Filling out a tournament bracket is a fun way to learn about new players while enjoying some friendly competition against your tennis-loving friends. It can also help you stay engaged with a tournament during the early rounds, when some of the matchups may be a bit less compelling.
Here at the Holabird Sports office we have a great time filling out our tournament brackets and competing every time a Grand Slam rolls around. Even though we only play for office bragging rights, the rivalries are fierce and we're always looking for any tip or strategy that will give us an edge.
With that competitive spirit in mind, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your US Open Bracket and pull ahead in your Bracket Challenge:
Pick Wildcards and Qualifiers Sparingly
It's always fun to root for the underdog and it feels great being right when your dark horse, wildcard selection pulls off an unlikely upset that you had the foresight to predict. Unfortunately, most wildcards and qualifiers generally don't fare well. During the last four Slams (US Open 2013 through Wimbledon 2014), wildcard recipients compiled a 35-64 record while qualifiers were slightly worse at 62-116.
That being said, it's not unprecedented for wildcards to make deep runs at Slams. Goran Ivanisevic won Wimbledon in 1994 as a wildcard recipient and Kim Clijsters won the 2009 US Open as a wildcard as well—though both of those players had success before receiving their wildcards. Before winning his lone Wimbledon title, Ivanisevic had been to the finals three times and reached a career-high ranking of #2 in the world. Clijsters received her wildcard after returning from having a child, but by then she had already captured one Grand Slam title, been to numerous Slam finals, and held the #1 ranking in the world.
Several qualifiers have fared well at Slams too. John McEnroe reached the Wimbledon semifinals as a qualifier in 1977, qualifier Filip Dewulf reached the semifinals of Roland Garros in 1997, and qualifier Vladimir Voltchkov reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 2000.
So while it's not impossible for wildcards or qualifiers to make deep runs, it is improbable. Choose wildcards and qualifiers sparingly and with care.
Check Head-to-Head Records
Both the official ATP and WTA websites provide a tool that allows you to compare the head-to-head records of two players. The details include the date, tournament, court surface, and final score of each meeting. Admittedly, a historical head-to-head record provides no guarantees of future performance, but it can be a great tool to help you make a decision on tough match ups.
Court Surface Matters
Players aren't equally skilled on all surfaces, and depending on the player, the court surface can have a big impact. David Ferrer, for instance, has won 71.6% of all of his matches on clay, but has won only 63.6% of his matches on all other surfaces combined. Similarly, Feliciano Lopez has won 66.7% of his grass court matches but is under .500 on all other surfaces, winning just 49.6% of those matches. Career win-loss records by surface are readily available on the official ATP website, but for WTA win-loss records by surface you'll have to turn to a third party like Tennis.com. Much like head-to-head records, win-loss records by court surface don't guarantee similar future results, but they can be another useful way to help predict some otherwise surprising upsets.
Who's Hot and Who's Not
Successful tennis revolves largely around confident play and nothing breeds confidence like success. Keep an eye on the "warmup" tournaments that take place in the weeks leading up to the main event so you can see which players are trending up and which players are sliding backwards. Players who are winning matches and titles at the warmup events will usually carry that confidence over into the Grand Slam, improving their chances. Conversely, players who are scuffling in the lead-up events often come into the Slam with little confidence and continue to play poorly.
Make Healthy Choices
The professional tennis tour is a grind and Grand Slam events are especially tough. Players battling nagging injuries coming into the Slams aren't like to perform up to their standards, so keep an eye on players' health during warmup events. Banking on players who frequently call for the trainer or retire at smaller warmup events is risky, even if they've proven in the past that they can win matches at Slams. Also, keep in mind that Grand Slam prize money is a big draw for players; even a first round loss comes with a hefty paycheck. There is, unfortunately, a temptation for players to show up feeling less than 100% and suffer through a first round loss rather than withdraw from the tournament ahead of time and miss out on a payday.
Read about the first US Open matches to watch.