The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill, Part 1
1-0 - Introduction Since the dawn of mankind, we’ve seen our fair share of wars, social movements, riots, and tyrants. But nothing has received quite the attention, quite the commotion, or quite the uproar as the idea of adding a new skill to OSRS. Despite the numerous times people have tried, their efforts have fallen flat, leaving Hunter as the long-standing bearer of the “most recent skill” title. Many, in their despair, have assumed that this champion will never be dethroned.
The goal of this discussion will be to perform a thorough analysis of the issues faced when conceptualizing a new skill. We’ll touch on the history of skill proposals, skill design philosophy, design process, presentation, the polling process, and offer some light suggestions to those who wish to have their own hand at skill design. While no skill will be offered here, we’ll cast a broad net to cover just about everything that it might look like, or perhaps what it must look like to meet the commonly perceived “modern standard.”
Warning: this is going to be a very lengthy 3-part series. Unless you plan on reading it all, I’d suggest looking at the Table of Contents for something that catches your eye. The other misfortune is that the length has caused the website to spit back all my work in disgust, and therefore I’ve had to split it into three parts which will all eventually be found together in their natural and purest form here. My apologies.
Table of Contents:
- Introduction (you are here)
- The History of Skills
- Skill Design Philosophy
- Complexity in Gameplay
- The Core versus the Expansion
- Complexity in Terminology
- Skill Categorization
- Slayer and Dungeoneering
- Rewards and Motivation
- Solo versus Group
- Skill Bloat
- Skill Endgame
- Alternate Goals
- The Combat No-Touch Rule
- Unconstructive Arguments
- The OSRS Team and the Design Process
- Designing a Skill
- Presentation and Beta Testing
- Development Effort
- The Problems of Democracy
2-0 - The History of Skills To begin this discussion, let’s review OSRS’s history with skills. What’s been tried in the past, and why didn’t it work?
Few things have been more compelling than the idea of a 24th skill in OSRS; the community, priority polls, weekly Q&A, and annual survey are constant reminders of the demand for a new skill (by the way, where are the 2020 annual survey results?). Even previous polls for introducing a skill have always come with a majority in favour, despite never reaching the 75% threshold for passing. Nothing can drive conversation quite like a skill announcement or blog. So, let us start right at the beginning.
2-1 – Artisan In late 2014, Jagex was feeling ready to shake up the old formula. The early days of OSRS were passing, and more and more players were in favour of change, a stark contrast to the first pioneers of the game. And of the many skills that players trained, the popularity vote clearly put Slayer on top. Slayer updates were hitting the mark left and right with players, and not without reason: it had variety, adventure, strong and satisfying rewards, trained multiple skills simultaneously, and promoted genocide. What more could players want? The answer was obvious: Slayer 2, but for skilling.
And so the idea of Artisan was born. Originally designed by a player in an old Player Designed Contest, it was elevated over the other player suggestions and taken up by Jagex as an official project to blog and poll. Interestingly, the other options were Astronomy, Forestry, Geomancy, and Herding, but unfortunately the original forum post that detailed them is now gone, and it appears that they were not recorded elsewhere. After three developer blogs, the final version of Artisan presented a familiar skill at its core: get an Artisan task that requires you to perform a specific Gathering skill for a specific goal. In contrast to Slayer, you could then choose your next task to be a Production contract that uses the resources you just gathered at an artisan’s workshop. While Artisan also included a points system like Slayer, rather than also acting as an exterior, abstract reward system, it simply allowed blocking, cancelling, or allowing certain tasks. Instead, each type of production task would result in a task-specific reward. These rewards were extraordinarily broad and all-reaching, from new gear to improved skilling equipment, consumables for skilling boosts, new runes, construction shortcuts, and more.
Altogether, Artisan was polled twice: once after the first developer blog where it failed at 58.9%, and once after the fourth and final blog where it failed at 56.5%. Players were generally in favour of Artisan, but a couple problems were raised that stuck with it till its death. First off, to many players, Artisan felt more like a mishmash of skills rather than something that had its own identity. Notably, the same players would leverage the same argument against Slayer, that neither felt like a proper skill. Others looked at the vast list of rewards, a list that intentionally touched nearly every aspect of the game, and felt that Artisan was trying to do too much at once without having a distinct theme or endgame in mind. Yet another group simply balked at general unoriginality and “boringness” of the skill. Despite Jagex’s multiple revisions, demand for the skill was nowhere near the required threshold.
However, Artisan did succeed in inspiring discussion across social media and getting players to dream of what a fabled 24th skill could be. But Jagex would hold their tongue for some time, and several ages of man would pass before the next skill was proposed.
2-2 – Sailing Dungeoneering: perhaps the most debated skill ever released in RS2. Both loved and hated by many, one couldn’t deny that it had high player engagement, great production value, and always felt fresh.
The previously mentioned “several ages of man” passed in just over a year, as Jagex was still hungry for something new. They had heard the players’ cries over the past year over the loss of a potential new skill, many of whom shouted in turn for Dungeoneering. So, in mid-2015, Jagex answered their call and announced Sailing, or Dungeoneering with an OSRS twist.
As a skill, Sailing was fairly intuitive, taking place in three steps. Step 1: You start by building a ship with Crafting, Construction, and Smithing. Step 2: You navigate a Sailing route or simply sell the ship and start again. Step 3: You take the ship exploring randomly generated maps, find loot, fight monsters, meet NPCs, explore dungeons, and so on. The Interior Rewards from levelling included upgrading your ship to be more capable on the seas, while the Exterior Rewards included access to new areas of the game (like Fossil Island or Atlantis), new resources, new combat gear, and more.
Being a Dungeoneering lookalike, many old wounds were viciously torn open, and many long-lost arguments started to burst from their graves. Again, it seemed we had the hateful minigame skill mashup on our hands rather than something that tried to stand on its own. And just like Dungeoneering, many players felt that the skill isolated itself from the rest of the world and kept trying to drag players away from the usual game-space that every other skill respected. Similarly, the rewards of the skill felt blurred and thematically incoherent. Some of these were new dragon weapons, new Hunter creatures, new gems for new jewellery, Augury and Rigour, and a lot of categories that clearly the developers weren’t sure how to fill (like advertising the actual term “new resources”). It felt like a developer had a bunch of cool ideas and threw them all in without caring if they made sense with the skill or each other. Finally, a number of shrewd players starting asking questions once they heard the OSRS Team promise that Sailing would be delivered by a team of 10 developers in 5 months, and didn’t expect that it would delay the progress of other already-announced content. If Dungeoneering took the full-fledged RS2 team around 2 years to make, what was the production value of Sailing going to be with such limited resources?
In the end, Sailing failed the poll at 68%. A marked improvement from Artisan and the highest of all OSRS’s proposed skills, but not sufficient to hit the legendary threshold.
2-3 – Warding Runefest 2018 was a real banger. The Kebos Lowlands are perhaps the first large piece of landmass released in OSRS that right from the start felt wholly natural, alive, and filled with content - an immense step forward from the first run at Zeah. Song of the Elves also truly lived up to the expectations of a Grandmaster quest, and Prifddinas and the surrounding areas turned out stunningly beautiful. The PVP All Stars Championship was pretty fun to watch as well. And the Bounty Hunter rework signalled revolutionary changes that are still alive and well today…
…But most importantly, Jagex announced a third attempt at a new skill after three years of silence: Warding, a production skill for Magic gear. It was a return to the roots of Runescape’s skills and fundamentally simple in its goals, but it also promised to be so much more. It relied on Hunter as a Gathering skill for materials, as well as offering a bit of gathering itself: you collected a substance called Vis from splashing with Magic or breaking down certain items. These items would include products from Smithing, Crafting, and Warding, as well as clue, Slayer, and boss drops. Combining Hunter materials and Vis, you created Mage gear, imbued items, and other niche rewards.
But the players weren’t all too eager to accept it. Yes, Warding felt very old school, but it was plagued by a number of problems. Many felt that what Warding offered was better covered by Crafting, Runecrafting, or Magic, just as magical gear was traditionally handled. Others felt bogged down and disoriented by the massive overhauls that Warding underwent between its first and final design – there was almost never a clear idea of what the skill looked like between all the design phases. Furthermore, so many concepts, as they were originally detailed, were so unnecessarily complex, badly thought out, or unclear in their intention and naming conventions that nobody seemed sure of how one actually trained the skill. Finally, the loudest argument was simple: players felt that Warding was boring and unoriginal, and therefore didn’t want to engage with it.
Warding went to the polls much later down the line in July 2019, failing at 66.1%. From there, the quest for a 24th skill has since remained untouched. These days, while the odd conversation will strike up about having another skill, the Jmods usually leave the topic at, “If there’s a good idea, we’re game to try.”
And that’s where we stand today.
3-0 - Skill Design Philosophy The ingredients that go into a skill can be near-incomprehensible. If you look at the current slew of skills that we’ve had for 13 years, trying to dig patterns out of them that can inform the design of a 24th skill is challenging. Most skills seem arbitrarily or mindlessly designed without a care for consistency or balance, but rather based on a sense of, “Hey, this isn’t a skill yet and looks cool.” Before you fall into the crushing realization that skill design philosophy may have never formally existed, let me help clear the fog: most skills were arbitrarily and mindlessly designed without a care for consistency or balance, but rather based on a sense of “Hey, this isn’t a skill yet and looks cool.”
Therefore, any critical thinkers are immediately put at a disadvantage, because the conclusions we draw concerning skill design philosophy are based on the whims of a few game developers who did whatever they wanted, however they wanted, whenever they wanted. With today’s climate, following suit doesn’t work so easily. This is the First Great Irony of trying to introduce new skills, and often enough any new piece of content: the creative freedom of the past allowed for extraordinarily bold and innovative ideas because there were no well-defined standards or a system by which players could have their say. Most of the time, if players didn’t like a new idea or skill, they simply rolled with the punches or adapted their view to enjoy or ignore it. That’s not to say that people didn’t leave in frustration, especially when the situation became an entire social movement (EOC, Wilderness Removal, etc). Conversely, modern day OSRS has a much different situation, where people have expectations and standards that a new skill must meet in order to even exist in game. So many of the “design rules” that we’re about to discuss that make for a “good” skill are heavily based on this popular “modern standard” of what defines a skill that leaves much less room for the interpretation or novelty that the RS2 developers had or what RS3 developers have today.
With that said, let’s fully engage in this First Great Irony and begin the futile task of defining a “good” skill with a modern perspective. This section is based both on the patterns set by previous skills as well as the popular (or what I have perceived as popular) public opinion of how a skill should be designed. While players often have arguments for why they like or dislike an idea, they often don’t have the words to describe it properly. They know that something “doesn’t feel right” or “feels old school,” or that something sounds “boring” or “minigame-like,” and while these may be genuine criticisms, they rarely explain why the problem pervades that particular idea. Part of the goal of this section will be to go in-depth as to why such criticisms are used and the underlying concerns of those presenting them.
3-1 - Complexity in Gameplay It’s simple: if you overcomplicate your skill, you’ve doomed your audience to misunderstand its purpose and mechanics. The early drafts of Warding fell very hard in this area; the entire process of gathering Vis, using channeling lamps, using wardstones, finding runestone monoliths, and the mix of Farming and Hunter for supplies was burdensome to understand. It didn’t help that the idea of Warding was relatively abstract and removed from reality to begin with, as most of us don’t engage in any form of magical crafting in real life. A new skill concept that is highly complex from the outset or too front-loaded in its learning curve will lack identity, scare players, and therefore stand out from the current skills like a sore thumb.
Of course, it is often argued the other way around too: if your skill is too simple, it will be perceived as too boring. Ironically, the later drafts of Warding were hit with this argument as well; people started feeling that Warding became far too basic. While most understood that yes, this simplicity was in line with a lot of other skills, they couldn’t get past just how plain Warding was when so many other, more exciting skill concepts had been floating around for years. As pointed out in the introduction to this section, there is a real separation between the old and the modern standard for what defines a skill, and this is exactly why a skill like Firemaking would never pass in today’s environment. But the final version of Warding was very intentionally designed in this manner to mimic other Production skills; it probably would’ve fit like a glove back in 2004.
So what gives? The modern standard has told you that a skill must be neither simple nor complex. The unfortunate part here is that there might be no skill concept that can please both parties, or at least please them both sufficiently to get the skill voted in. However, we can give it a try with the ideas of Core and Expansion.
3-2 - The Core versus the Expansion What ideas are central to the concept of a skill, and what acts as additional paraphernalia? The Core of a skill is fundamental to its identity – this is the defining trait or series of traits that divides the skill from all others. Smithing’s Core is smelting ores into bars and battering bars into gear, Magic’s is using runes to cast spells, and Thieving’s is taking permanent surprise loans. If you obfuscate your skill’s Core, it will fail to have a strong identity that separates it from other skills, and it might as well be covered by said skills or disregarded as overly complex. Trying to introduce the skill Survival and defining its Core as a laundry list of “gathering sticks, finding berries, discovering loot, avoiding bears, and reaching the town” feels excessive and far too broad, and you’ll quickly lose your audience. Note that a skill can very well have multiple activities that define the Core; Smithing involves both smelting and metalwork, but their coexistence does not degrade the identity and clarity of the skill.
In contrast, the Expansion is the complex part of a skill outside its Core, and it is here that the more interesting activities of a skill can be fleshed out. When people ask for an exciting skill, this is where you want to engage them. Few people are passionate about line Firemaking when Wintertodt exists, or rather than running the gnome agility course on repeat it’s much more exciting to tackle the Hallowed Sepulchre. Note that you cannot simply reverse the roles of Core and Expansion; Firemaking cannot be defined as a skill about Wintertodt, and Agility cannot be defined as a skill about Hallowed Sepulchre. Rather, the skill is permitted to create Expansions on the parameters set by its Core to new and enticing aspects of the game.
Note that even if the Core is underutilized compared to the Expansions (as in the example of Firemaking and Wintertodt), the definition of the skill is still based on the Core nonetheless. The two concepts of Core and Expansion must coexist with each other; the Expansion may dwarf the Core in engagement, but it doesn’t undermine the identity of the skill. You’ll even want to drop a few Expansions simultaneously with your Core at the skill’s release and not as separate updates, despite how the term “expansion” is usually used around video games. A player doesn’t necessarily need to participate in both the Core and the Expansion to level, but can rather choose to train by their preferred method. However, having both the minimalism of a Core and the fun of the Expansion is a must to please the competing parties of simplicity and complexity.
So when designing a new skill, it is essential that you include both Core and Expansion and clearly delineate the two, ensuring that, while remaining thematically connected, they minimize gameplay overlap. For example, in your new skill Science, the Core of the skill may be simple research and learning in a library, but the Expansions might be taking you out into the field, performing experiments with lightning, and designing equipment to go into your POH lab. Going back to the example of Survival - how about making a Foraging skill instead with a Core that focuses on simple Gathering, then include a survival-style Expansion that pits you against nature? Training a skill shouldn’t necessitate both Core and Expansion, but the Core sets the fundamentals, while the Expansion allows the skill to take new and interesting twists.
3-3 - Complexity in Terminology As a smaller tangent to general skill complexity, simple naming conventions are incredibly important for preventing your ideas from getting too abstract and mentally demanding. Using context-appropriate and intuitive terminology for the components of your skill is practically essential to maintaining your audience’s interest. It’s like any good book or movie – if you throw around a bunch of jargon in your opening chapter that only you and your most dedicated fans will understand, people will quickly get exhausted, bored, and misunderstand your ideas.
While later developer blogs helped to clean it up, Warding committed many sins of terminology, right from the naming of the skill itself. The classic definition of a “ward” is a hospital ward, caretaker, or a defensive spell. As terrible as it would’ve been, “Magic Crafting” was a better name for getting the point across. But this problem permeated the early versions of the skill - a blog released in April 2019 had an A-Z dictionary for Warding terminology, with terms like Abraxas, Channelling Lamp, Magnanery, Steatite, and Vis being thrown around. As much as the effort put into it was astounding, it’s exhausting to have to study a skill like an exam just to grasp the basics. Keep your terms simple and limit how much you need to operationally define them. Even with the Runescape definition of a “rune,” all you really need to know about it for Magic is that you use different runes to cast spells.
3-4 - Skill Categorization The OSRS wiki (Saradomin bless its contributors) divides the skill categories into four: Combat, Gathering, Artisan, and Support (Support being Agility, Thieving, and Slayer, for clarity). In this document, I will be referring to Artisan skills as “Production” skills, as the term better illustrates their function and avoids confusion with the failed Artisan skill.
However, these categories can be muddied, broken down further, and a skill can even cross multiple boundaries. A few examples: Prayer is a supportive Combat skill, Farming produces resources as a Gathering skill but simultaneously mimics Production skills by requiring resources (seeds) from other activities, and Magic frequently facilitates Gathering-Production relationships like a Support skill. The Core of your skill is the determinant of how it is categorized, but do not depend on its categorization to be perfectly smooth. Expansions, by definition, can further blur these categories so long as it narratively and mechanically makes sense.
3-5 - Integration The arguments started with Dungeoneering’s release in RS2. People couldn’t escape the feeling that this skill was different from the others, that it was made a skill not because it acted like one, but because Jagex wanted it to be one. Skills have always interacted with each other, whether it be a Gathering-Production relationship like Mining and Smithing or a Production-Combat relationship like Runecrafting and Magic. Alternate training methods, or Expansions, that extended beyond the Core of the skill were allowed to break these barriers, like in the minigame Shades of Morton which brought Combat, Firemaking, Crafting, and Prayer together. Dungeoneering, however, broke this unspoken rule, and consisted of depending on every other skill to further itself – consisting entirely of Expansions. It never felt like it had a solid Core, but rather felt like a bunch of skills strung together with the label of “skill” slapped on it without good reason.
Ideally, a skill’s Core functions near-independently from other skills. Yes, the ingredients required to practice a skill may be drawn from another skill, such as in a Gathering-Production relationship, but the moment-to-moment act of the skill’s Core should be separate from its partner. If your new skill Diving requires Hitpoints and Agility to practice it at all, then perhaps the Core of your skill should be rethought to express better individuality. Instead, allow an Expansion to take your skill through the twist of moment-to-moment skill crossovers.
And this leads us to Integration, one of the toughest parts of a skill to tackle. On one point, you want to preserve the old school feel of the game and avoid disturbing many of its foundational systems, but on the other hand a skill shouldn’t feel like it's thrown into a box and shoved into the corner where it can be permanently ignored. When people argue that a skill concept is a “minigame skill,” they are referring to the skill’s lack of Integration. Dungeoneering was a terrible offender here: it took place in one corner of the map and stayed in that corner of the map, while it should have made some tangible mark on every dungeon of the game. Hopefully, there’s a balance between the two extremes of preservation and integration that can be struck with your skill.
Integration has two main dimensions, the first being world-integration: how does your skill fit into the lore and landscape of Gielinor? Does your Divining skill make sense given how time works in Runescape? Does your Literary skill work across the game world, or is it only functional in the Varrock Palace Library? If your Social skill is introduced, is every quest and NPC going to be overhauled to include new dialogue that accounts for it?
The second dimension is gameplay integration: how does your new skill interact and respect current mechanics, most notably other skills? True standalone skills are hard to invent; most new skill concepts should synergize with current game mechanics and acknowledge the presence of other skills. If you’re trying to introduce the skill Ranching, instinct will tell you that it will likely connect to Farming in some manner, if only for food to feed your animals. Similarly, what older mechanics does your new skill have to grapple with in order to make sense? Which of these need to shift to make way for the mechanics introduced with your skill? For example, your new Performance skill will inevitably need to consider certain current emotes and decide whether to shift these to the new skill (even as a level 1 unlock) or whether the new skill needs to make way so that emotes can stay the same.
Trying to force awkward skill relationships, especially into well-established systems, can be unintuitive for new players and frustrating for old players. A skill package that comes with minor inconveniences for long-standing players can quickly be ignored, but don’t build a system that intentionally irritates them. Summoning did this in RS2; it threw charms, an untradeable resource, into combat drops, when they would have fit much better as resources from, say, a new Gathering skill called Druidism. Skills must have a distinct Core, need to acknowledge natural Expansions, but also can’t force themselves into unnatural relationships with current mechanics.
3-6 – Slayer and Dungeoneering It will seem odd to include an entire section with so narrow a focus as two specific skills, one of which doesn’t even exist in OSRS. However, these skills are extremely relevant for this conversation, because despite both being quite popular and constantly brought up in skill discussions, I have not and will not go easy on their design flaws. Perhaps that won't sit well with you. After all, many players would name both of them as their favourite skills, saying, "Shouldn't we be making more skills like them? Skills with variety, discovery, and thrill?" But here's the twist: you can have a near-exact version of task-based or minigame-style activities like Slayer and Dungeoneering without sacrificing the skill's identity and front-loading its complexity.
A skill should be defined primarily by its action and purpose, not by its specific mechanics. Woodcutting should be defined by cutting wood, not clicking trees. Farming should be defined by growing plants, not waiting 2 hours. The mechanics of a skill are important but malleable, while a skill's definition is not. While this is no set rule, it respects the consistency in design established by every other skill. Slayer and Dungeoneering don't acknowledge this; they invent mechanics and force a skill to be defined by them. But not all hope is lost, which is why this conversation was prefaced by the previous sections on Core, Expansion, and Integration. Using these ideas, we can make Slayer and Dungeoneering into acceptable modern skills.
To do this, one must take these examples and differentiate their Core from their Expansion. Take Slayer: the current Core of the skill is the task-based Slayer contracts. Tasks might be great fun, but they're convoluted for a skill's Core, and there's no better way to illustrate this than new players' confusion when approached with the skill. While Slayer is too ingrained to change now, how would one go about fixing this, or creating a new skill in the same vein?
At its heart, Slayer is a skill about specializing in killing unique monsters by exploiting their weaknesses or nullifying their strengths. This works fine, but the skill's Core of running around doing jobs for Slayer masters doesn't represent this concept well. The fix is easy: make all Slayer-specific monsters give Slayer XP off-task, killing Slayer’s complete reliance on tasks for training. Now you have a more defined Core that is actually about "killing unique monsters by exploiting their weaknesses and nullifying their strengths." And now new players won't be immediately confused when you try to describe how Slayer is trained, a good sign that the skill is being communicated well from its Core. Sure, you'll want to be careful about balancing the XP rates properly. If you want to preserve the significance of Slayer tasks, you could nerf every monster’s Slayer XP per kill, but give it back as a nice chunky XP reward if you were on a task and completed it (and therefore preserving the current average XP rates for full tasks). Slayer tasks can still exist as the best way to train the skill or the only way to get points for the Reward Shop, just firmly in the role of Expansion and no longer bogging down the Core.
Dungeoneering, as well as any minigame skill, can easily receive a similar treatment. Instead of Dungeoneering as sold in RS2, you could make Scholarship the new skill, whose Core focusses on uncovering ancient texts and manuscripts and transcribing them. Then, turn Dungeoneering into a Scholarship Expansion which takes the skill to the dangerous depths of Gielinor, requiring all your other skills and wits to uncover the deepest Scholarship secrets. This arrangement provides a skill with a Core that is based on its definition and not its mechanics, but still gives the opportunity for the classic Dungeoneering thrill.
To Be Continued And with that, we’ve finished Part 1 of 3 in this series. I apologize once again that the character limit is really stifling the narrative flow of this discussion, which is why I’ll again point anyone in the future to this google document here, which will be updated with each part as they release. While this part focussed on the history of skills in OSRS and the very basics of skill design, in Part 2 we’ll dive into Motivations, Progression, Bankstanding, and much more.
Thanks for reading.
Tl;dr: In this Part 1 of 3, we reviewed Artisan, Sailing, and Warding, as well as took our first steps to defining what a modern skill should look like based on the ideas of Complexity, Core, Expansion, and Integration.
Edit: Part 2
Final Edit: Part 3
submitted by ScreteMonge
2020 Paris Men's Singles Round One Writeup
Hola hola. Are you ready for me to eat it? I’m going to absolutely chomp it. At this point in the season even with a shortened restart, guys are sporting injuries we don’t know about. Guys have turned in great performances and dismal ones. Guys who’ve struggled all season are now the fresher players due to fewer matches and a live arm counts a lot in indoor tennis. Guys who’ve been on vacation and relaxing at the smaller events are stepping it up for a Masters 1000. There are a lot of question marks, and as I’d always recommend in a first round at a tennis event, don’t bet. You can easily watch the first round and know who’s in better form, and if you don’t feel this way, it’s just a matter of more time logged watching each individual player to be able to see where their game is at that week. Anyway, the good news is Paris is going to be a great event.
Krajinovic Lopez : Great match to start things off, as both these guys do their best work indoors. Krajinovic’s practice with Djokovic has really helped his confidence and aggression, and since Paris was where he had his first big run on tour, he should be set to do well here. That is, of course, until he plays the 1st seed as he does in the second round of every big tournament he enters. Lopez has notched one win in his last five matches, and while it was against Tommy Paul, Paul has proven that he’s at the stage in his career where he’s really only comfortable competing when he’s an underdog or a huge favorite, and coming off clay had his timing a bit off for his match with Lopez. Kraj can struggle out of nowhere, but should be too good on defense and too much of a workload for Lopez to overcome. Krajinovic in two.
Thompson Delbonis : Jordan Thompson seems like he’s playing tennis with a butterfly net sometimes. There’s just a fluttery nature to his shots at times that really makes him look bad, and it seems like he knows it as well as he throws his net at the ground often. Delbonis is a beautiful butterfly to be caught, and while his main focus is throwing the ball so high before his serve that one day it does not come down, he’s fought through some hard matches this week and been gifted an injury requirement by local German upstart Yannick Hanfmann. This is a must-win for Thompson, but Delbonis has the sort of power that Thompson’s flippy strokes will struggle against. The good thing about Thompson is if he’s struggling with form he does resort to pure pushing and will make this match very ugly. The faster courts of Paris are decent for his game since he lacks power and faster courts are somewhat of an equalizer. He’ll have the smaller weapons here though and in a middling season this will be a close affair. Likely Thompson in 3.
Coric Fucsovics : A battle to see who can be more expressionless during a match? These two definitely give each other haircuts, and while I’d like to have seen Fucsovics land somewhere else in the draw, this will be a high-level clash. Coric has been serving great and is racking up a ton of points this indoor swing, and having come off a close contest with Djokovic he’ll have no nerves in this one. Fucsovics will be happy to play someone with smaller weapons than Pospisil, but the ease on defense will be at the cost of winning rallies by just hanging in them. Pospisil acts as if running twice across the court is some huge labor, and in general his baseline game isn’t so bad until errors start to creep into his forehand. If this is fatigue, he needs to work on his fitness. Coric doesn’t though, and while errors can creep into both wings, he’ll have ample chances in this match to work himself into form if he loses it momentarily. This will likely come down to who serves better on the day as they are both more than capable of breaking even in the baseline exchanges. Someone whose hero was Dolph Lundgren in 3.
Carreño Busta Gaston : PCB played 5 games of tennis in round 2 in Vienna, imploding after missing some break points for 4-1 against Kevin Anderson. Anderson’s serving make him a threat if he can get deep in matches, and when his flailing starts to hit random winners it seems like he rolls against players who you’d think would have the perfect game to beat him by exposing his lack of movement. There didn’t seem to be any major physical issues for PCB, so while indoor tennis isn’t his wheelhouse he should be good to go here.
Gaston was the hero at Roland Garros, but it hasn’t translated to hardcourt success. He lacks a bit of power, and his serving is passable but doesn’t net him cheap points. This has him at a disadvantage against most players, and since the dropshot on hardcourt isn’t the best tactic to employ frequently when your shots lack power, he will have a difficult time here scoring on PCB. Home crowd is a bit negated when there are no fans in the stands, and while PCB has turned in some terrible performances in first rounds, he should get by in straights here. PCB in 2.
Basilashvili Struff : Basilashvili can’t score a win, and that is likely to continue here. Struff played an inspired first set against Tsitsipas, and since Basilashvili goes with power as his main strategy Struff will have ample chances to get his forehand involved in rallies. At this point Basilashvili is a threat to upend the betting community since he’s become the Jack Sock of Bernard Tomicing, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Struff in 2.
Cecchinato Gombos : Cecchinato looked very good in the qualifiers, defeating Coria who will basically beat anyone who runs out of offense. Coria puts the ball back in play in difficult spots yet Cecchinato had the answer every time and the pace of the court and Cecchinato’s forehand really complimented each other well. Gombos was similarly impressive against Albot winning a hard-fought three set victory to maintain his perfect record against the plucky supermodel who was, fun fact, the inspiration for the Zoolander movies. Gombos has won a lot of matches this year that he hasn’t in the past, and even has notched some wins that he certainly wasn’t supposed to. Their only previous meeting came on clay and Gombos was competitive in a third set there. While Cecchinato’s play has been great so far, he’s played defensive tests, and Gombos is a complete offensive talent with some good athletic ability. Early in an event, I like his chances of making this close, and I think the first set winner likely finishes the job. Gombos in 2.
Kecmanovic Millman : Kecmanovic is a puzzle but following the breakout seasons for a young player there are often some middling campaigns. For a player who earns so many of their points from the baseline, it can be tough to really maintain dominance, and the tour is ripe with coaches desparate to prove their value so scouting reports on these players definitely get made and passed around. Millman not surprisingly did not withdraw as is the style after a title win, and given his physical fitness he’s likely to be in decent shape here. Similar ground games but differing results in 2020 are on display here, and after beating Mannarino who was incredibly sharp the whole week in Nur-Sultan, Millman is likely to continue his run here. Millman in 2.
Nishioka Andujar : As a cross between Ash Ketchum and the kid who always cheers for Godzilla in the old school movies, Nishioka is the perfect hero. His playstyle is unique and his fight is undeniable. Lately though, his luck has started to become a major question for him. Some wild matches where he got injured when about to pull a big upset plagued his early times on tour, and he’s really lost some difficult and peculiar decisions lately. I wouldn’t worry about this, but “staring pleadingly at the sky” has become a habit for him after netcords don’t go his way, after shanks fall in unexpectedly, after guys hit miraculous passes. “Belief is big in sports” is something people parrot often, and while thought is ultimately just noise, when the “ur gonna lose a close one” “ur unlucky” thought pops up and ur willing to entertain or fight it, you can struggle. For this reason, I’m not exactly sold that Nishioka will rise above where he sits on tour right now, especially given how many matches are decided by a point or two at a crucial time.
Andujar, as we all know, is a man who can summon jaguars, become a dragon, send smoke signals into space, drink ayahuasca and still play checkers passably well, and can go an entire season without winning on hardcourt. His close contest with Dimitrov recently doesn’t look as “meh” when you consider how well Dimitrov has performed, and I’m tempted to say that he has a chance in this if he’s committed. His forehand is the biggest weapon on court, and while Nishioka can be perfect at times, as I said earlier he struggles with belief. If this is close at the end of the first set, Andujar has a shot. Still, I side with Nishioka as Andujar has always struggled on faster courts. Nishioka in 2 close sets.
Mannarino Lajovic : I guess everyone’s looking for some extra bucks at the end of the season, because Mannarino did look pretty fatigued in the second set against Millman. They’ll push this match to the second day, so Mannarino will get two days to recover. The recover for pro tennis players is one of the most guarded secrets on tour, and all these guys post on social media is “READY TO PLAY IN PARIS!” with a picture of them holding a tennis racquet so we know what tennis is. Luckily for him, Lajovic has been pretty error prone lately. His performance last week was regrettable, as he shanked a ton of forehands against Sonego in a match where Sonego was not yet playing the kinda of tennis he played against Djokovic and Evans. Mannarino is adept at minimizing errors, but coming off the slower courts at Nur-Sultan, having just played the maximum amount of tennis matches you can play in a week, and Lajovic having had success against him on hardcourt in the past means I think this will be closer than the -230 pricetag I see attached to Mannarino. It’s a good thing to remember that lines are not predictions, but estimations of the investment of money. Since Mannarino just made a finals and is playing well, books expect the majority of money to be on him. Lajovic will need to clean up his forehand in this one, but Millman has just shown that a consistent baseliner with a heavy forehand can taken Mannarino out of his game. I expect some fatigue from Mannarino. Lajovic in 3.
Wawrinka Evans : Stan Wawrinka is the sort of tennis player who knows their career is set, and who doesn’t really adjust in order to win extra matches. If he’s losing or off the court, he’s perfectly willing to go for the perfect shot. If he’s struggling to serve, he serves just as aggressively. The in-game adjustments are really just for majors at this point, and because of that a first rounder with Evans is a question mark. Wawrinka really is a bigger stronger version of Evans, but he’s also a way more careless version. Evans is always in this spot on tour; guys who are slightly better and more known but less likely to do the work to beat him.
Evans is coming off a solid run in Vienna and Wawrinka is coming off a lackluster defeat at the hands of Garin, who’s a nice guy but has less than 10 wins on indoor hardcourt. Wawrinka has won their last 4 meetings, but they’ve all been pretty close. He’ll need something extra here, and rather than pretend I can say what his effort level will be, I’ll say that I hope he wins, because Wawrinka playing his best is great for the tournament. Likely though, Evans gets his first win against Stan. Evans in 3.
Paul Simon : Gilles Simon has at times looked like a distant constellation that’s dying in the corner of the sky, but these are the days of miracle and wonder and his place on tour has once again been solidified with some extremely random quality results at an indoor event. He’s really shown that he knows what he knows, and the consistency and defense he’s shown from the baseline make it seem like he has diamonds on the soles of his shoes. I had written him off in a similar fashion to many other aging defensive wizards, but who am I to blow against the wind, Gilles Simon is back!
Tommy Paul has some of the most spectacular athletic plays on tour, but even believing you have supernatural powers you can slam into a brick wall. Is that his problem? Is that his fault? I don’t think so, and playing Simon at home is a perfect test of Paul’s lightning offense. Mental fortitude will be a key in this match for Paul, since a player like Simon is likely to be serving at duece often but won’t just give you errors based off pressure. Against Shapovalov Simon was often down 15-40 but held serve many times. You know, break points come and break points go, what’s Paul gonna do about it that’s what I’d like to know. The problem for young talents is that when they feel they’re not getting anywhere with their offense, it can feel like their chances are slip slding away. I’m not sure that Paul has enough here to win, but on fast courts and with his easily repeatable offense he can certainly make it close. Simon in 3.
Hurkaz Albot : HURKBOT! If you’re not excited about robots, idk man maybe consider it, the robots are definitely hyped about you. Hurkacz is doing what I think more mid-level tour talents should. He’s been concentrating on playing big offense and not adjusting regardless of the results. He has the game to grind through the challenger tour if things go bad, and the consistent baseline game is great but if you want to win titles you need to go big or be one of the fastest players on tour. Unfortunately, the tour is full of grinders and in the interim, Hubert has lost a lot of winnable matches. This is another such winnable match, and the specific type of opponent who is happy to accept a win on the back of some good work and smart decisions.
Albot has struggled a bit but he will always be my favorite robot. His solid moves to net are always good for an extra few points in indoor tennis, but the pace of the courts here mean he will have a tough time returning against Hurkacz. This is really on Hurkacz racquet, and while I do expect him to lapse and throw in some poor games, I think he will have an edge in a third set. Hurkacz in 3.
Gasquet Fritz : Ya’ll ready to get Frizquet? Wow that was bad. But hold on, because it gets worse. Gasquet hasn’t been great in the restart, but he’s turned things up a bit in the last few weeks, giving Medvedev a difficult time and almost turning the tide of his struggles against De Minaur. Playing at home, against Fritz who has struggled to win sets on tour, gives him a real good shot at this match. I am naturally biased against Fritz, but only because I am able to notice that he does not win at tennis. Winning at tennis is at least 10% of what is important on the ATP, and while I promise to overcome my bias, for now I will stick with it. Great serving and a big forehand are where it’s at for Fritz, and he has a shot against everyone out of the top 30, but it remains one of those “prove it” situations for me. Gasquet in 3.
Bonzi Coria : Good to be from France, and good to lose in the final round of qualifying at a tournament during a pandemic. The lucky loser spots are flying in Paris, and this is a good spot for Coria to add some major hardcourt points he likely will not get once the pandemic is cleared up next year (ty scientists for doing your experiments or whatever you do). Bonzi has had a good season for a new face on tour, but this is a unique defensive test. He has strung together a lot of wins on the challenger tour on hardcourt, so he is capable of pulling this off, but I generally tend to side with the old defense against the new offense. Coria in 3, but it’d be a great win for Bonzi and if he remains consistent it could happen.
Fokina Khachanov : Tough draw for Fokina, who withstood a wild second set from Caruso to qualify. Fokina has been one of the most consistent performers in the restart which is pretty impressive considering he was slated to mainly be a claycourt talent. The athleticism and well-rounded game though has made him an immediate threat to everyone on tour, and there’s no disbelief or nerves when he competes. Again, I’d point to grinding it out on the challenger tour (especially clay) as a real great method for a young talent to arrive on tour ready for the task at hand. Khachanov hasn’t had the worst season, but the losses and struggles have seemed to really wear on him, as was evident in his blowup against the umpire in Antwerp. He’ll need to get over that quickly, as ADF is an extremely frustrating opponent and has similar talents from the baseline as Khachanov. I’ll take the qualifier over the struggler, as losing to Evans isn’t a bad result but certainly means he’ll have a similar long day with Fokina. Fokina in 3.
De Minaur Travaglia : De Minaur has a good chance for a run here with mostly offensive talents in his first two rounds. He should be able to expose Travaglia’s movement, and while Travaglia’s one-two punch behind his serve can hit through anyone at times, De Minaur’s extra effort is likely to negate this at some point, especially with Travaglia having played a few extra matches. A tight one with Pedro Sousa isn’t the indication that he’s ready to snag De Minaur. ADM in 2.
Sonego Bublik : Lorenzo Sonego you beautiful devil. Not exactly the way I thought I’d cover under 22 games in the Novak match, but way more entertaining to watch. Novak seemed to play as if the match would just come to him if he kept his level, and I expected Sonego to falter at some point as well. He never did, and it was the kind of performance from start to finish that really makes his career look promising, where early on it seemed like he would really just be a threat on clay. Backing it up with a win over Evans and a solid threat to Rublev in the finals is really good stuff, and so the tight line here makes me doubt myself.
Bublik didn’t really do much in Nur Sultan, and oddly his year has been mainly a clay heavy success story. Sonego sits at only a small favorite here though, and makes me think we’re likely to see a withdrawal or a quick exit for Sonego here. Fatigue can vary but he put his heart into every match in Vienna and Bublik is likely to be fresh and have the liver arm in a match that features two big servers. I generally hate backing someone out of nowhere, so for wagering purposes I’d just stay far away from this one. The idea that you’d be getting Sonego at such a cheap price doesn’t make sense given what we saw last week, so there’s either fatigue here. Bublik in 2.
Djere Anderson : Laslo! After not really winning any matches for quite some time, Djere got through qualifying this week the classiest way possible, by not qualifying and getting a lucky loser spot. Everyone gets one! I feel like these two play often, and I always think Djere’s hitting will make it an equal affair, but here on indoor courts Anderson is likely to serve his way to victory. A withdrawal against Rublev is concerning for Anderson, but given his injury issues I’d expect him to withdraw if it was a major problem. Anderson in 2.
Ramos Giron : Good spot in the draw for Giron, as ARV is beatable indoors and Giron’s offense is firing well the last few events. With Berretini waiting and not really having looked great late in this season nor having entered many tournaments, this could be a good spot for the American who spent most of his past few seasons on the American challenger tour, which is not quite as good but still a good place to get matches in. ARV can make this a long match, but barring an implosion Giron should be able to serve his way through this. Giron in two competitive sets.
Herbert Sandgren : Herbert Sandgren sounds like a golfer. There’s nothing golfy about these two though. Pierre is as French as you can be, and Sandgren is named after the sport he plays which is something you don’t see enough of. If you really wanna give your kid direction, just name em astronaut or fishing or gombos. I think I’m losing focus. Sandgren and Herbert are likely to hold serve at a good clip here, so the edge I think will be Herbert playing at home and having a bit more varied ways to score points than Sandgren. Herbert in 3.
Bedene Raonic : It feels like these guys play every week, and I always want Bedene to win but he never does. A withdrawal with a thigh issue against Evans last week is likely to flare up against if this goes deep, so I think Bedene may just be picking up a check here. Raonic in 2.
Auger-Alliassime Cilic : This is juicy. FAA has been inconsistent but has been winning some real high quality contest this winter. Cilic has been struggling with his mental game for a while now and this is a spot where there will be some perceived pressure on him to stave off the challenge from the young competitor. He certainly can, and once Cilic stops making errors he suddenly seems like a threat to win the tournament, but I’m tired of writing that. He just isn’t the same guy, and there doesn’t seem to be a major motivator to bring him back to his best game. FAA in 2.
Caruso Moutet : This one eludes me. Caruso barely got by Polmans but then looked like he’d run away with the match against Fokina. It’s tough to gauge where he’ll show up in this one, but he’s a slight favorite for me because Moutet hasn’t won any matches. Playing at home and with a very explosive style, Moutet is a threat to capitalize on some fatigue that Caruso showed in the third set against Fokina, but it would be his first win in the last 3 events. It’s likely that Caruso fades late in this one, but I think Moutet needs to find his offense quickly as just defending isn’t enough with Caruso’s Chardy-like competent offense. Someone in three.
Humbert Ruud : Humbert seems legit. The times in the past where he’d struggle after big wins have kinda disappeared, and that’s what makes this even more dangerous for him. Playing at home, after finally getting those troubles behind him, and coming off his first title win. I am guessing of course, but it seems like the kind of spot where there could be a bit of a letdown. Ruud has struggled on hardcourt since his USO run so it’s hard to say he’s the right player to beat Humbert, but he does have a good deal of power and tends to play a very solid first set of tennis in all his matches. Still, even as I try to tell a story about how Humbert will lose, I can picture him playing himself into form in this match, and his backhand in Antwerp was better than I’ve ever seen it. Humbert in 3.
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