Tennis Embarrassed Again as ATP CEO Steps In to Make Things Wrong
by Richard Vach | March 2nd, 2007, 6:20 pm

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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8 Comments for Tennis Embarrassed Again as ATP CEO Steps In to Make Things Wrong

JCF Says:

The idea of RR is in some ways good, but there’s lots of complications about it. Like who goes through. There will be ties in games won. Then you gotta consider sets won and games won. Fans will be confused by the system unless they can make it easier to follow.

I do like the fact that you can’t get lucky draws

JCF Says:

By lucky draws I mean, by some fluke Roger Federer gets knocked out by a qualifier, and then you get an easy next round. So now Fed has his off day but can still kick your ass in the next round.

Unreal Says:

“de Villiers insists that “fans like round robin and the research confirms it.”

I would to see this research he talks of. By my own informal research I can conform that RR is wholly rejected by the fans.

JCF Says:

Yeah, any radical changes like this are going to be controversial and opposed by many. It will take time before it becomes accepted (if ever).

But changes to Tennis do happen, whether Federer likes it or not. Courts used to be faster, and played mostly on grass. You used to not even be allowed to jump when you served. There used to be no injury time outs — you got injured, too bad. Pay cheques used to be laughable even for winning Wimbledon. There used to be no tie breakers and every set was an advantage set. Players used to use wooden racquets with far less power. Balls were quicker. Clothing regulations have changed. And so on.

Things can and do change. So Federer is naive if he thinks “it was always great the way things were in the past, let’s keep it that way”.

kamret Says:

De Villiers insists that “fans like round robin and the research confirms it.”

Based on your poll, 93% of tennis fans don’t like it. So, where is De Villier getting his stats??? From France???:-) I guess wherever/whenever you have a French as CEO of a major association/organization, there will be trouble.:-) I’m talking out of experience.

In fact, the round robin format is interesting only in events where the very best players (top 10) compete (like the Master’s Cup). Otherwise, it won’t work and will turn off fans. That’s a fact.

LK Pratt Says:

The round robin research probably came from the same place as last year’s doubles format research … that is from somebody’s imagination.

Richard Says:

An unmitigated disaster, no question about it. I don’t necessarily disagree with having a couple of events during the year incorporating quirky ideas, like no second serve or winner of next point after deuce wins the game – I’m sure there are many better examples. But for round robin to work even tolerably you’ve got to at minimum have groups of 4, and preferably final matches in the same group taking place simultaneously (like in the group stage of the football World Cup) which would prevent or at least lessen the chance of players knowing exactly how many games or sets they need to win or how few to concede to progress.

Oh, and DeVilliers is South African, not French, kamret.

kamret Says:

You are right. I just found that out. He is South-African, not French. But his name is 100% French, though. Maybe his father or mother is/was French. Anyway, don’t get me wrong. I love French people and have nothing against them. But I don’t like to have them as decision-makers. Anyway, as far as De Villiers is concerned, he is human, just like all of us, and he made a mistake. Since he apologized for it, let’s forgive him.:-)

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