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Lucas Pouille is the worst good tennis player. What does that mean?

Lucas Pouille has won 10 matches this season. The 10 wins took him to the Australian Open semifinal and the Bordeaux Challenger title. That's it. Those are the only wins he has this season. He lost in his first match in the next five tournaments to Baghdatis, Hurkacz, Ramos-Vinolas (on hard court!), Wawrinka and Ferrer. If you include four losses to end 2018, Pouille has actually gone a mediocre 10-10 in his last 20 matches.

Now, Tennis Abstract has already determined Pouille is the least consistent player on the ATP Tour. However, this level is absurd. The fact that Pouille needed to win a Challenger event this week rather than playing in one of the two European 250s to keep himself afloat in the rankings is comical. By my research, Pouille is the only Grand Slam semifinalist in the 2000s to have competed in a Challenger event within the next six months since Martin Verkerk made the French Open Final and then won a Challenger a month later in 2003.

The underlying stats are even worse for Pouille. His dominance ratio in his last 52 matches, the ratio of return points won compared to his opponent, is 0.94. Generally, to be a good tennis player, it helps to be above 1.00. This is tied for lowest on the tour with Frances Tiafoe. But at least Tiafoe has a Masters quarterfinal and some other wins. Pouille does not have those. Pouille's Tennis Abstract ELO rating of No. 53 is a full 25 spots lower than his actual ranking. No other player in the top 100 has a bigger dropoff.

So, Lucas Pouille is, statistically, the "worst good player" on the ATP Tour right now. Pouille has good groundstrokes and a decent serve, but he doesn't do anything with them. Again, this is nothing new. But Pouille's inconsistency does hint at a greater trend toward inconsistency from the game's best in 2019. Other than Nadal, Federer and Djokovic, who currently occupy the top three spots in the rankings, the rest of the men's tour has been wildly inconsistent.

Of course, this comes as welcome humor for WTA fans, who have watched men's tennis aficionados mock the WTA as a "random number generator". The truth is, the sport is always going to be very random compared to team sports like basketball or soccer, and the ATP is merely going back to the natural state of tennis. The stranglehold on the upper levels of the game held by the Big Three + Murray was long bolstered by guys like Roddick, Ferrer, Haas, Berdych, Tsonga, Youzhny etc.

It's hard to underestimate how consistently excellent those "mid-tier" guys were. Ferrer, for example, went 72-15 in 2012. He never ranked better than No. 5. Berdych never had a winning percentage under 68% between 2010-2015. If we use 68-69% as a benchmark for "elite", we find that the number of 68% winners in the last year has dropped from 11 in 2017 to 8 in the last 52 weeks. Del Potro and Anderson, definitively part of the old guard, are in that group. They have also been injured for much of 2019.

Thus, right now, a new "mid-tier" has not developed whatsoever in the ATP Tour, which means you have guys like Dusan Lajovic making Masters finals. This is a golden opportunity for three things. One, the younger guys who are winning at an elite level and healthy, e.g. Thiem, Medvedev, Nishikori and Medvedev, have a huge chance to win big titles. Next, this may well be the last year or so for Nadal, Djokovic and Federer to really pump up the Grand Slam and Masters numbers even more (however, this has not happened quite as much as you'd expect, which again speaks to how this really could be their last harvest). Lastly, guys in the Lajovic mould have an opportunity to cash in as much as possible. We've already seen Fabio Fognini win the biggest title of his career. Anyone who constantly hovers in the 15-40 range like Fognini should use this opportunity to seize as much cash and trophies as they possibly can. We're already seeing career journeymen like Lajovic, Guido Pella, Laslo Djere, and Pierre Hugues Herbert take advantage of this environment. Players like Jan-Lennard Struff, Pablo Cuevas, Fernando Verdasco, Steve Johnson, Martin Klizan and Marton Fuscovics should take note.

Which brings us back to Lucas Pouille. It's particularly hilarious that, in this era of weakened mid-tier opposition, Lucas Pouille has decided to play a Challenger event in France this week. Such is life.

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