Weighing the Round Robin
by Lynn Berenbaum | October 26th, 2006, 10:58 pm

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.

Quote by Rafael NadalEssentially, 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.
Roger Quote
ATP player relations aside, let’s take a look at just a couple of the bigger questions.

48-Player Draws?

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”?

Other Randomness

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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16 Comments for Weighing the Round Robin

JDC Says:

I disagree. If done correctly, three will never have a dead match. Four will always have them.

With three:
— 1st match results in Player 1 (1-0) and Player 2 (0-1)
— 2nd match is between Player 3 (0-0) and Player 2 (0-1)
— 3rd match is between Player 1 (1-0) and Player 3

With this strategy, all of the matches have something at stake. For the second match, Player 2 still has a shot to win the group (if he beats Player 3 and if Player 3 beats Player 1 in the third match). Regardless of the second match’s outcome, match 3 determines the overall winner of the group:
— if Player 1 wins, he wins the group with a 2-0 record.
— if Player 3 wins matches 2 and 3, he wins the group with a 2-0 record.
— if Player 3 loses match 2 but wins match 3, points determine which of the three players wins the group (since all three have 1-1 records).

Never a dead match … if the tournament organizers follow this win-loss-driven schedule.

Norman Maine Says:

How is it, no matter what the subject, you find a way to mention Andy Roddick and then tear him apart, or at the very least insult him? What is this vendetta you have against him. Did he offend you somehow and now you take every and any opportunity to attack him? Just wondering, because it’s getting a bit boring. And, just so you know, I’m not a huge fan of his but your loathing seems a bit silly!

Gordo Says:

JDC is correct, in a 3 player round robin format, if the loser of the first match (say Player #2) plays the following match against Player #3 then the third match in the round robin, between Player #1 and Player number #3 can not be a dead match.

Do we know that this is the way it is being set up?

This causes a couple of concerns. Sunday starts may be great for local fans, but to laud it as great for television viewers might not be quite accurate. Right now, the way things are, if you turn on the television on a Sunday and come across a tennis match you know you are seeing a final, with a title on the line and in all probability top-ranked players (or at the very least hot players on a streak) competing for the tournament’s grand prize.

Now in this new format the seeded players will be dispersed among the groups, so if you see a first round-robin match it will in all liklihood be a high profile seeded player against whoever he is up against. Look at Federer’s last two matches in Basel (manhandlings of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-2, 6-0 and Tomas Zib 6-1, 6-2) to see the type of lopsided encounters one would probably be viewing. You are never going to see Federer-Roddick or Federer-Nadal or ANY top players pitted against each other in a round robin format outside of the year end tournament in Shanghai. These televised matches will not be a great advertisement for the sport. In this case more is not necessarily better.

And in a 3 person round robin the final game can become a mathematical problem.

For example, lets say in game 1, Player #1 beats Player #2 7-5, 7-5, and in game 2 Player #2 beats Player #3 6-2, 6-2. Going into the final game of the round robin Player #1 has won 14 games, Player #2 has won 22 games and Player #3 has won 4 games. Does this then mean that not only does Player #3 have to win his match with Player #1 (to result in all 3 players being 1-1 after the round robin), but he can’t allow Player #1 more than 3 games in the match? What exactly IS the tiebreaking method when all three players are 1-1 in the round robin?

John Messenger Says:

If you put these guys in charge of other sports, here’s what you might get:

1) Baseball: 2 strikes you’re out. (It will make the games shorter, thus fewer injuries and more fan friendly.)

2) Indianapolis 500: Let’s make it the Indianapolis 400. (see #1.)

3) Boston Marathon: How about 19.6 miles. (Yeah, that’ll do it.)

KISS Says:

My advice to the tennis admins:
KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid!

Why are complicating a beautiful sport like tennis?
Why are they bringing in more technicalities into it?
Why are they blaming their lack of intelligence in marketing it on the game itself?
Why are they not realising the main cause of player atrophy as too many matches with too litting time to physically recover?
Why are thinking only incrementally and adding more tournaments to the schedule instead of removing or demoting some tournaments and marketing the remaining ones in a better way?

Round-robin? Oncourt coaching? Penalising injured players? Why don’t they just listen to the fans for once?

JDC Says:

KISS, I agree.

During the coverage of the next Grand Slam(s), why don’t the ATP and WTA advertise polls on their web sites? All of the tennis diehards would vote. Plus, since many casual tennis fans watch the Grand Slams, even some of them would vote, too.

Jon Says:

I’ve not seen one fan on any message board in favour of the round robin format. It looks like a disaster in the making.

John Messenger Says:

Jon is right. It’s a disaster in the making.

Chinaski Says:

The round robin format will involve groups of 3 players regardless of the size of the draw.
A bit of research wouldn’t have gone amiss.

It seems to me that this format will inevitably lead to a lot of 3-way ties in groups, which will therefore presumably have to be settled by total number of sets won, and if the sets are also equal then by total number of games won .
This marks a major departure from one of the fundamental (and beautiful) aspects of the tennis scoring system in which there is normally no difference between losing a set 7-6 and losing a set 6-0.

JDC Says:

Although it will be nice to see players fight for every game, even when down 4-0 in a set.

New Coke, Rabbit Jerky and the Eight-Track Tape Says:

We think the round-robin format is a great idea.

ben Says:

“New Coke, Rabbit Jerky and the Eight-Track Tape” obviously work for the ATP. This has got to be one of the dumbest things the ATP has ever done.

I don’t know why the tours don’t just end the season after the US Open, or shortly there after.

Norman Maine why do you think anyone is making fun of Roddick here? Seems like he was using Roddick as an example and even put him in the same group as Roger and Nadal. Chill the hell out.

Not Your Father's Speedshaft Says:

A round-robin? What’s next, the ATP Tennis Ladder?

Fiddling around with tournament formats will do about as much for the game as that Challenge thing where they add up everyone’s points leading up to the U.S. Open and nobody cares who wins.

The problem is the product, and the product is the players, who seem to make a very nice living even though TV could care less. Tennis will never recover until that dynamic changes.

John Messenger Says:

IMO, instead of changing how tennis is played, we need to pressure the people that are actually making these decisions to resign.

Tejuz Says:

Well… 3 player round robin is better than a 4 because all matches can change the result, there wont be a dead match like JDC pointed out.

In a roddick, fed and nadal group.. if u think Roddick cant be better than Fed or Nadal in terms of ‘No of sets lost’ or ‘No of points won on tiebreak’ why do u think he shud get a chance to go through to next round. When hez playing his last match he would always know what is the score line needed to reach the next stage.
If he cant win that, then anyway he doesnt deserve to be in next stage.. no big deal.

» Forget the Marketing, the PR, Tennis Needs Players to Show Up Says:

[…] Just read my blogging colleague Lynn Berenbaum’s excellent eye-opening piece on the new changes at the ATP and with men’s tennis. Unlike me, she’s up on matters of the Tour. Last month she blogged on the round robin format, which has already been sanctioned at more than a dozen 2007 events, or as I would call them “events where you will not find Roger Federer”. […]

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