Weighing the Round Robin
The ATP announced that they are going through with their plans to experiment with the round robin format at thirteen different tournaments over the course of 2007. It’s probably too soon for anyone to determine whether this is the greatest idea since velcro, or the worst idea since the glass hammer, but it’s definitely sparked a lot of talk.
Essentially, the round robin format amounts to giving a popular player a Mulligan. From the tournament’s perspective, it really makes sense since your biggest names aren’t flushed out in an early round nose-dive. Tournaments will start on Sunday instead of Monday, which is a great idea for ticket sales, and for fans who can’t make it during the week and don’t have enough money to make it to the semis or final. And let’s not forget that it’s good for TV. Anything that shows more tournaments on TV is a-okay by most fans.
I know I’m not alone in having a couple of questions about how this is going to work though. Remarkably, it’s also drawn the ire of the World’s Number One, who’s usually as neutral as his home country. Fortunate for Federer, he was among a small group of players who were actually consulted about the changes, since players outside the top 10 didn’t even get a say.
ATP player relations aside, let’s take a look at just a couple of the bigger questions.
The 24 and 32 player draws seem perfectly reasonable. The thing that’s confusing me, however, is how they’re going to pull the round robin format off with 48-player draws by structuring it the way they have.
48-player draws will have 16 groups of three players each — and a three-man round-robin doesn’t really make any sense. Each player would then play only two matches to get beyond the round robin phase. Granted, I’m no math whiz, but the way they’ve laid this out seems like a bad equation.
Here’s an example. Say you have three players, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Andy Roddick in a group. If Roddick loses his opening match, then the best he can do is to finish 1-1. The only way he will move on is if Federer and Nadal are both 1-1 and he has a tiebreaker edge on the other two. What are the chances of that? Are they counting on players to go 2-0 or 0-2? In a 32-player draw each player plays three matches in round robins. Then, if Federer or Nadal loses, Roddick could still finish 2-1 with better chances of moving on.
What About Doubles?
After a radical overhaul of the doubles game last year, the round-robin format really has the potential to strike a major blow to the doubles game. Since the introduction of the super tiebreak, there has been an obvious net increase (pun intended) in top players playing doubles matches. These guys know that their matches are going only take roughly an hour, and doubles is also more fun than singles. What’s not to like about that?
With round robins, if a player has to play six matches over eight days, instead of five matches over seven days to get to the final, chances are he’s probably not going to burn his energy playing doubles and focus on his singles entry.
After all doubles has been through over the past couple of years, is this really how the ATP wants to encourage the “Revolution”?
The remaining questions I have are regarding how this the player compensation scheme is going to work and how the elimination of the bye for top ranked players is going to affect them physically. The difference between a Sunday start and a Wednesday start for a fit guy like Nadal who has ironically come out in the last week and said both that players need to work harder, and that he was exhausted after Wimbledon, may be at the top of the player complaint list.
It also remains to be seen how fans will really take to dead rubbers.
But I guess we’ll see.
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