The difficult-to-follow experimental round robin format on the ATP circuit took a bizarre turn at the Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas when ATP Chairman Etienne de Villiers stepped in to reverse a rule, putting James Blake into the quarterfinals, then the next day before the beginning of play reversed his decision, sidelining Blake and putting Russian Evgeny Korolev in the quarters.
Under the round robin format, Blake entered Thursday play needing to a win with a minimal number of games lost to advance. When Blake’s opponent retired with a respiratory issue trailing 1-6, 1-3, it appeared the American was into the quarters — until the rule emerged that when a player receives a retirement win in round robin play, he cannot advance into the quarterfinals. It looked like Blake was out of luck and Korolev into the quarters until it was announced that de Villiers had stepped in and voided the rule.
“James Blake will be awarded the group on the basis that the rules were not sufficiently explained,” de Villiers said in a statement regarding the retirement rule. “James was within just a few games of winning this match comfortably to advance. [Opponent] Juan Martin [del Potro] has stated that he would have completed the match had he been fully aware of the implications of his retirement.”
That, as they say, was when the spit hit the fan with other players at the event who felt Korolev was unjustly robbed.
“I want to say that the way it has been handled is just a disgrace,” said Marat Safin, who was joined by Lleyton Hewitt in slamming the decision. “I feel very bad for Korolev because he had nothing to do with it. He’s a young guy, only on the tour a year and all of a sudden he got screwed by the organization. For a serious organization like the ATP, you can’t make these kind of decisions in the middle of the week, by the phone, without being there, and not to talk to the guy that’s in the situation. And the CEO (de Villiers) disappointed me a lot. In this situation he should have handled it in a different way. It’s ridiculous what they did.”
But a bigger surprise was in store the next morning on Friday when de Villiers reversed his decision, taking Blake out of the quarterfinals and putting Korolev in. The ATP put out a press release stating: “An incorrect variation of ATP rules resulted in the erroneous passage of James Blake into the quarterfinals of the Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas, and according to the rules Evgeny Korolev will advance instead of Blake…”I was contacted late at night my time and did not fully understand the issues being discussed and I made a judgment call on what seemed fair. However I understand that judgment calls are not part of the rule book and I must abide by the rules, as must everybody else in the circumstance,” de Villiers said. “This is of course an unpleasant situation for all involved, but we must abide strictly by the rules. I apologize to James for giving false hope and to Evgeny for the confusion. I said we would be prepared to make mistakes [with the round robin] but that we would reverse them if necessary and learn from them.”
de Villiers insists that “fans like round robin and the research confirms it.”
Actually fans like tournament draws they can follow, single-elimination play where ATP officials can’t sweep in and change the rules.
de Villiers is on thin ice after showing his hand that he’s not that familiar with sport, and rules, that it’s not as simple as pulling a producer off a Disney movie. The March player/tour board meetings at Miami should be on pay-per-view, there will be fireworks.
For more see Sean Randall’s “Blake v Korolev: What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas”
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