October 23, 2021

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ATP Tour continues to tweak – and change – rankings formula

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No doubt the conditions on the ATP Tour created by the pandemic have required the organization to be nimble and change course on a constant basis.

But the most volatile element has been the rankings system, which has essentially been frozen for almost exactly a year now.

And even if the playing schedule remains fairly full going forward, the Tour has once again postponed the return to “normal” rankings.

Original changes null and void

The original “rankings freeze” criteria were set out this way last winter, after Indian Wells became the first ATP Tour event to be cancelled because of the pandemic.

But back on Jan. 18, the tour decided to extend what it calls the “Best Of” ranking logic to include the tournaments held the week of March 15, which are Acapulco and Dubai.

(Notably, those tournaments are being held weeks later than their normally scheduled time slots).

So that added Doha and Dubai, Santiago and Marseille and Acapulco to the list of tournaments in which players could choose either to keep their 2020 points, or add their 2021 points (whichever total was better).

But the first date on which the previous year’s points would drop remained March 15. So on that date, the 2019 Indian Wells points would finally drop from the rankings nearly two years after they were earned.

At the time, with the caveat that the “regular” calendar would resume as of Miami, points would again be added and drop as normal from that point.

If we’re reading this correctly, Roger Federer’s 600 points from making the 2019 Indian Wells final will still drop March 15. A few weeks later, on April 5, Federer’s 1,000 points from winning Miami in 2019 would also drop.

Even with that, by virtue of being able to keep all of his other points from 2019 (including the Australian Open, which will remain until 2022), it still would only drop the injured Swiss star a couple of spots in the rankings.

Still another change in March

But this week, we’re told the ATP Tour players were advised that the “Best Of” rankings logic would be extended, in modified form, all the way to the week of Aug. 9, 2021 inclusively.

That’s the week the National Bank Cup is scheduled to be played in Toronto.

The ATP has decided that points from all tournaments from this week through to Aug. 5, 2019 that were not played last year, would remain in the calculation. But those points would be weighted at 50 per cent.

So those 1,000 points that Federer was scheduled to drop from Miami now will not be dropped, but reduced 50 per cent to 500 points he gets to keep on his ledger until 2022.

The computer programmer who works for the ATP must be working overtime at the moment.

If Feliciano Lopez, seen here at Queen’s Club in 2019, fails to make the final in 2021, he’s better off keeping his 2019 points – and he can, until 2022.

As a concrete example: Feliciano Lopez won Queen’s Club in 2019. That’s worth 500 points. When that tournament comes around again, the value of that tournament on his resumé will drop to 250 points.

So if Lopez plays it again, he’s better off keeping those points until 2022 unless he wins it again or makes the final (300 points).

Saving points from Roland Garros

As well, 2020 tournaments which were postponed to the fall from their original dates, will be dropped to that 50 per cent rate on the date they would “normally” drop.

For Roland Garros, for example, that would be on June 7, 2021. Any 2019 ranking points from that tournament that are still being calculated are also scheduled to drop on that date.

Federer, seen here at the 2019 French Open, will finally see those semifinal points drop in June.

For example, Federer still has 720 ranking points on his docket from the 2019 edition, as he did not play it in 2020. Whether or not he plays in Paris this spring – assuming Paris happens this spring – those 2019 points would still (finally) drop off the ledger in June.

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal’s 2,000 points for winning the 2020 edition, which were to drop in their entirety on June 7, would be reduced to 1,000 on that date instead.

If the Mallorcan fails to reach at least the final again (1,200 points), he could still maintain 1,000 points for his 2020 effort until the 2022 edition rolls around.

A fair compromise?

The rationale behind this is likely to try to strike a balance between penalizing players for being unable or unwilling to travel through what is still a challenging time of the pandemic, and disincentivizing them to play.

In fact, the reasons are stated thusly:

The decision to retain 50 per cent of points earned in 2019 during the period corresponding to the 2020 suspension, aims to provide players a measure of security in months ahead while travel restrictions and stringent health & safety measures continue to apply. 

But what it does, in practical terms, is continue to skew the rankings for what will now end up being a period of three years. And yes, it keeps Federer among the top players for a long time to come.

Federer could use an injury-protection ranking to enter any tournament he wishes. Or he could obviously get as many wild cards as he wants. But in those two scenarios, he wouldn’t be seeded.

It will be impossible, without doing a completely separate calculation, to determine what the “actual” rankings are until well into 2022 – August 2022, to be precise. Unless things change again.

The way it currently stands, the “regular” method of fully dropping a result when it’s replaced by the next year’s result will only kick in as of the Cincinnati tournament in mid-August.

It’s pretty crazy.

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