Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Tennis [Print without images]

Tuesday, January 2, 2007
Round of confusion


Going with the old Creative Writing 101 maxim, "Never use two words when one will do," I refuse to call the new ATP Tour format a "Round Robin." I'm just going with "Confusion." So let's all get this straight from the start: This week in Adelaide, Australia the ATP is making its first-ever departure from the classic, single-elimination tournament at a regular tour event. It's using a format called Rou -- er, Confusion.

This, apparently, is just what the doctor ordered for a game already mired in confusing ambiguities. (What's the difference between the Champions Race and the official ranking? Is Wimbledon an ATP event? Is the Masters Series played at Augusta National? If Bercy is so important, how come nobody played it?) It's as if Etienne de Villiers, the CEO of the ATP Tour, sat around with a group of his most trusted advisors and said:

"OK, everyone. You may think the mission is to come up with a format that nobody understands without an instruction manual, but it's not that simple. We also need it to be one that will lead fans to suspect that players are throwing matches, diminish the importance of a huge upset, create a tournament chockablock with meaningless matches, and feature a 'draw' that will be about as easy to read as the Excel spreadsheet of a Fortune 500 company. And let's make the whole thing about who gets to the single-elimination stage math-based!"

This, folks, is just plain crazy. There's a place for round robin play in tennis, all right, just as there is a place for the match play format in golf. But in both cases, it ought to be used sparingly. The first requirement for having sensible round robin play is a small field (ideally, eight, in two groups of four); the second is a field of players of comparable class. Without those two components you have, well, confusion. Just go to the ATP Web site and download the draw (it's easier if the computer you're on is a mainframe) and you'll see what I mean. Oh, I forgot to mention: halfway through the event, they switch to single elimination.

A few years ago, the marketing slogan of an ATP Tour bent on promoting an upcoming new generation of young stars was "New Balls, Please …" This year, they ought to go with "Balls of Confusion."

Send in a question for Peter Bodo's next chat, Wednesday, Jan. 3 at 1 p.m.