The rankings will be a bit different next year. Here’s how.

According to Bob Larson’s Tennis News, the world of tennis is making big changes to the points system which determines a player’s ranking. I say “according to” because there hasn’t been an official announcement yet. Let’s assume this information is correct – which isn’t much of a stretch considering that the ATP tournament entry for the 2009 Australian Open shows the new point totals – and see what it means and whether we like it or not.

Here, in a nutshell, are the changes:

1. Slams (and most events) will be worth twice as many points next year on both the ATP and the WTA tour.
2. The ATP (and not the WTA) is increasing the value of winning an event by reducing the number of points earned by everyone below the winner. For instance, if you won a slam in 2008, you earned 1000 points and the finalist earned 700 points – 70% of the winner’s take. In 2009, the winner will earn 2000 points and the finalist 1200 points – 60% of the winner’s take. The semifinalist, quarterfinalist, etc. will also earn proportionally less.
3. The ATP is reducing the points earned in challengers.
4. The WTA is reducing the points earned in Tier II events.

Except to say that I’ve always been surprised at the number of players who make it into the top 100 mainly on challenger results instead of having to win more main draw matches to get there – meaning that I endorse number 3 because challengers are probably not as good a predictor of future success as qualifier events, I’m going to skip numbers 3 and 4 and focus on numbers 1 and 2.

There are two essential changes here. Most tournaments will double the points earned. The proportion of points awarded in a tournament will change in ATP events.

The question is: why do both? Since you’re doubling the point value at most events, what’s the purpose? None that I can think of.

Giving the winner more points proportionately emphasizes quality over quantity and that’s a good thing. It should be harder for Nikolay Davydenko to get the number five ranking without getting past the fourth round of a slam (hence the video above), as he did this year. If the same changes in the points system had been made this year instead of next, Bob Larson’s preliminary statistics show that Davydenko would have had the smallest increase in points amongst the top five players, so the new system does help, but he would still have ended the year at number five. So does the new system go far enough?

If the WTA had instituted these changes, it’s less likely that Jelena Jankovic would be the year-end number one. She got to number one without winning a slam. I tried to figure out the last time an ATP player had the year end ranking without winning a slam in the same year and I got as far back as 1992 before I gave up. Here’s the listing of ATP year end number ones. You figure it out, please. Whereas the WTA had the same situation in 2004 and 2005 when Lindsay Davenport ended both years at number one without winning a slam.

Given all that, why didn’t the WTA make the same changes to the points system? The WTA has already agreed to a greater number of combined men’s and women’s events and god knows I’d love it if they combined their websites too so I could, for instance, easily pull up each player’s performance in slams as I can on the ATP website. I’m guessing that the WTA and ATP will eventually look very much alike, but making the same changes to the points system looked a little too cozy for the WTA at the moment. It is courting the ATP but it isn’t quite ready to commit to an intimate relationship yet.

Perhaps the WTA will do the ATP one better and resuscitate quality points instead. I say resuscitate because they did exist at one time and if any points changes were to be made, they’re the more obvious choice. Quality points are points given in proportion to the quality of an opponent. The higher the ranking of your opponent, the more quality points you get if you beat them. Conversely, if most of your victories are over lower ranked players, you’d probably sink in the rankings.

So what’s the difference between quality points and giving the winner of an event a higher proportion of points: quality points reward victories over higher ranked players whereas giving the winner more points rewards going deeper in tournaments.

If I had a hireling who was willing to enter all of the appropriate data into a huge Excel file, then calculate the difference in rankings if quality points had been resuscitated instead of instituting proportional changes in points, well, I wouldn’t do it. (Unless one of you would like to volunteer, that is. You can find all necessary data at stevegtennis.com and I’d be happy to supervise your effort.) For right now, I’d rather take that money and spend it on a new aluminum MacBook Pro with its excellent webcam, then hire a tennis expert with good verbal skills – something I’m a bit deficient in owing to, among other things, poor memory – and beam Tennis Diary TV to your living room instead of making you read this text stuff all the time.

I will tell you this, though. Quality points would affect the rankings of every player. As it is, or will be in about three weeks time, winners of tournaments – and particularly slams – get a much needed boost up the rankings, but players in the middle of the pack will get fewer points with no way to distinguish them from all of the other players who win a tournament or two, or maybe no tournament at all. And those players, by far, constitute the bulk of the top 100.

The solution: go ahead and change the proportional value of winning a tournament if you like, but throw out the stupid points inflation, and, for heaven’s sake, bring back quality points. Or better yet, just bring back quality points. It’s much easier.

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