August 11, 2020

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ATP announces COVID-19 ranking plan

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The announcement Monday by the ATP Tour about how it is going to adjust its ranking system to deal with these extraordinary times only confirms just how complicated a situation it remains.

It seems, though, as if it has made the best of a bad situation.

The biggest adjustment is morphing what long was a 52-week period for rankings calculation into a 22-month period that begins a year before the rankings were originally frozen in mid-March (March 2019), through to the end of 2020.

Noteworthy about the rankings change, which was made in consultation with the Grand Slams and the ITF (but not with the WTA, it appears) is that, should tennis not return as scheduled next month, it might be modified again.

The WTA Tour has so far not announced what it’s going to do. But it has been keeping tabs on what the ATP was hatching.

The basics

The players’ rankings will now be calculated on their “best-18” results between those dates, and they can’t count the same tournament twice within those parameters.

If a player competes in the same tournament twice, the best of the two results will count. (This, of course, will eliminate the incentive for some who had a major result in the last half of 2019 to skip that tournament, out of concern they wouldn’t be able to defend it and thus pay a price. They have, in essence, a “get out of defence free” card).

The points that are added will remain in the calculation for 52 weeks, or until that event is played again in 2021 (whichever comes first).

What it practically means for injured players (notably, Roger Federer, who has announced he won’t play again in 2020) is that their rankings will effectively not be penalized. When he does return – at least at the beginning – he will be able to be seeded in a way that, were he to use a regular injury-protected ranking, he wouldn’t.

The objectives

With the adjustment, the ATP Tour hopes to “provide flexibility and fairness to players across all levels”, and “stability for players who cannot or prefer not to compete in 2020 due to health and safety”.

It will reward players who do well when the Tour begins again. But it also may penalize those who, because of travel restrictions or pre-existing conditions, cannot resume their careers this soon. That’s the downside; but whatever formula they came up with, there was going to have to be a downside. At least with this, they still still retain last year’s results, even if they can’t improve upon them.

The ATP Tour Finals won’t have a “race”, but will use the Nov. 9 rankings to determine the eight who will qualify – assuming it all goes ahead.

The US Open and ATP Tour Finals

The current frozen rankings will be used for the first two weeks of the provisional return. After that, it will return to normal with the US Open – if it is held – using the rankings of Aug. 24, the first “new” rankings expected to be published.

Because the “Race to London” and “Race to Milan” (for the Next-Gen Finals) won’t reflect the players likely to qualify (given, in theory, those races only reflect results actually earned in 2020), the tour won’t promote those races.

The rankings on Nov. 9 will be used for singles qualification in London. On the other hand, doubles team rankings will only consider results in 2020, up to Nov. 9, to qualify the doubles teams.

Another interesting tidbit is that the points to be distributed at the US Open for doubles will be less – the same as a Masters 1000 tournament with a 32-team draw. Both the men’s and women’s doubles draws at the US Open (if held) will be downgraded from 64 teams to 32.

More details on the intricacies here.