach the latter stages of a tournament without being tested, where’s the deterrent in that policy?

And a cross-check with the 2009 ATP calendar shows that in total that year there was no testing of any kind undertaken at an astonishing 41 of the ATP’s World Tour tournaments that year and that’s without considering the Challenger events, other events and the WTA Tour.

And they weren’t all minor events either. There was no testing of any kind during the ATP Masters 1000 events in both Cincinnati and Montreal in 2009. Indeed the Rogers Cup took place without any testing in both 2009 and 2010.

Furthermore, is it a deterrent to be allowed to miss two out-of-competition tests in an 18-month period without incurring any kind of penalty, which is the current rule?

Miss three and the player is suspended, but given the tiny number of out-of-competition tests undertaken in 2009, how likely is it that a player would miss three of them in that timeframe?

Let’s hope for the sake of the sport that when the latest statistics are revealed by the ITF – if they are revealed in any kind of fullness – that the testing has been considerably more stringent.

Five changes that tennis needs to make

Former seven-time major champion and a man not shy of an opinion, John McEnroe, has had his say on changes tennis should make and our own Sean Calvert is also not short of a view or two and he goes a few steps further…

Tennis legend John McEnroe recently treated us to his view of what needs changing in the game and it was typically radical, if hardly practical.

Ideas such as players calling their own lines were bizarre, but it got me thinking as to what improvements I would make to the game and the more I thought the more issues I found.

Here’s the first five issues that annoy me, beginning before the matches have so much as played their opening point…

Start times

Let’s start at the beginning. I understand why it’s not practical to give a finite start time for every match, as they depend on the one before, but there is no reason whatsoever that the first match of the day can’t begin on time.

Each and every tournament has a start time for match one of the day and it’s still always 15-20 minutes late, as the players saunter onto the court and mess about for a while before deciding that they’d better begin.

We’re used to it, but it’s daft – can you imagine a 3pm kick off in football starting at about 3:20pm because the players and officials were a bit slow and didn’t have the right coloured towels at hand? No, me neither.

Play should start at 10am if the start time is 10am and that is when the first ball should be struck. I wouldn’t be opposed to fines being dished out for late starts on this issue.

Bathroom breaks and warm-ups

Sorry, but this ludicrous situation whereby the likes of Venus Williams come out for a match, knock up for 10 minutes and then when play is called they then leave court again for a bathroom break should result in a fine or the loss of the opening game of the match.

One area where I do agree with Mac is in his view that warm-ups should be scrapped and this makes sense and will help with the accurate start times concept.

Plenty of players take a while to get going in a match even now, regardless of the warm-up, and they’ve generally spent the last few hours hitting on the practice courts anyway, so I don’t see how five minutes of on-court hitting helps them much.

Towels

Again, this is unnecessary, time consuming, and more of a mental thing than any need to remove sweat after every single point. I blame Greg Rusedski for starting the daft trend of pointing to a towel and mopping down after five seconds of physical exertion.

And the ball kids should not have to be saddled with the job of handling a disgusting towel thrown at them by players, who often yell at them in the process.

You want to towel down do it at the changeover, that’s what it’s for. Until then shirts, sweatbands or whatever else will do the job.

Time between points

A thorny issue indeed and one that a certain Mr R Nadal is not happy with, but he has no basis whatsoever to moan about getting hit with time violations, as he regularly takes far longer between points than is allowed. And he’s far from the only one guilty of this.

Clearly, the current system has flaws, and I don’t really see the problem with having a shot-clock in the corner of the court operated by the umpire (or a separate official) that shows how much time the players have to start the next point.

Common sense would dictate that a 50-shot rally or equally such draining point could allow the official to skip the next point in terms of time violations – that’s not what this is about – it’s about players not constantly taking 30 seconds between points for no reason.

Challenges

The current system of challenging ‘in a timely manner’ is far too woolly and open to abuse and therefore, unsurprisingly, it gets abused.

The likes of Juan Martin Del Potro ambling up to the net at 1mph to check a perceived mark on the court, thinking about it for another 10 seconds, and then deciding that they may as well challenge is not ‘in a timely manner’ and it wouldn’t be difficult to stamp it out.

Changing the rule to ‘immediately’ from ‘timely manner’ would be fine and stop those who can’t make up their minds and go hunting for marks or checking with their coach in the stands.

You know instinctively as a player when you’ve hit a shot that’s very close and the challenge should be based on that and not as an excuse to time waste.

The players could also do with challenging more clearly, with certain players half throwing a disdainful arm in the air and expecting the umpire to translate that gesture into a challenge.

And these five issues are really just the beginning. Part two next week will cover more of the unfathomable rules, traditions, precedents and quirks that the sport could well do without.

Weeks 5-7: The full details…

In this profession there are plenty of ups and downs, highs and lows etc. and you come to expect them and generally any bad luck doesn’t last long.

Sadly, this hasn’t been the case in the last three weeks, so for my own interest I’ve used the spare time whilst suffering the boredom of a Milos Raonic match to compile a full list of those added to the #querreylist recently.

I’ve also added those who retired at inopportune moments and those that have hit the post in the outrights in the same time frame:

Dustin Brown at 2.95 vs Jerzy Janowicz. Result: Blew six match points
Andreas Haider-Maurer -3.5 games at 1.85 vs Gerald Melzer. Result: Blew at least two match points
Horacio Zeballos at 2.85 vs Thomaz Bellucci. Result: Blew three straight match points
Thomaz Bellucci at 1.60 vs Martin Klizan. Result: Blew a 5-2 lead and at least two match points
Over 22.5 games at 1.85 in Dimitrov/Muller. Result: Dimitrov blew two “match points”
Kuznetsov/Monfils to go over 9.5 in set one at 2.02. Result: Kuznetsov broken at *3-4, having had two “match points”
Thiemo de Bakker at 4.30 to win set one vs Ferrer. Result: Blew several “match points” to lose the tie break 10-8

Dustin Brown Australian Open 2015

Then there was Facunco Bagnis, who retired one game away from a payout vs Pablo Cuevas and Sam Querrey who retired a set up against Alejandro Gonzalez; Paul-Henri Mathieu, who retired right after set one with a fever vs Benoit Paire and Leo Mayer, who retired in set three against Blaz Rola. The last three all on the same day.

The outrights have not escaped the pain either, with 50-1 pokes Tomas Berdych and Gilles Simon both losing semi finalists and Andreas Seppi a 10-1 losing finalist against an opponent he’d previously beaten five times from five.

Of course, most of these have made excellent trades and plenty of profit for all concerned, but it’s been almost comical, and worth recording for posterity.

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