How should the rankings be “unlocked”? The ATP is working on 17 different hypotheses! - UBITENNIS
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How should the rankings be “unlocked”? The ATP is working on 17 different hypotheses!

A reader asked me an interesting question, one whose answer deserved a full article. Nadal has his own proposal, but who is being favoured by the current situation, now that the US Open will be played with no qualifying rounds?

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Lorenzo Sonego, Fabio Fognini e Simone Bolelli - Italia-Corea del Sud, Coppa Davis 2020 (foto Felice Calabrò)

This is what Roberto, a reader from Siracusa, in Sicily, asked me a few days ago:

 

“The rankings have been frozen since March 16, so how are they going to be computed for the rest of the season? What would be the most fear solution, or rather what would be the least unfair one?”

A little caveat before I answer the question: I will mainly use Italian players as references for my reasoning, but everything I’ll write holds true for everyone else too. So, this is a very relevant theme in the current tennis landscape, and a huge source of debates. I’m told that the ATP has hired a team of mathematicians and stats people to handle the situation in a fair way, and it appears that the think tank has come up with up to 17 different solutions, a pair of which is currently favoured, albeit not discussed publicly yet.

Let me be clear: according to the ATP, the rankings will be frozen until play is resumed, at which time a decision will be communicated to the public, and it’s highly unlikely that I could come up with a better solution than whichever one this brainy team will settle on.

Let’s start, anyway, by talking about the aforementioned prevalent hypotheses, whilst keeping in mind that any chosen solution (I personally prefer the second one) will damage some players more than others.

This is what happens whenever a “horizontal” decision, with hard criteria, is made – if a company decides to sack all employees over 50 years old, whoever is 50-and-a-month old is unlucky, and whoever is 49-and-11-months old is kissed by fate.

So, what happens if the US Open resorts to cancelling the qualifying event and to setting the bar at the 120th spot in the rankings? That the players whose ranking is between 104 and 120 can count their blessings (with some leeway to 130 in the event of numerous defections) in avoiding three preliminary bouts while netting a lump $50,000 cheque with a decent likelihood of doubling down with a first-round win – among these, French Open semifinalist Marco Cecchinato is 113th, while his fellow countryman Federico Gaio is 130th, same nation, different destinies.

Those with a ranking lower than 130, on the other hand, will instead be left fuming over the missed chance to qualify for the wealthiest tournament in tennis, resigning themselves to the $15,000 each that the USTA is devolving to the ATP – among these, Fabbiano is 147th, Giustino is 153rd, Marcora is 158th, and  Giannessi is 160th. These players will have to take the money and be satisfied. There’s worst things going on in the world, obviously, but it must be hard to have to watch on TV a tournament that they might have been playing in normal conditions, coupled with the frustration of not being able to earn more money and maybe to pull off an upset or two in a Major, a PR stunt that could generate more main draw appearances and sponsorships.

Moreover, there might be some ground for complaints for the allocation of the smaller fees as well. Speaking of the Italians, Viola is 222nd and Moroni is 236th, so they won’t get the $15,000 either, and they might have some good reasons to cry out. At the moment, it’s actually not clear where the cut-off line will be draw, whether at 64 spots from the 120th or at 64 starting from the ranking of the last player to enter the main draw – let’s say that the World N.131 gets in, will the cut-off still be at 184 or will it move down to 195?

It should also be added that at least three players (Andy Murray, 129th, Juan Martin Del Potro, 128th, and Kevin Anderson, 123rd) will be able to use their Protected Ranking to play at Flushing Meadows, and that would lower the cut-off bar, potentially to 117, and that might bust the chances of some others hanging around the 130th position, such as the aforementioned Gaio.

HYPOTHESIS A

As soon as a tournament takes place, the points scored the year before immediately expire. For instance, Nadal would lose his 2,000 points from the 2019 French Open as soon as the 2020 edition will be over, in October, even if it didn’t take place exactly a year after the previous one. What happens, though, to the points a player scored in 2019 in Chengdu, if Chengdu doesn’t happen in 2020? And, furthermore, would it be fair if the points from a 2020 event like Rio or Dubai were to expire before, say, the points scored in Monte Carlo in 2019? Certainly not.

Let’s put aside the fact that someone like Mager (N.79 in the ATP Rankings) would be aptly enflamed for such an injustice (and with him Garin, N.18, and Rublev, N.14), while others like Fognini (N.11) and Sonego (N.46) would benefit from their status staying frozen till April and June, respectively (Fognini won Monte Carlo while Sonego clinched his maiden title in Antalya, a tournament that will be supplanted by Mallorca by the way). These examples are actually extremisations of the issue but provide us with an explanation of the unfairness of such an arrangement – please refrain from commenting on potential biases on my part.

HYPOTHESIS B 

The current points get frozen entirely, then divided by 52 weeks, and progressively scaled out. Sticking with Mager, who has 771 points, as our reference, he would lose 13.6 points per week, although it’s unclear for how long this system would be enforced – perhaps six months, the length of the tour’s hiatus. However, it must be noted that, while 771 would have been enough for him to play the Australian Open even after losing in the first round of every other event, now it would be a lot more difficult to cling to his Rio stash. In a previous article I wrote that everyone should be entitled to defend his score over the course of a full year, meaning that everyone should be entitled to enter every main draw that one’s previous achievements push him into, protecting one’s own earnings at the same time, whereas right now someone like Mager (or many others) could rely on their points about six months, like someone like Fognini could live off his 2019 Monte Carlo run for the rest of 2020 and all the way to April 2021 – ergo, some players would be able to rely on their points for 16 months, while others for a meagre five.

Finally, Rafa Nadal has been proposing his idea for a while, e.g. that a player’s tally should last for two years. It’s an idea that has always been frowned upon because it would prevent the natural ranking turn-over, favouring those at the top by widening the gap with the rest of the competition. If we think about it, the current cut-off for the Slams allows the Top-100 players to earn and score a lot more than everyone else, and it would thus be unfair to strengthen their lead. Last year’s Majors were won by Nadal Djokovic, whose 4,000 points would turn into 8,000 in the blink of an eye, therefore shutting out the various contenders for the future N.1 spot like Thiem, Tsitsipas, Medvedev or Zverev, who would never be able to bridge that gap. It’s only right, then, that the ATP wouldn’t take the proposal into consideration, although it must always be remembered that the Covid-19 hiatus was dictated by extraordinary circumstances and might then entail extraordinary measures.

I will add another proposal that I consider quite fair: since the tour was halted for six months, the points could be scaled out based on the scores from six months prior – the first tournament will be Washington, which happens six months after Indian Wells, and so the points from the latter would expire that week. A new tournament happens, an old one expires, equally, for everybody. It would be necessary, though, to sort out a time to shut this system down, but when?

These are the choices we have, now let the readers speak.

Note: Article written in Italian and translated by Tommaso Villa

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Next Generation Not Even Close To Upstaging Tennis’ Big Three, Says Andy Murray

The three-time Grand Slam champion had some harsh words for those hoping to end the dominance of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

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There has been a lot of talk about who may take over from the reign of the Big Three in the future but Andy Murray believes there is still a long way to go until that happens.

 

The former world No.1 believes the next generation of players are yet to prove they have what it takes to take over from the trio who has won 15 out of the past 16 Grand Slam tournaments between them. Dominic Thiem is the only exception after triumphing at the US Open last year. Between them they have won 271 titles on the ATP Tour and have spent over 800 weeks at the top of the rankings.

On Sunday Novak Djokovic continued the Big Three’s dominance by downing Daniil Medvedev in three sets to win the Australian Open. Dealing another blow to those hoping that a change of guard in the men’s game will occur soon.

“I expected the final to be closer to be honest but I also know how good Novak is there and when he’s on his game and obviously highly motivated,” Murray told The Press Association.
“I saw before the final Medvedev said something along the lines of Novak having immense pressure on him, which is true, but those guys have been at the top of the game, they’ve been dealing with immense pressure their whole careers and they know how to deal with it and perform at their best level when it matters.”

Continuing his assessment of the current game, Murray said that Thiem’s US Open win last year was more of a blip rather than any potential momentum changer. Both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic were absent from the tournament. Meanwhile, Novak Djokjovic ended up getting disqualified following a mishap.

“The younger guys, for me, they’ve not shown that they’re particularly close,” he said.
“Obviously what happened at the US Open, (Dominic) Thiem did what he had to do to win the event, but, if Novak hadn’t put a ball through the line judge’s throat, it would be the same outcome I think.”

Murray currently has a losing head-to-head record against every member of the Big Three. However, he was the first man in history to have beaten each of them at least five times before Thiem also reached the milestone last November. Overall, he has scored seven wins over Nadal, as well as 11 victories over both Federer and Djokovic.

The Brit is set to return to action later this week at the Montpellier Open in France. He was forced to miss the first Grand Slam of the season after testing positive for COVID-19 and instead played a Challenger event in Italy.

“I didn’t watch any because I wanted to be there myself,” Murray said of missing the Australian Open. “It was a struggle to be honest. I stopped following all the tennis players I follow on social media and stuff because I just didn’t really want to see it.”

In Montpellier Murray will play Egor Gerasimov in his opening match on Tuesday.

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Undeterred Daniil Medvedev Praises The ‘Cyborgs Of Tennis’ After Australian Open Loss

The world No.4 reacts to his loss to Novak Djokovic in Melbourne Park.

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Daniil Medvedev says he is down but not out of the race for Grand Slam glory after losing in the final of the Australian Open on Sunday.

 

The world No.4 fell in straight sets to Novak Djokovic in what was his second taste of playing in a major final. His first was against Rafael Nadal at the 2019 US Open. In his latest encounter Medvedev struggled at times with his unforced error count as he failed to find a way to break down Djokovic’s defensive display.

“It’s definitely tough. I don’t like to lose matches. Doesn’t matter if it’s a first round or a final of a Grand Slam. Of course, it’s just that feeling that you’re closer to holding the trophy than when you lose the first round,” Medvedev told reporters.
“I feel like it’s the kind of matches I won throughout this tournament, he won today.”

Heading into the clash some pundits have tipped the 25-year-old to lift his maiden major title given his recent surge on the Tour. Prior to the showdown he was on a 20-match winning streak with 12 of those victories being over top 10 players. Earlier in the tournament Medvedev scored wins over Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

However, the Russian failed when faced with the ultimate challenge in men’s tennis – playing a member of the Big Three in a Grand Slam. Despite being described by Djokovic as one of his toughest opponents, he is under no illusion of the challenge the trio poses to him and others.

They’re just better than other tennis players. I’m not shy to say this,” Medvedev stated.
“It’s just the truth. In fact, in numbers and everything. After, of course, when you’re out there, you want to beat them. You don’t care that it’s the big three or the big 100. But that’s why they have so many slams. They’re just really good.”

Medvedev does have the weapons to those who he has nicknamed the ‘cyborgs of tennis.’ He has defeated Djokovic three times and Nadal once at the ATP Finals last November.

“We’re talking about some Cyborgs of tennis in a good way. They’re just unbelievable,” he continued.
“Every time I go out there, when I say this, I’m not at all when I’m out there thinking about this, thinking, Okay, they are too strong for me. I always want to win. I beat some of them in some big tournaments, like London for example. Just need to be better next time in the Grand Slam finals against these two guys or Roger.”

It is now a case of what could have been for Medvedev who would have broken into the world’s top two if he had won the Australian Open. To put that achievement into perspective, the last player outside of the Big Four (including Andy Murray) to do so was Lleyton Hewitt in 2005.

“I’m usually quite easy in defeats, I would say. That’s the best part of tennis, is when you win a tournament, if you have a tournament next week and you’re going to lose a final, semifinal, first round, you’re going to be disappointed with the loss, you will almost not remember a win,” he explained.
“I guess it’s different after a Grand Slam win.”

Medvedev will return to action later this month at the Rotterdam Open.

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Novak Djokovic Captures Record Ninth Australian Open Title With Clinical Win over Medvedev

The world No.1 toppled his lacklustre opponent who produced a series of costly unforced errors to seal his 18th major title at Melbourne Park.

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Novak Djokovic has extended his dominance at the Australian Open by comprehensively beating Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2, to clinch an historic ninth title in Melbourne Park.

 

The showdown on the Rod Laver Arena was between two giants of the current game. Djokovic is the most decorated male player in Australian Open history and has recorded 11 consecutive wins over top 10 players in the tournament prior to the final. Meanwhile, Medvedev was on a 20-match winning streak with 12 of those victories being against a member of the top 10. However, a large majority of the encounter was dominated by the top seed who produced a total of 20 winners as he broke seven times en route to victory.

“I really like him as a person off the court. On the court, he’s definitely one of the toughest players I ever faced in my life,” Djokovic said of his rival during the trophy ceremony.
“It’s a matter of time that you will hold a Grand Slam for sure – if you don’t mind waiting a few more years…”

For the first time in the Open Era the men’s final was being contested by the first and fourth seeds in what was a battle from the onset. Playing on what he describes as his ‘home court’ Djokovic was the quicker of the two to settle into the match after a forehand down the line from the Serbian triggered a Medvedev error to give him a break en route to a 3-0 lead. Eventually Medvedev regained his footing as he gave his rival a dose of his own medicine by winning three games in a row to draw level. Both illustrated glimpses of their best tennis with sublime defensive play but it was the world No.1 who has the edge in the opener. Leading 6-5 a blistering Djokovic backhand passing shot handed him a trio of break points to clinch the set. He failed in his first two attempts, but it was third time lucky after the Russian fired a forehand shot into the net.

The thunderous hitting continued into the second frame as players started to contend with an increasingly animated crowd who had to be told repeatedly to stay quiet during points. One of the disturbances was a refugee protest which involved the removal of two people. On the court Djokovic once again traded breaks with his rival early on before pulling away with the help of some costly Medvedev mistakes. Prompting the world No.4 to smash one of his rackets out of anger and received a code violation for doing so as he fell behind 2-5. Medvedev’s mood deteriorated further in the next game as the top seed returned a serve deep to the baseline to clinch a two-set lead.

source – AusOpen Twitter

Winning all the mini battles that were fought, Djokovic’s offensive was one that drew his rival to despair who continuously made glimpses towards his camp in the crowd. Mentally Medvedev was done as Djokovic masterfully manoeuvred his way to the trophy once again. A three-game winning streak at the start of the third set placed him within touching distance of the win. Enough of a margin to see him over the finish live as he clinched victory on his first championship point after hitting an overhead volley. Prompting Djokovic to fall to the floor.

“I would like to thank my team,” said the nine-time champion. “It has been a roller-coaster ride for me, especially in the last couple of weeks but always a special thanks to you. You have dedicated so much time making sure I’m able to play and I am grateful to you. Thank you guys, I love you.’
“Last but not least, I would like to thank this court and the Rod Laver Arena. It’s a love affair that keeps going.”

It is the second time that 25-year-old Medvedev has lost in a major final after doing so to Nadal at the 2019 US Open. Although he remains one of the most likely candidates to take over the reign of the Big Three in the years to come. Since the start of 2020 he has won 38 Tour matches which is the third highest on the ATP after Djokovic and Andrey Rublev.

“(It’s) Never easy to speak when you just lost a Grand Slam final, but I’ll do my best!” said Medvedev.
“Congrats to Novak. Nine Slams in Australia is amazing and this won’t be your last one. Just to tell you a small story, I first met Novak when I was 500 or 600 in the world. I thought OK, he’s not going to speak to me, because he was world number one.’
“I was really shy. He was talking to me like I was a friend. He’s never changed – he’s always been a great sport and a great friend.”

The triumph has given Djokovic his 18th Grand Slam title which is just two away from the all-time record currently held by both Nadal and Roger Federer. He has now won a record nine titles in Melbourne Park which makes him only the second male player in history to have won the same major title that amount of times. Nadal has 13 French Open titles to his name. It is also the fifth time in his career Djokovic has successfully defended his title at the Australian Open.

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