Quality Control C/P
Editor's Note: This item -- editorial, really -- was written early in the year in a fit of pique when a player posted a major upset and, of course, gained no benefit for it. It's been sitting in our files ever since, as we tried to decide whether it was appropriate to run. We still don't know whether it's appropriate -- after all, you probably know all about these issues. But it mentions tournaments that took place a year ago. If we're going to run it at all, we should run it this week. So here it is.
We should note that the situation in this article will repeat this year: The strongest of this week's tournaments is Los Angeles, but Kitzbuhel will carry more points.
In an interview on National Public Radio prior to the Australian Open, John Feinstein (author of Hard Courts and other works on tennis) claimed that the women should adopt a Race ranking. Ironically, he seemed to think that the advantage of this would be to make Venus Williams #1 (and, at least by implication, the #1 Australian Open seed), even though, entering the Australian Open, Martina Hingis was #1 in the Race to Munich (now the Race to Los Angeles), and both Meghann Shaughnessy and Martina Sucha were ahead of Venus. And it turned out, of course, that Venus did not win the Australian Open (and hasn't won a Slam yet this year).
But what would the implications of this be? The ATP's shift to the current ranking system in 2000 wasn't just a change in name (that is, they didn't just start calling the Road to Hannover/Lisbon/Sydney/Houston the "rankings" and rename the actual rankings the "entry system").
There were two other shifts, and they were the more fundamentally important (since all players know perfectly well that the Entry numbers are the rankings: the system used for seedings. Not all journalists comprehend this, but even many of them understand this point).
The first change was the institution of Required and Optional Events. And the other was the abolition of Bonus Points (what the WTA calls, with better reason, "quality points").
In one sense, this makes sense: Since bonus points were based on actual (entry) rankings, and the men were trying to keep their entry rankings off the public radar, they couldn't very well have bonus points, since no one could calculate them without looking up the entry standings. (Not even the ATP was silly enough to base bonus points on Race scores, though they probably thought about it.)
But let's take a look at what that means. Let's look back a year. The men played three events: Los Angeles, Sopot, and Kitzbuhel.
The players at Los Angeles 2001 included Gustavo Kuerten, Marat Safin, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Jan-Michael Gambill, Carlos Moya, Tommy Haas, Greg Rusedski, Michael Chang, Andy Roddick, and Max Mirnyi. Agassi won the tournament, beating James Blake, Rusedski, Gambill, Kuerten, and Sampras.
Kitzbuhel featured Juan Carlos Ferrero, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and Alex Corretja. That's it; the #4 seed was -- Franco Squillari! Nicolas Lapentti won the tournament, beating Jacobo Diaz, Gaston Gaudio, Ferrero, Galo Blanco, and Albert Costa.
Guess who earned more points.
If you guessed Lapentti, congratulations. He picked up 50 Race points, or 250 Entry points, for beating one Top Ten player and a bunch of non-Top Twenty opponents. Agassi, for beating the world #1 and a thirteen-Slam winner and three other high-caliber players, got 35 Race points, or 175 Entry points.
Meanwhile, Tommy Robredo won Sopot, a tournament where Dominik Hrbaty and Albert Portas were the top seeds. For this he earned -- the same 35 Race points that Agassi earned.
Are you disgusted yet?
Now look at the WTA. It's hard to find a comparable pair of tournaments on the WTA; their Tier system is much more coherent than the men's. The closest we can think of is the first week of October 2000. Serena Williams played and won the Princess Cup, an event featuring only two Top Ten players. For this she earned 252 points. That same week, Martina Hingis won Filderstadt, an event with four Top Ten players, and earned 286 points for it. The difference? The WTA still has quality points. Hingis played a much tougher tournament, and she was rewarded accordingly.
If we don't insist on events in the same week, we can show the matter even more clearly. At Eastbourne in 2001, Lindsay Davenport won a Tier II tournament where she and Nathalie Tauziat were the only Top Ten players; Davenport earned 269 points. Later in the year, Davenport won Filderstadt, an event with six Top Ten players; the lowest seeded player was #12-ranked Meghann Shaughnessy. For winning this tournament, also a Tier II but with a field at least twice as difficult, Davenport earned 401 points.
Surely it makes more sense to earn more points for winning a tough tournament than an easy one. Doesn't it?
But a Race makes this almost impossible.
There is nothing wrong with a Race, as long as it's understood that it's a Race, and not a prediction of anything, and not a ranking. The WTA has a perfectly good Race -- formerly the Chase Race, now the Race to Los Angeles. But in that race, quality counts.
Though, sadly, it counts less than it used to. The WTA's new points table increased the total round points in the system, escalating the Slams and certain other events, but it didn't change the quality points table. This means that quality points will represent, on average, about 3% less of a player's total. This probably showed most at Indian Wells this year. This is one of the new Super Tier I events, granted more points than normal Tier I tournaments. But Indian Wells was very weak -- Lindsay Davenport was injured, Jennifer Capriati skipped it, the Williams Sisters boycotted after they were booed. In terms of points, Indian Wells was the #6 event on the circuit. In terms of field, it wasn't Top Ten. That's a lot of cheap points for many of the players there.