Spain’s Davis Cup final victory against Argentina last weekend finally brought the 2011 tennis season to a close.
The fact that the pre-tournament favourite and perennial powerhouse ran out the winner was entirely in keeping with the rest of the season.
Aside from the emergence of Novak Djokovic as the best player in the world, 2011 was an incredibly static year at the top of the sport with the major events dominated by a tiny core group of players.
Peter Bodo has argued that 2011 “might have been the most exciting, unpredictable and competitive year in tennis history”.
Looking at some of the numbers, it was anything but.
Yes, this is where I attempt to take about three interesting stats and make a full article out of them.
- Just four players competed in slam finals – a joint record low in the Open era. (2007, 2006, 1987 and 1978 were the other years in which so few players contested slam finals)
- More strikingly, 2011 was the first year since 1964 that no player made his debut in a slam final.
- For the first time in the Open era, no player made a slam semi-final debut.
- Over the entire year, just six players reached a semi-slam final. The previous lowest was eight, which occurred four times in the Open Era – the last in 1987.
- (The median and mode for the Open era is 11 slam semi-finalists per season, stats fans, though it should be taken into account that the numbers are inflated somewhat by some sub-standard Australian draws roughly pre-1985)
- As with the slams, there were no new winners and no new finalists at Masters level.
- It is the fourth time that there has been a no debut winner (2009, 2004, 1995 being the previous years) while 2011 was just the second time since the inauguration of the ATP Championship Series events in 1990 that there was no first time finalist.
(The lone previous occasion was in 1995, the season of peak Agassi and Sampras, the rejuvenated Boris Becker and Thomas Muster compiling what was up to that point the greatest clay court season ever.)
- In 2011 the nine Masters events were shared by just four players – a joint record low with 1995 (Agassi (3) Muster (3), Sampras (2) and Medvedev were the players who took the prizes that year).
- The average age of the year end top 10 will be over 27 for the first time since 1975. It was just 24 in 2008
- The increasing age profile was highlighted by the three players who cracked the top 10 for the first time. Nicolas Almagro was the youngest at 26 followed by 27-year-old Janko Tipsarevic and Mardy Fish, who turns 30 this week.
- Furthermore there are just five 90’s-born players in the top 100.
Exciting, unpredictable and competitive? I would say stale, static and often just plain boring but who am I to disagree with the great Bodo?
Anyway, the prospects for 2012 look slightly better.
Robin Soderling may be in mono-induced limbo and Nikolay Davydenko in terminal decline but others such as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych showed glimpses at the tail and of the season that they may be able to take their games to another level in 2012. (Yes, we’ve all heard that one before.)
Then there is the Andy Murray conundrum. The Scot regressed this year on the biggest stage with embarrassing mental capitulations in three of the four slams, but will undoubtedly be a contender at the back end of the majors once again in 2012.
Should he make the ultimate breakthrough in Australia it will certainly shake things up a bit at the top of the game.
Others in a good position to make an impact include 90’s kids Milos Raonic and Bernard Tomic.
All in all, the rather depressing stats outlined above are unlikely to repeated. We can but dream.