Stat based men's tennis articles
by Joel Mallett | 6 Jan 2012
At present vastly overshadowed by Bernard Tomic, James Duckworth and Benjamin Mitchell are two Australians with talent and results to boot. Both born in 1992, they are the 4th and 5th highest ranked teenagers on the men's circuit today. The similarities don't stop there as both have had almost identical paths to the top 300 as shown in the following table.
Mitchell looks to have the advantage at present; not only is he ranked higher, but he is 10 months younger than Duckworth (Duckworth was born in January 1992 while Mitchell was born in November). However rankings do not always tell the whole story, luck of the draw can play a significant role*. But ranking bias due to choice of tournament is much more relevant in these players' case.
Mitchell played 10 of the 13 Australian Futures events last year, winning three and making the final of another four. Duckworth on the other hand only played three Australian Futures, instead testing himself in European and even South American tournaments for most of the year. There's no denying Mitchell's success in Australia has been impressive, but I feel Duckworth has had the more noteworthy year because of his tougher choice of events.
This is most evident in their ends to the year. At the end of August this year, Duckworth was ranked #273 while Mitchell was #351. Duckworth finished the year playing four South American clay court Challengers, while Mitchell entered seven Australian hard court Futures**. Duckworth went 5-4 in his South American swing, a respectable showing given his age and experience at that level. Meanwhile Mitchell went 28-5 in his Future events. These results landed Duckworth at #274 at year's end while Mitchell was catapulted to #214.
Clearly had Duckworth played more Australian Futures like Mitchell, he would be ranked significantly higher at present. This is further supported by Duckworth's finals appearance at the Australian Open wild card playoff in December. Duckworth even beat Mitchell along the way: 6-3 7-5 in the quarter-finals.
Even though Duckworth and Mitchell came up short in the playoff, Tennis Australia did the right thing and awarded both main draw wildcards into the year's first major. Youth and the fact that they hadn't received any tour level wild cards previously worked in their favour. They were also both subsequently given wild cards into the Brisbane International.
Fortunately both received kind first round draws. Duckworth got big server and fast court specialist Nicolas Mahut, ranked #80, and Mitchell got Japanese qualifier Tatsuma Ito, ranked #122. Duckworth won his tour level debut 6-4 6-4 after losing the first three games. Mitchell didn't fare as well, going down 6-4 6-2 with nerves clearly playing their part. It should be noted however, that Ito was on an eight match winning streak (a Challenger win to finish the year plus three qualifying wins).
Duckworth appears to be relishing the big stage, actually asking organisers to put him on centre court at the Brisbane International. As with his first match, he played very well in his 2nd round match against 2nd seed Gilles Simon. He lost 6-3 7-5, but was essentially even after losing the first three games. He showed variety with slices and net approaches and wasn't afraid to be aggressive on big points. Another very promising sign was his serve. He managed to crack 200km/h routinely and has a lively kick delivery, particularly to the ad court.
Next up for the pair is Sydney. Duckworth has just been wild carded into the main draw, and deservedly so. Mitchell is playing qualifying which is the right move. He has never won a tour level qualifying match (0-4 last year, 0-6 overall) but each of his losses last year were in three sets. The qualifying draw in Sydney is very tough. He plays 7th seed and world number 78 Leonardo Mayer in round one and will probably have to beat 1st seed and world number 57 Lukasz Kubot just to qualify.
I feel both these youngsters are capable of beating some other players in the main draw of the Australian Open. I would favour Duckworth over around 30 potential first round opponents (including Mahut obviously), while Mitchell I would give the edge to against about 5-15 players on the entry list. As hinted at previously, luck of the draw could play a big part as either could just as easily face a seeded player off the bat.
Draws aside, nerves and best of five aptitude are two variables in the equation. At least expectations, one essential component to nerves, are accounted for by Tomic. When the Australian public thinks of a 19 year old tennis hope, the vast majority certainly don't think about the two foci of this article. Best of five aptitude is a complete unknown as both have barely contested such a match. Duckworth did lose in three straight sets in the wildcard playoff to Marinko Matosevic however he was injured for most of that match.
Regardless of their draws and outcomes in Sydney and Melbourne, it will be invaluable experience for both and will hopefully set them on another year progressing up the ranks.
*For example, Bernard Tomic finished 2009 ranked 286, with 45 of his 150 points coming from his 1st round Australian Open win. Had Tomic drawn a tougher opponent than Potito Starace he would've almost certainly not won an Australian Open match and therefore finished the year with 105 points and ranked 370.
**The difficulty and prestige of men's events in descending order are: tour level, Challenger then Futures.