Hello and welcome to the ninth issue of Tennis inbox. In this week’s issue we take a look at how the official ranking system could potentially return, see how Roland-Garros is planning for a tournament with spectators, and revisit Martina Navratilova’s greatness on grass. Read on to find out more.
What’s going to happen to the rankings?
While we’ve been paying careful attention to tennis restarting all over the world through exhibitions and small tournaments, we haven’t given as much thought to what’s going to happen to the ATP and WTA rankings once official play resumes on tour.
If you don’t already know, official rankings work on an accrue-then-defend system. This means that players gain ranking points for how they perform at particular events, but then must defend those points the following year in the equivalent week.
For example, we know that Sofia Kenin won the 2020 Australian Open and earned 2,000 points for her victory. These 2,000 points are then set to be subtracted from Kenin’s tally in 2021, unless she can defend them by winning the Australian Open crown. Let’s say in the 2021 Australian Open—if it is to go ahead and ranking points are available—Kenin was to only reach the quarterfinals. For that result, she would earn 360 points. This would mean that after subtracting the 2,000 points from her 2020 triumph, 360 points would be added to her points tally.
Though reaching the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam is a feat in itself, Kenin would certainly lose a few positions in the rankings system because her ranking points for that week would effectively be -1640 (-2,000 plus 360). To ensure that she doesn’t have a slip down the rankings, she would have to win the Australian Open again!
But the pandemic has brought this rolling system to a halt. As of now, rankings on the ATP and WTA tours have been frozen—meaning that no one can move up or down. But the restart of official tennis in mid August poses a unique challenge to those responsible for adjudicating rankings. What are they going to do about the ranking points at all the tournaments that have been missed? What’s going to happen at these new events?
Sportswriter Christopher Clarey reports in the New York Times that two options are being considered by decision makers:
“The first option would gradually deduct points from players’ unfrozen totals as they earn points when the tour resumes. The final points from the unfrozen total would come off by August 2021.
The second, more complex option, which has been gathering momentum in recent weeks, would try to maintain the traditional system of matching up equivalent events despite all the shifting in the calendar.”
In other words, the second option would try to match ranking points with equivalent events—even though the 2020 calendar has been thrown out of wack. This second plan works best for returning tennis’ rankings to their 52-week system in a much more timely manner.
But here’s the crux of it: Clarey adds on this second option:
“For the remaining events in 2020, the plan would let players preserve their result from 2019 if it was a better finish—whether they played in the 2020 event or not.”
Catch that? This second option comes with a potential knock-on effect: Players who won events or did well in them have no rankings-based incentives to play in this year’s equivalent events. As Clarey notes:
“The choice would mean, for example, that Nadal, who won the U.S. Open men’s singles title in 2019, could keep those 2,000 points in his ranking even if he does not play in this year’s U.S. Open. Though the goal, in theory, is to take the pressure off players to perform at full throttle immediately, the knock-on effect is that they could skip big events entirely without penalty.”
If Nadal can keep his 2,000 points by not even showing up to the US Open, what is his incentive to do so? Reports have already surfaced that he’s doubting whether he’ll return to Flushing Meadows this year. Given that he’s confirmed his appearance in the Mutua Madrid Open, which starts a day after the US Open, it seems plausible that Nadal won’t be making the trip to New York. If Nadal wants to match Roger Federer’s total Grand Slam tally, wouldn’t it be a smarter choice for him to spend a longer time preparing for this year’s French Open and skip the US Open all together?
Roland-Garros to allow spectators, tickets available
For the remainder of 2020, tennis seems to have split itself into two varieties: either with spectators or without them. In the without-spectators corner, we’ve had UTR’s Pro Match Series, the Credit One Bank Invitational, and the upcoming US Open. In the with-spectators corner, we’ve had the Adria Tour, the All-American Team Cup in Atlanta, and the upcoming World TeamTennis event in West Virginia.
The 2020 French Open has found itself in the with-spectators corner. Roland-Garros, which will be held from 21st September to 11th October, announced on Thursday 2nd July that it plans to welcome visitors to its grounds. The plan for the three show courts is to leave one seat empty in every row “between every group of purchasers (a maximum of 4 people who wish to sit in adjacent seats).” On the outside courts, “every other seat will be out of bounds, and spectators may sit in any of the available seats.” These protocols will result in a French Open that operates at “50% to 60% of its usual capacity.”
Everything is contingent on the situation, though. Meaning if the coronavirus starts circulating at higher levels through France, Roland-Garros will reduce the numbers of tickets that are available. This cuts the other way, too: if the situation has improved by the time the French Open takes place, Roland-Garros will also consider making more tickets available.
Regardless of what you think about tennis restarting with or without crowds, it’ll be interesting from a logistics standpoint to see how tournament organizers pull off their events. One thing we’re expecting to see more of: players giving interviews in their facemasks.
The ATP Challenger Tour is back—but the WTA 125ks aren’t
The ATP announced on Friday 3rd July that it had issued a provisional 4-week schedule for the resumption of the Challenger Tour. The Challenger Tour intends to resume at roughly the same time as the ATP Tour, with the first Challenger events taking place in Prague, Czech Republic and Todi, Italy. As part of coronavirus measures, the ATP states that the “majority of events at Challenger level will now span nine days and feature 32-player singles and 16-player qualifying draws.” The analogous female events, the WTA 125ks, have yet to make any such announcements.
A certified podiatrist tells you about tennis shoes
Are you a shoe nerd? Do you have issues with your feet when you step on a tennis court? Or perhaps you’re interested in understanding why tennis shoes are made the way that they are. If that’s the case, Dr. Zach Thomas might be your man. Thomas runs the YouTube channel The Tennis Pro Doc, where he reviews tennis shoes from his perspective as a podiatric foot and ankle surgeon. Thomas used to be a tennis pro and is still a USPTR certified tennis professional. It’s great to hear in-depth breakdowns of an often under-appreciated part of tennis equipment—the tennis shoe. Thomas has a nice way of parlaying his experience in both tennis and podiatrics to create informative tennis shoe reviews.
The content production team at Wimbledon always produce lovely little films whenever they look back on a player or a phenomena. This one on Martina Navratilova is no exception. Narrated by her friend and rival Chris Evert, it documents Navratilova’s exceptionalism at Wimbledon in winning nine championships. Evert points out that Navratilova was one of the first players to take “off-court training to the next level.” In this way—as in so many others—Navratilova really was a trailblazer. Since we’re not enjoying Wimbledon at this time of year, we can at least enjoy this little film.