ATP ends round-robin experiment

Updated: March 21, 2007, 7:36 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

After just a few months, the ATP will end its round-robin experiment.

The ATP Board voted Wednesday to end the experimentation with round-robin formats in tour events. The remaining tournaments that had volunteered for the round-robin format will revert back to the original knockout format.

"It was a good experiment and we learned a lot from it," ATP chairman and president Etienne de Villiers said in a statement Wednesday. "Some experiments will work and others won't, but we will keep trying to find new and better ways of growing the appeal of men's professional tennis."

The ATP had begun testing several versions of the round-robin format at low-level events this year after research indicated it could help provide growth to the game and it was popular among casual fans because they had more opportunity to see local and favorite players than in a traditional format. The ATP also thought the round-robin format would allow events to showcase marquee players deeper into the tournament and make TV scheduling of matches easier and more promotable.

"I think there's a lot of room for error in that system, whether it's between the players or whether it be a situation like there was in [Las] Vegas, where either way you handle it, someone is, for lack of a better term, getting screwed," Andy Roddick said Wednesday prior to the ATP's announcement.

Five test-case events raised concerns and weaknesses that weren't apparent from research: The format caused confusion -- determining who would advance from the round-robin stage was complicated -- and because the media had difficulty in reporting round-robin results, fans not at the event had difficult in following the action. Most significantly, players were overwhelmingly concerned about dead matches or withdrawals.

"The ATP is determined to be fact-based and not opinion-led," de Villiers said. "We're committed to a philosophy of 'do it, try it, fix it or lose it,' with initiatives that could grow our sport. We take all stakeholders into account, especially our players and tournaments, when we make decisions but will always have a fan focus."

The first ATP tournament to implement the round robin format this season was the event in Delray Beach, Fla. Even though there were no rules snafus there, tournament director Mark Baron said he and his staff would have scrapped it next year even if the ATP had decided to continue the experiment.

"It was about 60-40 to go back to a normal draw," Baron said, adding that the round robin confused the players and seemed to subdue the fans. "They didn't know if the match they were watching counted or didn't count. They didn't get into it the way we thought they would."

Baron added, "With a hybrid-32 format, the top 16 players didn't play the first two days of the tournament, and that took away the excitement in the first couple of days."

One proponent of the format is four-time Grand Slam champion Jim Courier. He has said previously he thinks four-man round robin groups are more practical and don't have the same potential complications as the three-man groups that caused headaches in Buenos Aires and Las Vegas.

"I'm sure it's been a really lengthy discussion between the board and the players' council and tournament directors," he said. "I'm going to imagine they've done their homework.

"But from where I stand, there's plenty of upside if [round robin] is used right. We're going to continue to use it in the Outback Champions Series because we think it's good for our business."

Bonnie DeSimone contributed to this report.

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