For skilled tennis gamers, the coronavirus pandemic has meant canceled tournaments, misplaced revenue and frozen rankings, with the males’s and girls’s excursions placing their programs on maintain in mid-March.
Rankings are, in lots of respects, the coin of the tennis realm: the figuring out think about gamers’ capacity to enter occasions, obtain seedings and even earn sure bonuses from sponsors.
And the hiatus has created a brand new mathematical problem for this world sport. As the excursions put together to renew in August, what’s the finest solution to thaw the rankings that normally shift week by week?
The Association of Tennis Professionals, which runs the males’s tour, and the Women’s Tennis Association, which runs the ladies’s tour, have debated lengthy and laborious about the fairest and smartest approach ahead. So has the International Tennis Federation, which operates lower-level skilled occasions and oversees the junior, senior and wheelchair circuits.
They have talked collectively, however their choices are imminent and will differ. What is obvious is that each the ATP and the WTA are ready to deviate for the first time from the rolling 52-week system that has been in place since their rating programs started in the 1970s. Golf’s world rating system, by comparability, is predicated on outcomes over two years.
Normally, tennis rankings are up to date weekly by including outcomes from the earlier week and subtracting these from the equal week in the earlier 12 months. Consider an instance: Naomi Osaka, the Japanese star, misplaced in the third spherical of the 2020 Australian Open after successful the singles title in 2019. After subtracting the 2,000 factors from her 2019 victory and including the 130 factors she earned for reaching the third spherical in 2020, her rating dropped to No. 10 from No. four.
The pandemic has disrupted that acquainted rhythm. With the rankings frozen, outcomes from April-June 2019 have but to be subtracted, and stay a part of every participant’s rating.
If and when play restarts in August, there will probably be a lag for the rankings and in addition a logjam of rescheduled occasions.
That creates alternatives for opponents to play and earn revenue, however gamers is perhaps extra cautious about the occasions they enter to keep away from damage and fatigue as the season restarts.
For the males, the schedule presents 5 giant occasions, together with two Grand Slam tournaments, in a span of simply seven weeks on two continents and two surfaces: laborious court docket and clay.
Veteran stars like Rafael Nadal, 34, and Andy Murray, 33, are understandably skeptical that they will handle all of this, and they’re involved that the rating system might shortly turn out to be skewed.
“It’s not safe for players to go from the semis or final in New York, quarters even, and then you’re playing on the Tuesday in Madrid at altitude on the clay court, when players haven’t competed for a very long time,” Murray mentioned. “You’re going to have the potential where a lot of top players are not competing at many of the biggest events.”
The excursions are additionally making an attempt to assist lower-ranked gamers get probabilities to build up factors by including lower-level tournaments alongside the important tour occasions.
Both the ATP and WTA thought of unfreezing the rating at the begin of 2021 and enjoying the the rest of the 2020 season with out factors. But that choice was discarded as a result of it will primarily remodel tournaments into exhibitions, a prospect rejected by occasions like the United States Open, which has contractual offers with sponsors and broadcasters which can be linked to the event’s rating factors.
Another plan that was discarded was having factors awarded for the the rest of 2020 that solely counted towards qualifying for November’s year-end championships.
That leaves two main choices on the desk, each of which might enable a few of a participant’s rating factors to hold past 52 weeks, in an try to scale back the impression of re-entry.
“Both are good and bad in different scenarios,” Ross Hutchins, the ATP’s chief participant officer, mentioned final month in a convention name with gamers.
The first choice would regularly deduct factors from gamers’ unfrozen totals as they earn factors when the tour resumes. The ultimate factors from the unfrozen complete would come off by August 2021.
The second, extra complicated choice, which has been gathering momentum in latest weeks, would attempt to preserve the conventional system of matching up equal occasions regardless of all the shifting in the calendar.
That would imply, for instance, that the factors from the 2019 French Open, which led to June 2019, wouldn’t be at stake till the finish of the 2020 French Open, which is now scheduled to finish Oct. 11.
This plan has the benefit of getting again extra shortly to the conventional 52-week system. “Having a ranking which is a subsection of our current ranking is very challenging for a longer period,” Hutchins mentioned.
For the remaining occasions in 2020, the plan would let gamers protect their consequence from 2019 if it was a greater end — whether or not they performed in the 2020 occasion or not.
The choice is taken into account an try to guard gamers who can not play in sure occasions due to public well being issues or journey restrictions. It would additionally reduce the rankings impression if the pandemic additional disrupts the event schedule.
The rub is that it might create friction with prestigious occasions like the U.S. Open.
The alternative would imply, for instance, that Nadal, who gained the U.S. Open males’s singles title in 2019, might hold these 2,000 factors in his rating even when he doesn’t play on this 12 months’s U.S. Open.
Though the objective, in concept, is to take the strain off gamers to carry out at full throttle instantly, the knock-on impact is that they might skip massive occasions fully with out penalty. Nadal does have the main incentive of chasing a 20th Grand Slam singles title, which might enable him to tie Roger Federer’s males’s report. But beneath this plan, he is perhaps much more prone to prioritize the rescheduled French Open on his beloved purple clay, slightly than danger pushing himself too far by competing first in New York at the U.S. Open.
If others determined to take such an method, that would weaken the discipline significantly at the U.S. Open, which is scheduled to be performed with out spectators and with important well being restrictions in place, in a metropolis that was as soon as one among the world facilities of the coronavirus.