For skilled tennis gamers, the coronavirus pandemic has meant canceled tournaments, misplaced revenue and frozen rankings, with the boys’s and ladies’s excursions placing their methods on maintain in mid-March.
Rankings are, in lots of respects, the coin of the tennis realm: the figuring out consider gamers’ potential to enter occasions, obtain seedings and even earn sure bonuses from sponsors.
And the hiatus has created a brand new mathematical problem for this international sport. Because the excursions put together to renew in August, what’s one of the best ways to thaw the rankings that often shift week by week?
The Affiliation of Tennis Professionals, which runs the boys’s tour, and the Girls’s Tennis Affiliation, which runs the ladies’s tour, have debated lengthy and onerous concerning the fairest and smartest means ahead. So has the Worldwide Tennis Federation, which operates lower-level skilled occasions and oversees the junior, senior and wheelchair circuits.
They’ve 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 primary time from the rolling 52-week system that has been in place since their rating methods started within the 1970s. Golf’s world rating system, by comparability, relies on outcomes over two years.
Usually, tennis rankings are up to date weekly by including outcomes from the earlier week and subtracting these from the equal week within the earlier 12 months. Take into account an instance: Naomi Osaka, the Japanese star, misplaced within the third spherical of the 2020 Australian Open after successful the singles title in 2019. After subtracting the two,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. 4.
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 can be a lag for the rankings and likewise a logjam of rescheduled occasions.
That creates alternatives for rivals to play and earn revenue, however gamers may be extra cautious concerning the occasions they enter to keep away from harm and fatigue because the season restarts.
For the boys, the schedule provides 5 massive occasions, together with two Grand Slam tournaments, in a span of simply seven weeks on two continents and two surfaces: onerous 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 develop into skewed.
“It’s not protected for gamers to go from the semis or closing in New York, quarters even, and then you definately’re taking part in on the Tuesday in Madrid at altitude on the clay court docket, when gamers haven’t competed for a really very long time,” Murray stated. “You’re going to have the potential the place quite a lot of high gamers are usually not competing at lots of the greatest occasions.”
The excursions are additionally making an attempt to assist lower-ranked gamers get possibilities to build up factors by including lower-level tournaments alongside the principle tour occasions.
Each the ATP and WTA thought of unfreezing the rating in the beginning of 2021 and taking part in the rest of the 2020 season with out factors. However that choice was discarded as a result of it might basically rework tournaments into exhibitions, a prospect rejected by occasions like the US Open, which has contractual offers with sponsors and broadcasters which can be linked to the match’s rating factors.
One other plan that was discarded was having factors awarded for 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 cut back the impression of re-entry.
“Each are good and dangerous in numerous situations,” Ross Hutchins, the ATP’s chief participant officer, stated final month in a convention name with gamers.
The primary choice would progressively 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 advanced choice, which has been gathering momentum in current weeks, would attempt to keep the standard system of matching up equal occasions regardless of all of the shifting within the calendar.
That will imply, for instance, that the factors from the 2019 French Open, which led to June 2019, wouldn’t be at stake till the tip 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 standard 52-week system. “Having a rating which is a subsection of our present rating may be very difficult for an extended interval,” Hutchins stated.
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 within 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 could additionally reduce the rankings impression if the pandemic additional disrupts the match schedule.
The rub is that it might create friction with prestigious occasions just like the U.S. Open.
The selection would imply, for instance, that Nadal, who gained the U.S. Open males’s singles title in 2019, might maintain these 2,000 factors in his rating even when he doesn’t play on this 12 months’s U.S. Open.
Although the aim, in concept, is to take the strain off gamers to carry out at full throttle instantly, the knock-on impact is that they may 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 document. However beneath this plan, he may be much more more likely to prioritize the rescheduled French Open on his beloved purple clay, quite than danger pushing himself too far by competing first in New York on the U.S. Open.
If others determined to take such an strategy, that might weaken the sphere significantly on 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 of many international facilities of the coronavirus.