Coronavirus is Affecting the ATP Rankings

Rolex Shanghai Masters Roger Federer

By now tennis fans have heard the news: Indian Wells has been postponed. Not cancelled–postponed–according to tournament director Tommy Haas, who said organizers are prepared to play the event on different dates and will explore options. But let’s be honest: with the clay-court season set to start next month and the already-tightly packed tennis calendar, the BNP Paribas Open is not going to happen this year. Money is already being refunded or credited towards the 2021 event. The cancellation of this tournament is going to have a big impact on the tennis world. The reason is simple: points. Points are the heart of the tennis world, and coronavirus is affecting the ATP rankings through the point system.

The Point System

Points, points, points, points: tennis is about points. Points during a game, points during a set, points during a match; but most importantly, points for winning a tournament. Why? Because points determine rankings, and ranking help determine seeding for an upcoming tournament. For the most part, tournament seeding–especially at the majors–directly correlates to the player’s current ATP or WTA ranking the week before the draw. If you win a tournament, you gain the points for that tournament. There are four tier-levels to tennis events: Grand Slam, ATP 1000, ATP 500 and ATP 250.

This is how tournament points are allocated in each tier level depending on how a player performs during a tournament.

Grand Slams

  1. Winner = 2000 points
  2. Runner-Up = 1200 points
  3. Semi-Final = 720 points
  4. Quarter-Final = 360 points
  5. Round of 16 = 180 points.
  6. Round of 32 = 90 points.

ATP 1000

  1. Winner = 1000 points
  2. Runner-Up = 600 points
  3. Semi-Final = 360 points
  4. Quarter-Final = 180 points
  5. Round of 16 = 90 points.
  6. Round of 32 = 45 points.

ATP 1000 events are worth exactly half the points at all levels compared to the points available at a Grand Slam event. For ATP 500 events, it follows the same format: half the points are available at all levels compared to an ATP 1000 event. And the same holds true for ATP 250 events; half the points are available at all levels as compared to an ATP 500 event. One minor exception to this format: points aren’t awarded below the round of 32 at ATP 500 or ATP 250 events.

One last word on points–or last number–actually: 21,000 points. That’s the Golden Number when it comes to points, the maximum number achievable if a player wins the 4 Grand Slams, the 8 ATP Masters 1000 events, a further 5 ATP 500 events, the Monte-Carlo Masters 1000, and the ATP Finals. No person’s ever done it and probably never will, but you can probably guess who’s come the closest: Novak Djokovic, who amassed a total of 16,950 points on June 6th, 2016.

The Crux of Points

This is the vital aspect of the point system and it must be understood: a player gets to keep the points they win in a tournament for just 52 weeks. At the conclusion of every tournament, the rankings drop points earned the previous year and replace them with the points won in the just-concluded event.

The point system works for one simple reason: players can’t keep points. They get washed away when a tournament ends, replaced with however many points a player earns during the current tournament. Or, in the worst-case example, how many points a player loses if he or she misses the tournament all together and doesn’t replace them with any points. That’s called  “0-pointers,” and you can imagine how a player drops from the leader board when these start happening.

Therefore, if a player gets injured for a minimum of six months, they can ask for a protected ranking, which is based on the players average ranking during the first three months of his or her injury. But short of that, the bottom line is, you play or you pay.

Points as it Pertains to Indian Wells and the ATP Rankings

Now that we’ve talked about points and how they relate to winning different tournaments on the ATP tour, let’s see how they apply directly to Indian Well. This is how the points were distributed based on the results of Indian Wells 2019:

  1. Dominic Thiem = 1000 points
  2. Roger Federer = 600 points
  3. Rafael Nadal = 360 points
  4. Milos Raonic = 360 points
  5. Karen Khachanov = 180 points
  6. Hubert Hurkacz = 180 points
  7. Miomir Kecmanović = 180 points
  8. Gaël Monfils = 180 points

These were the points awarded based on finishes at the quarterfinal level and above. Although this article will discuss a few of the players who finished outside the top eight at Indian Wells 2019, for the sake of brevity, just the top eight finisher’s points totals are listed above. You get the idea: the better you finished, the more points you received. In a minute you’ll see why cancelling the event this year is going to have a big impact on a few of the players on the tour, both good and bad.

Winners and Losers

So, this probably goes without saying, but it still needs to be said: cancelling the 2020 BNP Paribas Open was absolutely the right decision. The safety of the participants and all the attendees is the paramount concern of all people involved, especially the tournament directors. As a fan, it was a bitter pill to swallow at first, but imagining a player or a fan contracting an illness puts the situation in perspective. At the end of the day, it’s a sporting event, and that always comes after health and wellness.

With that being said, the cancellation of what the players and fans affectionately call the fifth major dramatically affects several players on the ATP tour in several ways, both good and bad. The following players are the biggest winners and losers as a result of the cancellation of the first ATP 1000 event of the season.

Winners

Roger Federer

Federer was the only player ranked inside the top 20 scheduled to miss Indian Wells. With the knee surgery that would force him to miss Dubai, Bogota, the entire clay-court season and the Sunshine Double also came the knowledge that his rankings would take a hit. He would have dropped to 3950 ranking points heading into his planned-return grass-court season

That’s all changed now. Instead of losing the 600 points he received as the runner-up at Indian Wells last year, they’re still part of his overall total, and that’s a BIG win for Federer. There’s a reason this guy’s an all-time great; fate seems to favor him.

Dominic Thiem

The winner at Indian Wells last year, Thiem had the biggest challenge this year: defending his 1000 points. In his current form, I’m not sure he’s up to the challenge. He’s 9-4 on the season and the losses are ugly.

The high point this year’s been nice: taking two sets off Djokovic at the Australian Open finals. But the lows look bad, too:

  1. Quarter-finals loss to 128th ranked Gianluca Mager at the Rio Open.
  2. Nearly losing in the round of 16 to 99th ranked Jaume Munar at the Rio Open.
  3. ATP Cup loss to 37th ranked Hubert Hurkacz.
  4. ATP Cup loss to 28th ranked Borna Coric.

These are all matches he’s expected to win as a top-ranked player, especially the matches on clay at the Rio Open. In his current form, I have a hard time believing he’d successfully defend his title. Even a quarter-finals appearance seemed like a stretch considering the way a half-dozen players are performing on the tour right now.

To keep his 1000 points on his way to the Miami Open–where he lost in the Round of 64 last year and is only defending 10 points–is a huge boost for Thiem. He has a chance to work on his game without the high-pressure of defending a massive amount of points, and that’s a lucky break for the young Austrian.

Milos Raonic

Well, a player from the Lost Generation finally caught a break. Raonic needed it; with a 7-4 record he’s not off to the greatest of starts in 2020. As a player ranked in the low-30’s at the time of his matches, the losses to the lower-ranked players is especially troubling. Here’s a recap of his season:

  1. Semifinal loss to 54th ranked Reilly Opelka at the Delray Beach Open.
  2. Round of 16 loss to 84th ranked Soonwoo Kwon at the New York Open.
  3. Quarter-Final loss to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open (understandable).
  4. Round of 16 loss to 81st ranked Corentin Moutet at the Doha Open.

As a semi-finalist at Indian Wells last year, Raonic has 360 points to defend, a tall order in his current form. When you’re consistently losing to players ranked below the top 50 on the tour, it’s hard to imagine duplicating another semi-final performance. Keeping his 360 points and a few extra weeks of practice is a big boost going into the Miami Open, where he only made it to the Round of 32 last year.

Losers

Rafael Nadal

The door was open for Nadal to reclaim the World No. 1 rankings at Indian Wells. At the start of the tournament Nadal was set to lose 360 points (semi-finals loss in 2019), with Djokovic set to relinquish 45 points (he lost in the round of 32 last year). Just 370 points separate the two players atop the leader board in the ATP rankings.

If Nadal claimed the winner’s trophy at the BNP Paribas Open he’d be the new World No. 1, but only if Djokovic failed to make the semi-finals round. That seemed possible; he fell well short of the semi-finals last year. And Gael Monfils had four match points against him last month in Dubai. Plus, Nadal’s in great form this year; he’s 13-3 on the season and cruised through his last tournament, the Mexican Open, without dropping a set.

Nadal may have fell short regardless but he’d have been in the fight. It’s a lost opportunity any way you slice it.

Daniil Medvedev

Medvedev needed Indian Wells; it could have been a real catalyst in terms of his season and the ATP rankings. After winning a tour-leading nine finals last season and seven of his first eight matches in 2020, he stumbled: a round of 32 loss at Rotterdam to 104th ranked Vasek Pospisil and a quarter-finals loss to 58th ranked Gilles Simon in Marseille. He’s a better player than he’s demonstrated in his last two tournaments. I believe he would have proved that at Indian Wells.

And the points were in his favor. We already know Thiem was set to lose 1000 points and Federer 600 points, but how about Medvedev? He was set to lose 45 points, having lost in the round of 32 last year. He trails Federer by 740 points; Thiem by 1155 points. With the points drop to start the tournament, he’d trail Federer by just 185 points. That means he’d almost certainly take over the World No. 4 spot. With a good run and a poor performance by Thiem he had a real shot at the World No. 3 spot as well. Not having a chance to play his way up is a big blow to the Russian at this point in the season.

Felix Auger Aliassime

With two back-to-back finals this season (Marseille, Rotterdam) and another semi-finals appearance (Adelaide) the youngest player ranked inside the top 100 has shown he can win on the ATP tour. Currently ranked No. 20, he was set to lose just 45 points. Only 629 points separate him and the No. 11 ranked Fabio Fognini. A run to the final and a little bit of luck could have had him on the doorstep of the top 10. At any rate, it was certainly an excellent opportunity for a hot young player to make a move in the rankings.

Is This Just the Start?

One cancelled tournament and a bunch of missed points might me just the start of a long, dark road on the ATP Tour. The Miami Open is “moving forward as scheduled” but with two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Broward County, Florida–just 24 miles from Miami Gardens, where the Miami Open is played–I’m highly skeptical.

But even worse, I have a feeling we’re on the verge of the entire clay-court season being wiped out. The number of confirmed cases and deaths of coronavirus in the clay-court host countries paints a bleak picture:

  1. Morocco: 3 cases.
  2. France:1,412 cases, 12 deaths.
  3. Spain: 1,235, 31 deaths.
  4. Hungary: 12 cases.
  5. Portugal: 39 cases.
  6. Switzerland: 374 cases, 2 deaths.

I’ll do the math for you: that’s 3,075 confirmed cases and 45 deaths across the clay-court countries. And that’s not counting Italy, where the virus is currently at epidemic levels. Indian Wells was cancelled because of a single confirmed case of coronavirus in Coachella Valley. I’d be surprised if the entire clay-court season isn’t lost, and who knows what the coronavirus landscape might look like across the United States by the time the hard-court season rolls around this summer.

I think it’s time the ATP Tour starts exploring different options, such as playing in an empty stadium, as the NBA is considering. If not, we might come to remember 2020 as the Lost Season on the ATP Tour.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I am very much in favour of a frozen ranking, it’s the most honest thing that the ATP and the WTA can offer at this point. I haven’t found any statement from the ATP, nor the WTA about this dilemma.

    • I agree! The ATP/WTA needs a solution other than dropping points, especially with the likelihood of the cancellation of the Miami Open.

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