Blake v. Korolev: What happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas
If the ATP could only wish.
In case you missed it, Thursday’s play in Las Vegas was perhaps the final nail in the coffin for the ill-conceived round-robin format introduced this year at selected events by tour chief Etienne de Villiers, or Mr. Disney as many like to call him.
Well Mr. Disney, welcome to Sin City.
I’ve never supported the round robin concept because it’s open to manipulation and it’s too freaking confusion. Today, we certainly had a bit of both in Las Vegas at the Tennis Channel Open.
In the three man round robin group of question we had top seed and defending champ James Blake, Evgeny Korolev and Juan Martin Del Potro all competing for one quarterfinal berth. As it happened, Korolev beat Blake, but then lost to Del Potro. That meant that today if Del Potro were to beat Blake he’d qualify for the quarterfinal as the Argy would be the sole 2-0 player in the group. That’s fair. Makes sense. If, however, Blake won by a wide margin over del Potro (5 or more games), then Blake would be the winner of the group and advance. Otherwise, Korolev would be named the champion. Sounds fair.
Of course the Blake-del Potro match never finished. Blake was in control 6-1, 3-1 at which time Del Potro pulled the plug by retiring from the match citing “respiratory distress”.
Under current rules, once a player retires in a round-robin match he is then eliminated from any quarterfinal contention, leaving the spot and the group winner to be decided between Blake and Korolev, and since both were 1-1 in the group, under the rules the tie is broken by their head-to-head match, which in this case goes to Korolev.
Of course Blake doesn’t know this until after he leaves the court, at which time he’s informed of the rule and that Korolev has been named winner of the group.
It’s a garbage rule, but a rule it is. And one that was followed in spirit a week ago in Buenos Aires when Juan Carlos Ferrero needed to beat Nicolas Lapentti in straight sets to secure his group and reach the quarterfinals. Lapentti, though, pulled out before the match, and his spot was given lucky loser Lukas Dlouhy who lost in straights to Ferrero anyway. But since Lapentti had been eliminated from the group, the winner of the two-man tiebreak was Nicolas Devilder, who had earlier beaten Ferrero in three sets. Fair enough, I guess.
Fast forward to today.
Blake is of course the top seed at the tournament, the defending champion and for a tournament that gets little in the way of attendance – from what I have read, I don’t get the Tennis Channel – one of the tournament’s biggest draws. Basically, they need him.
On the other hand, 19-year-old Korolev is young kid just happy to be part of the game at this point. In my mind a future Top 15 and maybe Top 10 player, but certainly not a big draw fan-wise in Vegas.
Could del Potro have known that if he retired at any point during his match against Blake that his fellow teen Korolev would get that spot? It’s an ugly thought, let’s hope not.
Enter ATP big cheese, Etienne de Villiers, the mastermind behind the round-robin format. With James Blake up in arms over the outcome and out of the event, the tournament upset that they are losing their top seed and big draw, ET decides to bend the rules (rewrite them?) by awarding Blake the quarterfinal berth instead of Korolev.
Why? ET explains: “James Blake will be awarded the group win on the basis that the rules were not sufficiently explained…. James was within just a few games of winning this match comfortably to advance. Juan Martin (del Potro) has stated that he would have completed the match had he been fully aware of the implications of his retirement…The ATP will be awarding Evgeny Korolev the amount of $11,375, the average sum of the prize money for the quarter-finals and semi-finals at this event.”
“Not sufficiently explained”? What the hell does that mean? Isn’t James Blake the VP of the player council, was he sleeping during that meeting? And since when does not knowing the rules get the ruling to go in your favor??
More ET: “James was within a few games of winning this match comfortable to advance.” What are you now freaking Kreskin, ET? How can you be 100% certain that del Potro wouldn’t be able to rally from a 6-1, 3-1 deficit? It’s happened before, especially against Blake who’s had a history of blowing leads. What if Blake turns an ankle, or what if del Potro does? And if you do have these magical powers of prognostication, why are we even playing these matches to begin with, just stick James in the quarters and be done with it. That is the best thing for tennis after all, isn’t it ET?
And the fact that they gave Korolev, who was mysteriously unavailable for comment after the match, some bonus cash means the ATP told the Russian that they screwed up big time.
I understand that they felt they made an error. But in such a situation i think you have to stick with the rules and go with them until you officially change them. Rewriting them as you go along is not the way, especially given today’s which was clearly biased – one in favor of the bigger draw and American over the no-name Russian.
ET says that they will revisit the rule and the RR format later this month in Miami, but the bottom line is the round robin is DOA. It certainly won’t be around a year from now and odds are Vegas will have hosted the last of these type events. Thank God.
As for the players involved, I got nothing against del Potro – I hope he’s feeling better – and really I got nothing against Blake (though he should take better notes at these player meetings he allegedly at!). Unfortunately for Korolev (and Ferrero), he gets screwed in the end because he’s an unknown player and not a bigger name, like his countryman Marat Safin (can you imagine this happening to Marat!).
But I’d love to know from ET, if roles had been reversed today, that is if Korolev was playing del Potro and Blake was the one sitting on the sidelines, if ET would have made the same ruling by awarding Korolev the spot over Blake? If I was in Vegas, I’d bet the house against it. And I’m guessing I wouldn’t be alone. Too bad.
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