The action this week was all off the courts, not on. Although Roger Federer notched up another win in Dubai, Justine Henin snagged another victory, and Lleyton Hewitt showed up finally in the winner’s column. Somehow these events will all pale beside the brouhaha that wafted out from Las Vegas. By now everyone has probably caught the drift that many folks in tennis are upset with the round robin format. There is a rather large swathe of people like me who think the format frankly sucks. It’s right up there now on my Hit List of things I do not want to see perpetuated in tennis. It has not yet replaced my Top Ten flame subject, the issue of on-court coaching in the women’s game. But this week it came close.
Even my co-writer Nina Rota and I are fighting on this one. She feels tennis needs a few changes; if you twist her arm a bit she might even admit that tennis is, well, a bit boring at times these days. Okay, well, let’s go the source of that problem: can someone just shoot that Federer guy, ‘cause he’s causing a lot of consternation by just being so damn good. But don’t give us a round robin format to make life more interesting. All it did this past week was give everyone a monumental headache.
James Blake nearly ended up in the sauce, looking like a Bad Guy for once. He says there were no hard feelings between he and other players at the Las Vegas event, where the egregious event occurred in the first place. But he should not have been so eager to comply with the ATP’s wishes initially to insert him into the draw over Evgeny Korolev. Fortunately the ATP honchos came to their senses and backed down and decided to follow their own rules, after all. The guys commenting in the TV booth tried to put a decent face on things by inviting Korolev up for a chat. He’s a well-spoken youngster, intelligent enough to realize he was there to smooth over the rough edges, and he did, brushing off any annoyance he might have felt with the ATP decisions, or lack thereof, and analyzing what went wrong for him in his semi-final match against Jurgen Melzer (the Austrian Melzer advanced).
But the whole episode will leave a sour taste for some time to come. How soon do you think it will be before the ATP abandons RR? They can’t do it right away, that would look awkward, like us pulling out of Iraq tomorrow. We could do it if we wanted to, but we won’t. But soon they will abandon it.It’s not that the idea doesn’t have merit; Nina may be right, it could add a pique of interest to the game, and when the round robin was being planned it sounded like a fun idea. As it went along, it has not been so much fun. Now we see the problems that crop up, and it is also very hard to figure out the draws now that use round robin. When Fantasy Tennis season starts soon this format will screw things up and we’ll all be tearing our hair out. Maybe it really comes down to how our lives are so crowded already, all is so complicated, that adding more math on top seems like cruelty in the extreme. I think that is partly why people are flaming like they are, we are all tired and our boats are full already. Terrible, but that’s the way it is. People don’t want anything to come along and rock their boat unless they feel there will be a payoff.
Round robin doesn’t show a payoff. The payoff to this thing was supposed to be that name players would get a second chance in draws, allowing fans to count on seeing them play during an event. But had Las Vegas gone down the path initially suggested by the ATP heads, I.e. keeping Blake in and tossing Korolev out, I would wager the crowd in Vegas would not take kindly to that. In fact, when the initial ruling came out – that Blake would stay in anyway – I felt outraged. I woke up the next day and turned on the match expecting to see Blake and Querrey play, and I was frankly hoping Querrey would blast Blake off the court. I may want to see a top player play, and get to the finals where he belongs. But not this way. If James wanted to advance, he should have played a damn sight better in his opening match. That’s the way it is, guy, you lose, you go home. Or down the road to Indian Wells, which gets under way next week. You don’t get to ride along on the back of someone, namely Korolev, who played throughout like he wanted to get to the final. Tough titties, as we used to say in high school.In this case, keep tennis the way it is, why this eagerness to shove new and ill-conceived ideas down our throats? Every time someone wants to “upgrade” the game, I end up feeling de-graded. So sod off, I say, unless you can slip it to me when I’m not looking, not having to pay attention, and then I wake up and see it and I go, ohhh, that’s not half bad, and the idea gets familiar.Unless you can find a way to do that with round robin, or any of these other crackpot ideas both tours entertain, then don’t bother. Over at Tennis-X, it was reported that someone on Korolev’s management team said, “The ATP says they’re changing the rules to help the fans and if that’s the case, they should pay for some clowns to come and put on a circus.” God, the clowns, why didn’t we think of that before? Isn’t tennis in need of clowns? But the best line of the whole mess came from some wag, I forget who exactly in the midst of all these guided missiles of hostility swirling about: “Wait till Roger hears about this.” We all laughed, because we all know what Roger will think about this. Always the bloody purist. And thank God for that. This week, we should all be so pure.