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Thursday, October 4, 2007
Updated: October 5, 11:13 AM ET
ATP numbers game


The ATP Tour is nominally challenged. That's my fancy-pants way of saying that the ATP Tour has trouble remembering names, which is a real problem when the names it can't remember are those of its own events.

In a press release full of otherwise good news (including a whopping investment by tournaments in new infrastructure), the ATP has announced that for 2009, it will have three levels of tournaments: the 1,000s, 500s and 250s. The way I read the release, this means that as of 2009, the Paris Masters will be the Paris 1000, in contrast to the Basel 500 or the Umag 250.

Theoretically, this is an attempt to clarify the significance of the events by incorporating the number of ranking points the winner gets into the name of the event. As Roger Federer said, "This is fantastic news for the ATP Tour and I am delighted in particular that my hometown Basel has been awarded '500' status for 2009." Presumably, the typical sports fan opening his sports page in the morning is supposed to understand that "Basel 500" means that the event is big, but not real big, the way it would be if it were called the "Basel 1000."

This is silly. How about: The ATP came up with a great idea when it decided to designate its top-flight events the "Super 9", then improved on a good thing by embracing the name -- and concept -- "Masters Series" -- as in Paris Masters, Cincinnati Masters, et al. The "Masters" designation is classy, intuitively clear, but apparently it was in severe danger of becoming a universally understood synonym for "important" for even drive-by fans.

What is the ATP thinking? Guys -- there's a reason that little tournament in July is called Wimbledon, not the London 2000.

This latest decision is not a one-time slip up. The ATP has one giant, entirely avoidable problem that has hurt it immeasurably: It just can't pick a name for anything and stick with it. Think I'm kidding? Just go through the history of the all-important year-end championships. At different times, it has been called the Tennis Masters Cup, the ATP Tour World Championships and the ATP Finals. Imagine if the NFL kept changing courses and renaming its premier event: The NFL Championships, The Super Bowl, The World Championships of American Football …

Granted, shifting formats and sponsors creates certain problems, but this shouldn't be one of them. This is a "discipline" issue, or a "whim" issue. The fans who care whether or not Basel is more "important" than Umag are the ones who will take the trouble to learn the difference. The rest of the world couldn't care less -- especially when doing math is involved. Currently, we know what counts in tennis: the Grand Slams, Davis Cup and the Masters Series. All the rest are fun, but of far lesser importance.

There's a name for people who can't remember names. But I've forgotten it.