Luck of the Draw: Wimbledon 2012

The latest research in draw analysis theory has identified five discernible stages that a zealous tennis fan moves through when the draw to a Grand Slam tournament is released, which happened amidst moderate fanfare earlier today at Wimbledon. Draw analysis theory – which Americans call ‘Bracketology’, although only they find this cute – has developed into an exciting field in its own right, and many adjacent disciplines are seeking to utilise its findings.

Evolutionary psychologists, for example, have attempted to correlate draw analysis responses with survival behaviours found in primitive hunter gatherer societies. Admittedly, this effort is limited to a particular branch of evolutionary psychology, specifically the one whose exponents gained wide public favour some years back by writing loosely argued but lavishly illustrated books explaining why it is acceptable for married men to sleep around. (While it’s true that most of the public favour originated with married men, who could now turn to their spouses and declare, ‘Hey, it’s science, baby!’, that didn’t hurt sales. The books were generally called things like Why Woman Can’t Read Maps, and Men Have to Sleep Around, or Why Men Can’t Ask for Directions, and Have to Sleep Around. This also didn’t hurt sales. An era of blossoming promiscuity was only curtailed by the reality that most of these men did not really have the option of sleeping around. Once again, I digress.) The point is that this latest research has impeccable pedigree. Most of the authors use their middle initial, proving they’re real academics. These findings will be presented in a new book, due out this summer, entitled Bracketology, the Reading of Draws, and Why Men Have to Sleep Around. Look for it at all good airport book stores.

What the original research confirmed is that when we tennis fans are first presented with a draw to a major tennis tournament, we move through multiple stages of elation, anxiety and despondency, often too tediously for the naked eye to follow. As mentioned, the origins for this behaviour have been reliably traced to prehistoric times. For example, cave paintings recently discovered in the Kimberly region of Western Australia clearly show a man exultantly raising his arms aloft upon discovering that Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have been drawn in the same half, again. The man is depicted as some form of sun-god, suggesting he painted it himself. Evolutionary psychologists believe this moment occurred directly before departing for a hunt, or after sleeping with his sister-in-law.

Stage 1: Exultant Righteousness

The first task for any subject approaching a new draw is to work out where the top seeds fall, in order to confirm that Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have been drawn in the same half, meaning that they will meet in the semifinals. The function of this task is fairly straightforward. Confirmation of the cherished conspiracy theory – the draw is rigged (apparently by uncreative idiots) – creates a buffer of impenetrable self-righteousness to insulate the subject from the rigours ahead. A powerful cocktail of chemicals is released, chiefly serotonin, as well as oxytocin, which explains why this stage has been known to induce labour if experienced in the final trimester of pregnancy.

Stage 2: Indignation

Thus fortified, the subject is now keen to see how his or her favourite player might fare. In the case of the general tennis fan, this almost inevitably means Nadal, Djokovic or Federer, and perhaps Murray. This stage requires a tremendous output of energy, as the subject strives tirelessly to establish that the favoured player’s draw is the toughest since the age of legends, when the mighty Conan’s path to the Wimbledon final led over the crushed bodies of Hyperborian giants, fearsome Djinn and perfumed assassins, whereupon he was forced to dispatch the great serpent Set.

In the case of this year’s Wimbledon, we can say with some certainty that Federer’s fans have it hardest of all. The role of underdog is a cherished one, but his draw is so benign that there is just no chance. ‘But he may have to play Youzhny in the quarterfinals!’ they implore. On the other hand, Murray’s fans couldn’t be happier. He has a draw from hell, worthy of any Cimmerian reaver, with a quarter featuring Raonic, Del Potro and Cilic. The BBC is practically orgasmic with dread. Highlander metaphors are being sharpened as we speak.

Nadal’s draw is slightly kinder, although he will be forced to navigate a quarter unusually light on fellow Spaniards, apart from Lopez. Djokovic’s is entirely manageable.

Stage 3A: Curiosity and Peckishness

This is the point at which avowedly committed tennis fans seek to put some distance between themselves and more casual pundits. He or she will commence wondering loudly at the fortunes of several slightly obscure players, although they will usually be players who have featured in the news lately.

For example, I note that Tommy Haas, recent champion in Halle, has drawn his compatriot Kohlschreiber in the first round. But what of David Goffin? Well, he plays Bernard Tomic first up. Brian Baker? He has navigated qualifying with nary a hitch, and faces Rui Machado. Grigor Dimitrov is fast developing into a perennial favourite in this stage. Those fancying themselves true fans will note that he has drawn Kevin Anderson, and will point out that these guys played each other last week at Queens.

Many fans will partake of a light snack at this point, and maybe a drink.

Stage 3B: Toilet Break

I think this speaks for itself.

Stage Four: Sleepiness

It is only with the first three stages out of the way that a tennis fan can think about actual tennis. The draw is minutely surveyed for the most interesting first-round matches. Even lacking an Order of Play to consult, the scheduling of these matches is also considered. Some people instead take a nap.

Consensus has it that the premium first-round matches are these: Hewitt v Tsonga, Nalbandian v Tipsarevic, Haas v Kohlschreiber and Fognini v Llodra. An honourable mention might go to Djokovic v Ferrero, though I cannot see that being close. British fans are endeavouring to convince everyone that Davydenko will pose some kind of challenge to Murray first up, which is frankly going overboard. Murray’s draw is otherwise tough enough that there’s no need to pretend Davydenko, who was weak on grass even in his prime, will pose any special problems. Some have pointed to Berdych v Gulbis, leaving one to wonder just how long the Latvian has to underperform before he isn’t considered a threat.

Stage Five: Catharsis, Boredom and Probably Something Else

Having navigated the first four stages, committed tennis fans now find themselves experiencing a mild post-draw high, a profound sense of well-being caused by a light release of endorphins, although as these drain away they are left with the depressing realisation that the tournament isn’t due to begin for another two days. There’s consequently nothing much to fill the time except watching Eastbourne, or seeing the top players being repeatedly interviewed so that they may also tell us how amazing it is to be back at SW19 and how splendid the courts are. With idle hands, bored and opinionated, there is only one option for us committed fans. The internet awaits.

Or, I suppose, we could just do something else.

The full draw can be found here.

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