Why Nadal-Djokovic may be the best tennis rivalry ever

French Open final, 2012

Tennis thrives on great rivalries – they are almost more famous than the players themselves. Borg-McEnroe, Sampras-Agassi, Federer-Nadal.

But the current rivalry between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal may be the best ever. Here’s the killer fact why:

They are the only pair (in the men’s game) to have contested each of the four major finals. No-one else has done that – not any of the rivalries I mentioned at the start, nor even any of the pre-open era rivalries such as Laver-Emerson.

Why is that important? Well, it shows that they are both hugely talented on all surfaces, and have stamina to get to many major finals. And although this Friday’s meeting at the French Open is a semi rather than a final, due to Nadal’s ranking slipping after a long injury, who would bet against them overtaking the record of eight slam finals held by Federer-Nadal?

Which makes you realise how many finals Nadal has played against Federer and Djokovic – only three of his 16 major finals have been against other players (Soderling, Berdych and Puerta, winning them all).

The BBC (wrongly) stated that: “The Monte Carlo final [earlier this year] was the pair’s 34th meeting, making their rivalry the most prolific in the modern game, with Nadal leading 19-15 overall and 12-3 on clay.”

Update: the BBC updated the story, thanks to Piers Newbery.

Not quite. Lendl and McEnroe played 36 times. But that’s just another milestone soon to be passed by Nadal-Djokovic. Only injury can prevent them breaking several more records.

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Luis Suarez and the moral hazard of transfer fees

Mind the teeth

 

Statement from Liverpool Football Club:

We deeply regret the behaviour of Luis Suarez during the club’s recent match with Chelsea, and announce that the club has terminated its contract with Mr Suarez with immediate effect.

Dream on.

This is what Liverpool actually said, from Liverpool FC managing director Ian Ayre (with my emphasis):

I think the most important thing is that we acted swiftly yesterday. Luis issued his apology and then we spoke with him last night and then again this morning. We’ve taken action to fine Luis for his actions. Brendan has spoken to him and I’ve spoken to him, and Brendan will be working with him further on his discipline. You can see when you speak to him how sorry he is about it and he’s certainly shown quite a lot of contrition to us – and as part of that, he’s also asked we donate the fine to the Hillsborough Family Support Group. I think he felt like he let a lot of people down yesterday. We’ll work with Luis – Brendan particularly – on this side of his character in his game. Hopefully that puts the matter to rest from our point of view and we’ll wait and see if there’s any further action from the football authorities.

If, like me, you are wondering what a footballer has to do to get fired from their job, then read on. UPDATE: Suarez was banned for 10 games. Liverpool said they were “disappointed”. 

Footballers don’t really get fired, whether it’s for biting another player, racially abusing another player, or beating people up. In any other profession you would probably lose your job, especially if this wasn’t the first time. (Note: Suarez has biten another player before, but for a different club. The racist abuse was at Liverpool).

Why?

It’s all to do with how clubs view players. They aren’t employees, they are assets. The reason why they are assets is that they can be sold on to other clubs.

Some quick sums. Suarez is paid around £6.25m per annum. He is on a 5 1/2 year contract. Excluding bonuses that will make his total pay just over £34m

That sounds like a lot. And it is. But Suarez was bought from Ajax in the Netherlands in January 2011 for £22.8m, and given his performances for Liverpool, his value will be a lot higher. Of course, towards the end of his Liverpool contract it will decrease given he will have fewer good years in him. He could even leave as a free agent in 2016. But if they sell him in the next 2 years, a transfer fee well upwards of £35m is not unlikely – more than his total salary over his contract.

In other words, Liverpool would effectively have to writedown an asset of approx £40m in value over a pitch incident. Never mind that in any other walk of life he would face criminal proceedings. This isn’t about discipline. It’s about business.

There is also the question of his value as a player in scoring goals. Liverpool aren’t going to fire 10 per cent of their starting outfield lineup, and one of the best players in the league with 30 goals so far this season.

Of course, if that asset starts to affect shirt sales or gate reciepts, you can bet that the equation changes. But that is not going to happen, or at least it will not be noticeable (which in this case is the same thing).

Which brings us to the moral hazard. Suarez knows that, whatever stupid thing he does, in all likelihood, he will simply get fined, his manager will shout at him, other players and opposition club fans may give him a hard time. But that’s it. So what? Where are the true consequences of his actions?

Losing his job? That might make him – and other players – think twice.

But until football scraps the transfer system and treats players as employees, we have a case of pure moral hazard, where a club will not sacrifice an asset and players can get away with criminal behaviour. It’s not a very nice sport, is it?

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Electing the leader of 1.3bn

I’ve written before about the similarity, in pure number terms, between the Catholic church and China – same number of citizens / devotees (1.3bn), similar number of rulers (boils down to around 300).

The recent election of Francis I and of Xi Jinping brought it home again – but the comparison between the processes couldn’t be starker.

The Chinese rubber-stamp of Xi was ostensibly transparent – we know the number of votes. The Papal Conclave, on the other hand, is a mystery.

According to the Washington Post, Xi received 2,952 out of 2,956 votes cast by the National Party Congress – three abstentions and one brave dissident.

The Papal Conclave, on the other hand, had 115 electors – of which at least two-thirds, or 77 cardinals, were needed to elect Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope. But the ballots are burned, so we will never know any margin of victory, or how the voting progressed over the five rounds until the majority was gained.

So we have on one hand a process that is ostensibly transparent, but a total stitch-up – Xi has been leader-elect for years; and on the other other, a perfectly democratic, lobbying process that is utterly secure and opaque, within a confined theocracy cum-oligarchy.

It might not be perfect, but I know which I’d prefer to be a part of.

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How do you do a headline about Korea?

The subeditor’s craft is a tricky one. Original headlines are hard to come by. Some are so obvious and clichéd that they are banned in style guides – at my old employer Euromoney, using the phrase “banking on success” was almost a sackable offence.

And yet there is something of a lack of imagination doing the rounds regarding North Korea. Let’s see”

a) the country is a problem – rockets, nuclear worries, terrible regime etc
b) it rhymes with “Maria”
c) everyone remembers the Sound of Music

Result?

“How do you solve a problem like Korea” 

Used by?

It’s not UK-only either. See Time, and Global Post. And that’s just from a few quick Google searches. There will be countless others (41,600 results as of today).

It’s not every headline that is shared by the Sun and the Economist, but this one is such a classic, it spans every type of publication. I bet we haven’t seen the last of it.

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Kidnap and piracy: is the world getting safer?

Yes, maybe…

It would be nice to think that the world is a safer place. It certainly wasn’t in 2012 for journalists, who died in record numbers. But in two categories, it looks like the peak may have passed.

Kidnapping and piracy are two very different activities, but both are crimes with (in almost all cases) a very economic motive. In contrast, terrorism and other acts of violence are often ends in themselves. Whereas kidnapping and piracy are purely about money.

So when times are tight, we might expect them to go up – they are fairly drastic measures, although with potentially high rewards.

In recent years, piracy has become a big story, especially in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia, where many incidents have occurred. However, there have been reports recently that piracy is declining – when Somali pirate Mohamed Abdi Hassan called a press conference (yes, a pirate press conference) to say he was retiring earlier this month, that was seen as a watershed moment.

In fact, according to the IMB piracy reports, piracy hasn’t been this low since the 2005-08 period.

What about kidnapping? In the Philippines, there have been reports that in 2012 it has declined. And worldwide, according to the Start database, they are falling too – the data only goes to the end of 2011.

Here’s the chart. It looks like the peak year is 2010. But the 2012 kidnapping figures might change that.

Sources
Kidnapping: http://www.start.umd.edu/
Piracy: http://www.icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre/piracynewsafigures
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How Murray could emulate Lendl – but not in a good way

There’s a debate on the BBC website about who would win in a hypothetical tennis match between Ivan Lendl and Andy Murray. My answer:

Neither of them. They would both probably lose.

Here goes the current thinking on Murray and Lendl: Murray hired Lendl because he’s different, and was a winner who struggled early on. Lendl has made Murray a winner – check out the Olympics, US Open. QED.

Except, not quite. Murray has lost 5 slam finals now, 2 of those under Lendl. Is this failure? Only at the highest level. But this is the level we are all talking about.

But here’s the thing: Ivan Lendl is the best runner up of all time.

There is one record of Lendl’s that Murray doesn’t want – the most times as runner up in a major. Lendl holds that crown at the moment, having been 11 times a major runner up. Yes, there were those 8 wins, but no one else has ever lost so many finals.

Now you might argue that Murray has been very unfortunate to come up against only Djokovic and Federer in slam finals – no easy ride there. But that becomes self-fulfilling as an argument. If Murray had won more than he’d lost, we’d be talking about him, not Djokovic, as a tennis great, and wondering what Novak could do to win more slams.

Here’s the list of players by most slam final losses, current players in bold, pre-Open era players in grey. A few more losses, and Murray could be in joint second place.

Runner up Winner Win %
Ivan Lendl 11 8 42
Ken Rosewall 8 8 50
Jimmy Connors 7 8 53
Roger Federer 7 17 71
Andre Agassi 7 8 53
Jean Borotra 6 5 45
Fred Stolle 6 2 25
John Bromwich 6 2 25
William M. Johnston 6 2 25
Rod Laver 6 11 65
Arthur Gore 5 4 44
Bjorn Borg 5 11 69
Andy Murray 5 1 17
Tony Roche 5 1 17
Rafael Nadal 5 11 69
Gottfried Von Cramm 5 2 29
Jack Crawford 5 6 55
Jaroslav Drobny 5 3 38
Stefan Edberg 5 6 55
Herbert Lawford 5 1 17
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5 reasons why the word ‘phablet’ won’t catch on

Journalists and analysts love a new word. The current favourite is “phablet”, used to describe the new larger-sized smartphones that are nearly tablet-sized, but still a phone.

It’s a ghastly word, but don’t worry – it won’t catch on, despite the pick up in interest (see chart below). Here’s my theory why:

1) “smartphone” hasn’t caught on as a phrase

Smartphone is used in the industry to distinguish between the newer, touchscreen devices and older models termed feature phones that look like this (remember these?). It’s used all the time in articles and research.

But not in common language. No-one says “hey, have you seen my smartphone?” People still talk about their mobile. Or their phone. Because smartphone is both clumsy to say, and sounds pompous.

2) nobody cares about these distinctions in other areas

Like smartphone vs feature phone, we have laptop, netbook, PC – all industry distinctions. People just refer to their computer. And as we move to a world of uniform touchscreens, the only decisions people will care about are the cost, the operating system (Apple vs Android vs maybe Windows), and the size.

3) portmanteau words might be catchy, but don’t often work

Grexit? It’s had it’s day (see chart below). Descriptive words like “onesie” are much better.

4) people prefer to talk about brands

Seen my Kindle? Pass me the iPad?

and the biggest reason of all: 5) your mobile is not your device, it’s your number

Whatever device people call you on, that’s your mobile. As Christopher Mims pointed out on Quartz, we use these things less and less for calls – as little as 10% – but that doesn’t mean phone calls are completely dead. We still need to make and receive calls. And if you are sharing your contact details, no-one will ever ask for your “phablet” number – just as no-one asks for your “smartphone” number. They will ask for your mobile number.

Because you move your number across devices – I’ve had the same number for over 8 phones now, I reckon. Whether I have a phablet, a smartphone, or a something else, when it rings, I’ll answer it – and I’m on my mobile.

Charts:

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Why Alastair Cook’s record is no big deal

In all the celebration of Alastair Cook becoming England’s most prolific scorer of centuries, one thing occurs. Despite all the “how far could he go” conjecture, it’s just not that a big deal.

Yes, he’s a very very good batsman. But without wanting to kill the party dead, just look at the overall list. There is only one of the big test playing nations which has a lower all-time century scorer: New Zealand. Need I go on?

OK, put it another way. Cook’s 23 tons puts him equal fourth on the India list, and joint seventh on the all time Australia list for century scorers.

Is the list skewed by more test cricket in recent decades? Not really. Cook would also be 4th on the West Indies list, behind Viv Richards and Gary Sobers, as well as Brian Lara.

If Cook was from Pakistan? Third on the list. South Africa? Third. Sri Lanka? Without wanting to get repetitive – third. So of all the big test nations, bar New Zealand, he wouldn’t even be in second place.

In essence, the England centuries record of 22 was always there for the taking. The fact that it had stood for so long was a strange anomaly, and could easily become a fluid thing for a while with Petersen only one ton behind.

Cook is terrific, on a great run of form, and will be a run machine all-time great. But this isn’t the record to get that excited about. Table below the break…

Continue reading

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{in pictures} Flintoff: a winner, then and now

Different sports, same man, same result.

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Tucker vs Carney: the picture from Google

This is what a surprise looks like:

Background: Mark Carney is appointed Governor of the Bank of England ahead of bookies favourite Paul Tucker.

As the news breaks, you can see Google searches for Mark Carney in the UK shoot up from nowhere.

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