Monday, March 31, 2014

Formula One to return to Long Beach?

Recently there has been talk about Formula One possibly returning to Long Beach. The founder of the Grand Prix of Long Beach, Chris Pook, is working to get F1 to the streets of Long Beach. According to him, F1 wants to have three races in the United States by 2016, the already existing race in Austin, Texas, and races on both the East and the West Coasts.

I think Long Beach would be a great location for an F1 race. The Grand Prix of Long Beach is the most famous street race in the USA. That's why a race in Long Beach could bring a lot of attention to F1 in the States and help it to become more popular there. I think it would be even more important for F1 to have a race in Long Beach if the planned West Coast race in New Jersey fails. The planned New Jersey race with Manhattan as the backdrop could have brought huge attention to F1 in the USA; there are no other races as close to the New York City. Unfortunately that project is already at least two years late, and it happening seems more and more unlikely as time goes by. To me, it feels like Long Beach would be the only other race in the States which could give F1 as much attention as that New Jersey race.

Long Beach hosted F1 already in the late 70s and early 80s before they replaced it with the less expensive and domestically more popular CART series nowadays known as the IndyCar Series. But why would Long Beach now want F1 back? Hosting F1 is much more expensive than IndyCar, and an F1 race would require improved facilities. But F1 would bring more exposure to the event. F1 draws an international crowd whereas IndyCar isn't followed that much outside the USA. The ticket prices would explode if IndyCar were replaced by F1, and many local fans would be unable to attend the race. But even though F1 isn't so popular in the States, an F1 race could have fans from all over the country. F1 races in the USA are rare events compared to IndyCar races; 16 of the 18 IndyCar races take place in the States. And an F1 race gets more spectators from abroad than an IndyCar race.

But can Long Beach afford an F1 race? I believe they can. The US Grand Prix has drawn big crowds in the two years it has been held in Austin. The USA is a big country, and even though F1 isn't the most popular motorsports category in the States, there are still lots of people interested in F1. I believe the USA could have two or even three F1 races with large enough crowds. But another thing is if hosting an F1 race is more profitable than hosting an IndyCar race. The IndyCar race draws big crowds in Long Beach and is much less expensive than an F1 race. Then again, the revenues from an IndyCar race are probably smaller than from an F1 race.

A race in Long Beach would be important for F1 in the States but a race in Long Beach is maybe even more important for the IndyCar Series. Long Beach is the most important street race in the USA and adds prestige to the IndyCar Series. Losing Long Beach from the schedule would take attention away from the series and be a sign of the series being in a bad state; another series has the most famous street race in IndyCar's home market. That's why, for the sake of the state of IndyCar, I hope F1 doesn't return to Long Beach but it remains as an IndyCar race. For F1, I hope the race in New Jersey will happen. I believe it could bring a lot of attention to F1 in the USA and help to increase its popularity there. And I think two races in the USA would be enough at the moment. There are so many countries hosting Grands Prix that I think even two is a lot for one country. F1 could increase its popularity in the States also by having more races in the same time zones. Besides the existing US, Canadian, and Brazilian Grands Prix, have another Grand Prix in the USA and Grands Prix is Mexico and Argentina. That would mean six races in the American time zones.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The state of ATP doubles

Once again Indian Wells had many singles players playing doubles thanks to its two-week format. Some teams consisting of singles players were able to upset established doubles teams, for example Federer/Wawrinka beat the 2010 US Open runner-ups Bopanna/Qureshi and two-time Grand Slam champions Paes/Stepanek in their semifinal run. The recent Australian Open champions Kubot/Lindstedt were defeated on the first round by F. Lopez/Robredo, both of them known mostly as singles players. The eventual champions, the Bryan brothers, were forced into the match tiebreak against Isner/Querrey, a team of singles players.

After those results, one can question the level of doubles on the ATP Tour. In the 2010s, singles players have been winning the Indian Wells title three times out of five, Rafael Nadal twice partnering doubles specialist Marc Lopez in 2010 and 2012, and Dolgopolov/Malisse in 2011. There have been also other examples where singles players can beat good teams of doubles specialists. For example, the last two World Tour Finals champions got beaten by singles players in the Davis Cup soon after those titles. The 2012 Tour Finals champions Granollers/M. Lopez were beaten in the Davis Cup final by Berdych/Stepanek. OK, Stepanek is a great doubles player. But last year's Tour Finals champions Marrero/Verdasco got beaten on this year's Davis Cup's first round against Haas/Kohlschreiber, neither of whom is particularly known as a doubles player.

Singles players have had success also in the Olympic doubles. In their run to doubles' Olympic gold in 2008, Federer/Wawrinka beat doubles specialists like the Bryan brothers and Bhupathi/Paes. At the 2012 Olympics, the silver and bronze were won by Llodra/Tsonga and Benneteau/Gasquet, of whom Tsonga and Gasquet play doubles quite rarely.

I think it is quite obvious that there are singles players who could have success in doubles if they played it more often. Fernando Verdasco is an example of a good singles player who has successfully started to play doubles on a regular basis. Still, I don't think top singles players would dominate doubles if they played there. Federer/Wawrinka were beaten in Indian Wells by the eventual runner-ups Peya/Soares, so the final was occupied by doubles specialists despite many singles players' presence. Also Federer/Wawrinka didn't steamroll the other doubles specialists they faced during the tournament. I believe today's top-level doubles tennis is doubles at its very best, despite some players with good doubles skills concentrating only on singles. But singles players playing doubles regularly would add depth to the top of doubles tennis.

But how to make more singles players playing doubles on a regular basis? Yevgeny Kafelnikov is the last man who won singles and doubles at the same Grand Slam event, at the 1996 French Open. Nowadays you could not imagine that happening; the top singles players concentrate solely on singles in slams, playing seven best-of-five singles matches is physically taxing enough. That's why I see very little hope to see the best singles players playing doubles at slams. But I think the players ranked between 10 and 20 could play doubles more often at slams. They usually don't have so deep runs in singles that playing doubles would hurt them, especially as a deep run is not guaranteed in doubles either. Playing doubles more often might also bring something to their singles game, especially improve their net game, even though unfortunately that is not so important in today's baseline-dominated game. But I can see also those players ranked between 10 and 20 rather concentrating solely on singles; by making it one round further in singles, they can earn more than by making the doubles quarterfinals. And I don't think doubles’ prize money should be increased. John McEnroe questioned the status of doubles by saying doubles specialists are players who could not make it to the top in singles and that's why he suggested abandoning doubles and chanelling the prize money to lower-ranked singles players. I don’t agree with him about abandoning doubles, I think doubles belongs to tennis. But singles is the main thing in tennis and I think you should not be able to make a living by playing solely doubles unless you are really good in it.

Maybe the tour should promote doubles more to add the prestige of winning doubles titles. That might encourage more singles players playing doubles on a regular basis. The players whose chances to win singles titles in big events are slim might play doubles for the prestige of winning, even if that might hurt them in singles. Look at the Olympics, even the big names of singles' game are playing doubles as they can play for the Olympic medals only once in four years and the prestige of doubles’ gold is close to the prestige of singles’ gold. I think the ATP could do a lot to promote doubles. They could increase doubles' coverage; I think many fans were willing to see the Federer/Wawrinka vs. Peya/Soares semifinal from Indian Wells as there were two famous singles players there. But that match was not televised as television channels don't want to show doubles. Actually, even Challenger Tour doubles matches are streamed better than Masters Series doubles matches. I think that is shameful and the ATP should do something on it. I think they should ensure coverage at least from Masters semifinals and finals, preferably from earlier rounds, too. Who cares about doubles if you cannot see it? If you think doubles' coverage should be increased, you can sign a petition here.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A look into the 2014 Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals

The 2014 Alpine Skiing World Cup will come to its conclusion next week at the Finals in Lenzerheide, Switzerland. Both men's and women's overall World Cup titles are tight two-way battles and also five out of eight discipline titles are still open. The titles already decided are men's downhill and super-G won by Aksel Lund Svindal and women's slalom won by Mikaela Shiffrin.

Men's overall World Cup

Marcel Hirscher comes to Lenzerheide with a lead of only four points to Aksel Lund Svindal. Neither skier seems to be at their very best at the moment. The Olympics did not go too well for either of them, both of them were even gold medal favorites but the only medal for those two was Hirscher's silver in slalom. They were also unable to reach podium in the post-Olympics races in Kvitfjell and Kranjska Gora. I made some calculations based on their three last races in each discipline. I calculated their average points scores from those three races. (I also gave points to the Olympic races with the World Cup system) Here are the projected final points based on those averages.

Hirscher: 1050 (current) + 60 (GS) + 68 (SL) = 1178 (projected)
Svindal: 1046 (current) + 45 (DH) + 49 (SG) = 1140 (projected)

Svindal's points average for giant slalom would be 12 points, equaling a 19th-place finish. But only fifteen best skiers get points in the final races so I did not include that to the projected points.

So, I believe Hirscher will be able to get slightly more points from the technical events as Svindal in the speed events. But you cannot count out the possibility of Svindal winning both speed events, which would require Hirscher winning both technical events. And in that case, a points finish in giant slalom would be enough for Svindal to secure the overall World Cup title.

Weather can also play a role in the World Cup finals as cancelled final races will not be rescheduled. In the last two times when Lenzerheide hosted the Finals, they had to cancel half of the individual races because of the weather. Speed events are more likely to get cancelled than technical events, so that may turn the fight in favor of Hirscher.

The race for the third place is very much between Alexis Pinturault and Ted Ligety. Pinturault is ahead of Ligety by 75 points. Given Ligety's poor form outside giant slalom, I believe Pinturault can stay ahead unless he fails to score any points in the finals. Kjetil Jansrud is 216 points behind Pinturault and is in a great form in speed events. But to pass Pinturault, he should have a good result also in giant slalom which is very unlikely given his bad giant slalom form.

Men's giant slalom World Cup

Ted Ligety has been the most impressive giant slalom skier this season, yet surprisingly he is not leading the giant slalom World Cup standings. He had three weaker races in the mid-winter where he had one third place and two retirements. The giant slalom leader Marcel Hirscher has been more consistent and has missed the podium only once, in the last race in Kranjska Gora. If Hirscher has a podium result in Lenzerheide, then he will win the giant slalom title, no matter how Ligety performs. But there is some chance for Ligety, Hirscher was fourth in Kranjsjka Gora and also in the Olympic giant slalom before that.

Men's slalom World Cup

The slalom World Cup is a three-way battle with Felix Neureuther leading Marcel Hirscher by five points and Henrik Kristoffersen by forty points. Kristoffersen's chances are quite slim, to win the slalom title, Hirscher should be third and Neureuther fourth at best. Still, he has been the most consistent of these three skiers recently, including World Cup and Olympic races; he has a four-race podium streak. But he is the outsider in this battle; Neureuther and Hirscher should not lose their points lead over him.

Hirscher has finished all slalom races since January; Neureuther has retired in Adelboden and at the Olympics. But in the five slaloms he has finished since January, he has finished four times ahead of Hirscher. Ultimately, I think Hirscher is a better slalom skier than Neureuther and he has been more consistent. But I think Neureuther has a better form and I think he will beat Hirscher once again if he finishes. That's why he is my pick for the slalom title.

Women's overall World Cup

Women's overall World Cup is a two-way battle between Maria Höfl-Riesch and Anna Fenninger with Höfl-Riesch having a lead of 29 points. I made similar calculations based on their recent performances as with men:

Fenninger: 1151 (current) + 42 (DH) + 59 (SG) + 93 (GS) = 1345 (projected)
Höfl-Riesch: 1180 (current) + 33 (DH) + 73 (SG) + 31 (SL) + 17 (GS) = 1335 (projected)

Höfl-Riesch has usually been a better downhill skier but in the recent races Fenninger has been better. In super-G there is not so big a difference between these skiers. Höfl-Riesch can get some lead over Fenninger in slalom but to win the overall title, she needs a big lead before the final race that is giant slalom. Giant slalom is Höfl-Riesch's worst discipline whereas Fenninger has won the last three World Cup giant slaloms and was the silver medalist in the Olympic giant slalom.

Tina Weirather is currently on the third place but she is out because of an injury. That was a very unfortunate injury; she missed the Olympics and was in a position to fight for the World Cup titles, even for the overall World Cup. That's why Tina Maze and Lara Gut are likely to pass her in the overall standings. Maze is leading Gut by 32 points and I believe she will finish the season third. Gut seems to be better in super-G but Maze is better in downhill and slightly in giant slalom plus she does slalom unlike Gut.

Women's downhill World Cup

Also women's downhill World Cup will be decided between Höfl-Riesch and Fenninger. Höfl-Riesch has a lead of 80 points and will have more downhill wins than Fenninger, so Fenninger needs to win the final race and in that case Höfl-Riesch needs the twenty points of the 13th place which would be her worst downhill of the season. So Fenninger's task seems almost impossible. If Höfl-Riesch somehow lost this title, I think it would be a huge blow for her overall title chances as it would mean a lead of at least 50 points for Fenninger with three races to go.

Women's super-G World Cup

Lara Gut is leading the standings ahead of injured Tina Weirather but third-placed Anna Fenninger is 71 points behind Gut and has a chance for the title. But this title is almost as difficult for her to win as the downhill title, to have any chance, she needs to finish in the top 2 and even if she won, the 29 points of the 9th place would be enough for Gut.

Women's giant slalom World Cup

The giant slalom title will be decided between Jessica Lindell-Vikarby and Anna Fenninger. Lindell-Vikarby had a great early season and is leading by 14 points ahead of Fenninger who has been excellent in the last giant slalom races. A win means automatically the title for Fenninger and even if she finishes second, Lindell-Vikarby must win the race. Of the discipline titles, this seems like the easiest for her to win.

Giant slalom being the final race of women’s season may have its effect on the outcome of the giant slalom title. If Fenninger needs a safe run for the overall title, she may not be willing to take risks for the giant slalom title.

So it seems like an interesting final week for the season. Let's hope the weather will permit all races in good and fair conditions, and cancellations will not decide any titles.