Social Sentiment Analysis: David Ferrer v Juan Martin Del Potro. Brought to you by Wimbledon Insights

We hoped for some drama, but nothing prepared tennis fans for the thrills and spills of the match between the No.4 seed, David Ferrer, and the No.8 seed, Juan Martin Del Potro. Del Potro not only came back from what looked like a match-ending injury, but went on to win the match in a heroic performance.

IBM’s social sentiment analytics track how players are being perceived on Twitter throughout the match, watching not just the number of their tweets but their content, using sophisticated tools to decide what percentage is positive or negative. Ferrer began the match with a positive sentiment score of 83%, with Del Potro trailing at 79%. Then disaster struck. Del Potro fell badly in the very first game, aggravating an existing knee injury.

For a moment, it looked like the Argentinian would be unable to continue. “Can’t believe Del Potro has fallen in the first game. This was destined to be a five set thriller with him and Ferrer” tweeted @MattGriffen. Then Del Potro got up and continued the match. “Gotta feel for Del Potro. Brave man to carry on” posted @DanITFC. As Del Potro played on despite obvious pain, the tweets poured in, with over 1500 in a ten minute period. “Del Potro is a Legend, playing the match with an injured knee. Respect to him” said @MitchelJason95. “Unbelievable effort from Del Potro on Centre Court. I’d adore it if he managed to pull through” tweeted @haris_haseeb.

In fact, as the first set continued, Del Potro looked like he could not merely carry on, but actually take the set. “Del Potro is unbelievable. The guy is basically on one leg and is bossing this match!” tweeted @NotFredRhodes. As Del Potro claimed the first set, over 1600 tweets poured in during ten minutes, with 1500 also mentioning Ferrer. “People ask why I like Del Potro so much. I think from today’s performance, we can see why” posted @scott_grimes12.

The excitement continued in the second set, as Del Potro maintained his 79% social sentiment score, while Ferrer’s slipped slightly to 82%. “Dell Potro breaks! Serving for the second! He might actually do this!” tweeted @willdavenport1. “This is the best performance out of anyone in the men’s singles so far this Wimbledon. Brilliant from Del Potro” posted @aidan_duguid95. As Del Potro closed the second set 6-4, over 2000 tweets were posted in ten minutes.

Ferrer fought hard to stay in the third set, taking it to a tie-breaker, but Del Potro finished the set on top to end the match 6-2, 6-4, 7-6. Twitter didn’t reach the same level of fever-pitch as in the first two sets, but the praise kept flooding in. “Okay, fair play, Del Potro. That was incredible” posted @plkunnussijaa. “Del Potro through to the semis. Straight sets win against Ferrer, carrying an injury early on. Wonderful to watch” added @Rketts21.

Del Potro goes on to play Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals on Friday. For a detailed match report visit www.wimbledon.com.

Stuart Andrews

 

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The triumph of Misbah-ul-Haq, the quiet grafter

How Misbah redeemed Pakistani cricket.

It was an incongruous sight: the entire Pakistani cricket team doing press-ups on the revered pitch at Lord’s, led by its captain, Misbah-ul-Haq. This unusual celebration marked not merely a Test match victory over England on Sunday but something greater: the rehabilitation of Pakistani cricket.

Seven years earlier, the Sri Lankan team bus was en route to the cricket stadium in Lahore for the third day of a Test match against Pakistan when it was attacked by Islamist militants. Gunfire killed six police officers and a driver; several Sri Lankan cricketers were also injured. That was the last Test match played in Pakistan, which, despite protestations, opponents consider too dangerous to visit.

A year later, Pakistan toured England for a Test series. The News of the World alleged that in the final match at Lord’s three Pakistani cricketers had conspired to bowl no-balls in exchange for money. All three received bans of five years or more for corruption. The entire squad was lampooned; police had to shield its members from abuse as they arrived home.

Misbah was on the periphery of all of this. Aged 36 at the time, he was dropped from the squad before the English tour and seemed unlikely to play international cricket again. But the turbulence engulfing Pakistani cricket forced the selectors to reassess. Not only was Misbah recalled but he was made captain. “You have to ask yourself,” he later said: “‘Have I been the captain because they supported me, or because they had no alternatives?’”

Pakistani cricket prizes and mythologises teenage talent plucked from obscurity and brought into the international side. During his decade as captain, Imran Khan picked 11 teenagers to make their debuts, often simply on the basis of being wowed by their performance in the nets. Misbah shows that another way is possible. He grew up in Mianwali, a city that was so remote that: “The culture there wasn’t such that you thought about playing for Pakistan.”

At the behest of his parents, he devoted his early twenties not to his promising batting but to gaining an MBA. Only at 24 did he make his first-class debut, strikingly late in an age when professional sportsmen are expected to dedicate all their energy to the game from their teenage years.

Pakistani cricket has always been “a little blip of chaos to the straight lines of order”, Osman Samiuddin writes in The Unquiet Ones. Misbah has created order out of chaos. He is unflappable and methodical, both as a captain and as a batsman. His mood seems impervious to results. More than anything, he is resilient.

He has led Pakistan to 21 Test victories – seven more than any other captain. He has done this with a bowling attack ravaged by the 2010 corruption scandal and without playing a single match at home. Because of security concerns, Pakistan now play in the United Arab Emirates, sometimes in front of fewer than a hundred supporters.

Misbah has developed a team that marries professionalism with the self-expression and flair for which his country’s cricket is renowned. And he has scored runs – lots of them. Over his 43 Tests as captain, he has averaged at 56.68. Few have been so empowered by responsibility, or as selfless. He often fields at short leg, the most dangerous position in the game and one usually reserved for the team’s junior player.

Misbah has retained his capacity to surprise. As a batsman, he has a reputation for stoic defence. Yet, in November 2014 he reached a century against Australia in just 56 balls, equalling the previous record for the fastest ever Test innings, held by Viv Richards. The tuk-tuk had become a Ferrari.

Late in 2015, Misbah tried to retire. He was 41 and had helped to keep Pakistani cricket alive during some of its darkest days. But the selectors pressured him to stay on, arguing that the team would need him during its arduous tours to England and Australia.

They were right. His crowning glory was still to come. The team arrived in England following weeks of training with the national army in Abbottabad. “The army people are not getting much salaries, but for this flag and for the Pakistani nation, they want to sacrifice their lives,” Misbah said. “That’s a big motivation for all of us. Everyone is really putting effort in for that flag and the nation.”

Now 42, almost a decade older than any cricketer in England’s side, Misbah fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition by playing in a Test match at Lord’s. In Pakistan’s first innings, he scored a century and celebrated with push-ups on the outfield, in homage to the army’s fitness regime and those who had had the temerity to mock his age.

When Pakistan secured victory a little after 6pm on the fourth evening of the game, the entire team imitated the captain’s push-ups, then saluted the national flag. The applause for them reverberated far beyond St John’s Wood.

“It’s been a remarkable turnaround after the 2010 incident,” Misbah-ul-Haq said, ever undemonstrative.

He would never say as much, but he has done more than anyone else to lead Pakistan back to glory. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt