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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Novak Djokovic Confirmed For Olympics But Del Potro Pulls Out After Medical Advice

The Serbian will be bidding to win gold in Tokyo later this year for the first time in his career.

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This year’s Olympic tennis tournament has been given a boost after officials confirmed world No.1 Novak Djokovic will be playing at the Games.

 

The 19-time Grand Slam champion had been contemplating whether to play at the event or not amid ongoing COVID-19 conditions. Djokovic previously said he would reconsider travelling to Tokyo if fans weren’t allowed to attend. Since that comment, organisers have given the green light for up to 10,000 domestic fans to attend Olympic venues. Although foreign fans are banned from attending this year due to the pandemic.

Amid questions over Djokovic’s participation, the Serbian Tennis Federation has told Sportski Zurnal that he has pledged to play. It will be the fourth time the 34-year-old has represented his country in the Olympics. So far in his career, Djokovic has only won one medal which was bronze back in 2008. He also finished fourth in 2012.

“Novak has confirmed his desire to participate in the Olympic Games and we have already sent a list with his name on it to the Olympic Committee of Serbia. It will be forwarded from there,” the Tennis federation told Sportski Zurnal.

As it currently stands Djokovic is on course to achieve the calendar ‘golden slam.’ A rare achievement where a player wins all four Grand Slam titles, as well as the Olympics, within the same year. In singles competition the only person to have ever achieved this was Stefi Graf back in 1988.

“Everything is possible, and I did put myself in a good position to go for the Golden Slam,” Djokovic said after winning the French Open
“But, you know, I was in this position in 2016 as well. It ended up in a third-round loss in Wimbledon. This year we have only two weeks between the first round of Wimbledon and the finals here, which is not ideal because you go from really two completely different surfaces, trying to make that transition as smooth as possible, as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“So obviously I will enjoy this win and then think about Wimbledon in a few days’ time. I don’t have an issue to say that I’m going for the title in Wimbledon. Of course, I am.”

Del Potro’s comeback delayed again

There is less positive news for Juan Martin del Potro, who was the player who beat Djokovic to win a bronze medal back in 2012. The Argentine hasn’t played a competitive match on the Tour since June 2019 due to a troublesome knee injury. Back in March the former US Open champion said playing at the Olympics again was motivating him during his rehabilitation.

However, since then progress has been slower than what Del Potro would have liked. As a result, he has been advised not to play in the event and continue his recovery.

Delpo won’t be able to play the Olympics Games. The knee rehab is going well according to the doctor’s plan but he suggested Juan Martin to go on with his rehab process and training, and skip Tokyo 2020,” a statement from Del Potro’s communication team reads.

Since 2010, the former world No.3 and two-time Olympic medallist has undergone eight surgeries.One on his right wrist, three on his left wrist and four on his knee. He has won a total of 22 ATP titles so far in his career.

The Olympic Tennis event will start on July 24th at the Ariake Coliseum.

RELATED STORY: Why Are So Many Tennis Players Skipping The Olympics?

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Vasek Pospisil dispatches James Ward in Eastbourne

Vasek Pospisil is into the second round at Eastbourne.

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Vasek Pospisil (@TennisCanada - Twitter)

The Canadian won his first match on grass of the year beating the local favourite James Ward.

 

Vasek Pospisil is through to the second round of the Viking International ATP 250 in Eastbourne after beating the Brit James Ward in straight sets 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 13 minutes on court number two.

“It was a good match, I played pretty well, I thought I served well and he is a tough opponent on grass because he has a tough first serve but I was pretty sharp and played well when I needed to and happy to get the win”.

It was the Canadian who had the first chance to break at 1-1 and he got the early break and that one break was good enough for him to serve out the first set.

The second set was much of the same and actually was identical to the first with the world number 66 getting the break to take a 2-1 lead but faced a breakpoint when consolidating the break.

Again that one break was enough for him to serve out the match and book his spot in the next round. This is Pospisil’s first win since the month and after the match, he spoke about how the last couple of months have been for him.

“It was good I just took a break from the tour just to refresh the mind and the body and I hadn’t seen my family in nine months so it was a good reset and I felt I needed a break to kinda be excited about touring and the covid conditions and now I’m back and I am happy to be back and I am playing well so it was a nice break.”

Pospisil will now face Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the next round after the Spaniard beat the Swede Mikael Ymer in straight sets 7-5, 6-1.

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Daniil Medvedev Searching For Confidence Boost Ahead Of Wimbledon

The two-time Grand Slam finalist says he is not the same player as he was two years ago when he last played Wimbledon.

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When it comes to playing on the grass this year Daniil Medvedev admits that the biggest issue for him might concern the mental side of the sport as opposed to the physical side.

 

The world No.2 kicked-off his grass swing last week in Halle where he was stunned in the first round by Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the Tour in 2020, that was the first time the Russian had played a match on the surface in almost two years. Short on matches, Medvedev is back in action this week in Mallorca after taking a wildcard into the tournament.

“I like to play on grass, I just need to get some confidence in my game on the surface, because we didn’t play [on it] for two years. Two years ago, I was not the same player as I am right now,” Medvedev told atptour.com. “It is tough for me to say where I see myself, but I know I can play very good on this surface. I just need to find the right balance.”

Since he last played at Wimbledon, Medvedev surged on the ATP Tour by winning six titles with all of them being on a hardcourt. Furthermore, he also reached the final of the US Open in 2019 and the Australian Open this year. He is the first player outside of the Big Four to be ranked in the world’s top two since July 2005.

Despite his previous success on the grass, Medvedev admits he remains wary about playing on the surface and the conditions he may face.

“When I started playing on grass, I played in Challengers and even in [ATP] Tour tournaments on the outside courts, not on the central courts, and I can tell that the central courts are quite slow,” he said. “Especially the match I played with Gilles Simon at Queen’s [Club], we had rallies of 40 shots every second point. That is what makes it a little bit tougher.
“When I practise on practice courts, I feel like I am playing so good as the ball is so fast. Then I come onto the centre court to play the match, and the ball just stops after the bounce, and you have to adapt your game, so it can be tough. But I know I can play really well on grass.”

In Mallorca Medvedev has a bye in the first round. His opening match will be against either South Africa’s Lloyd Harris or France’s Corentin Moutet.

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