A better way to rank tennis players all-time


Realistic rating: 1.5

Over at Deadspin last week, I wrote about a better way to rank tennis players than the current format of simply ranking the most grand slams won.

Most sports media members learned long ago how incredibly mindless the “who has the most rings” argument is—well, except Shannon Sharpe, and Dave Dameshek, and ok, well a lot of not-so-smart talking heads and writers. Still, most people are at least smart enough to understand that Robert Horry isn’t better than Michael Jordan. But for some reason, we still apply this methodology when ranking tennis players.

(Before you read any further here, you should probably go read the original post.)

There aren’t formal rules for leagues to adopt being proposed with this idea, but it still gets a “realistic rating” for the likelihood this methodology is actually adopted by analysts and the general public. The big issue to consider is simply that the bigger numbers get, the harder they are for analysts to easily spit out on TV or fans to bring up in bar debates. Smaller numbers like the number of rings (or in the case of tennis, really fancy cookie jars) are ones anyone can easily remember, and thus, they’re the ones we universally associate with certain athletes.

This isn’t to say we should just give up on ratings systems that produce metrics that have than two significant figures, but it’s simply an acknowledgement that for statisticians to push their ideas into the mainstream, they should take hurdles like this into consideration.