Legends of Sri Lanka
For a little over a year now in real-life time, I have been playing an online tennis manager game known as Rocking Racquets. When I began, I decided to take a unique approach and try to raise the tiny country of Sri Lanka, then at dead-last in the world(86th) in the rankings, as high as I could. The more traditional way of playing is raising the best young players of any nation that you can find, but this is somewhat of a lottery. It's really a matter of luck and timing, as you have to find them and hire them before anyone else can right after they are generated. The story of my Sri Lankan players has reached a historically important point, and so I have chosen today to begin this story.
Once I get the history out of the way it will be a slow-burning tale. The game world I am involved in is the slowest, as I did not wish for this to become a huge time sink but I love tennis and it gave me an outlet for that. 1 week per game day, which means almost two real-life months per year. The ultimate goal is to get Sri Lanka to #1 in the world, winning or doing as well as is possible in the World Team Cup(based loosely on the real-life Davis Cup). Individual achievements for my players are secondary.
The game world I'm involved in is now in the final stages of Year 47. It actually began in Year 0, not Year 1. Generally truly modern tennis is dated from 1990, you can pick other dates but improvements in the rankings, standardization of various procedures, etc. demonstrate IMO that to be the best date. I like to think of this game world as having Year 0 = 1990, so that we are now at the end of the year 2037.
There are really four players who, in this nearly half a decade of history, have truly distinguished themselves. All have won double-digit Slams, nobody else has won more than 7. As a quick-and-dirty comparison, that works well to identify the best.
4. Oliver Haresign(USA). Haresign flourished from 2022-2029, winning 11 Slams(4th) and two tour finals(T-5th). He is not nearly as accomplished as the three above him on this list, but far better than anyone not on it. In 2026 he won the first three Slams and lost in the final at the USO, nearly sweeping the season. Countryman Jason Coxetter, himself a fine player and ranking third at the time, stopped him in straight sets. Haresign has 23 Masters titles(also 4th all-time) though he did not do much at smaller events.
3. Nicholas Sullivan(IRE). This is the one controversial spot on the list. Sullivan's 17 Slams place him second all-time, prompting some to think he should be up a spot. There are good reasons to place him here though as shall be seen. No question he was a great, great player though. Sullivan was making appearances in the second week of Slams from 2016-2026, an impressive period of longevity. He came even closer than Haresign to the CYGS but did not quite make it in 2019. After dropping the Australian final in four sets, to Carl Hamilton, the longtime #2 during his reign and also from Ireland, Sullivan swept the remaining three Slams and the tour finals, taking the last four Masters titles for good measure. He is second in all-time Masters with 32, but like Haresign did not do much at the smaller events.
2. Martin Prieto(ESP). In the early years of the tour, there was Prieto and then there was everyone else. He also was a force for an 11-year period, 1995-2005. For decades it looked as if nobody would touch him. Twice he had three Slams, the tour finals, and a semifinal Slam loss as the only blemish on the big events. Overall he took home 16 Slams, one fewer than Sullivan. 30 Masters also ranks him third, just behind the Irishman, but Martin's 36 titles in 500 events put him over the top in my estimation, along with his 5 tour finals which is also second-best. No other player has won more than half that many. You can make an argument either way, but I place Prieto here.
1. Eric Gorritepe(ESP). Gorritepe knows no rival, contemporary or historic. He combines the durability and competitiveness of a Davydenko or Nadal with the skill of a Federer, the best of all possible combinations. His reign of terror only recently abated: currently ranked #6 in the world, it was only this last year that he ceased being a major threat at every event. This has allowed us to finally put his career in it's proper perspective. 2027-2037 looks like his era spread, with the last great ride being a final at the Australian just this past season. While nobody before him actually achieved the CYGS, he did it four times('29, '30, '32, and '33) and came one match short at the '31 Wimbledon. American Johnny Napier beat him in a five-set classic, coming from down 2-1 to provide the only major blemish in a five-year run the likes of which tennis has never seen before and will likely never see again. On both sides of that loss, Gorritepe won 10 straight Slams and won all five tour finals in those years as well. The final numbers for his unmatched career:
Slams: 23(1st, six more than Sullivan)
Tour Finals: 6(1st, one more than Prieto)
Masters: 52(1st, 20!! more than Sullivan)
500: 18(2nd, though only half of Prieto's number)
Present-Day Top Ten
1. Gabriel Alastra(ARG, 28) -- 10,060 pts.
It remains to be seen where Alastra will end up. He won three of his five slams last year, usurping Gorritepe at that time who was still his top challenger at age 31. This year he only won one, but did enough to stay just ahead of the competition.
2. David Almagro(ESP, 27) -- 9,960
Almagro won both of his Slam titles this year, emerging as a genuine threat to the #1 ranking.
3. David Prieto(ESP, 27) -- 9,580
His initial Slam win came at this year's Australian. Prieto is the third of a trio of players who can legitimately go into any tournament with the expectation of winning, providing a lot of drama and jockeying for position at the top of the rankings right now.
4. Oliver Challenger(USA, 28) -- 7,670
Challenger is good, just not quite as good as the Big Three.
5. Mick Elder(USA, 26) -- 7,580
Still improving, Elder has designs on challening the Big Three in '38.
6. Eric Gorritepe(ESP, 32) -- 5,750
The man who needs no introduction.
7. Spasoje Kucerovic(SRB, 27) -- 5,295
8. Perry Hogue(USA, 23) -- 4,925
The best of the next generation. The wise champion will watch out for him the next couple of years. His time is coming soon.
9. Bjorn Benda(DEU, 23) -- 4,450
A clay-court specialist who should have a lot more longevity than Hogue.
10. Jens Oberg(SWE, 23) -- 4,160
As can be seen in the bottom three here, the next wave of the youth movement is about to be served. Two years from now, Hogue/Benda/Oberg might well be forming their own 'Big Three'. Three more young names to watch are Antonin Iglar, Andrea Pirlo, and John Condon. All are in the Top 50 and have not yet reached their 22nd birthday.
Sri Lanka Tennis History
Sri Lanka stands alone in it's ineptitude, hence the reason for me selecting them as my nation to experiment with. For 10 years, from 1998-2007, they participated in Level 5 of the World Team Cup, the lowest level in the competition. Mostly they lost in the group stage, but four times they made it to the quarterfinals, including 2007. Each time they lost 3-2, one match short of the semis. All of the semifinalists qualify for a playoff to reach the next level up, so being one match short of that four times and never making it was particularly heartbreaking.
In 2008, due to a lack of interest from some of the world's most irrelevant tennis nations, Level 5 was disbanded. Admission to Level 4 for inactive teams was now based on the ranking of their top players as well as the nations' achievement history. For 30 years, Sri Lanka was never once invited.
Eight years ago in 2039, I entered the game with the goal of training up Sri Lanka's best. The first major goal was obviously to get back in the World Team Cup, and this last year I finally achieved it.
I dropped a couple of players over the first couple years, but the following 'stable' of four players has been with me for at least four and some longer.
Anil Manohar -- At 35 years old, he's the elder statesman of the group. Manohar developed above-average skills, but was never more than average athletically even during his peak and is presently ranked 442nd. He had a career high of 238th a few years ago, but never made it beyond the level of a high futures/low challenger level player. Semi-pro, if you will. He was chosen as the player I could most quickly get to be a decent trainer. A dedicated trainer can improve a younger one a little faster than generic practice matches can, and the cutoff is age 40. Manohar has a few years yet left to increase his skills(the more skilled, the better a trainer he will become) and then he'll be 'put out to pasture' for use in his true value.
Anil Mehul -- A little short of age 22, Mehul is my top player, ranked 80th in the world. He hung around the edge of the Top 100 for a couple years, but has multiple Top 50 wins this year and is moving up again. He'll probably make the Top 30 eventually but I don't know if he'll go any higher than that. The lack of a trainer and some relatively minor mistakes I've made in training didn't help of course, but he has the talent and dedication. Athletically he's pretty good but not great, there are more gifted players out there but not that many.
Amrik Chittoor -- I was fortunate to snag Chittoor about a year after Mehul was created. He's not much of an athlete but every bit Mehul's equal other than that in talent and commitment. He's nearly 21 now, and has just cracked the Top 100 at #99.
Girish Girsh -- Girsh, 18, is just finishing up the best junior career I've ever had a player have. He'll be in Mehul's class eventually, or at least close to it. He's 7th in juniors with 10 titles at that level, and will be making the jump to pro tour next year.
All of this leads up to present events. With both Mehul and Chittoor placing in the Top 200 at the start of the year, Sri Lanka was admitted back into the World Team Cup. After 7 years of working up to it, the first major goal was achieved! The pair served as #1 and #2 singles respectively, with Mehul teaming alongside veteran Prakash Nilima in doubles. They smashed their way through the group stage with a mark of 13-2 in matches, 42-8 in sets, best of any Level 4 competitor!
The quarterfinals, bane of Sri Lanka four times in the past, were no different. Ecuador fell 4-1, then Lithuania in the semifinals and Egypt in the final by the same count. Nobody at this bottom level could compete with the two high-powered rising stars. Most of the matches lost were in the doubles.
This week, the 51st week of 2037, Sri Lanka is drawn against Lithuania again. Pairings are based on overall world rankings, and in this case it is their loss. Sri Lanka has risen from 86th to 69th with the successes this year but is still the lowest-ranked team in the playoff, while Lithuania at 31st is the highest-ranked. I have high confidence that we will stomp them again, allowing us to move up for the 2038 season.
Looking forward to following this. Very interesting premise.
Another bit of history was made. As expected, Sri Lanka dominated Lithuania for a second time, winning 4-1 again to move up to Level 3 for the 2038 season. Anil Mehul dropped only a single game in his two matchs(combined), Chittoor five in each of his but never came close to losing a set, while once again the doubles were a competitive loss.
Monday: A. Chittoor d. D. Gedgaudas, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0
Tuesday: A. Mehul d. J. Smimov, 6-0, 6-0, 6-0
Wednesday: J. Smimov/D. Gedgaudas d. A. Mehul/P. Nilima, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2
Thursday: A. Mehul d. D. Gedgaudas, 6-0, 6-0, 6-1
Friday: A. Chittoor d. J. Smimov, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1
An impressive six bagel sets. This was never a contest. Sri Lanka is now up two spots to 67th in the world. We are now in the final week of 2037. Next week the first group matches get under way for the new year.
Each tier or level consists of 16 nations, divided into 4 groups. A round-robin schedule has a tie contested with each of the other three nations in a group, after which the top two nations from each group advance to the quarterfinals. As mentioned, making the semifinals ensures a spot in the playoff with a chance to move up to the next level/tier. As far as going into the playoffs having to win to stay up, I hadn't looked at that yet since it never concerned Sri Lanka before -- this is the first time we have competed at anything above the lowest level! It appears that the four lowest-ranking nations that don't make it out of the group stage are sent. Not the four lowest-ranking in the group performance, but in terms of their world ranking. So basically making it out of the group will ensure at least staying on the same level next year.
Sri Lanka has been drawn in Group 1 of Level 3. The opponents will be China(48th), Nigeria(39th), and Ukraine(47th). Ukraine has a veteran who was Top 50 until recently(Yevgeni Tupikov, 56th) so they will certainly not be as much of a pushover as most of last year's opponents. China should be very beatable, both of their singles players were in the 150 range. Nigeria made the L3 final last year, losing narrowly to India 3-2 in a playoff to move up. Their best player, Guillame Vittoz, is ranked 86th in the world at the moment and could give either one of our players problems.
I think Sri Lanka will make it out of Group 1 but it will not be a walk-over and a third-place finish is not out of the question. There will be a lot more tense moments this season in the World Team Cup.
The 2038 World Team Cup has begun!
We began facing off in a must-win against China, which as I mentioned is the weakest member of our group. Here's how the week unfolded:
Monday: A. Mehul d. W. Cheung, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3
Tuesday: A. Chittoor d. L. Chen, 7-6(4), 7-5, 6-2
Wednesday: Z. Hou/W. Cheung d. Mehul/Nilima, 1-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3
Thursday: A. Mehul d. L. Chen, 6-0, 6-2, 6-3
Friday: A. Chittoor d. W. Cheung, 7-6(10), 6-2, 6-4
Sri Lanka defeats China, 4-1!
The overall result was the same as most of our ties but it was much more competitive, particularly in Chittoor's matches. The first one against Chen was especially tense, but he pulled through. In the other tie, Nigeria blanked Ukraine 5-0. This was quite a surprise to me. Yevgeny Tupikov's decline must be steeper than I thought, he won just one set in his two matches combined. Nigeria now leads the group ahead of us on tiebreakers. After the Australian Open at the end of the month, we will face them in the second round of group play. That will be a vital tie, and the winner of it will essentially have booked their place in the quarterfinals.
The latest rankings have us up one spot to a new high of 66th.
2038 Australian Open
In doubles, Mehul and Chittoor won a pair of qualifying matches, then lost to 15-seeds Barros/Fue in the first round of the main draw. The final scoreline was 6-3, 6-7(7), 6-0.
This was Amrik Chittoor's first appearance in any Slam event. He played like it, losing to world no. 47 Vito Bonamoni(CHE) 6-2, 6-1, 6-0. Anil Mehul lost in the first round of every Slam last year except Wimbledon, where he made the third round. His first AO win came over world no. 51 Ruben Vega of Thailand, a competitive 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 victory. Unfortunately he met up with American Mick Elder, the 5th-ranked player in the world, in the second round. Elder won the world tour finals last year and a pair of 250 events leading up to this. He's mentally better, has a better serve, and is physically more powerful than Mehul. There aren't many who Anil is outclassed again but this was one of those opponents. The match was barely competitive, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
Attention now turns to the pivotal WTC tie against Nigeria, coming up in a couple more weeks. Coming up next week will be Girish Girsh's first professional tournament, an amateur-level event in Singapore.
First up, a word about these events. They are a lot different than anything else a player sees in their ascent through the game. The amateur tournament class is a bridge of sorts between juniors and the semi-pro levels(futures and challengers). Most of the players here stink and will never amount to anything. Those who are even decent don't play here very long at all: the Top 1000 are barred from participating. Rankings and seedings don't really matter much or tell you anything.
Girish Girish had his first amateur event last week and ran through it quickly. He did not come close to losing a set, dropping no more than six games in any match. 6 points is his reward for this, moving him up from unranked to #1838. He'll need to play at least three more of these, spending several weeks training in between them.
2038 World Team Cup: Third Level Round Robin Stage, Second Tie
Sri Lanka faced Nigeria with the winner all but assured a place in the quarterfinals. This was the most dangerous matchup for us.
Monday: A. Mehul d. Y. Bozza, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3
** The easiest singles match for us, so it wasn't really a surprise.
Tuesday: G. Vittoz d. A. Chittoor, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3
** This was the most epic match any of my players have been involved in, the first one to go five sets for sure and a back-and-forth struggle. Vittoz was better(156-135 total points in the match) but also more inconsistent and Chittoor pushed him to five before suffering the first WTC singles loss Sri Lanka has endured in my tenure. This was a moment of concern because it was feasible though unlikely either player could lose their second singles rubber, and if we lost the doubles like we always do we would drop the tie if they didn't both win.
Wednesday: A. Mehul/P. Nilima d. T. Labbe/B. Dia, 6-3, 6-1, 6-1
** Or they could just annihilate the Nigerian doubles representatives. That works too. This made it all but certain Sri Lanka would prevail. It was shocking though -- I still have a hard time believing they pulled this off.
Thursday: A. Mehul d. G. Vittoz, 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-2
** A nice straight-sets win after the first-set escape, and we clinch the tie!
Friday: A. Chittoor d. Y. Bozza, 6-1, 6-0, 6-0
** Bozza obviously wasn't motivated in the dead rubber here.
Group 1 Results
Just as surprising as the ease of our win over Nigeria was the fact that China blanked Ukraine 5-0 without the loss of a set! This leaves Sri Lanka with a 100% clinched spot in the quarterfinals and first place in Group 1! Nigeria will face China in the final round robin round, and the winner will be tied with us but Sri Lanka will hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. The loser will have only one win while we have two, even if we lose to winless Ukraine which seems highly unlikely.
The next round is a couple of months away after the hard-court masters in Indian Wells and Miami. Mehul and Chittoor will participate in those events, maybe a challenger for each if needed before then. and Girsh will played another amateur event as well.
A couple notes that happened before this week's event first. Anil Manohar, who has all he can do to stay in the Top 500 these days, made the final at an F2(Tier 2 Futures) event in Lithuania, while Amrik Chittoor lost in the QF at a CH2(Tier 2 Challenger) tournament to Perry Mockler(USA, 88th).
This week, while the Masters was going on, Girish Girsh was in his second amateur tournament which ended up not faring as well. He was the 14-seed this time, and waltzed through to the semifinals where he met up with American Joseph Skirrow, an 18-year-old at basically the same point in his career. Skirrow defeated him there in a competitive three-setter, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3.
2038 Indian Wells Masters
This was the debut in terms of Masters events for Amrik Chittoor, while Anil Mehul played here last year, losing in the first round. Chittoor played his way through three rounds of qualifying successfully, only to be defeated in the first round of the main draw by 82nd-ranked Slovakian Cestmir Dsiadosz, 6-3, 7-6(3).
Mehul fared better this year. He not only won his first Masters match, but handed out a bagel in doing so. In the second round, Loke Borrman(SWE, 27th) was one of the biggest scalps he's ever taken in a 6-4, 6-4 win. Next up was Spasoje Kucerovic of Serbia, the 7th-ranked player in the world. Anil has been winning more and more against players outside of the Top 20 and gradually sliding up the rankings to 69th going into this week, but against the very best of the Top 10 he's still winless. Kucerovic has a better serve and is much stronger physically, though he's not particularly adept at hard-court play. After a dominant first set by the Serbian it was a tough battle the rest of the way with the favorite eventually triumphing 6-1, 7-6(4), 6-7(6). 8-6 in a final-set tiebreak is about as close as you can come to winning without actually doing it. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Anil Mehul get a Top 10 victory before the year is out the way he's been going.
After a week off, Mehul and Chittoor will head to Miami for the second of early US Masters events.
2038 Miami Masters
For Amrik Chittoor it was a repeat of Indian Wells. A good run through qualifying, then a quick beatdown in the first round of the main draw. Argentinian veteran Patrick Rafter surrendered just four games.
It was similar for Mehul as well. New Zealand's Arsenio Antuofermo(world no. 37) was beaten 6-3, 6-4 in the first. That brought up a matchup with a beatable seed, another fairly kind draw.
Tihomir Hreglic(CRO, 21st) was the obstacle. Hreglic is not quite as good from the baseline as Mehul nor as comfortable on the hard courts, but he has a much better serve and is a very mentally tough player, always doing his best in the key moments. Anil gave it a run but Tihomir prevailed 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-2. The Croatian saved all three break points he faced and his first serve was impregnable(14 aces, 67% won). If he hadn't been having a great day in terms of accuracy -- he only missed 12 of his first serves, 12% of the total -- Mehul would have had a real chance to pull off the upset.
The final round of group play in the WTC is a bit anticlimactic for Sri Lanka. That's coming up next week, and we'll find out who we face in the quarterfinals.
Anil Mehul turned 22 the first week of the Miami Masters, which seemed a good time to take a look at how his career is progressing. He's been moving steadily upwards this year, these last couple weeks playing at the level of probably a Top 30 player though his ranking is still in the 60s. There are only five players ranked ahead of him who are shy of their 21st birthday, an indicator that many bigger things are ahead of him.
Amrik Chittoor's days in my stable of players are numbered. He's not as good of an athlete, though skill wise he's not far behind Mehul and a year younger. I don't think he has the ability to rise too much further than he has, and I'll be surprised if he ever cracks the Top 50.
Girish Girsh is the future. He's very similar in talent to Mehul, not quite as dedicated, a little more mentally tough, physically very similar though probably a shade behind. Girsh is a little ahead of the pace though in developing his skills and it's not out of the question that he'll become the best player of the group. In a year or two, Chittoor will be jettisoned in favor of a new junior player and Girsh will eventually take his place on the national WTC team. It's a question of when, not if.
Before I get to the WTC, the first quarter of 2038 is in the books now and here's what's changed at the top of the sport.
1. David Almagro(ESP) -- 10,520
Overtook Alastra with a runner-up finish at the AO and hasn't given up the top ranking since. He won a 500 event in Rotterdam and went out in the semis at Indian Wells and Miami, good enough to maintain his #1 status but not good enough to open a gap on the field.
2. Gabriel Alastra(ARG) -- 9,770
A shocking quarterfinal exit at the AO to Jens Oberg dropped him to third, and his results since were underwhelming until a runner-up finish last week in Miami.
3. David Prieto(ESP) -- 9,640
Prieto has been the best player so far this year, champion at the AO and Miami, with a couple of 250 titles to go with it. He hasn't added all that much to last year's results though, largely due to an early fourth-round exit in Indian Wells.
4. Mick Elder(USA) -- 8,670
Elder is making good on his goal of challenging the Big Three, already having added more than a thousand points to his total and nearing striking distance. It didn't help that he lost early at the AO(4th round) but he's got three smaller titles to his credit(Brisbane, Auckland, and Memphis). He also won at Indian Wells and made the semis in Miami. Last year's clay results were pretty good, so he'll be hard pressed to improve too much on them.
5. Oliver Challenger(USA) -- 6,960
A casualty of Elder's rise to make the Big Three now the Big Four or at least about to be, Challenger is down to 5th and no longer the top US player.
6. Bjorn Benda(DEU) -- 5,370
Up from 9th and about 900 points added, Benda continues to be the top hope of the next generation. The future for him is very, very soon after a run to the IW finals.
7. Spasoje Kucerovic(SRB) -- 5,040
8. Jens Oberg(SWE) -- 4,695
A signature upset over Alastra at the AO was impressive -- it's not often that a 23-year-old knocks off the reigning king at a Slam event. Like Benda, Oberg is on the rise and he's several months younger. He's up two spots from 8th over the first quarter.
9. Perry Hogue(USA) -- 4,685
At the beginning of the year I called him 'the best of the next generation'. He didn't make any progress though, so maybe I was wrong. Is he a flash in the pan that has peaked already? He's been consistent, but hasn't been able to break through by getting past the semis in any of the big events. I'd say the jury's still out here.
10. Eric Gorritepe(ESP) -- 4,360
How the mighty have fallen. It would appear the unquestioned GOAT has reached the point of irrelevance this year. It happens to everyone eventually, and he's closer to 33 now than 32, no longer a major threat on the biggest stages.
As for my Sri Lankan quartet, here's their progression:
** Anil Mehul -- 73rd to 62nd singles, 206th to 192nd doubles. He continues to move up steadily. Already Mehul is the only Top 200 doubles player the nation has ever had, and the singles mark, set over 30 years ago at world no. 58 by Prakash Manohari, looks like it will go soon.
** Amrik Chittoor -- 93rd to 92nd singles, 1113th to 850th doubles. Chittoor is pretty much stuck where he is, and I don't expect huge strides upwards anytime soon. For a player of his subpar athleticism to reach the Top 100 is really pretty good.
** Anil Manohar -- 436th to 490th singles, 659th to 712th doubles. It's hit and miss whether Manohar makes it to the business end of even mid-level futures tournaments now. He's in full trainer preparation mode now.
** Girish Girsh -- Unranked at the start of the year as he'd just finished a 7th-place finish among juniors, Girsh is 1571st in singles, 3335th in doubles.
2038 WTC Group Play, Round 3, Level 3
Sri Lanka vs. Ukraine
It was an anticlimactic tie as Sri Lanka was already going to make the quarterfinals, but was important for getting a relatively favorable draw and of course continuing to move up the rankings.
Monday: A. Chittoor d. Y. Tupikov, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1
Tuesday: A. Mehul d. I. Piaskovsky, 6-1, 6-0, 6-0
Wednesday: Mehul/Nilima d. Preobrazhensky/Chichelnitsky, 6-1, 6-2, 6-0
Thursday: A. Mehul d. Y. Tupikov, 6-1, 6-0, 6-1
Friday: A. Chittoor d. I. Piaskovsky, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1
Yawn. I expected us to win, but I didn't expect this kind of crushing. Nowhere did we come close to losing a set, four bagels and eight breadsticks served up!
Sri Lanka advances to the knockout stage every bit as convincingly as we did last year in Level 4. I thought it would be a bit more difficult this year. Our opponent in the vital quarterfinals has been drawn as Canada. I don't expect them to be able to offer major resistance. There are two other nations that could be tough: Austria, who we could face in the semis, and Poland who is on the other side of the bracket and we wouldn't see until the finals. Assuming we get by Canada, we'll have the chance to be in the playoffs for another promotion at the end of the year.
After the strong undefeated run through group play Sri Lanka has risen to a new high of 55th in the rankings. Upward and onwards! The WTC takes a break now, as the quarterfinals don't come up until after the USO in the fall. It will be a relatively quiet period for the next several weeks. Girsh will be looking to get a couple more amateur wins, while Chittoor and Mehul will be playing only as much as needed to stay sharp. Challengers in Chittoor's case, it's possible Mehul may enter a 250 but clay is not our forte and with the masters events limited to a field of 56 it'd be a reach to have either of them enter those. The next big event is of course Roland Garros coming up in a little under two months time. The daily grind of training will cover most of this period for my contingent of players.
I'll follow along!
Danke muy mucho. The clay season is now mostly in the books.
Anil Mehul played in his first 250 event in Bucharest. His first-round opponent was Chilean veteran Florentino Grasa, now 32 years old but he was once a Top 10 player. At this point in their respective careers, Mehul would be a modest favorite anywhere but clay. On this surface the odds were flipped. Grasa's serve is still a little better, the only significant skill advantadge he has, and that proved the difference. He converted half his break chances, while Mehul had a few more of them but only won 5 of 17 in a tough loss. The final score was 6-7(5), 7-5, 7-6(2), three tough, tight sets and only five total points separating the players.
After a week off, a final tuneup event at a large Challenger in Bordeaux was next. Unfortunately, Mehul ran into Grasa there as well in the quarterfinals after a couple of testy early-round wins against lower-ranking clay specialists. Again he pushed through to a deciding tiebreaker, but again he lost, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(3).
Amrik Chittoor played only one event in the lead-up, a small Challenger event in Ostrava. He was pushed but won in a couple of straight-sets wins, then fell to American Radek Smitala(100th) in the quarters.
Girish Girsh continued his assault on the amateurs by cruising to the title in Bergamo, Italy. He never lost more than five games in a match or three in a set.
2038 French Open
All of that work led up to the year's second Slam tournament. Chittoor made his debut here as well. He had a pretty unkind draw, facing off with 14-seed Issac Malpica(ESP). It was over quickly: 6-2, 6-0, 6-1. Yuck. In doubles, the pair managed to reach the final round of qualifying before losing, a bit better than in Australia and the hardcourt masters but still not enough to get to the main draw.
Mehul, on the other hand, had good fortune in his first-round opponent. Last year he'd taken just three games off of Mick Elder, but this time it was aging local wild card Samuel Michon(257th). Mehul completely dominated the match, handing out a bagel and a pair of breadsticks for his first career win at Roland Garros. The next obstacle was far more substantial: 13-seed Evgeni Topoloski(RUS). Topoloski mainly had the advantage of a better serve and greater skill on clay. After a good fight, Mehul succumbed 6-4, 7-5, 6-4. He played well enough to take at least a set but eight double faults really hurt. The Russian was able to get just enough easy points on his serve to keep Anil at bay.
Three of the players will be in action in smaller events next week while the titans of the tour battle it out in the second week of the FO. Challenger events are in store for Mehul and Chittoor, while Girsh enters what will hopefully be his final amateur event -- but only if he wins again. A month from now Wimbledon will be upon us, and I'll report back in then. Mehul will continue to work on his clay game as there is a historic opportunity upcoming after that. In August, the summer Olympics beckon in Belgium. No Sri Lankan has ever attempted to qualify for the field of 64 there. Mehul will probably have to go through the qualifying draw to make it, but the chance to represent our nation in the Olympics is definitely worth it. Until then, getting every possible edge on the dirt is his top priority.
Amrik Chittoor first faced off against Pamel Bestiavanov(RUS, 108th), roughly same age and skills. Bestianov is a little more gifted physically and more familiar with grass-court tennis. A tight match, but Chittoor failed to break through and get his first Slam win, losing 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-7(1), 7-5. This was about as good a chance as Chittoor is likely to get to win a match, it's pretty clear he just isn't quite good enough at this point.
Anil Mehul had a good draw against Arvid Hjoch(SWE, 59th). Could have been better but also could have been a good deal worse. On paper it looked like a very even match, little to choose between them. Mehul has the better baseline game and more grass familiarity, a surface that Hjoch basically completely ignores: the Swede is the better server as always seems to be the case and a hair faster around the court. It was an epic match and could have gone either way. In the end, Mehul prevailed in his first five-setter, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(7), 3-6, 10-8!! Only one point separated them, 178-177 in total. On this day, Mehul was a little better on the big points especially the break chances, and that was the(very narrow) difference.
In the second round, 11-seed Viktor Goncharenko of Russia waited. In this case the athletic gap between the players was simply too much to overcome. Goncharenko cruised to a comprehensive 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 stroll of a win. The loss hurt Mehul a bit in the rankings as he made it to the third round last year, but it is a third straight second-round showing at the Slams which is a pretty good indicator of where he is right now. Last year he caught a really low seed in the first round, which is the kind of fortuitious draw it would take to have a real chance of getting further. He's still getting better though, and that should continue for a few more years so it's still uncertain what his ceiling is.
A little over halfway through the year now. Here's how the picture has changed in the last few months:
Anil Mehul -- 62nd to 67th singles, 192nd to 182nd doubles. Basically stagnant overall, but the clay season will never be much of a strong point for him. Whether or not he moves up much this year will be determined by the North American hardcourt swing coming up in a few weeks.
Amrik Chittoor -- 92nd to 83rd singles, 850th to 549th doubles. Continues to move up steadily. I think the gap between the two here is greater than the rankings show.
Anil Manohar -- 490th to 534th singles, 712th to 1034th doubles. Continuing to fall off the cliff, even the better futures events are now beyond
him. Right now Manohar is working on his doubles game in view of becoming a well-rounded trainer in a few years time.
Girish Girsh -- 1571st to 958th singles, 3335th to 2434th doubles. Girish will take his first plunge into low-level futures play in a couple of weeks. I fully expect him to catch Manohar in the rankings by the end of the year.
1. Gabriel Alastra(28, ARG) -- 10,280
Alastra won Wimbledon for his sixth Grand Slam title, making him 10th all time in that category.
2. David Prieto(27, ESP) -- 9,990
A four-set loss to Alastra at Wimbledon prevented him from taking the top spot. Nonetheless, these two have separated themselves a bit from the other challengers recently.
3. Mick Elder(27, USA) -- 8,710
4. David Prieto(27, ESP) -- 8,530
5. Bjorn Benda(24, DEU) -- 7,100
Benda, a clay specialist, broke through with a win at the French Open for his first Slam crown. This cements his place of the most accomplished player of the 'next generation'.
6. Oliver Challenger(28, USA) -- 6,300
7. Jens Oberg(23, SWE) -- 4,470
8. Eric Gorritepe(32, ESP) -- 4,450
Up a couple spots in the last few months, he refuses to go away completely.
9. Perry Hogue(24, USA) -- 4,270
10. Spasoje Kucerovic(27, SRB) -- 4,070
There's a big gap between 6th-7th and also between 10th and 11th. This could very well be the same group of ten players straight through the end of the year. After a semifinal run at Wimbledon, 24-year-old Evgeni Topolski of Russia looks like the only player capable of crashing the party.
Next up is the Olympics in Belgium in a few weeks, and then after that in short succession will come the hard-court masters in Canada and Cincinatti, followed almost immediately by the US Open.
The week before the Olympic event, Girish Girsh played in his first futures event(third tier). It was on hardcourt in China, and he benefited from the fact that it was a busy week schedule-wise in garnering the fourth seed. Girsh faced only wild cards and qualifiers en route to the final, stomping all of them with ease. Once there, he faced Russian Felix Demidenko, and won a tighter match but still in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4 to claim the title! Girsh moved up to the low 700s in the rankings after this, and will probably move up to a second-tier futures in his next event.
The week prior to that, there had been an interesting situation as Mehul was entered into a big challenger event in Sopot, Poland. After a couple of wins against low-ranking players, he again met Swede Arvid Hjoch, the same player he had beaten in the epic five-setter in the first round at Wimbledon less than a month prior. Hjoch would normally be the favorite as an extreme clay-court specialist, and probably would have won had he not been mismanaged. In the second week of Wimbledon, just two weeks prior, he had played in and won another big challenger event, taking the crown in both singles and doubles. A job well done, but he needed more time off to play at his best. A player who over-commits will soon find themselves not just suffering in terms of performance but also not learning as much as they otherwhise would from the match. That's exactly what happened as Mehul upset him for the second time, 6-4, 6-4. Hjoch's manager, who goes by the handle of Karma -- I swear I didn't make that up -- is presently ranked 19th, while I am 30th and have pretty much stagnated there for the last several months. I was a little surprised that such a fairly high-ranking manager(there are 124 with a positive score, i.e. more points than you start with by default) made a mistake like this.
Irish veteran James Fenney fell in the semis, and Mehul came up just short of what would have been the biggest title of his career. World no. 36 Cestmir Marcek of Czechoslovakia ended that bid 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. A little disappointing, but it was still huge for Mehul to reach the final of a big clay challenger like this.
The day arrived, and history was made as Anil Mehul became the first Sri Lankan to ever participate in the tennis Olympics. In doubles he teamed with usual partner Prakash Nilima and lost a close match in the first round, but that was not unexpected. In singles, his first matchup wasn't a bad one at all, defeating American Pierce Gaskell fairly easily. Australian Arsenio Antuofermo was next, whom Mehul had beaten in a competitive first-rounder at the Miami Masters last spring. This one was tougher, but he eventually prevailed again 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-3 for a comeback win.
Suddenly he found himself in the last 16 of the tournament! This was much more than he had expected coming in, winning one match would have been a success. Croatian (11) Strahina Kecic raced through a quick first set and survived a tight tiebreak to end the fun there, 6-0, 7-6(6). As important and historic as this run was, it will also have far-reaching consequences in Mehul's career. He moved up to a Sri Lanka record 48th after the tournament, the first player ever to crack the Top 50. It also forced him into making a scheduling decision. Continuing to play singles and doubles consistently will put him in a situation like Hjoch where he is overplaying and getting suboptimal results. From the time he entered the tour as a junior, tournaments have primarily served the function of getting him match experience, with the scheduling focus on training to improve.
That will continue to happen, but at this point he has reached the elite of tennis and the most important factor now is results. Anil Mehul will be entering in all the big singles events from here on out throughout at least the rest of his prime, only playing doubles as warranted during 'slow' parts of the season. His next major goal is to reach the Top 30, a ranking which allows for being seeded in Slams and the larger Masters, with the bonus of avoiding the top players until much later in the tournament. Big things are ahead for him if these last couple of events are any proper indication.
I decided to combine both Masters events into one report, since they are back-to-back and there wasn't a whole lot else going on.
First up for our hero was dynamic Argentinian qualifier Robert Garcia. After surviving a first-set tiebreak, it was a quick finish. Then awaited the greatest of them all, Eric Gorritepe. At this point in his career he's still more than Mehul's equal, probably the only player in the world that is better from the baselilne. A little surprisingly, Mehul saved 11 of 13 break points in scoring his first top ten win in a very tight struggle, 7-6(8), 7-6(7). It could have gone either way, and any time you beat the GOAT, even at 32, it's a huge feather to put in your cap. Topoloski was up next, and it was the same story: close, but not close enough. The Russian won it 6-4, 6-4, going on to win the tournament with only Mick Elder able to give him a tougher match. With the victory, his first masters title, Topoloski crashes the party now at #9 in the rankings.
With back-to-back showings in the round of 16 and the win over Gorritepe, Mehul is seriously starting to move up in the world.
31-year-old Arnaldo Barranco(PER, 29th) is the kind of player that has become almost routine, and while he slipped in the second set Mehul was clearly the better player and advanced in three to face world no. 3 Mick Elder for the second time. The last meeting was the French Open over a year ago, when Elder surrendered just three games in as many sets. Time to see how far he's come. It was closer this time, but the titans of the sport are beyond Mehul's grasp yet, and he lost in the second round here 6-3, 6-4. With probably the best serve in the game and a partisan crowd behind him, the result was virtually foregone for Elder but it was a competitive match at least. Total points were 66-56; Mehul belongs on the court with the top guys now, but still has work to do in order to catch them.
Our hero is set to go into the US Open around 40th in the world, still a little bit out of the seeded positions. After that, the WTC picks up again with Sri Lanka looking to extend their win streak and continue to move up in the pecking order.
I've jumped in (to Game World 2) and am working with a couple young'ns myself! We'll see if I can get the hang of this...
Cool, let me know if you have any questions. One piece of advice is that I would make sure you have one older player.
I jumped in with a 14yo and a 16yo. Have them in AMAs and JG4s currently, and getting a lot of practice in on clay.
I do have another world left to play in, where I can jigger up my set-up. Why specifically do you recommend an older guy?
If you want to get the most out of your younger players over the course of their career, you need a trainer. Why? Because you get more experience for matches with a trainer than you do from friendly matches. As a talented player develops, they eventually reach the point(when your endurance gets over 3 you will probably start to notice this) where even if you have them constantly playing in practice tournaments in between real events you still need to supplement that with friendly matches to keep them from wasting days(i.e., running out of fatigue which is always a bad thing because it means they lost training time and gained less experience than they could have).
Anil Mehul will not be as good as he could have been, because he's never had a trainer(Manohar is still a little over 4 game-years from being ready to hang 'em up and take on that role, and even then he'll be a good-not-great one). I've also screwed up maybe a dozen or so weeks over the course of his career and not entered him in events :(. But you know, you live and learn, and that's why I play in the slow time control.
Essentially this is what I recommend for starting out:
** Best 14-year-old you can find. Be prepared to fire them if you find a better one. New players join the pool every few game weeks on Monday.
** Best prime player(i.e. around 25) you can find with the rest of your available points. Their purpose is to gain you points so you can buy a better one.
** As soon as you have enough points, get the best prime player available. You won't be able to get a good one, but I think in my game world it was around 700 points or so that the best ones went for. You are looking for the player with the best potential as a trainer.
** Once you get that first trainer, you can train new young players better.
There's a certain 'build-up' involved and I'm not all the way there yet. But the bottom-line idea is this: you can't make a player the 'best they can be' until you have a top trainer, so getting the best trainer you can as soon as you can is IMO a key priority. Then you can use that trainer to better work on a next-gen player, giving them better skills and they will eventually become a better trainer than the first guy ... and so on until you've got a truly elite trainer going and then you just need to keep the system humming. That's why I hang on to Anil Manohar even though he's struggling to stay in the Top 500 and declining all the time. I need to max out his abilities for training so that the next young prodigy I bring up can benefit from his skills. When I do that(I think it's going to be at the end of 2039, or a little over a game year from now) I'll post something about the results, practice vs. training matches, to give an idea of how much of a difference it makes. All the top managers have top trainers(usually 5.0). There's a formula on the site for how the trainer ability is determined. Right now Manohar would be a 3.8 on the 5-point scale, I should be able to get him into the low 4s.
I probably should also point out here that while I'm sure you'll develop your own system for what events to enter players in when(I'm still working on mine), pay attention to their form(look at the documentation for where the penalties and bonuses kick in if you don't know) so that you aren't overplaying or underplaying them, and also keep in mind you get more experience from losing than winning. If you are winning the title at almost every event, you aren't playing the right ones(unless of course you are the #1 player in the world) :).
Y'all are wanting to hook me in.
Nah, I'd much rather read you swearing about your latest FM club :P
2038 US OPEN
The final Slam of the year arrived with the luck of the draw a paramount consideration. There are two kinds of players for whom it is particularly important, both represented here. At the lower end, Amrik Chittoor is among the lower-ranked players in the draw and, absent a favorable draw, has basically no real chance of advancing. On the other end of the scale, Anil Mehul is one of the best unseeded players and has the potential to win a few matches or go out immediately depending on who he gets. It's important to avoid the titans for as long as possible, as in last year's straight-set beatdown by Alastra in his opening match.
As it happened, the draw was fairly kind for both players this time, though it could also have been better in either case. Chittor was paired with Egon Bengtsson(FIN, 79th), a clay-court specialist who is more powerful but not adept at hard-court tennis and a player who has been known to choke away matches in the key moments. It's still unlikely he'll avoid another loss but there's a chance for a mild upset.
Mehul was set to face off against Pavel Bestemianov(RUS, 100th), a young player that he should slightly outclass across the board and who slightly overplayed coming into the event, so he won't quite be at his best. A win there, and he'd meet at worst the lowest seed in the tournament, Switzerland's Vito Bonamoni, against whom he'd also have good chances. The bad news was that if that went well, the gravy train was expected to end there with a third-round date against world No. 4 David Prieto of Spain.
Chittoor not only broke his perfect 0-3 Slam record come in, but he did in a grand style with a fairly shocking victory over Bengtsson, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. I hadn't bothered to look further ahead in his section, but he'll next be a sacrifical lamb for 5-seed Oliver Challenger(USA). Mehul handed out a bagel to start and cruised through the next two sets for an easy straight-sets win, surrendering only five total games. A great start for both players.
Chittoor was handed two breadsticks and a final-set bagel, winning only 38 of 124 points against Challenger. A predictable beat-down, but for him of course the event was made by advancing past the first round. The first set between Mehul and Bonamoni went down to the wire, with a break in the 10th game the only difference. Anil was able to put more and more pressure on his opponent's serve as the match went on, and scored a fairly tough 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win to advance to the third round without the loss of a set. Unfortunately, Prieto is there as expected, and has surrendered just five games all tournament.
The expected straight-set defeat happened, but Mehul took another step in giving Prieto some serious competition. The final line was 7-6(1), 6-2, 7-5, a very credible effort against the fourth-ranked player in the world. He's inching closer all the time.
Rankings Update -- 2038 3Q
The third quarter is in the books, and there have been some surprises in the last few months for my Sri Lankan quartet.
Anil Mehul -- 67th to 35th singles, 182nd to 294th doubles. He's obviously really turned the corner here in singles, and it's an interesting and open question whether Mehul will be seeded at the AO to begin 2039. A couple of Tier 1 Challenger titles from last year will come off the slate in the next couple of months, and it's possible but probably unlikely he'll be able to replace those points in the Shanghai and Paris Masters, the two big events left in the year that he'll be playing. More likely a no than a yes, but there's still a lot of tennis to be played and he might need to throw a 250 event or a big challenger in there to stay match-fresh ... we'll see. Either way, there's no question Mehul should be positioned for a serious assault against the best in the world next year.
Amrik Chittoor -- 83rd to 87th singles, 549th to 259th doubles. A nice rise in doubles but pretty much still hanging out in the journeyman ranks. Whether he can build on his USO win remains to be seen.
Anil Manohar -- 534th to 376th singles, 1034th to 1337th doubles. A surprising crown at a recent Tier 2 futures event reversed his gradual decline for the moment, but it's a temporary stay.
Girish Girsh -- 958th to 525th singles, 2434th to 2006th doubles. Since turning pro, Girsh has lost just the one amateur match. Just last week, during the second half of the US Open, he moved up to a Tier 2 futures and promptly ran the table there as well. A quarterfinal match proved testy as he didn't show up early, dropping four straight games and eventually the first set before rallying for a fairly easy win. In the final, he met top seed Jesper Fine of Norway, a good test as Fine is ranked 212th in the world. Girsh prevailed in a tough three-set match that could have gone either way. Beating a player like Fine means he is probably going to settle in as a big futures/small challenger kind of tweener player for a while once his ranking gets up there. Right now he's blazing a trail upwards, and will give one of the big futures events a shot next time out.
World Top Ten
1. Mick Elder(USA) -- 10,930
Elder took the top spot for the first time after a thrilling conclusion to the US Open saw him beat Prieto and then Benda, both matches going the full five sets.
2. Gabriel Alastra(ARG) -- 10,660
A semifinal loss to Benda at the USO lost him the top spot, but he's still a major threat anywhere.
3. David Almagro(ESP) -- 8,340
Almagro did not show up to defend his title, which cost him dearly. One wonders if his manager has for some reason gone MIA. It happens sometimes.
4. David Prieto(ESP) -- 8,140
5. Bjorn Benda(DEU) -- 7,880
The next generation is no longer a thing that's coming: it's here. Benda may well take over the #1 spot by early next year at the rate he's going. A semi-final win over Alastra proved he's got the game to win not just on the dirt but across multiple surfaces.
6. Oliver Challenger(USA) -- 5,335
7. Eric Gorritepe(ESP) -- 4,665
8. Perry Hogue(USA) -- 4,300
9. Evgeni Topolski(RUS) -- 4,135
The other top player in the same stable as Almagro, Topolski missed the USO as well and the top ten's newest member a chance to move up.
10. Spasoje Kucerovic(SRB) -- 3,670
Kucerovic's slot may change hands quite a bit. Oberg, Goncharenko, and rising Spaniard David Alvarez are all one big tournament from taking it. Oberg appears to have peaked early though and the other two probably aren't going to get all that much better than they are right now, so none of them are going to be the next big star of tennis or anything.
2038 WTC -- Level 3 Quarterfinals
The matchup with Canada figured to be another romp for Sri Lanka. Their best singles player, Joshua Tepest, is barely a Top 200 guy and i thought maybe at best he might be able to upset Chittoor, but we'd still get at least three wins minimum from the other singles matches. The one surprise was the selection of Chittoor/Nilima as the doubles team. Mehul is actually only the third-highest ranking doubles player -- barely, literally one spot below Nilima -- but for him to have more rest from match play to focus on his singles career is really a blessing at this point for him personally. Not so much for the nation but it's only a small handicap.
Monday: A. Mehul d. P. Baudoin, 6-2, 6-0, 6-1
Tuesday: A. Chittoor d. J. Tepest, 6-4, 6-1, 6-0
Wednesday: A. Chittoor/P. Nilima d. M. Foy/P. Baudoin, 6-3, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3
Thursday: A. Mehul d. J. Tepest, 6-0, 6-1, 6-3
Friday: A. Chittoor d. P. Baudoin, 6-1, 6-0, 6-1
A 5-0 blanking as Sri Lanka moves on to the semifinals, confirming our place in the promotion playoffs at the end of the year! There was plenty of drama in the doubles match, which the Canadians lost via 19 double faults and only 8 of 25 BP converted more than we won it. The singles matches were all dominated. Sri Lanka is up another 5 spots to 50th in the world rankings.
Next up is Austria, who defeated Romania 4-1 for their part and is the top competition. On paper, they have a very similar lineup to ours. Everyone will need to be at their best. In order for that to happen, Mehul needs to get at least a couple more matches in, so he'll be in St. Petersburg for a 250-level event next week with the semis coming up the week after that. Everyone else has the week off for training.
Signed up for an account because of this dynasty!
That's a great compliment, and more than I expected. Thanks!
The story continues, with some pretty high drama ...
In St. Petersburg, Mehul did a little better than expected. He was seeded 8th, and blasted through the first two rounds, meeting 4-seed Falk Gries(DEU) in the quarters. Gries had overplayed badly coming in and while he pushed the second set to a tiebreak, he fell pretty meekly as well. The semis brought a rematch with Viktor Goncharenko, the top seed and world no. 12. He had beaten Anil in straight sets to end his Wimbledon bid in the second round. This time he was not quite as sharp, and the surface was more to Mehul's liking. It didn't really seem to matter though. The gap in athleticism led to a similar result ... or it least it appeared to be. Down 6-3, 4-1, Mehul just kept fighting and fighting. He made his way to a tiebreak, then trailed 3-0 and 5-2 there before rattling off the last five points to take the set and force a decisive third!
He had to fight harder than his higher-ranked opponent to hold, but he held his nerve and the decider remained on serve until the ninth game. Anil raced out to a 0-40 lead, missed the first two break chances but snagged the third to serve for the match. And that's when the wheels came off. He just couldn't finish, dropping the last three games for a heartbreaking 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-5 defeat. He was literally at the finish line and couldn't just serve it out. Still a very good result, good enough to nearly replace one of those challenger titles he'll be losing the points from, but that close to beating an athlete like Goncharenko, it's a tough loss to swallow and he won't soon forget it. He'd have had great chances to take his first pro title had he been able to finish off that last game. Sucks.
2038 WTC -- Level 3 Semifinals
There was no time to cry over the loss. One thing it did do was ensure he'd be match-fresh for what looked to be Sri Lanka's toughest WTC test. 21st-ranked Austria had won the luck of the draw when it came to surfaces, as this tie would be played on clay. Led by world No. 37 Julian Hammerstein, one of the physically strongest players in the world and very mentally tough, they also had a solid #2 singles in 89th-ranked Hannes Frankl. Both are far more adept on the dirt than Mehul & Chittoor, and objectively Sri Lanka are probably slight underdogs here. Since our re-entry into the WTC nearly two years ago, the national streak stands at a fantastic 11 straight victories, with no more than a single match lost in any of them. But none of those tests have been as stern as this one. This is the sixth straight year for Austria at Level 3, having been bounced down from Level 2 in 2032. Like us, they are getting better all the time and in a perfect world, both would promote up as we're clearly the class of Level 3 this year. That's to be determined in the playoffs down the road, but the winner here will improve their matchup and ranking when it comes time for that.
Monday: A. Mehul d. H. Frankl, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2
The pressure was on Mehul here as it was really a must-win match. He brought it home as expected, winning as many points on Frankl's serve as the Austrian did.
Tuesday: J. Hammerstein d. A. Chittoor, 6-1, 6-2, 6-1
This was also expected. I hoped it would be closer, but it was never a contest. Both of the reverse singles matchups could go either way, so tied at 1-all Sri Lanka went into the doubles match knowing it could well decide the outcome.
Wednesday: P. Nilima/A. Mehul d. T. Weidman/H. Frankl, 6-4, 7-5, 6-1
I have no idea why Mehul was moved back into the doubles team in place of Chittoor this time, but they got the job done with a vital win to move us one rubber away from advancing.
Thursday: J. Hammerstein d. A. Mehul, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4
The marquee clash of the week offered Mehul a chance to clinch the tie, but it didn't get off to a good start. Hammerstein's power was too much to deal with in the first set, but he quickly bounced back in the second by taking the first three games. He couldn't hold the lead, including blowing triple break point with a chance to get even again as the Austrian was trying to serve it out. That was pretty much the match. Hammerstein just bludgeoned him around the court, handing Mehul his first WTC singles defeat after 25 straight victories these past two years.
So for the first time, Sri Lanka has lost two matches in the same WTC tie and they are forced into a decisive fifth rubber. Going into it, Nigeria had already eliminated New Zealand in the other semifinal with a stunning upset by Vittoz over Anutofermo providing a 3-1 edge on Thursday. Frankl is the stronger player and much more proficient on clay, so he was holding most of the cards here. Chittoor has a slight advantadge in his baseline game and is also a little better mentally, so the one hope was that if Frankl had an off day and Amrik could prevail in the big moments of the match, he could pull off the upset and we would advance. The smart money though was on Hannes Frankl and team Austria.
Friday: H. Frankl d. A. Chittoor, 7-5, 6-1, 6-1
Yeah that was pretty disappointing. After putting up a good fight in the first set it was pretty obvious that Chittoor just plain gave up. Austria wins 3-2, moving on the finals while we can only wait for the playoffs. Sri Lanka drops a single spot to 51st in the rankings. Taking a look at the nations we might face then, I think we're basically a shoo-in for promotion, though if we've learned one thing this week it's never count your chickens before ,... you know.
The playoff tie won't arrive until the last week of the year, over two months from now. We've got an off week coming up next, to be followed by the Shanghai Masters and then the Paris Masters three weeks after that. During Shanghai Girsh will be in action in his next futures event, while Chittoor will be hitting the challenger circuit for the rest of the year. Both now have some points to make up, especially since they won't be participating in the WTC Finals.
During the unpleasantness of our WTC loss to Austria, I noticed that Anil Mehul had crossed a threshold for the first time. He's now entered the third of the five career stages in Rocking Rackets(as defined by me). This seemed a good time to describe these stages as it's the first time I'm going through the process with a strong player.
First Stage: Rapid Improvement The skills of a young player increase as does his physical maturity, allowing him to access more and more of his potential. From entering the junior tour at age 14, and of course even before that really, all players spend several years in this stage.
Second Stage: Seasoning, with Modest Improvement Once full physical maturity hits, the age varies depending on the player but with the long-term view and late-bloomers like Mehul and Girsh that make the best professionals, it's usually sometime around age 20 that this begins. The technical skillset continues to improve, but the physical aspect won't get any better. This is the point when the most training can be done, and therefore at which it is most important to have a trainer since professional and practice tournaments are not enough to keep them fully busy and engaged. This is the stage where Mehul has been until the last week or two.
Third Stage: Beginnings of physical decline, slow improvement. This stage, which usually lasts another several years and is basically the player's prime, is defined by the beginnings of decline in the physical skills. Endurance, which governs how tired a player gets from training, is affected at double the rate so eventually there will be a significant effect on how much the body recovers after training, further retarding development. It's very gradual at this stage and continued experience and progression of the player's understanding of the game, consistency in shotmaking, etc. are able to more than overcome the effects of Father Time. The player will continue to get better, but not as quickly as before since the better one gets the more effort is required to improve that little bit more, and erosion due to the fact that athletic ability is just starting to wane bit by tiny bit means that more and more it is the technical skills that must be relied upon.
Most reach this sooner than Mehul, but by age 23(he's 22 and a half) it has caught up with everyone. He has 635 career matches, 331 as a junior and nearly as many with 304 as a pro, and the miles you put on your body catch up with everyone. Manohar, by comparison, even though a far less successful player, has over a thousand matches now and this doesn't include all the practice and training, just official tournaments. Nobody is immune to the ticking clock, you can only achieve what you can while the body allows it. Usually this runs until some point in the late 20s.
As an idea of the numbers, entering the tie against Austria Mehul was at a career-high 31st. Only two players(18th-ranked Antonin Iglar and 27th-ranked John Condon) above him were younger. Meanwhile, just over half(16 of 30) of those above him are 28 or older, definitely on the decline phase of their career or at the very least about to embark on it. Several have passed 30 years of age. At this point, he'll continue to move up for a while merely by holding off the younger players after him, and just letting the vets slide on by during their twilight. Speaking of which, that brings up:
Fourth Stage: Increasing decline. Eventually, the body's athletic ability decreases to the point where technical improvements can no longer compensate. At this point, the downside of a player's career has been reached and all that can be done is to minimize the rate of decline. Generally speaking it's a process that accelerates over time. Manohar of course is nearing the end of his fall. A world-class player can still remain relevant for a few years -- Gorritepe as an extreme example is still Top 10 and a threat at the smaller 500 and 250-level professional events some 5 years or more after reaching his peak -- but nobody can reverse or stall he process entirely. By the time a player reaches the mid-30s, no matter how good they once were they are no longer relevant at the highest levels of the international stage. This will last until age 40, when all players auto-retire if they haven't chosen to so sooner.
Fifth Stage: Training others. A considerable amount of experience must be built up to become a trainer(I tested this out with Manohar and it took him half of year of not investing in any other improvement to acquire the necessary amount), which as mentioned above must be done prior to turning 40. A player who becomes a trainer can remain in that role until age 60, and is invaluable to the development of strong players in particular during the latter part of their first stage as well as the second and third stages. Eventually, by the later parts of the fourth stage, endurance will decline enough that trainers are no longer needed but for most of a top player's career they are beneficial. Lesser players, who often simply don't have the physical durability i.e. endurance to train as much, don't need the tutelage to nearly the same degree.
This may be of use to those of you who've signed up: I find the process of discovery interesting.
Oh this is super interesting! Never heard of this game but this sounds fascinating. I can't imagine having time for it, but...I'm gonna check it out and follow along too.
Anil Mehul's draw really illustrated where he is in the tennis world right now. He could lose in the first round, or go deep, with each round presented the promise of a closely-fought challenge for him to navigate. First up was a rematch with Gries, who he'd beaten in the St. Petersburg QF. This was the German's best surface though, and he wasn't as worn as he had been then. Each set was decided by an early break, with Gries taking the first and Mehul coming back to take the second and an early lead in the third. The next two service games for him decided the matter, he had to fight off a break chance in each but pulled through, 3-6,6-3, 6-3.
Another player trying to move up waited in the second round, 13-seeded David Alvarez of Spain. He's one of a group of four players fighting to be in the Top 10 and separated by just 105 out of about 3500 points each. At this point of their respective careers it's pretty much a dead heat between these two. The main difference is, Alvarez would be highly favored on clay as he's a specialist on the dirt, but hardcourt or indoor and Mehul probably has the upper hand. That's the way it played out, with a tight 7-5, 6-4 win moving him on to the third round.
It's the third time in the last few months(Olympics, Canada Masters) that he's reached the final 16 at a big event. He lost on both of those occasions. Providing the obstacle here was world no. 6 Oliver Challenger, who had recently annihilated Chittoor in the second round at the USO. Mehul had never played him before. For the past couple of years, Challenger has been the best of the players who didn't quite have enough to challenge the Big 3, then Big 4, and now Big 5 with Benda joining the top tier of those competing for #1. Nearing his 29th birthday now, Challenger is starting to show his age and slide down towards the rest of the pack. He still figured to have a modest edge in strength and mental toughness to get him through, but an upset was not out of the question.
A slow start dropped the first three games, and while Mehul pushed hard a couple times he only had one break chance in the first set, missing it. After having to save a pair himself in the third game of the second set, he finally broke through and got Challenger's serve in the fourth game, though it took four more chances to do it. The American veteran found another gear at that point, rattling off four straight and eventually taking the match 6-3, 6-4. Challenger is still clearly the better player.
It was another solid result that should keep Mehul solidly in the mid-30s or thereabouts heading into the final big event of his personal season in Paris three weeks from now. There's a logjam right now with spots 28-37 separated by only 105 points, and the situation is very fluid. Three chances to make the quarters, and all denied so far.
The tournament as a whole showed how topsy-turvy things are at the top of the sport. Many of the top players lost sets early, including no. 5 Bjorn Benda, the closet thing there is right now to a player ready to subject the tour. World no. 1 Mick Elder was sent packing in the third round with surprising ease by Goncharenko, 6-2, 6-3. The post-Gorritepe era is defined more by chaos than any one dominant player. For a year or so Alastra was that guy, but no more. Any one of several players has a chance at winning the big events -- or going out early. In the end another blow was struck for the old guard, with no. 3 Almagro topping second-ranked Alastra in the final. Mehul temporarily cracked the Top 30 at a career-high 29th -- I say temporarily because next week the first of the two challenger titles from last year will drop off and he'll be back down to the mid-30s or so again.
In England, Girsh finally met his match -- barely -- in the final of his tier 1 futures event when he lost to fatigued American Joseph Skirrow in a tight third-set tiebreak. Skirrow is a player to remember, as he's 2-3 months younger than Girsh and looks like he may well prove a potential rival and foil years down the road. Girsh will have another futures event next, and probably his first challenger before the year is out.
I have my now 17yo to #60 in juniors and climbing. Won both the singles and doubles title at a JG4 hardcourt event in Miami. A couple months later, he won a JG2 tourney on hardcourt at Sfax. Now, to manage his match fatigue while also getting him into the premier junior-level tournaments in the months before he turns 18.
Sounds like good progress! FYI he can still enter tournaments up until the end of the calendar year in which he turns 18, not just until the birthdate. In other words, if he turns 18 in the spring, he can still participate until the end of the year. Whether it's a good idea for him to do that or not is another matter and will depend on the player.
In considering my players the last few days, I've come to a decision which I'll mention now partly because it provides a good opportunity to mention some research that goes along with it, as it may be useful to the others who have decided to join other game worlds.
Current ages of my players, as I type this:
Anil Manohar -- 35 years, 45 weeks
Anil Mehul -- 22 years, 30 weeks
Amrik Chittoor -- 21 years, 35 weeks
Girish Girsh -- 19 years, 24 weeks
Obviously Mehul-Chittoor-Girsh are bunched very closely together. In about three years game time, Mehul+Girsh will be a very potent combo, but what of the next generation? There is one other quality young player, which another manager snatched up before I could get to them -- Shreya Ujjaval, presently 15 years old. I can't depend on him for a number of reasons -- the manager may keep them out of the WTC(though this is unwise, more on this in a moment) and they are presently being poorly managed, entered in tournaments Ujjaval isn't ready for yet. Should still probably become a Top 100 player but not much more. Ujjaval has a bit above-average mental toughness, good but not great athlete similar to Mehul, and excellent but not elite in terms of durability. Definitely has an elite feel for the game, a little better than even any of my current players. So I wish I'd have been able to grab him, but it didn't happen.
In terms of getting a next-generation player myself, the question is timing. At the end of this year a newcomer would be 5 years, maybe a bit more, younger than Girsh. I don't really want to go any more than that, otherwhise it's too big of a gap to have two players close to their prime. Also, with Manohar having about four years left before he becomes a trainer, that's nearly a perfect window for having the new player be ready for a trainer about the time he's ready to start doing that job, and then there would be another decent gap there with that same four years back to another youngster -- it just seems like the right time. It will hurt Sri Lanka a bit in the WTC since I won't be able to control Chittoor's readiness or training anymore at that point, though he'll still be playing for us until he is surpassed by Girsh in the rankings. That's one reason why I want to wait until the end of the year, so that I can have some control over what happens in the WTC Promotion Playoff.
All of that leads into me really wanting to pool all the knowledge I've acquired about how to train players well, since with the next youngster getting training assistance I'll be able to get them closer to their maximum potential. I took a look at the experience my players were getting from different kinds of matches, and came up with some numbers.
** Doubled tire out a player less, but give less experience as well, ending up at the same basic ratios so doubles/singles is not a consideration.
** Having close matches is important. In all categories, any match in which both players win at least 40% of the points gives the full amount of experience. If there is a greater split than that(i.e. 70-30 or whatever) a sliding scale diminishes the amount a player learns from it.
Practice Tournaments -- I used these as the baseline. They certainly are and should be the most common for players coming up. So I gave this baseline a 100% score. 250-level events train at the same rate. Experience is given based on points played in all cases.
Friendly Matches -- The court of last resort as I've mentioned previously when practice/regular tournaments don't use up all of a player's energy for a week. These only tire a player out at two-thirds the standard rate, but unfortunately they only provide one-third of the experience for a 50% overall training efficiency. Worse, once a player reaches about the Top 50 as Mehul has, it becomes more difficult to find a quality opponent for these. Lower-level friendly match partners are often drawn, resulting in even worse efficiency as they are often blowout matches. This underlines the importance of ...
Training Sessions -- These are not matches per se, all that you get is experience gained and fatigue used. I'm still checking on these by looking at high-level players in my game world, but from what I'm seeing so far as a rough guideline, a good(4.0) trainer gives about 65% of a good practice match on average, with an elite(5.0) trainer at about 80-85%. I don't think it is possible to have a trainer over 5.0, as I've seen several at that level but none above it. I've spotted trainers as low as 3.1, but this is rare. After all even a career journeyman-at-best like Manohar now sits at what would be a 3.9, and I'm still working on him.
Amateurs/Low Juniors(JG1-JG5) -- These are strange, and present a mystery. Most are just below a practice match at a 93% score, but some of them gave less experience at 81% and I couldn't figure out why. There didn't seem to be a pattern between them, my only guess is that the lower-yield ones had really high levels of double faults. Regardless, in terms of gaining experience and getting better, a junior player will do better in practice tournaments than actual junior events. So unless they are a junior-focused players playing in the big tournaments, they should only be playing enough to keep form decent.
Futures/Challengers/500s/Qualifying/WTF Round Robin -- Don't ask me why the 500s were lumped in here, it's probably an unresolved bug. Anyway, any matches from these events all came in at the 93% rate. The round-robin matches from the elite World Tour Finals is even more of a head-scratcher, but it seems the game treats them as qualifying. All qualifying(Grand Slam on all the way down) is treated the same in terms of efficiency of training from the experience.
Masters Series/WTF SF and F/JGA -- Here's where it starts getting better. Once a player can compete at this level they gain 140% of the experience an identical practice tournament match would produce.
Grand Slam/WTC/JTC/JGS -- The world team events, professional and junior, and the slams at both levels are as one would expect them to be the pinnacle here. These produce 185% of the per-point experience, and when you add in the fact that at the pro level they are best-of-5 not best-of-3 sets, putting in competitive matches in these prestigious tournaments can really rack up the experience. In a situation such as my game world is in with a number of top players and a lot of late-round Slam matches going the distance, the top competitors are essentially constantly pushing each other to get just that little bit better.
At this point I think I've learned about 95% of what I can learn in terms of training players up better, and I'm ready to hit the ground running with the next stud. I hope.
The last Masters event of the year is unique in several aspects, and relatively speaking fairly chaotic -- especially for player in Mehul's ranking range. It is the only Masters event played on the indoor/carpet surface, and advantage as he's fairly strong in that area. It also has the smallest field, just 48 entries. 16 of these are seeded, the next 16 are direct entry but four of those are wild cards. Then there are also 16 qualifiers, and Mehul found himself as one of the best in this group. In reality all that really meant was an extra, nearly-free 25 point for going through against much weaker players in qualifying.
Since all of the seeds get first-round byes though, after a double-bagel win in qualifying he had good chances for a fairly easy match to start the main draw. What he got though was French wild-card Roman Iraugui(41st), a player who is on his way up and near the peak of his powers. In overall physicality he's one of the best out there and frankly should be a higher-ranked player. Especially with the home crowd behind him, it looked likely Mehul would be exiting after this match. Iraugui has probably been mismanaged, and he's overplayed some coming into this event but not overly so.
It was not that Mehul didn't have his plusses(better baseline game, more indoor familiarity, perfect preparation coming in), but it with a considerable gap in athleticism and also a smaller one in mental toughness, the Frenchman did appear to be a definite favorite. There may be no surface on which the athletic element means less than lightning-fast indoor, but I was still pretty shocked by the scoreline. Mehul trounced Iraugui, 6-1, 6-1, a pair of breadsticks! The result would have been quite frustrating were I on the other end of it, but in this case of course I was quite pleased.
Up next was 13-seed Jens Oberg of Sweden, a flash-in-the-pan or phoenix type of player who was already on the decline just past his 24th birthday. Oberg had been ranked as high as 7th in the world within the past year. Overall it figured to be a pretty even match with Mehul a slight underdog. Unfortunately this one was a surprise in the other direction with Oberg waltzing through a 6-3, 6-3 win. A late rally by Mehul in the second set was cut short as a double-fault set up match point, and that was it.
With the loss, it is more likely than not that he will not make into the seeds for next year's AO but fall a bit short, though much has yet to be determined. Meanwhile, Amrik Chittoor was in action, entered in a mid-level challenger in Eckental, Germany. He was upset in the quarterfinals in three sets by American Ralph Kippen, a match neither player played well in but one he should have won.
There will now be a break of several weeks leading up to the WTC playoffs, which will once again launch a busy period heading into the next year regardless of what happens there. In the interim there won't be anything bigger than Challengers for any of the players to participate in, so I'll once again recap the results once that important tie arrives.
Basic questions so that I could maybe peek in to what you're doing. Which game world are you in? And do you actually control WTC setup? If so, is that by virtue of being the #1 manager of Sri Lankan nationality? And do you gain that nationality by managing strictly Sri Lankan players?
Also, surprising to see that about practice tournaments. With a 15yo and 17yo with relatively low skill, it seems like they would get waxed by whomever they might be paired up with. Would that really be a better option than the JG and AMA tournaments for players that inexperienced?
** I'm in Game World 1.
** No, I don't control WTC setup. I can only manage the players I can find. For example, I don't manage Prakash Nilima, who has been a fixture on the doubles.
** Practice tournaments pair you off in groups with players of the same basic ranking. They are in groups of usually 6-10, so the highest-ranking 6-10 juniors would play against each other that week, then the next half-dozen or so, etc. Usually this ends up in fairly competitive matchups. Plus, if you are playing JG/AMA's all the time, your form is going to go through the roof, meaning you A) will get penalties to how well you play, and B) won't gain as much experience.
Thanks, and good to know about practice tourneys. I've experienced the same thing with the 17yo (Delacave, a Frenchman) and thus far have dealt with it by having him not play back-to-back tourneys frequently. I'll certainly look into the practice tourneys now!
The brief 'offseason' is now over. The WTC Playoffs are upon us, but first there are other goings-on to get caught up on.
World Tour Finals
This year's final has a couple of interesting things to note, and provides an opportunity to look at the current situation with respect to the 'changing of the guard' Involved in this are essentially three generations of players.
Eric Gorritepe's string of 11 straight WTF events ends this year, though not by much. Sullivan and Prieto each managed 10 appearances, so once again Gorritepe has the top spot in the record books here. He hasn't won a major event in two years now and lost in the round-robin-stage each of the past two seasons, but still finished just 90 points out of the final spot -- not bad for a guy more than four years older than anyone in the field.
Alastra & Co.
Gabriel Alastra comes in with the best chance of taking the year-end #1 for the third straight year. If he makes the final, that spot will be assured, yet for all his success he has never won tennis's 'fifth pillar'. Mick Elder, who took the #1 for several weeks late in the year, was the undefeated champion last year in his debut and will need to do that again to have any realistic chance of getting that perch back. David Almagro, David Prieto, and Oliver Challenger are all making at least their fourth straight appearance. It looks likely to be the last go-round for Challenger, and indeed it could be the final time that this generation of contenders dominates the field. Despite a shocking run to the Paris title a few weeks ago, Spasoje Kucerovic will not be back.
The next-gen players are approximately three years younger than Alastra et al, and only one has been here before: Perry Hogue lost in the round-robin stage last season, upsetting Gorritepe in his final match to keep the legend from making it any further. Bjorn Benda and Evgeni Topolski make their first appearances this time around. All three hope to use this as a springboard to greater success next year.
There are others in the same age group that could make a push next year -- Jens Oberg, David Alvarez, and Viktor Goncharenko, who is particularly noteworthy as he's the best athlete of the bunch. The parity in the top 12-15 right now is extreme, and the difference in those who succeed and those who don't is miniscule. Often proper management and optimal preparation for the big events, or frankly just plain luck is what will matter most over the next year or two.
Alastra plowed through without losing a match in the first group, not a huge surprise. More surprising was that Bjorn Benda failed to win a set against either the word no. 1 or Oliver Challenger, ending his first WTF as a group play loser. In the second group, the story was Perry Hogue who also went through unbeaten, while defending champion Mick Elder was eliminated on tiebreakers. This assured that Alastra would retain the year-end #1 position.
The semifinals were anticlimactic straight-set affairs, and Alastra met Hogue in the final, both men having won all four of their matches to reach this point. Days before his 29th birthday, the Argentine claimed the one big trophy that has eluded him, barely outlasting the American challenger 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(4). He actually lost more points than he won(99-103) but was stronger in the big moments, saving 8 of 10 break points.
Not that there was much doubt about it as it was, but this cements Gabriel Alastra's place as this era's premier player. It also provides him with a considerable cushion in the rankings. Everyone else will be chasing him for a good part of next year at a minimum. Hogue is clearly on the rise after making the final here and in Paris, and wih Topolski also reaching the semifinals that meant two of the three participants of the younger generation acquitted themselves well. Next year, they could well be in the majority here.
As for my players, Anil Mehul was a victim of a quirk of the ranking system. He was ineligible to play any singles events since he was too highly ranked to play any challengers(top 32 are forbidden). He dropped below that after the last of his challenger titles dropped off, but that was the last week of challengers for the year. To keep himself in proper match shape for the WTC he was forced to play a couple of futures doubles events.
Amrik Chittoor won the mid-level challenger in Toyota, Japan for a second straight year, while Girsh Girsh made another futures final before heading off to his first challenger event in Salzburg. It didn't go well -- he lost in the first round of qualifying. He's at a, well, challenging stage of his career that everyone has to go through. Futures tournaments are a little beneath him, but he's not good enough to move up. Until that changes, he'll be playing mostly futures which at least allow for keeping him in match shape, then doing as many practice weeks as possible in between and throwing in a challenger every once in a while until he can make his breakthrough at that level.
WTC Results & Draw
It was a surprise to nobody to see Austria beat Nigeria 4-1 in the Level 3 championship tie. That set the stage for the playoff draw, which appears to be completely random from everything I can determine. The four nations finishing last in their Level 2 groups and the four semifinalists from Level 3 are thrown into a hopper and paired off. Winners will play Level 2 next year, losers Level 3.
I was very confident of our chances so long as we didn't draw Austria again. The odds were with us, but stranger things have happened. As it ended up, we will face Nigeria. That's very bad luck for them -- we handled them easily earlier in the year and should do so again. They have now made the Level 3 Final two years in a row only to apparently have unfavorable draws in the playoffs essentially wipe out that effort.
2038 WTC Level 2-3 Playoffs
Sri Lanka vs. Nigeria
Grass, not the favorite surface for either nation, was selected for this tie. I didn't expect it to matter much.
Monday: A. Mehul d. Y. Bozza, 6-3, 6-1, 6-1
Tuesday: A. Chittoor d. G. Vittoz, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2
Wednesday: G. Vittoz/D. Labbe d. A. Chittoor/P. Nilima, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2
Thursday: A. Mehul d. G. Vittoz, 7-5, 6-1, 6-2
Friday: A. Chittoor d. Y. Bozza, 6-0, 6-2, 6-4
Another 4-1 win means more disappointment for the Nigerians while we gain another promotion, joining Level 2 for the 2039 season! Only one step away from the prestigious top tier now. Vittoz gave his best effort in the first set against both of our players, but was worn down after that. A typical tie for us, impregnable in singles but the doubles was a match to forget for us.
After moving up from 86th to 67th a year ago, in 2038 Sri Lanka makes a similar upward move to 51st at year's end. As is always the case this time of year the turnaround is quick. Objectively I think we are better than most in Level 2 but not as good as most of the nations in the elite top level, so there is a significant chance a third straight promotion might not come -- or if it does, that we won't be able to hold it.
First things first, of course. Chinese Taipei(25th), Italy(10th), and Japan(36th) are our competitors in Group 3 for the new year. Despite their ranking Italy is a power in decline: this will be their fifth straight year at this level. Actually has been a power in decline would be more accurate. A narrow 3-2 loss to tiny Monaco and their rising star Veniard is all that kept them from rejoining the best for this year. I would put us as co-favorites with the Italians to win the group, Taipei is a sinking ship with aging star Dou-wan Chou their only threat but Japan has a couple of decent players and should probably finish third. I think we have very good chances to make it out of group play once again. We'll first meet Japan, and a win there should all but guarantee it.
2038 Final Rankings -- Top Ten
While there is technically another week yet to go, there are no events in which the top players can participate, only futures and below, so these are set.
1. Gabriel Alastra(29, ARG) -- 11,280
It's very unlikely he'll lose the top spot before the summer with a 2,000-point cushion. He'll enter the year with 62 weeks spent as #1, while Elder/Prieto/Almagro have 47 combined. If this is the year for age to catch up with the four-time defending Wimbledon champion, there's little evidence of it right now.
2. Mick Elder(27, USA) -- 9,210
Despite a poor end to the year, this was by far the best season to date for the youngest of his generation's quartet of challengers. He was 5th a year ago with more than 1600 fewer points to his name including eight titles. Three of those were in Masters events, yet he was unimpressive at the Slams prior to taking the US Open title. He'll need to be more consistent if he wants to add to the two months he spent at the top of the rankings towards the end of the year.
3. David Almagro(28, ESP) -- 8,320
Almagro had a title on all four surfaces this year, and could well be in the mix again providing his manager doesn't go AWOL during a slam like during the US Open this past year.
4. Bjorn Benda(24, DEU) -- 8,210
Benda became the best in the world on clay, taking four of his five titles on the dirt including a maiden Slam title at the French Open. Too many early exits in Masters events contributed to an uneven showing on other surfaces though, a flaw which will need to be addressed if he is to reach the summit of the sport.
5. David Prieto(28, ESP) -- 7,370
After a lightning-fast start produced four titles in the first quarter(Chennai, Sydney, Australian Open, Miami Masters), Prieto added just two more the rest of the season, including a second straight winless effort at the tour finals. If he doesn't repeat in Australia, a tumble from the ranks of the contenders seems very likely.
6. Perry Hogue(24, USA) -- 6,240
For most of the year it looked like the meteoric American had peaked, but a great finish indicates otherwhise. He made the quarters of only one Slam(Australia) and won nothing larger than two 500-level events in the fall. If he can follow up his WTF run with better performances on the big stages early in the year, Hogue might well become a legitimate member of the group chasing Alastra.
7. Evgeni Topolski(25, RUS) -- 4,845
Missing the US Open wasn't a great moment, but all three of his tournament titles came after that(Canada Masters, Kremlin Cup, China Open). Add a semifinal run at the tour finals and there's no question that the one new member of this year's Top 10 is a hot commodity.
8. Oliver Challenger(29, USA) -- 4,425
Down from fourth last year, it's clear he no longer has what it takes to compete at the highest level. He's still got his moments, as he showed in a semifinal appearance at the tour finals.
9. Eric Gorritepe(33, ESP) -- 3,935
The ageless wonder actually moved up a spot. At this rate he might never retire.
10. Spasoje Kucerovic(28, SRB) -- 3,850
A stunning win at the Paris Masters put him back in this group, but he didn't do much elsewhere.
Parity and competition are definitely on the rise right now. The Top 10 players last year combined for about 10% more points than this year's group. Particularly from Topolski(7th) down through about the Top 15-18 spots there is expected to be a lot of shuffling and shifting. Declining veterans like Challenger and Kucerovic could find it increasingly difficult to maintain relevance.
A New Star on the Horizon
As I mentioned a bit ago, it was now time for a new youngster in my Sri Lanka stable, as it were. After seven and a half years, I pulled the trigger and fired Amrik Chittoor, presently considered the third-best player the country has ever had. He's going nowhere in singles right now(actually slid a couple spots from 91st to 93rd this year) but more importantly of course there was the need to have another top player coming up to follow Girsh.
It's been long enough that I had a couple cracks at it, which is a good thing since the first player I found wasn't very good. The second was better though. Prakash Mooljee is the latest young stud, and he looks to be the best athlete I've ever managed, a hair stronger and faster than Mehul, and also has a bit more natural talent than any of the others, even Chittoor. He's not quite as strong mentally but is between Girsh and Mehul in terms of dedication to the practice courts. The biggest flaw is that he's pretty raw, a little behind in his development comparatively speaking. Still, I think he should definitely be able to reach the Top 20 at some point. He'll also develop a little faster and decline a little sooner than the others, but definitely is still a pro-focused player instead of junior-focused, which is what I'm looking for.
I'm altering my approach with Mooljee a bit compared to the others. First, I'm going for an even familiarity across all four surfaces. This is probably suboptimal for his personal achievement -- specialists tend to do somewhat better by getting a lot of points on their favored surface -- but I want to eventually be able to avoid situations like the recent loss against Austria in which they had a sizable advantage due to our weakness on clay. I also may mix in amateur events while he's still a junior from time to time, something I've never done before. I think they are a better fit for younger players, I'll probably just skip them and go straight to futures once he turns pro. Most of the events still need to be juniors though to keep him at an appropriate ranking -- otherwhise the competition for practice tournaments won't be good enough.
I've now journeyed through just over a full year in this thread, and we have come full circle back to the beginning of a new season.
Sri Lanka Rankings Update
All comparisons here at to last year's status.
Anil Mehul -- 73rd to 36th singles, 206th to 291st doubles. In terms of getting into seeded territory for the Slams, he's still on the outside looking in. This week we have the first round of the WTC against Japan, and he'll be playing in the Chennai(India) 250 the week after. Chances of moving up are slim, since the 'warmup' small events ahead of the Australian Open have a lot more top players than similar tournaments later in the year. This is simply a function of the schedule -- with the off-season over, everyone wants to get in optimal match condition for the first major of the year and start the season off well.
Girish Girsh -- 357th singles, 1557th doubles. A very solid first year on tour for Girsh, who still has a few months left of his teenage years. He's surpassed Manohar now and with Chittoor's termination he is my #2 player. In a couple years time he'll probably be playing in the WTC. Last week Girsh had a competitive QF loss in a big clay futures event, a decent result for a surface he's weak on.
Girsh is consistently soundly beating the players he's matched up with in practice weeks, so I'm going to be increasing his tournament frequency some until that is no longer the case. He needs more consistent quality competition right now. Physically he's almost at his peak, which he'll reach later this year it appears.
Anil Manohar -- 436th to 442nd singles, 659th to 1472nd doubles. Manohar worked on doubles almost exclusively this year, getting his projected trainer level up to excellent(4.0, or 3.998 to be precise). I discovered an undocumented change from some while back -- players don't have to retire until 45, trainers run from retirement to 65, both 5 years above the original limit. So I've got more time to build him up than I thought.
Paradoxically, he nearly stalled Father Time in singles with his best results in years for a few weeks in the fall, but then returned to planet earth with some early exits to finish the year. He's purely a low-level futures player at this point, Tier 3s mostly. I expect a significant fall in his ranking this year.
Prakash Mooljee -- Unranked. He's getting practice time in and balancing out his surface proficiencies right now, with an eye on his first junior event in probably about a month.
Manager Ranking -- As for me, I'm pretty much where I've been most of the year, hovering around 10k points and 29th(high is 27th). I'm hoping to start slowly moving up at some point this year again, though I have no real goals attach to where I am ranked, it's more just an overall measurement of how well everything else is going.
Stars of Tomorrow
In the WTF update I mentioned the three(now two) generations making an impact at the very top of the sport. This seems a good time to also get into the next couple of waves of players.
The Stars of Tomorrow are those players who are around 22 years old right now, Mehul included. As a group they are generally a little less than two years younger than Bjorn Benda. It's a sizable group, which I would divide into the following hierarchy:
** Antonin Iglar. He's the youngest of the group, with an elite(5th in the rankings) manager and a 5.0 trainer, former world No. 4 Anthony Williams. Iglar is also the best all-around athlete of the group, possessing excellent speed and strength both. His only weakness is that he's doesn't have quite the dedication to the game that some others do. Presently ranked 16th, he's far ahead of the curve and it's not out of the question that he could be a participant in this year's WTF. I think Iglar will surpass Alastra and become the best player since Gorritepe. Everyone in this generation of players is chasing him and probably fighting for second best.
** Julian Hammerstein & Anil Mehul. This is a natural rivalry in a lot of ways. Hammerstein is a mere two weeks older, and has Austria rising through the WTC ranks just as Sri Lanka does, as we saw last year with his straight-set win in the first meeting. I expect there will be many more of them. Hammerstein is slow for a top player and is a little behind Mehul in baseline skills, but his power is an overwhelming asset. He's got a solid trainer and a definite edge in the mental game, though dedication is once again a bit suspect. I expect him to have the advantage over Mehul, though on the faster surfaces Anil should have chances. Hammerstein is presently ranked 26th, second in this generation.
** The field. There's a lot of others who will push them. Perry Mockler(USA, 27th) has a big server but not much athleticism to back it up; John Condon(PHI, 29th) is a poor man's Hammerstein, a powerful clay specialist; Chad Dring(USA, 33rd) is tough and very fast, but spent too much time on the doubles court for a player of only good dedication; Siobhan O'Doherty(IRE, 35th) is a flake: supremely talented but he simply refuses to take being a professional athlete seriously(think Ernests Gulbis here); and Mikaiala Groeneveldt(LUX, 38th), another player without enough of a work ethic but don't sleep on him too much: he's a fabulous athlete, almost as fast as Dring and almost as strong as Hammerstein. That's wont carry him to the top, but it's more than enough to make him dangerous(Gael Monfils, anyone?).
It looks like Mehul should be able to make it to the Top 5 at some point, but beyond that is anyone's guess. He's spending more time on the practice courts than any of the competitors here, but that won't completely make up for the lack of a trainer. Some of the players in 'the field' are definitely not managed optimally, so there's a lot of things still yet to be seen.
Here I'll take a quick look at the prospects for Girish Girsh, another roughly three years down the road. I should mention here that there are another seven Top 100 players who are about a year behind Mehul et al., so depending on how they pan out there could be an absolute logjam at the top when Girsh's generation rises up.
In his general age group a couple years younger, the leader right now is Matias Cortecedo(157th), extending Spain's seemingly unenending supply of talent. There is an absolute epidemic of 20-year-old 'burnouts'(i.e., players who both develop and age quickly) and probably a few of those will be relevant in a few years but most will not. There are only two other players in the under-20 age group currently ranked above Girsh: former junior #1 Mugur Kinczllers and previously mentioned American Joseph Skirrow.
The overall sense of things is that starting with Mehul's generation, the talent level and competition seems to be hitting a high point. I'd peg Girsh as a probable Top 10 player right now but trying to predict things this far out is a fool's errand for the most part. He's got a promising future, and will definitely be a successful pro, but how good remains to be seen.
2039 World Team Cup First Round-Robin Round -- Level 2, Group 3
Sri Lanka vs. Japan
Indoor was selected for this tie, the best surface for us.
Monday: A. Chittoor d. S. Hotate, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3
Tuesday: A. Mehul d. S. Ko, 6-0, 6-2, 6-1
Wednesday: H. Hayuata/A. Ota d. A. Chittoor/P. Nilima, 6-1, 7-6(2), 6-4
Thursday: A. Mehul d. S. Hotate, 6-0, 6-2, 6-2
Friday: A. Chittoor d. S. Ko, 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2
Another 4-1 win. Chittoor was pushed to four sets in both of his wins and we drop the doubles per usual. Italy did not lose a set against hapless Chinese Taipei, who we will face in our next tie while they take on Japan. It appears to be all but certain that the group's top spot will be determined by the final-round matchup against Italy.
Sri Lanka moves up three spots to a new high of 48th, once again off to a good start. At this level each win is worth 35 points instead of 25 to the players individually, and Mehul moves up to 32nd, right on the bubble for seeding. Due to a number of top players entering in Chennai, he switches to the Brisbane event instead, another 250-level tournament but in Australia.
After a couple of weeks off, I'll report on events there and at the Australian Open.
The last couple of weeks have been unexpectedly fantastic. First up, Mehul entered the 250 event in Brisbane, Australia instead of Chennai where so many top players entered that he wouldn't even have been seeded. He needed to get a few matches in and try to get enough points to move up some if possible. The early rounds went as expected and Mick Elder awaited in the quarterfinals. That was enough to prepare him for the AO, and figured to be the end of the road. Instead, Mehul stunned the world no. 2, 6-4, 7-6(3) and it could have been more decisive. It was his first win in four meetings with Elder, and any win over a player of that stature is huge. At least for the day, he had arrived as a player that could hang with the best in the sport.
Next up was none other than Julian Hammerstein, who had benefited by the way from Chittoor knocking off unprepared no. 18 Kecic to clear the way. Unable to utilize his power nearly as effectively as he did last year in the WTC matchup on clay, Hammerstein's slowness of foot allowed Mehul to dictate from the baseline more often than not and another tough two-set win, 7-5, 7-5, put him in the final! There waiting was the hottest player in the world, Perry Hogue, and he fairly easily took the title but it was still a fantastic start to the year, vaulting Mehul to 29th in the world for the third time.
The next week, Girish Girsh was in action in the only non-clay top-tier futures event of the first month of the season, in Metz, France. It was a very strong field due to this fact, and he was the 7th-seed but felt good about his chances on an indoor court. Only one of his first three matches was remotely competitive, but things got tougher at the business end of the tournament. A pair of Frenchmen, strongly supported by the partisan crowd, got their shot. In the final, having knocked off regular foe Jesper Fine in the semifinals, Paul-Mathieu Bergerat gave Girsh a real run. It wasn't enough though, he pushed through 7-6(4), 6-4 and claimed his maiden first-tier futures crown after losing twice in the final and once in the quarters in three previous attempts. Ranked up to a new best of 275th afterwards, he will now take several weeks off before taking another shot at breaking into the challenger level of competition.
2039 Australian Open
And so it was that Anil Mehul entered the AO equaling his career-best rank at 29th, and seeded 28th. The difference was accounted for by the fact that 13th-ranked Jens Oberg, who is fairly well if imperfectly managed by the #13 manager by ranking, decided to play only doubles as did the other player under his tutelage. Quite a strange decision considering Oberg was a semifinalist here last year and will now take a zero-pointer, dropping him down to around 17th and opening the door a little wider. It must be an oversight, but a pretty costly one.
It's worth noting in a brief aside that In four of the five 250s in the two weeks leading up to the Australian Open, at least half of the top seeds were knocked off prior to reaching the semifinals. Among the titlists was rising star Antonin Iglar who I mentioned at the outset of this year, the first pro title for anyone of his generation(the 'Stars of Tomorrow'). Undoubtedly the first of many in his case. Things are so fluid and highly unpredictable at the top right now -- everybody has to take advantage of any opportunity given.
At any rate, Mehul had a draw that looked to offer him good chances to make this a very successful event. The farthest he's previously made it here was the second round last year, and never past the third in any Slam. Going into the tournament it felt like he was now turning a corner, finally ready to fully enter his assault on the shrinking number of players ahead of him. With the big wins a couple of weeks ago, he feels he has at least a chance against almost anyone, almost anywhere.
American Tommy Day, two years removed from being the junior no. 1, took just five games in the first round. The second match was more competitive but another straight-sets win. The third round brought #10 Spasoje Kucerovic, who won their lone previous meeting in a third-set tiebreak at Indian Wells last year. On clay he'd be the better player but hardcourt is Kucerovic's weakest surface, making this a pretty favorable matchup for this stage of the tournament. It wasn't easy, but Mehul advanced to the last 16 for the first time at a slam, 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-4. He was able to keep Spasoje guessing just enough to blunt his power, and already it's a second win against the Top 10.
Standing in the way of a quarterfinal berth was a first encounter with no. 4 Bjorn Benda. The German had already bettered an early exit here last year, and has not dropped a set this year with only one set in the last two rounds even competitive. Once again Anil had the advantage of going up against a player that is not at their best on the hardcourts, but Bjorn is probably the only player in the world that can hang with him from the baseline along with having a better serve and all-around athleticism. It's a much different matchup than Kucerovic was. Unfortunately Mehul just came out and stunk it up -- everybody has bad days but this was just embarassing. 6-0, 6-3, 6-3 was the final, and other than a brief period in the second set he just wasn't nearly good enough, losing just over the half the points on his own serve and getting broken seven times. At this stage of his career, a beatdown like this, no matter the opponent or situation, is pretty much just inexcusable.
While his generational rivals Iglar and Hammerstein also made it to the fourth round, they likewise lost in straight sets. Mehul could also take some solace in the fact that he was the lowest-ranked player to make it that far. 7 of the top 8 seeds made it to the quarterfinals, making a convincing statement with their play that there is certainly a limit to the cries of parity, and they aren't about to surrender their lofty positions easily. The eighth is worth mentioning as well, #11 David Alvarez, who reached that stage without the loss of a single set and handed out a ridiculous triple-bagel to worn-out Tihomir Hreglic, allowing just 22 points! Hreglic, ranked 22nd coming in here, had been fresh enough to rally from behind to knock out Challenger in the previous match, and generally speaking routs of that severity just don't happen to players of his stature. All together it set up what looked to be a fantastic second week with the elite players all looking like they were close to the top of their games.
The Australian Open came down to defending champion David Prieto against Perry Hogue who is on a real tear to start the year. Prieto made it three straight with a straight-sets win, dropping only one set in the tournament, a semi-final tiebreak to Alastra. Meanwhile, David Alvarez's strong showing bumped him into the Top 10 while Challenger dropped all the way down to 11th.
At the same time, Prakash Moojee was in Poland for a Tier 5 junior event, the lowest level of tournament with only 16 in the main draw. He'd managed to nearly double his meager technical skills going in and won a couple matches in singles and doubles each before going out in the quarters and semis respectively. Fatigue was as much a cause of the loss as anything else. Low-level junior matches are essentially a roll of the dice and they tend to be very long. Without developed technique, errors are very common and the advantage of the serve is virtually nil, leading to a lot more long games. He debuted at 1121st in the rankings but will move up from there fairly quickly. Right now that's really almost irrelevant, getting the match experience is what matters.
2039 WTC Level 2 Group 3, Second Round-Robin Round
Chinese Taipei vs. Sri Lanka
This tie was played on grass, but it could have been played on the moon for all that it mattered.
Monday: A. Chittoor d. D. Chow, 6-0, 6-1, 6-0
Tuesday: A. Mehul d. B. Bi, 6-0, 6-0, 6-2
Wednesday: A. Chittoor/P. Nilima d. T. Ang/T. Si-Ma, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-2
Thursday: A. Mehul d. D. Chow, 6-0, 6-0, 6-0
Friday: A. Chitoor d. B. Bi, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2
Other than doubles, it really wasn't worth watching -- a total bloodbath. Italy beat Japan as expected, but only 3-2 on account of their second-best player retiring early at age 33 to become a trainer. A short-sighted move by the manager there, and for team Italy they lack a similar replacement. This changes the look of things considerably. We are now near-prohibitive favorites to win our final group tie against them and take the top spot in Group 3. Even should an upset occur, our spot in the quarterfinals is booked and the entrance exam in Level 2 has been passed. Looking down the road, New Caledonia and Denmark could be tough, but the top competition appears once again to be Austria. It's more likely than not that our budding rivalry with them with have another chapter added, and I wouldn't mind avenging what is to date our only WTC defeat one bit.
Sri Lanka edges up a spot to 47th, while Anil Mehul moves up to his latest career-best at 23rd. It's a full month now of relative quiet coming up, leading up to the big American hardcourt masters and what will be a busy clay season this year following that as Mehul will be playing all of the Masters tournaments there as well for the first time.
Question for ya: I now have a couple of 18-year-olds. What's the process for working them up through the ranks of Futures and Challenger tournaments? As of now, I'm putting the guys in enough FT3s to keep their form in the low yellow and getting them as many PRAs as I can fit in among those.
You've pretty much got it. Going from futures to challengers is the toughest part in my opinion, because players can get stuck for a while in being 'too good' for futures but not good enough for challengers. In general, I think they should play at a level that they can be fairly successful at, but not to the point of there being no competition. If they are consistently winning FT3s, I'd move them up. Generally speaking I want my players to be losing in the QF and SF to have the best balance of improving their ranking and training up their skills. Winning the tournament is better than going out in the first round, but neither is optimal for development.
February - March 2039
The American Masters are upon us. Here's what my players have been up to the last few weeks:
Anil Mehul -- Rotterdam(500, Indoor) was chosen as the in-between event, his first 500-level tournament. Memphis was another indoor 500 the following week, but he wanted to make sure he was able to be seeded and others might join that one at last minute if they didn't do well here. Mehul was the 7th seed and had the easiest possible route through the opening rounds, a qualifier and then the winner of a matchup of qualifiers.
In the quarters, he got his second chance at #1 Gabriel Alastra, having lost in straight-sets in the opening round of the USO two years ago. This is Alastra's worst surface, and it was a back-and-forth battle with neither player able to sustain an advantage for long. After a pair of tiebreaks were split, Mehul got the decisive break in the 10th game of the final set for a 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-4 win despite actually taking two fewer points in the match. In the semifinals, he had a second meeting with Gorritepe. The last time they'd met, Mehul had surprisingly prevailed in two tough tiebreaks in last year's Canada Masters a few months back. It was another extremely tight one here, with the legend prevailing 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-6(7) in a final-set tiebreak that could have gone either way. This time it was Mehul taking more points(112-106) yet losing the match. He did not break Gorritepe once despite 10 opportunities, while dropping the only chance on his serve. It's hard not to be very disappointed in a defeat like this, when he really should have been able to squeak it out, but the run here could have ended in the last round. In any case, he's now beaten the top two players in the world within the first two months of the year!
Girish Girsh -- The somewhat accelerated tournament schedule continues. He appears to be playing somewhere around the level of a 150-ranked player but moving up through the challenger ranks is difficult. He has managed to establish himself as a solid challenger-level player now though. At a Tier 3 event in Caloundra he made it to the semifinals, losing to Siobhan Doherty(IRE, 41st) who has no real business playing an event this small, but technically still qualifies for it. A few weeks later in Cherbourg, France, he entered a Tier 2 event as there were no smaller ones available in the timeframe except on clay.
Girsh expected to be seeded but a couple of late and unexpected entries had him as an at-large entry and facing the eighth-seed in the first round, who he beat easily. In the quarters he faced anticipated rival and junior #1 from his class Mugur Kinczllers -- and dispatched him in straight sets, a pretty significant upset. Next up was Robert Jerrold, a few weeks older and the junior #4 from the previous year. He wasn't quite as good but Girsh couldn't repeat the magic, falling 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3. Still, back to back semifinal appearances is a good start to moving up the ladder. He'll have a few weeks off now.
Prakash Mooljee -- A second junior event didn't go as well as his first, he won only one singles match and was bounced in the doubles qualifying. This week he's in Noumea(France) for a third tournament.
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