In my Davis Cup preview, I had David Nalbandian flying into Moscow with his James Bond gizmo jet pack doing his best to steal a Davis Cup for Argentina. I predicted that Nalbandian was unlikely to get much help from his teammates but I left out an important piece of information – a particularly bad omission considering that I’m the resident fantasy tennis stats geek: Juan-Ignacio Chela had a 5-0 record over Russian Nikolay Davydenko with two of those wins on hard court.
As of today, that record is 5-1. Davydenko beat Chela 6-1, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4, in the first match of the Davis Cup final to put Russia up 1-0. When I saw that result and realized that I hadn’t bothered to look up their head-to-head record I thought to myself, hmmm, 5-0, that’s a nice record but none of those wins were on carpet, were they now? I decided, after the fact, that I still would have picked Davydenko to win the match.
I think the phenomenon may be related to “Monday morning quarterbacking”. The Free Dictionary defines a Monday morning quarterback as “One who criticizes or passes judgment from a position of hindsight.” After the 9/11 disaster, citizens in the U.S. understandably wanted to believe that if they went back in time and looked at the intelligence the government had before 9/11, they could have predicted the actions that led to airplanes flying into buildings and so the government should have known what was going to happen.
New Yorker magazine addressed this issue shortly after 9/11 and cited an interesting study. If you ask a person to predict the result of an event before it happens then ask again after the event has occurred, people will change their prediction to make it closer to the actual result. If you had asked me whether I thought comedian Michael Richards would follow in Mel Gibson’s footsteps and explode in a racist tirade I would have said, “Wait a minute, that’s the guy who played Kramer on Seinfeld, right? He’s not that dumb, how could anyone be that dumb?” If you showed me the youtube video of his outburst, I might have said something like, “You know, I thought there was something funny about him. Looked to me like he had a lot of anger issues underneath all that goofiness.”
In actuality, predicting terrorist acts is more like finding a needle in a haystack but hindsight narrowed down the possibilities to the point where the outcome was obvious. Maybe I would have chosen Davydenko anyway, who knows, but Clive White, journalist for The Sunday Telegraph, had a more realistic position on the matter. When he was asked to predict the outcome of the Davydenko/Chela match he said:
You’ve got a guy ranked number thirty-three in the world against number three. It should be a formality for the higher ranked player, Davydenko, and yet he’s lost all five matches against Chela. It’s impossible to call.
Same thing for the second match today. David Nalbandian had a 2-6 record against Marat Safin and yet he beat Safin rather easily, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. The only thing we could have safely predicted is the quality of David Nalbandian’s singing voice: pretty bad. Click on the video above and find out for yourself.
See also: 2006 Davis Cup: From Russia With Love