The People Tracking Every Touch Pass And Tackle in the World Cup

With each click and drag of a mouse, young soccer fanatics are creating the building blocks of the advanced stats that are changing how the sport is played, watched and analyzed.Opta and Prozone are among the companies that have taken soccer stats far beyond goals and saves, into the realm of pass completion percentage, defensive touches, percentage of aerial balls won, tackle percentage and goals scored above expectation. Cameras alone can’t process all these stats. So companies employ people — mostly young, mostly male, most logging matches in their spare time as a second job — to watch matches and document every event.Their work has helped develop stats that capture the value of players who don’t score many goals, but who set them up with pinpoint passing and hustle. Teams use advanced stats to decide which players to buy and put on the pitch. And fans, whether they like it or not, read and hear more numbers than ever before about this sport that for so long bucked the sports-analytics trend.On a Sunday last month, Opta1Opta Sports provides soccer stats to ESPN, which owns FiveThirtyEight. Opta also provides stats for other sports, including cricket, rugby and motor sports. Last year, Opta was bought for 40 million pounds ($67 million) by Perform Group. let me watch as the loggers at its South London headquarters tracked the last 10 matches of England’s Premier League season. I stood among rows of young men at computer monitors as they scrutinized games, sometimes rewinding on one monitor to check a tough call while keeping track of the live feed on another. I tried to stay out of the way while their supervisor leapt away from watching his favorite team’s match to confirm every goal was attributed correctly. And I watched as Opta’s media team processed the raw numbers — 1,600 to 2,000 events per game — into TV-ready factoids, which they heard commentators repeat to TV audiences moments later.In soccer stats, as in so many other numbers-gathering endeavors, big data sets are built piece by piece by human collectors with human imperfections, moods and preferences. Throughout the year, 350 part-time analysts working in London and a half-dozen other Opta branches in Europe and North and South America record every pass, header and goal while watching live or recorded video of more than 14,000 matches around the world. The London operation I watched will be logging each of the World Cup’s 64 matches.Opta says software, standards and oversight can help it harness the best of human judgment while curbing any potential downsides. It sees the people behind its stats as a selling point. I wasn’t the first to be invited to watch. Many prospective customers visit during matches, said Aidan Cooney, chief executive of Opta. “Frankly, that sells the business.”The business is providing stats to professional clubs, to national teams, to leagues — as the official data provider for the top divisions in England, Spain and Germany — and to the media.A Tebow jersey and a Yankees capMy day at Opta was an unusually busy one: Every Premier League club was playing its last match of the season. The finale wasn’t as exciting as 2012’s: Manchester City was all but assured of edging Liverpool for the title, and most Champions League and Europa League slots had been sewn up. The biggest suspense was whether Tottenham would finish in sixth or seventh in the league.That was the case, anyway, for Paul Pettitt, 31, who is the assistant manager of data collection and a Tottenham Hotspur supporter. He spent the two hours between kickoff and final whistle alternately tracking Tottenham’s match against Aston Villa — when Tottenham took an early lead, he said he wanted a 25-goal win to contend for fifth place on goal differential — and jumping out of his chair to check on calls in other games, such as whether an early Swansea goal was a deflection. All logged events scrolled down a screen at his station, and when an important one came up, he conferred with the analyst who entered it.This is when soccer’s rare stoppages of play are so valuable for analysts. A lengthy goal celebration allows loggers to rewind and rewatch goals and other major events, often while Pettitt looks on.But most of the work is logging routine passes. Opta’s analysts log each one by dragging and clicking a mouse at the spot where the pass was received, then keying in the player who received it. Their monitors have an image of a soccer pitch in the background with video of the live match superimposed on top.Confusingly, to my eyes, the broadcast image hardly ever corresponded to the image on the field. So loggers had to drag the mouse to a spot that had nothing to do with the ball’s location in the video rectangle. None of the loggers I watched got stuck on this point: After all, this was the 38th and last match of the season.Each of the 10 matches had a pair of analysts assigned to it, plus a checker. Each analyst had his own monitor and tracked only one team’s touches. Sometimes the analysts conferred over calls — “Is it a tackle?” was a question in the fourth minute of the Liverpool match. (It wasn’t.)Until eight years ago, Opta didn’t even produce the live numbers that are now such a staple of TV broadcasts. Pettitt started at Opta in 2001, fortunately just as the company was phasing out pen-and-paper logging. He wasn’t lucky enough to miss the VCR era. “My elbow started aching after a while” from all the rewinding, he recalled.The more unusual a team’s formation, the harder it is to log its matches. A well-organized side like Barcelona can be easy to log, Khalid Hussain, U.K. training manager for Opta, said. Today he particularly enjoys challenging matches.At his peak, Hussain was logging 10 to 15 matches a week during each Premier League season. His primary assignment was Arsenal, and he also worked four nights a week covering matches around the world. He once logged six matches in a day. “Then I went home at the end, in a pretty bad state,” he said.All this meticulous work changed how Hussain, now 33, watches soccer. He became “very passionate” about Arsenal, to the point where he’d enjoy watching a Gunners match against Stoke more than Real Madrid versus Barcelona, a minority opinion in global soccer. When he clicked a name at one end of the pitch and then entered the same name at the other end seconds later, he came to appreciate the players who covered a lot of territory more than the flashy dribblers.And he learned that his previous pet stat of possession time doesn’t mean much. “Working here burst that bubble,” Hussain said. “It doesn’t matter how much ball you’ve got. You’ve still got to do something with it.”Hussain is mainly a supervisor now, though he pitches in as an analyst when needed. On this day, he logged Cagliari for its 1-0 loss to Chievo.2Opta didn’t make available for an interview any of its more junior analysts who were working the Premier League matches. Like other pinch-hitters who aren’t familiar with their assigned clubs’ players and formations, Hussain watched DVDs of recent Cagliari matches to prepare.The loggers Hussain supervises generally are between 18 and 24 years old and male. (“We’ve got two girls in Leeds, and one girl in Germany,” he said.) They love sports. They enter an office fantasy NFL league. They go home and play video games. They day I watched, none wore soccer apparel but I spotted a Tim Tebow jersey and a Yankees cap.It helps to be nuts about soccer, to appreciate “a job where they get to come in and watch football,” as Pettitt put it.There is occasionally cheering in the analysts’ box. “As much as you can try to control them, if Liverpool score a goal while Man City are down a goal, you might hear a yelp from our Liverpool fan, and probably some censored words as well,” Pettitt said.Candidates are tested for their understanding of soccer and their hand-eye coordination when using the Opta logging software. They have to type quickly with their left hands, without looking at the keyboard. Certified soccer coaches sometimes don’t have the required hand-eye coordination; the avid PlayStation players often do. “We give them five-hour tests, and pick out the ones who are best,” Hussain said.At that stage, successful applicants remain far from match-ready. It will be at least a month before they’ll produce usable data, even under the easiest conditions of logging a recorded match. “For training, they do the same game over and over for two or three days,” Hussain said.Cooney, the Opta chief executive, has tried his hand at logging, “much to everyone’s amusement,” he said. “It’s impossible, absolutely impossible for someone of my motor skill set,” he added. “If you don’t play PlayStation, basically, you’re finished.”Opta employs full-time analysts to review every event of the matches it logs, a process that can take three to five hours. Its live analysts get 99 percent of player identifications correct, Pettitt said.The match-trackers are rated on their performance, and the best get spare games.3Opta doesn’t disclose how much it pays analysts. It creates a competition, and “keeps them on their toes,” Hussain said. He’s confident that today he’s one of the best loggers in London. He also gets to travel to train loggers at offices around Europe.The dubious goals panelAmong Opta’s competitors is Prozone Sports, which tracks players on the pitch using cameras and player-recognition systems. Stewart Mairs, the U.S. operations manager for Prozone, said the company’s optical tracking system — like SportsVU’s for the NBA — gives it a leg up over Opta. The system produces millions of data points per game.Prozone, like Opta, needs human loggers, too. Prozone’s cameras sometimes can’t tell players apart when they cluster, and don’t distinguish crucial game events. So it employs coders, usually interns or students who are interested in soccer, Mairs said. Like at Opta, they are supervised and trained by more experienced managers, and, for big matches, supplemented by more experienced coders.Cooney said Opta is offering something different from camera tracking. “People want analytics,” he said. “That requires holistic data sets, which only we can deliver.”Keeping standards consistent across offices is vital for Opta. An assist needs to mean the same thing in London, New York and Montevideo. Soccer stats already have plenty of doubters, and it doesn’t help that different companies track different numbers. Also, individual companies sometimes change what they track, as Opta does nearly every year after an annual review. (Possibly coming soon: more detail on fouls.)So it’s all the more important that a company’s data can be trusted across space and time. “What we’ve had as a clearance” — a defender clearing a ball out of the goal area — “has always been the same, and will not change,” Pettitt said.In addition to post-match reviews, Opta monitors stats across leagues, to make sure they don’t vary too much — and if they do, that it’s because of style of play and not analyst inconsistency.Opta also updates its stats according to decisions of a Premier League group called the dubious goals panel, which weighs whether a player should be awarded a goal when, say, the shot deflected off a defender.Close calls mean the live data is provisional. It’s good enough for television broadcasters, who pepper Opta’s media team with questions via instant message during the matches. I wandered over to watch the media group in action during play. They sat next to a wall with six television screens, usually more than enough but four short of the required number on this day. So laptops filled the gap.During play, the media team moved quickly. Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel scored an own goal in the 20th minute. Duncan Alexander, 36, head of U.K. content and customer services for Opta, told his colleague to “run it” —  in other words, to check that Skrtel had just set the league record for most own goals in a season, with four. The stat was confirmed, sent to the broadcasting company Sky, and announced by studio host Jeff Stelling right after the commercial break.Later, Stelling mentioned that Fulham had used 38 players this season, a new record. I asked if that was from Opta. Alexander nodded.These sorts of stats are nice to have, but won’t change the way managers set their lineups or choose tactics. However, the work of Opta and its ilk have brought soccer, very slowly, into the wider statistical revolution in sports. Alexander and Pettitt pointed to the increasing prominence of assists. A decade ago, “some people would refuse to give assists credence,” Alexander said.Opta’s soccer-stats professionals acknowledge their numbers aren’t for everyone. “There will always be fans who, to use a phrase we hear occasionally, say the only stat they care about is the one in the top left-hand corner” — the score, Alexander said. “We’re not zealots. We don’t bang the drum saying, you have to view football the way we do.” read more

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NBA Playoffs Pacers Paul George Has Concussion Status in

Paul George, the Indiana Pacers all-star forward, suffered a concussion Tuesday when he was accidentally knocked in the head by the Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade, and his status for Saturday’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals is in question.The two were battling for a loose ball when they collided. George remained in the game for the duration of the Pacers’ 87-83 loss, but afterward he told reporters that he had blacked out and then had blurred vision in the contest’s final four or five minutes.In a statement, the Pacers said George initially “exhibited no symptoms of a concussion” after the game, and “in response to questions from the Pacers’ medical staff, he denied dizziness, nausea and issues with his vision. He was also active and aware of his surroundings. As a result, the Indiana medical staff did not suspect a concussion.”But when George later said he “blacked out” on the play, the team “conducted the NBA-mandated concussion assessment, which did not reveal any active symptoms of concussion.”George, though, had follow-up tests Wednesday morning, at which point he was diagnosed by the Pacers’ consulting neurologist with a concussion because he said he had briefly lost consciousness during the game.“The Indiana Pacers medical team followed the NBA concussion protocol and there was no indication of concussion during the game,” Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, the director of the NBA concussion program, said in a statement. “This case illustrates that concussion evaluation is an ongoing process and manifestations of the injury may not always present immediately.”Under the NBA’s return-to-participation protocol for concussions, players must go through “several steps of increasing exertion — from a stationary bike, to jogging, to agility work, to noncontact team drills. With each step, a player must be symptom-free to move to the next step.”The final decision on whether he can return is made by the player’s team physician in conjunction with Kutcher. read more

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Dwyane Wade LeBron James Embrace Final Chance to Compete

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Dwyane Wade will be spending a lot of time in Los Angeles while he settles into retirement next year. He already has a house here, and his wife’s acting career would undoubtedly benefit from more time in Hollywood.LeBron James is a newly minted Southern Californian himself, and he’s already hatching schemes to occupy his former teammate, longtime rival and permanent friend.Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade, left, smiles at Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James (23) at the end of an NBA basketball game Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)“I told him, ‘No one likes to work out by themselves,’” James said with a grin. “So he can come to Staples. He can come to the practice facility anytime he wants to get workouts in. He can come help me with the young guys as well. He’ll be around a lot more personally for me, so I’ll love that.”Wade still has 56 regular-season games left in his self-declared final NBA season with the Miami Heat, but he passed a major milestone in that procession when he lined up against James for the final time Monday night in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 108-105 victory.The result wasn’t the most important part of the night to either man. They were wrapped up in the pure thrill — in the chance to face off for the final time in two incredible basketball careers that have been chronologically parallel, frequently intersecting and always momentous.“I knew that at some point in the game, it was going to hit me that this was the last time we were competing against each other,” Wade said. “It hit me right away, once that buzzer sounded and we got the opportunity on the court to just look at each other and be like, ‘Man, this has been fun. This has been one hell of a ride, and we’ve enjoyed it together.’”James put up 28 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds. Wade scored all 15 of his points in the second half to go with 10 assists and five boards.But the best moments arrived late when James and Wade finally guarded each other, playing one last one-on-one game for keeps.Defense won out on both ends, probably because they know each other well enough to take away their strengths. They funneled each other to drive to their more uncomfortable sides, and James forced Wade to attempt a 27-foot turnaround, fadeaway 3-pointer that missed badly with 7.2 seconds left.Wade was more open when he missed a 3 that would have put the Heat ahead with 22.5 seconds left.“I needed that one,” Wade said with a grimace. “I wanted it so bad. I think I wanted it too much. It would have definitely been memorable. But this is my last time playing against this guy, you know? This is the holy grail in the NBA. Unless we figure this thing out and we go to the Finals, this is the holy grail for me. The competition of playing against the game’s greatest player. Playing it in LA. I thanked him for bringing us to this stage for our last hurrah on this stage. It gets no better than this.”Barring a change of Wade’s retirement plans or that incredibly unlikely NBA Finals matchup, they’ll never face each other in a real game — and the Lakers’ victory put James ahead of Wade 16-15 in their head-to-head matchups over their career.James marveled at the symmetry in this final showdown, but both players said their times together meant a whole lot more than their times in opposing uniforms.James and Wade won two NBA championships and four straight Eastern Conference titles together in Miami, along with their Olympic gold medals from Beijing.“The game is going to take care of itself, but just the fact that we were on the floor doing what we love to do, that’s what’s more important,” James said. “Wins and losses are going to happen throughout the course of the season and throughout the course of your career, but those moments right there, you can’t ever get back.”James and Wade swapped jerseys after the final buzzer, their bittersweet emotions overshadowed by the excitement of the moment and the possibilities of the future.“It’s the end of a storybook,” James said. “One of the best movies you could ever see. It’s too hard to put into words. Thank God they’re staying the night. We get to have dinner (later). I know he has more games, but that’s the last one for us.” read more

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Nikola Jokic Is Suddenly One Of The Best Young NBA Players Of

LeBron James2042.427.255.410.232.98.3 PLAYERAGEMINS./ GAMEPTS.TRUE SHOOTING %REBOUND %ASSIST %BOX +/- Alvin Robertson2335.117.056.310.221.86.6 Michael Jordan2138.328.259.29.825.38.2 First- and second-year NBA players with the best Box Plus/Minus of all time Nikola Jokic2126.916.364.118.526.98.3 Jokic numbers are through Feb. 17 of the 2016-17 season.Source: Basketball-Reference.com Shaquille O’Neal2139.829.360.518.711.06.6 David Robinson2537.725.661.519.010.98.4 Meanwhile, FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projection system pegged Jokic as an All-Star coming into this season (very rare for a second-year player), and as someone who should be worth more than $200 million over five years on the open market. But it also spat out a puzzling list of comps, such as Carlos Boozer, Lonnie Shelton, Greg Monroe and Kawhi Leonard. Jokic’s game doesn’t resemble any of those players outside of an excellent short-to-midrange jumper, but being compared to them is impressive in its own way, since projection systems tend to have trouble finding similar players when confronted with one who is truly unique. So the models can tell us he’s very, very good, but have trouble getting much more specific.For that, put aside the big-picture stats and look at the lines he has put together: Against Kristaps Porzingis and the Knicks, Jokic had 40 points on 23 shots; in a win against the Golden State Warriors a few nights later, he had 17 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and added 12 assists. These were extreme outbursts, of course, but increasingly the norm for Jokic.In 27 games since moving to the starting lineup in mid-December, Jokic has averaged 20.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.5 assists in 29.4 minutes on 65.6 percent true shooting and a 26.7 usage percent. He’s shooting 41.7 percent from 3-point range in that stretch on 2.2 attempts per game, and is assisting on 30.6 percent of his possessions. No player in NBA history has piled up a true shooting percentage, usage percentage and rebound percentage that high over the course of a season. That’s not uncommon for a brief, narrowly defined run, but the thing to notice is the degree to which Jokic is separating himself. If we cut the rebounding and assist rates in half and drop 10 points off the true shooting, the season-long average list still comprises mainly current and future hall-of-famers, with a few All-Stars thrown in on the back end.Since the sum of Jokic’s recent production is too lofty to discuss credibly, let’s look at some of the metrics from his play as a starter individually: This season, the only players to crack 65 percent true shooting while taking 10 or more threes are Kevin Durant (65.2) and Otto Porter (65.3). The only player 6 feet 8 inches or taller to crack a 30 percent assist rate this season is LeBron James (41.6). His recent defensive rebounding figure doesn’t put him in line with the top bruisers such as Andre Drummond or DeAndre Jordan, but it jumps him up from being about even with Kenneth Faried to neck-and-neck with Karl-Anthony Towns.But the biggest reason to be excited for Jokic in this game is that he’s one of the most audacious passers in the league.Jokic doesn’t collect his assists like plodding big men, who draw a double team and kick the ball to a corner. He’s a good interior passer, finding cutters at surprising angles. But he can also work from outside the 3-point line, where he can hit runners for easy layups thanks to the space created by defenders respecting his range. When he’s leading the break, he can feed wings crashing to the hoop or drive himself and, if the defense commits, dump off to a wide-open man for a dunk. When he’s cooking, his passing angles resemble James Harden’s more than they do a 7-footer’s.The video above should begin playing around 3:20 in, with two impressive sequences showing Jokic doing point guard things. But stick around for the play that happens at 5:15. Jokic collects the ball at his own free throw line, runs his own delayed fast break, and as soon as he crosses half-court begins loading a cross-court laser pass (which he throws wrongfooted) to the corner for a 3. That’s a play you expect from LeBron or Steph Curry, not from a center who was recently backing up Jusuf Nurkic. And yet here we are.Jokic will get a little shine in Friday’s Rising Stars game, and a little more if the Nuggets hang onto the eighth seed in the West, which offers them the right to be slaughtered by the Warriors on national TV in April. Maybe that will be enough to bump him up into the Towns-Porzingis-Embiid class of young stars, or maybe it won’t. Either way, fans should enjoy every time Jokic is dragged out of the League Pass backwoods and shoved under some brighter lights.CORRECTION (Feb. 17, 1:01 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Nikola Jokic was an injury replacement for Joel Embiid in the Rising Stars Challenge. Jokic was already on the Rising Stars Challenge roster, and replaced Embiid in the Skills competition.Check out our latest NBA predictions. Alvan Adams2133.219.050.714.927.26.7 Steve Francis2339.919.956.310.028.46.6 The best young player in the NBA won’t be playing in the league’s All-Star Game on Sunday. Nikola Jokic, the Denver Nuggets’ second-year forward, doesn’t have the profile of other young stars missing the big game like Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns or Kristaps Porzingis. Jokic also doesn’t have the draft pedigree of many other blue-chippers appearing in Friday’s Rising Stars Challenge game for the top first- and second-year players. But he could end up being one of the best players in the league, and he’s already one of the most exciting.That’s pretty heady talk for a player averaging 16 points for the season. But, despite limited minutes in a crowded Denver frontcourt, Jokic has become both an object of fascination for NBA diehards and a standout in the fancier NBA stats.Before we jump into an aria of gaudy stats, let’s pause real quick (especially considering we’re closing out the five-year anniversary of Linsanity) and be clear: Jokic is very young, and he’s only been playing a starter’s worth of minutes for two months now. But as we’ll see in a minute, his production could suffer a massive downturn and he’d still be among the more exciting prospects in the league.Let’s start with the basics: Jokic’s Box plus/minus is 8.3, which is third in the league this season, behind only Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but in context of a player in only his second year, is extraordinary. It’s the third-highest BPM for a player in his first or second season, behind only David Robinson (8.4) who because of Navy service was 25 in his second season, and LeBron James. Andrei Kirilenko2127.712.059.811.510.66.6 Charles Barkley2236.920.061.919.416.07.9 read more

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Can England Win The Champions League

The round of 16 of the Champions League is over, and only eight teams remain. And for the first time in more than a decade, four of those teams are English. This is obviously good news for the Premier League, which hasn’t boasted a Champions League winner since 2012, when a Chelsea team led by a caretaker manager beat Bayern Munich on its home pitch. Not only do four English sides remain, but the two favorites according to FiveThirtyEight’s Soccer Power Index are among them.Aside from Manchester United, which had to pull off a historic upset to send Paris Saint-Germain to the French Riviera earlier than it would have liked, English teams were dominant in the first knockout stage round. On Tuesday, Manchester City embarrassed a Schalke 04 team that is also fighting a relegation battle in the Bundesliga, dispatching its German foe 7-0 on the night — tied for the largest margin of victory in a single match in Champions League history — and 10-2 on aggregate. Last week, Tottenham Hotspur finished off Borussia Dortmund, admittedly a team that’s been trending downward in recent weeks, 4-0 over two legs. And on Wednesday, Liverpool dismantled perennial contenders Bayern Munich 3-1 thanks in large part to a brace from winger Sadio Mané.This is impressive because Bayern Munich doesn’t lose in the Champions League in the round of 16. The club last failed to advance to the quarterfinals in 2011, and it has made it to at least the semifinal stage in six of the last seven seasons. That all changed on Wednesday night.Bayern’s loss also means that four of the seven teams favored most to win the Champions League as of a week ago by SPI have been eliminated from the competition. Now, SPI gives two English teams the best and second best odds. Manchester City has a 28 percent chance of winning the final, and Liverpool’s win in Munich increased its chances from 11 percent to 22 percent. Imagine if they meet in the quarterfinal again?1The quarterfinal draw takes place early Friday. The strong showing from the EPL clubs signals that the power center of European soccer may be shifting — something we were quick to notice last fall. Bayern Munich is the second Champions League blueblood to be ousted early after three-time reigning champion Real Madrid was bounced by Dutch side Ajax last week. But in the world of top-flight international soccer, one thing is not ready to change: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are still dominant forces of nature.Messi put on a master class Wednesday in a 5-1 win at Camp Nou against a plucky Olympique Lyonnais. The French side managed to keep the Argentinian maestro quiet in the first leg two weeks ago in France, but Messi proved too much in Barcelona. He scored two (and could have had a few more) and assisted two. With the win, Barcelona’s chances to win the title increased from 16 percent to 20 percent.And in Turin, Cristiano Ronaldo did exactly what Juventus paid all that money for Cristiano Ronaldo to do: Score big goals on big European nights. Before Juve’s second-leg clash with Atletico Madrid began, our SPI gave the Italian squad a measly 12 percent chance of advancing to the quarterfinals. A 2-0 loss to Atletico Madrid in Spain in February meant Juventus needed to score three goals and concede none to win in regular time and advance to the quarterfinals. Unfortunately for Atletico, there’s no real defense for Ronaldo.If City, United, Spurs or Liverpool hope to pry the Champions League trophy from continental Europe, they’re likely to have to go through an in-form Ronaldo. Or an in-form Messi. Both realities are terrifying.Check out our latest soccer predictions. read more

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Does Torontos Game 1 Win Spell Doom For The Warriors

Check out our latest NBA predictions. sara.ziegler: FiveThirtyEight’s most valuable player (valuable in the most literal sense), Pascal Siakam had an amazing NBA Finals debut, scoring 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting. How surprised were you at how well he played?tchow: You could say Siakam was shining bright like a pendeloque last night.neil: LOLOur model definitely thinks highly of Siakam as a player, but I’m not going to say I saw him scoring 30+ going in. He had 32 points on 82 percent shooting!!! That’s the fourth-best shooting percentage in a 30-plus-point finals game EVER, according to Basketball-Reference.com.chris.herring: The Warriors got a lot of questions here about Siakam after last night’s performance. Draymond Green said it’s clear that Siakam is “a guy” now — meaning that we might not have treated him as a difference-maker before, but we sure as hell will now.sara.ziegler: He’s a ⭐️ now.chris.herring: Golden State basically acknowledged leaving certain guys open to begin the game in hopes of taking away Kawhi Leonard. That process worked, in a way. Leonard wasn’t efficient.But as a result, everyone else — particularly Siakam and Marc Gasol, who played brilliantly — got going. Danny Green was also himself again. And Golden State was never able to turn off that faucet.neil: Siakam might be a problem for the Warriors going forward. They didn’t have many good options to stop him. He scored 16 directly on Draymond. He also showcased his dangerous range as a 3-point shooter when rotations broke down or he trailed the play.chris.herring: I understand why GSW was willing to take that gamble with Siakam. He’s become very good from the corners but is right around 30 percent — if not worse — from above the arc. The real issue was letting him get whatever he wanted in transition. He was 5 of 5 in transition and hit 11 shots in a row at one point — the longest streak in a finals game over the last 20 years. As good as he is, that simply can’t happen in a game like that if you’re the Warriors.Golden State gave credit to Siakam but also largely chalked the game up to them not having seen this Raptors club before. They hadn’t played since early December, and Toronto has added Gasol, while Kawhi obviously took turns in and out of the lineup to rest.sara.ziegler: Yeah, no one was expecting this from Siakam, so game-planning it would have been tricky.chris.herring: I feel like I should get my apology in now.Although I don’t know if I’m apologizing to a person or an algorithm.neil: Or are you apologizing directly to CARMELO Anthony? Lol.chris.herring: Our model narrowly had Toronto winning this series. I ruled that possibility out pretty swiftly last week.But Thursday’s game was enough for me to think that their defense is good enough to win the series — particularly if Durant doesn’t return, and perhaps even if Durant is back but doesn’t jell right away after the long layoff.neil: I wanted to go back to what you said about loading up to stop Kawhi. Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala did a good job limiting his efficiency, although it seems like that played a little into Toronto’s hands. Jackie MacMullan had a great reaction story about just how many other efficient options the Raptors have now if a team tries to focus too much on Kawhi.Only two of the seven Raptors who played at least 10 minutes averaged fewer than 1.2 points per individual possession, according to Basketball-Reference. (For reference, the Warriors as a team averaged 1.17 points per possession in the game.)sara.ziegler: And even with Kawhi bottled up, he still scored 23.neil: And! I worry about Iguodala’s health after he came up limping late. He did the bulk of the job guarding Leonard.tchow: So far, it looks like he’ll be OK, though.chris.herring: Yeah. That was the one other concern we mentioned in the preview: While the Warriors clearly could use Durant on offense, their defense becomes really, really thin on the wings without him. Especially if Iguodala is hurt or isn’t himself. This is now the second time he’s been banged up — he didn’t play in Game 4 against the Blazers, either.Speaking of Durant: The Raptors’ starting front court outscored Golden State’s 75-18.neil: 👀sara.ziegler: WowHow much of a problem is that for the Warriors? If there’s no scoring help for Steph and Klay?neil: Certainly Draymond wasn’t much of a factor. Yes, he got the rare 10-10-10 triple double, but he also shot 2 of 9 from the floor and was a minus-8.chris.herring: They’re now 29-2 when he records a triple-double.neil: And both losses have come this postseason.chris.herring: I think what we saw yesterday is this: The Warriors, without KD, don’t have anyone who can shoot outside of Curry and Thompson.sara.ziegler: That seems … bad.chris.herring: I think Quinn Cook is probably the most reliable guy outside of those two.neil: How weird is it to think about the Warriors not having enough shooting?chris.herring: That’s where Durant’s ability to get his own shot comes in handy. He forces enough defensive attention to where he can play other guys open. Generally speaking, Steph often commands a second defender’s attention, so that’s enough to get someone else open and get the ball moving. It’s a tougher task when the other team can guard him and everyone else straight up.sara.ziegler: And Klay doesn’t really create his own shots.chris.herring: We haven’t talked much about DeMarcus Cousins’s return, but that’s both the blessing and the curse of having himYou hope he can create an occasional double-team. But by the same token, his spot could have been used on a guard — and I think some people were of that opinion when they first got him: that the Warriors might have been better served by having another shooter.neil: Yeah, I thought the Warriors might go smaller and take somebody like Gasol out of the game, but either Kevon Looney or Jordan Bell played most of the game, and Gasol logged nearly 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Cousins played eight minutes and didn’t really do much of note.chris.herring: He looked a little rusty, but he made a few really nice passes.It’s tough to get your first playing time in weeks and weeks at this level, in the finals. Same may be true of Durant, honestly, if and when he comes back.tchow: It feels like it might be too soon to judge Cousins, but this is the problem of reintroducing someone like him back into the lineup during the finals.chris.herring: Exactly.neil: And that might be one of the ways our model was overrating the Warriors. It considered him one of the biggest talents of the series, which is true, but didn’t factor in the injury comeback.chris.herring: Not to mention the fact that Golden State has been better with Cousins off the court this season.Albeit with Durant playing more often than not.tchow: Yeah, Neil, it probably did overrate the Warriors because of his return. He ranked as the fifth most valuable player (behind Curry, Durant, Leonard and Lowry) according to our projections.neil: And at full health, that might be true in terms of skills. But that was a lot to expect with him easing back into playing.sara.ziegler: While Cousins did play a bit, the other injured Warrior was spotted high-fiving teammates behind the scenes. What did you make of Durant traveling with the team?neil: It has to be an encouraging sign for his chances of returning sooner rather than later, right?sara.ziegler: Is there a chance he plays in Game 2?chris.herring: No, it sounds like he won’t. Kerr was pretty firm about him needing to practice before having a chance to play.They’ll have another two practices — today and again on Saturday — before Game 2. But it doesn’t sound like he’ll be ready to practice here in Toronto before they suit up again Sunday.neil: The good thing about the finals is the sheer gap in days between games.Game 1 on a Thursday — Game 2 … all the way on Sunday.sara.ziegler: He has at least resumed “basketball activities,” which is my favorite phrase in all of basketball.neil: That reminds me, I need to go to the gym and “resume basketball activities” as well.sara.ziegler: 🤣So what do the Warriors need do to even the series?neil: Well, it seems obvious that Siakam won’t be down for 30+ again, so they have that going for them.chris.herring: Be a little less focused on stopping Kawhi to make sure that the other Raptors don’t overtake Jurassic Park again.And they have to slow Toronto down in transition, where the Raptors can be wildly efficient.It’s more of a question as to what they do differently on offense. But getting more stops and creating more opportunities to get out and run off those misses will ease some of that concern, I’d think.neil: Yeah, and that probably played a part in Toronto’s 24-17 disparity on fast-break points as well. Not enough stops turning into chances the other way.tchow: They have to play with rhathymia. (Am I using that right?) Just be the fun-loving Warriors we know.sara.ziegler: LOLtchow: I also agree with Neil in that the Warriors could afford to play smaller and get Gasol out of the game. He’s been solid all playoffs like an imbirussú for the Raptors. Otherwise, the Raptors could embarrass you again. Calembour intended.(OK, now I’m just forcing it.)neil: Tony, you’re banned from watching the spelling bee at work ever again.chris.herring: It’s a lot tougher for the Warriors to dictate the tempo without Durant. Playing smaller alone doesn’t get it done if you don’t have enough shooting to force the Raptors to come out and guard you on the perimeter.sara.ziegler: It’s interesting to me, too, that Kyle Lowry didn’t add much on offense again. He had as many field goals as charges forced. If he heats up, that’s a different wrinkle for Toronto.neil: Lowry continued his trend of being associated with strong Raptors play (+11) despite garbage individual stats.chris.herring: Frankly, if they’re getting what they got from everyone else — Green, Gasol and Siakam — they don’t need Lowry to do anything but bring energy. He had massive moments in that last series, and he’s always going to give you what he has on defense.It also helps a ton that VanVleet can stay attached to Curry so well in the minutes that Lowry is taking a breather.tchow: VanVleet was draped over Curry like a ferraiolone and actually guarded Curry for more possessions than Lowry in the end (33 possession vs. 16).chris.herring: O_______oneil: I’ve come around on this, Tony, and I applaud your spelling work here.👏 👏 👏 👏tchow: Can we all pretend to be a marmennill for a minute? What do you think is going to happen now? Do the Warriors still three-peat? Do the Raptors pull this off?sara.ziegler: Our model (which accepts Chris’s apology) now has the Raptors at 63 percent to win it all. That feels right to me.chris.herring: The Raptors are the lone team that the Warriors haven’t beaten this season, and they have now won all three matchups against Golden State. I expect Golden State to respond. But stuff will get SO interesting if Toronto takes Game 2 as well.neil: 63 percent kinda makes more sense than our pre-series projection, to be honest. Home teams that win Game 1 of the NBA Finals win the series 78 percent of the time, historically. So this suggests that Toronto has far less of a talent edge than the typical home team that takes a 1-0 finals lead. Which is definitely true.tchow: This is anecdotal, but I was chatting with my cousin who lives in Toronto during last night’s game, and he said: “There’s just one guy outside our building somewhere screaming at the top of his lungs, ‘Let’s go, Raptors, over and over.” I can’t imagine what that guy will scream if the Raptors pull this off. That city is gonna be WILD.neil: I love seeing how excited Toronto fans are. (Drake aside.) Nav Bhatia was going nuts trying to distract Warrior free-throw shooters.chris.herring: I decided to walk home last night, about 35 minutes to my hotel. These two people were shouting “Let’s go, Raptors!” for entire blocks. I thought it was a crowd of people, and it was actually just those two guys.But between that, and all the car horns going off last night, people are on a noisy cloud here right now. Sort of how Milwaukee was to begin the last series. So we’ll see how it plays out.tchow: The city is gonna be as loud as a large flock of emberizines. From ABC News: sara.ziegler (Sara Ziegler, assistant sports editor): One game into the NBA Finals, and #WarriorsIn4 is already over. But what a first game! The Toronto Raptors led for most of the contest but weren’t able to put away the Golden State Warriors until the very end.tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): I’m gonna be honest. I was second screening Game 1 because my eyes were glued to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I learned some new words that I’m gonna try to sneak in here, so you all better have your dictionaries ready — I’m about to drop some 🔥neil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Omg, Tonysara.ziegler: TonyThough, I’m not gonna lie, I turned to that after the game was over.neil: Fortunately, the NBA can’t declare an eight-way tie for the championship. (Sorry, Celtics.)sara.ziegler: Chris, you’re in Toronto right now. What was the game like up close?chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): The atmosphere was incredible, and loud — both during the game and then pretty wild after. The fans here are insane.I think the game was what we hoped it would be, after years of watching relatively uncompetitive series with a team that couldn’t defend Golden State well enough. The Raptors’ defense is no joke, and it challenged the Warriors all game long. Toronto presents real problems for a club missing someone like Kevin Durant.neil: Yeah, Chris, this was the Warriors’ 20th-worst shooting game of the season by effective field-goal percentage. They still managed to get to the line, but they had a lot of turnovers, and Toronto held the non-Steph Curry scorers mostly in check. Fred VanVleet even did an admirable job keeping Curry from truly exploding.chris.herring: The Warriors shot 23 percent on contested shots last night, the worst mark they’ve had in a playoff game in the Steve Kerr era, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group.neil: And you have to think that Durant — one of the best tough-shot makers in history — would have boosted that some.chris.herring: Yeah. I’m really curious as to where Curry is going to have problems with VanVleet — we mentioned in our preview that he’d done very little scoring this season — averaging just 10 points per 100 possessions when VanVleet is the man defending him. That continued last night. read more

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Trying to Measure the LeBron Effect on Game Attendance

LeBron James may not show up for the Miami Heat next year, but whichever team he ends up with is likely to see a huge economic bump. James puts people in the seats.After reports leaked Tuesday that James would exercise his early-termination option in his contract with the Heat, some speculated that he’ll actually stay in South Beach next season. But teams are itching to clear cap space in the hopes of signing the NBA forward.We know plenty about James’s value on the court, but to get some sense of his economic value, we looked at how attendance changed before and while he was on the Cavaliers and Heat. As a baseline, the average NBA team’s attendance is about 90 percent capacity over the course of the season, but that varies wildly depending on a team’s winning percentage. (It also presumably fluctuates throughout a season.) I looked at NBA teams’ winning percentage and home-game attendance from the 2001-02 season through the 2013-14 season, and found that a team that wins 80 percent of its games — roughly 66 games in a season, probably the best record in the league — should average 100 percent capacity. Comparatively, a team that wins only 20 percent of its games will, on average, sell 80 percent of its tickets.It’s easy to see why winning fills arenas. Wins excite fans, give them hope for a potential championship, and (hopefully) are a display of entertaining basketball. James helps do that better than nearly anybody. Even controlling for success, a “LeBron Effect” materialized in the data. The teams he’s played for — the 2004 through 2010 Cavs and the 2011 though 2014 Heat — have home-attendance averages of 98.0 percent capacity, well above what their records would predict. Nearly all of James’s teams have sold tickets at higher rates than we’d expect for how well they performed. Note how for every season but one, his teams are above the line in the chart below.(Attendance here is measured by capacity, or the percentage of available seats sold. Sometimes capacity percentages rise above 100 percent because of imperfect stadium data, whether standing-room-only tickets are counted, etc.)Interestingly, James sells out even more so on the road, perhaps because he’s more of a novelty when traveling. Over the past six seasons — his last two with the Cavs and all four with the Heat — James’s teams away capacity has averaged 99.5 percent. (Because of imperfect data on away game attendance capacity, only the past six seasons were analyzed.) It’s no surprise that the relationship between a team’s winning percentage and its draw while traveling is much weaker — that is, the curve is flatter. But adjusting for how good the Cavs or Heat were in a given season, those teams with James on them sold out the house. Look how far above the line James teams are now:This analysis does not account for ticket prices, merchandise sales or any of the other revenue channels for James’s teams, so it’s just the beginning of the conversation about his economic worth. But wherever he ends up, two things are likely to continue: His team will sell out the home stadium, and his opponents’ box offices will be sad to see him go. read more

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What Cleveland Would Look Like With LeBron James And Kevin Love

Update (July 11, 12:30 p.m.): It’s official: LeBron James is going back to the Cleveland Cavaliers.Perhaps we should collect data on what percentage of NBA rumors on Twitter turn out to be true. But as of late Thursday afternoon, the Internet was abuzz with speculation that LeBron James will return to Cleveland.If it happens, the Cavaliers may need some additional help to build an instant championship contender for LeBron. In an article earlier Thursday, I projected the Cavaliers’ record should they sign James and Ray Allen but otherwise stand pat. It wasn’t so great: 52-30. That would be enough to make them one of the better Eastern Conference teams but probably not good enough to win a championship.But one of the reasons for James to choose Cleveland over Miami is that the Cavs have a lot more flexibility in how they might build a team around him. The Cavaliers also have some young assets — including No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins — who could be traded for another star.So let’s imagine that not only the LeBron rumors but also those involving Minnesota’s Kevin Love are true. Cleveland, after signing James, uses Wiggins as the centerpiece of a package that goes to Minnesota for Love. It also gives up Anderson Varejao and Anthony Bennett, and gets Ronny Turiaf in the deal — the salaries look like they’d work out.Also, in addition to Allen, the Cavs bring in friend-of-Lebron Mike Miller. That would allow them to construct a 12-man roster that looks something like this:It’s a slightly weird roster, with players splitting time between several positions. But because James could be an All-Star at any of the five positions, that’s as much a feature for Cleveland as a bug — the Cavs could go big, small or anything in between. This roster could use a defensive specialist or two off the bench, and a true backup point guard, but those are fairly petty complaints.How would this team perform? Using the same process from Thursday’s article, which projects a team’s win total based on a system called Statistical Plus Minus, it’d be on track for a record of 63-19.This would be a much better opportunity for James than anything likely in Miami, which finished with a 54-28 record last year and which would probably have about the same record if the Heat brought back James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. A 54-win team has less than a 5 percent chance of winning an NBA title; a 63-win team has about a 40 percent chance.The Cavs could be better than this still — perhaps in the range of 65 to 67 wins — if they managed to acquire Love without giving up Varejao. read more

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Ryan Fitzpatrick Is Only As Good As Brandon Marshall And Eric Decker

Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com 32San Diego Chargers4,8551,48030.5 45.7 14Arizona Cardinals4,7752,21846.5 2Denver Broncos4,2162,43957.9 29Minnesota Vikings3,2461,21537.4 11Oakland Raiders4,1291,99248.2 21Philadelphia Eagles4,3411,85042.6 27St. Louis Rams2,9311,16239.6 25Washington Redskins4,2941,72940.3 23Tennessee Titans3,8931,63742.0 8Cincinnati Bengals4,1042,11351.5 6Pittsburgh Steelers4,8222,59953.9 24New Orleans Saints5,2052,12240.8 12Carolina Panthers3,8731,84347.6 7Houston Texans4,0792,17953.4 28New England Patriots4,8121,86838.8 15Detroit Lions4,4632,02745.4 26San Francisco 49ers3,6461,45239.8 League average Which teams got the most out of their top two receivers in 2015? 16Green Bay Packers3,8251,71944.9 10Cleveland Browns4,1562,00948.3 13Indianapolis Colts3,9281,85747.3 22Dallas Cowboys3,6781,55342.2 YARDS BY TOP 2 RECEIVERS 9New York Giants4,5042,24749.9 19Seattle Seahawks4,0611,75443.2 30Baltimore Ravens4,4491,61436.3 31Chicago Bears3,8431,27133.1 5Jacksonville Jaguars4,4282,43154.9 RANKTEAMTOTAL RECEIVING YARDSTOTALPERCENTAGE 1New York Jets4,1702,52960.6% The Gang Green contract dispute is over: Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has re-signed with the New York Jets, on a one-year, $12 million contract with up to $3 million in additional incentives. Casual fans may wonder why it took so long for Fitzpatrick to re-sign — for months, it was clear that Fitzpatrick had no other suitors and the Jets had no exciting alternative. And, after all, Fitzpatrick was coming off of a strong statistical season. He threw for 3,905 yards last year — the highest single-season total by a Jets quarterback since Joe Namath in 1967 — and 31 passing touchdowns, a franchise record.Perhaps most importantly, Fitzpatrick’s statistical output was far ahead of what Jets fans have come to expect from the position. Fitzpatrick averaged 6.46 adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A) last season, more than a yard better than any of the Jets’ starting quarterbacks over the previous decade. The chart below shows New York’s main QB each season from 2005 through 2015 and his average ANY/A. Fitzpatrick’s 2015 sticks out in a very good way:On the heels of six Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith seasons, Fitzpatrick’s competent play represented a vast improvement. But Fitzpatrick’s numbers really only look great relative to the poor passers of Jets history and thanks to the rising tide that is lifting passing numbers leaguewide.Before Fitzpatrick, the Jets hadn’t experienced above-average quarterbacking since 2006, and Jets passers had been far below average in each of the four seasons leading into 2015. Against that backdrop, Fitzpatrick’s ever-so-slightly-above-average numbers painted the picture of a bearded savior. But although Fitzpatrick deserves credit for the strong season (along with, perhaps, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey), his top two receivers were just as responsible for the big year.The Jets signed Eric Decker before the 2014 season, and he had a productive year, but he couldn’t save New York’s passing attack by himself. After New York traded for Brandon Marshall in 2015, though, the duo quickly turned into one of the best one-two receiving punches in the NFL. Together, Marshall and Decker combined for 2,529 receiving yards, second-most in the NFL behind Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. Perhaps more importantly, Marshall and Decker also combined for 60.6 percent of all Jets receiving yards, easily the highest rate in the league for any pair of receivers:1Defining a team’s top receiving duo as its two leading players in receiving yards. 18Tampa Bay Buccaneers4,0421,76743.7 20Miami Dolphins4,2311,81943.0 4Atlanta Falcons4,6022,52854.9 17Buffalo Bills3,6001,59944.4 3Kansas City Chiefs3,4931,96356.2 Marshall and Decker were also touchdown machines. In nine of the Jets’ 16 games last season, both Marshall and Decker reached the end zone: That made them the first pair of wide-receiver teammates to each score in nine games (and only the second pair of teammates, period, joining former Cowboys Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin). Incredibly, Marshall and Decker by themselves caught 25 of Fitzpatrick’s 31 total touchdown throws, or 81 percent.Thought of another way, Marshall and Decker saw 305 targets last year, with all other Jets players combining for nearly an equal number: 297. Yet Marshall/Decker combined for 2,529 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns, and all other Jets combined for 1,641 receiving yards and just seven receiving touchdowns. Marshall and Decker together averaged 8.3 yards per target; all other Jets averaged only 5.5 yards per target.That difference of 2.8 yards per target between the Jets’ top two receivers and the rest of the team ranked third-largest in the NFL, behind two other teams that had star receivers doing most of the heavy lifting: Jacksonville (with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, at +3.7) and the New York Giants (thanks mostly to Odell Beckham Jr., at +2.9). Marshall/Decker’s rate of 11.7 targets for every touchdown also ranked fourth-best among top receiving pairings,2Behind the top duos of Seattle (9.0), Jacksonville (10.7) and New England (11.6). but the rest of the Jets were targeted 42.4 times for every touchdown pass, the fourth-worst rate in the league for receiving groups outside a team’s top two targets.3That ranked ahead of only Cleveland (56.8), Minnesota (57.2) and San Francisco (44.0). In other words, Fitzpatrick was putting up great numbers only when throwing to Marshall and Decker — not anyone else. It’s fair to say, then, that no passing game in 2015 was as reliant on its top two receivers as the Jets’ was.Granted, the Jets’ other targets weren’t very good,4Bilal Powell, Quincy Enunwa, Chris Ivory and Kenbrell Thompkins were the only other Jets with at least 30 targets. so you would expect a large chasm in production between Marshall/Decker and the rest of the team. But that makes it more difficult to determine how much of Fitzpatrick’s numbers were the product of his own play, and how much was due to his top two targets. And that’s probably what caused such a disconnect between the Jets and Fitzpatrick’s camp during negotiations.Ultimately, Fitzpatrick signed a reasonable one-year contract, so we may be revisiting the same scenario next offseason, with the Jets having to ascertain their QB’s true worth once more. read more

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We Should Have Seen FedererNadal At The US Open By Now

The men’s semifinals of the U.S. Open are annually appointment television for tennis fans around the world. But in the case of Friday’s second semifinal, it’s the tennis match that no tennis fan on the planet wanted to see — except, perhaps, for those in Argentina. To be sure, all signs point to Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro having a highly competitive, entertaining semifinal — del Potro is actually a respectable 5-8 all-time against the No. 1-seeded Nadal. But this one was supposed to be Nadal versus his longtime rival Roger Federer, on the hard courts of Flushing for the first time ever.Federer-Nadal at the U.S. Open is tennis’s white whale — and once again, it slipped away.On Monday, Federer and Nadal appeared to be on a collision course; both reached the quarterfinals, and both were in the same side of the bracket. Nadal held up his end of the bargain, beating Andrey Rublev in straight sets to secure a semifinal berth. But late Wednesday, Federer was unceremoniously defeated by the Argentinean del Potro, ending his bid for a third Grand Slam championship of 2017 — and crushing the hopes of everyone who has followed the game in the past 15 years.Along with Novak Djokovic, Federer and Nadal are the two most successful players of their era.1If not any era. Between them, the pair have won 34 Grand Slam titles and appeared in the semifinals of 33 other major tournaments. They’ve gone head-to-head 12 times at the other three Slams — three times at Wimbledon, four at the Australian Open and five times at Roland Garros. So it’s astonishing that their paths have never crossed at the U.S. Open. Do the math, and the odds of the colossal clash never happening are minuscule.Let’s focus on Grand Slam semifinals, since all of the actual Rafa-Fed matchups have happened at that stage of a major or later. Federer first made the semifinals of a Grand Slam in 2003, and since then, he’s advanced at least that far in 74 percent of all non-U.S. Open majors. Nadal made his semifinal debut in 2005 and has made it that far in 53 percent of non-U.S. Open majors ever since. So, if we simply used the other three majors as a guide, we’d expect Federer and Nadal to have about a 39 percent chance of simultaneously making the semifinals of any given U.S. Open. And in non-U.S. Opens when both made the semis, they ended up facing each other 86 percent of the time, whether in that round or the final.Based on those numbers, then, we’d expect there to be a 34 percent chance that Federer and Nadal would end up facing each other at a given U.S. Open. (Indeed, they’ve faced each other 12 times in the 38 non-U.S. Open Slams since 2005, including their first head-to-head meeting at Roland Garros — good for a rate of 32 percent.) If we apply that 34 percent mark to each of the 13 U.S. Opens staged since 2005, we would expect there to be only a 1-in-204 chance (0.5 percent) that they wouldn’t end up facing each other at least once in that span. So the odds that we would never get this U.S. Open matchup are truly microscopic.Now, some of this can be attributed to both Federer and (especially) Nadal enjoying comparatively less semifinal success at the U.S. Open than at the other three majors. Since his first semifinal breakthrough at a Slam, Federer has only made the semis 67 percent of the time on the Flushing hardcourts, and Nadal has only made it that far 38 percent of the time. If you use those rates instead of the non-U.S. Open numbers as your baseline, the odds against ever seeing a Federer-Nadal clash rise to 4 percent.Still, even that is a fairly small probability. Any way you cut it, it’s positively shocking that American audiences have never been treated to seeing two of the greatest players ever play each other in person before. read more

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