Friday, May 03, 2013

12 (Or Is It 14?) Straight Tie-Breakers Lost by Haase

This development is a little old, but I only noticed it today. Jeff Sackmann wrote on April 12 at his "Heavy Topspin" tennis website that men's pro Robin Haase had lost 13 consecutive tie-breakers. According to Sackmann:

No other active player has a streak of more than seven, and no tour-level regular has lost more than his last six.  In fact, Haase is now one lost tiebreak away from tying the all-time ATP [Association of Tennis Professionals] record of 14, jointly held by Graham Stilwell and Colin Dibley, two players who accomplished their feats in the 1970s.

With a 1-6, 6-2, 6-7 loss to Pablo Carreno-Busta on April 22, Haase has, in fact, now technically tied the record of 14 straight lost tie-breakers. Why do I say "technically"? If one peruses the ATP World Tour website for Haase's results, starting with the most recent ones and working backwards in time, one counts "only" 12 lost tie-breaks before noticing a breaker that he won. This win by Haase occurred on May 13, 2012 at the ATP World Tour Masters in Rome, as he beat Sergiy Stakhovsky, 6-4, 7-6 (11-9). Prior to winning that tie-breaker, Haase had lost his two previous ones.

The reason Haase's streak is officially listed as being 14, Sackmann has confirmed, is that the tie-breaker Haase won over Stakhovsky occurred in a qualifying-round match (note the "Q1" on the ATP site), not the tournament draw proper. If the ATP's policy has always been that only main-draw matches count for record purposes, so be it. Perhaps the thinking is that, because the level of competition presumably is less demanding in the qualifying rounds than in the main draw, only the latter should be counted for record purposes. Let's be clear, though: Whether one considers Haase's tie-breaker losing streak to be 12 or 14, it's unusually long in either case!  

The reason I was looking up all of Haase's matches, in the first place, is that I was curious with regards to how many points he was garnering in the tie-breakers during his stretch of futility. Has he been getting blown out in them (e.g., 7-0, 7-1, 7-2)? That might suggest a major freeze-up. Or, on the other hand, has he been taking his opponents to the wire, losing the tie-breakers by the minimum two points (e.g., 7-5, 8-6, 9-7)? If the latter, Haase wouldn't be experiencing full implosion at the umpire's call of "Games are tied at 6-all," but one would still have to wonder why he consistently lost close tie-breakers. I created the following graph to show Haase's frequency of different point totals in tie-breakers during his losing streak.  

The picture is mixed, yielding what statisticians call a bimodal distribution (i.e., two values tied for being most frequent). Five times, Haase was blown out 7-2, whereas he lost another tie-break 7-3. However, he has also stayed within two points on five occasions, losing 7-5 (twice) or 8-6 (thrice). 

Sackmann has done extensive research on the likelihood of winning tie-breakers, which you can find by following the links in his various Heavy Topspin postings (e.g., here). Sackmann has developed formulas for how many tie-breaks a given player would be expected to win, given the player's success for entire matches at winning points on serve and receiving. Players with better-than-average skills should win more than 50% of tie-breakers, whereas those with less-stellar skills should win fewer. Sackmann finds that, "Aside from a small minority of players with extensive tiebreak experience (such as Roger Federer, John Isner, and Andy Roddick), ATP pros tend to win about as many breakers as 'expected.'"

Obviously, Haase has been an outlier on the unfavorable end. Interested readers can readily follow Haase's match-by-match results, to find out if/when his streak of lost tie-breakers ends. As noted above, the ATP website has Haase's results available. Sackmann also provides frequent Twitter updates on major tennis developments, including Haase's streak

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