Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Which section does the best a USTA League Nationals? What will the location change do to the trend?

USTA League Nationals are just a couple months away now, and with many of the divisions/levels now being hosted in Florida or Alabama, it got me thinking about who traditionally has done well at Nationals and if the change of location is going to affect the who end up being the regular contenders.

Now, I can't very well write about how the trend has changed, not even one year at the new sites has been completed, but I will speculate a bit at the end of this post.  But first, we have to have a baseline to compare or start our discussion.

As a reminder, the USTA is made up of 17 different sections, each one able to send a team to Nationals in each division at each level.  These 17 teams are split into four flights, four with four teams and one with five teams.  The winner of each flight advances to the semi-finals, the winner of those matches playing in the final while the losers play for third place.

I've kept track of 1st thru 4th at Nationals for 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 so you can take a look at each of those to see all the details.  But for a simple baseline, to start I'll be taking a look at how many times since 2013 each section has had a team advance to the semi-finals and how many times they gone home with the championship banner.

So, here are the overall counts for both 18 & over and 40 & over divisions.

Pacific Northwest348
Northern Cal325
Southern Cal266
Middle States162
New England131
Missouri Valley51

One section stands out by both making the most semis and winning the most titles and that is Southern.  The Pacific Northwest and Northern Cal are close behind in semis appearances but a bit back on titles.

Others that would probably be considered perennial contenders and having a number of titles include Southern Cal, Texas, Florida, Caribbean, Mid-Atlantic, and Intermountain.  Eastern and Southwest also have multiple titles and did so in fewer semis appearances that the others above them on the list.

A handful of sections have not won a title during this four year period.

From this, it appears that southern and warm weather states fare the best, six of the top seven fit that description, which is probably not a surprise as they typically have more playing opportunities and can play year-round or close to it.  The Pacific Northwest being so high is a bit of an anomaly as it is not southern nor warm weather.

It is interesting that tiny Caribbean does so well, and that highly populated areas like Middle States, New England, and Eastern are not higher up.

So with that as a baseline, what might happen as a result of the majority of Nationals no longer being in the California and Arizona desert?  I think there are likely four different factors to consider.

First is travel.

At first glance, one can see that what was a pretty convenient trip is going to be a far longer one for three of the top-four sections while it will be a lot more convenient for the top section and sections five through eight.  In general more sections will have shorter travel than before.  This could possibly be an equalizer for those teams lower on the list, but it could just make things easier for four of the top-seven teams and they could move even higher.

Second is weather.

The desert southwest is warm to hot during Nationals, but very dry which generally makes scheduling matches easy as there are rarely if ever weather delays.  Some might not be accustom to the dry heat though.

The new locations for Nationals are certainly not dry but could still be very warm.  Hot and humid conditions may prevail and weather delays may become likely.  Who can deal with the weather and possibly shortened matches will be key.  The teams from the west and southwest may be at a disadvantage and those in the southeast that are used to these conditions may be at an advantage.

Third is court surfaces.

With the 2017 Nationals clay courts will be used for several of the divisions and levels.  Hard courts are still used at the majority though.  So this may be a less important factor, but some sections do not play on clay let alone have clay courts available to practice on.  This will likely again be a negative for west coast, southwest, mountain, northern, and other sections and a big advantage for teams in the south, southeast, and east coast where clay courts are used and available.

Fourth is timezone.

I think everyone will admit traveling west is easier than traveling east.  Going east takes the whole day with the timezone change, and west coast folks then have to be up three hours earlier with 7am feeling like 4am.  Going west the timezone change gives you extra hours and 7am feels like 8am, 9am, or 10am depending where you are coming from.  So going east makes it harder on west coast sections or requires they go earlier to acclimate.

With all the factors, my hypothesis is that we will see a shift in which sections do well at Nationals.  The west coast and southwest teams may drop a bit and others, particularly those in the south and southeast will benefit.  We may not see this from just a single year of play, but with several years of data we'll see if it comes true.

What do you expect will happen?

For those that are interested, to break it out by division,  here is just 18+.

Pacific Northwest226
Northern Cal194
Southern Cal194
New England70
Middle States40
Missouri Valley31

By and large the same order.

And for completeness, just 40+.

Northern Cal131
Pacific Northwest122
Middle States122
Southern Cal72
New England61
Missouri Valley20

There is more of a change here, but many of the top sections from 18+ show up here too.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The first casualty of the 2017 USTA League early start rule change

I've written several times about the new rule for 2017 early start leagues in USTA League play and how it was a a recipe for disaster.  I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but it appears we have our first casualty of the new rule and a Sectional winner won't be going to Nationals.

For those just joining the story, for 2017, the USTA got rid of early start ratings and instead required players in 2017 early start leagues starting in 2016 to just use their 2015 year-end rating for joining the early start league.  The gotcha was that players that were bumped up at 2016 year-end would not be eligible to play at 2017 Nationals at their lower level, whereas with early start ratings players could remain eligible as they would have rostered using their early start rating.

That sort of makes sense, you don't want someone who is a 2016 year-end 4.0 to be able to be playing at 2017 3.5 Nationals.  Where the USTA goofed though, in my opinion, is that they left it up to each section to determine if these bumped up players would be eligible to continue to play in their local league, local playoffs, state/district playoffs, and Sectionals.

Some sections elected to allow these bumped up players to play through Sectionals, meaning a team could win their section on the shoulders of bumped up players that would not be eligible to go to Nationals on the team.  Southern was one of the sections that took this route and I wrote about the impending issue in looking at some teams headed for Sectionals.

Without going through all my reasoning and how this is unfair to other teams that must play the "ineligible team", you can click on the links above to take another look, what I predicted might happen has happened if reports I've heard are correct.  I've been told that a team in Southern that won Sectionals does not have enough players to go to Nationals and is having to give up their berth.  Apparently the runner up does not have this problem and will be able to go.

I'll refrain from naming the team as this is not official and until teams show up in the Nationals flights on TennisLink nothing is certain, but the short story is the team only had eight 2016 year-end at level players and either decided that wasn't enough, or perhaps one member couldn't go and the USTA doesn't allow teams to go to Nationals if they don't have a full roster.

Update: A deeper look reveals while the team had eight 2016 year-end at-level players on the roster, one had only played two matches on the team and a player must have played three to be eligible for Nationals, so they did only have seven eligible to go which National does not allow.

It may be this is the only team this happens to, other teams may be affected but not to this degree, but it is something I'd think a section would want to avoid.  Why have a format set up where a team that wins Sectionals can't go to Nationals?  That doesn't seem fair to their opponents at Sectionals or even States/Districts that got beaten by players and a team National considers ineligible.  Sure, the second place team gets to go, but what about the team that was second in their Sectionals flight and didn't get to make the final.  Or the second place team States/Districts that lost out on a trip to Sectionals?

What do you think?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Planning line-ups for USTA League playoff matches - Singles vs doubles, stack or not? Reports can help!

When teams make it to USTA League playoffs, line-ups become especially important.  Not that they aren't during the regular season of course, but during the regular season it is often more about getting players matches and managing folks availability over the course of the season.

But come playoffs, teams need to make a decision about getting everyone in matches, only playing the best players, or trying to blend those two in some way.

Good captains will have set an expectation with their rosters from the start of the year what the team's goals are and if everyone will get (relatively) equal playing time or if, especially come playoffs, preference will be given to the best players.  Doing this early can avoid a lot of angst and drama (but not all of it!), and just make the captains job easier.

Regardless of the approach, if a team wants to maximize their chances of winning, captains need to decide how to go about getting three court wins for each match.

First, not all teams are created equal.  If a captain knows who the tougher teams are, they can make sure they have their best players in the line-up for those matches, and they can perhaps rest a better player and get a weaker player in a match against a weaker opponent and not risk losing the team match.

Next, some teams have stronger singles than doubles, or stronger doubles than singles, and USTA rules do not require that stronger players play on court 1, so captains are allowed to juggle their players as they see fit.

In general, teams with strong singles players have an advantage as they can potentially get two court wins from just two players.  Just one strong doubles pair is then needed, or at least getting the best pair a favorable match-up, and one can get the three court wins from just four players.

But some teams don't have two strong singles players, or when facing another team that also has them, the two singles wins are not guaranteed, so captains must get more creative.

A common practice is to put one's strongest singles players on court 2 singles planning to get a win there, and then plan to get two doubles wins.  It may be a team has strong doubles players and can play straight-up (both pairs on courts 1 and 2) and be reasonably assured of wins, but sometimes a weaker team will try to "steal" a win by putting their weaker singles player on court 1 and weakest doubles pair on court 1 as well.

Another technique when one thinks they are overmatched at singles is to load up on doubles.  This is far riskier as it requires a team win all of the doubles, but doing so may give them their best chance if playing their best players in singles is likely to result in losses anyway.  And this strategy did work for a couple teams at recent PNW 18+ Sectionals that won 3-2 on just the doubles.

Obviously, this "stacking" of a line-up is not a new concept and opposing captains know it may happen, so they will counter any expected line-up juggling with their own and you can find the "#1 singles" guys playing each other on court 2, or the best doubles pairs facing off on court 3.

So what is a captain to do?

Some just roll their players out how they have all year, they advanced thus far and if it ain't broke don't fix it.

Others will scout their opponents and try to determine what to do, but some captains will have juggled things all year to make that hard to do.  But most teams, even if they intend to make it random, do have tendencies, particularly in playoffs.  And strong teams often don't need to stack at all, they will win regardless, and many captains think they are a strong team so this leads to them sticking with the tendencies they've established.  So if an opposing captain can identify those they can use it to their advantage.

To help with identifying these trends and tendencies, I started generating flight reports several years ago.  In their latest incarnation, these reports give a captain several great pieces of information:
  • The full roster average for each team.  With this, a captain can see who the stronger/weaker teams are in general and who the deepest teams are.  With this in hand, an overall plan of when to play stronger/weaker players can be established.
  • The average for the top-8 (or top-5 if three courts are being played) players on the team.  This tells a captain who is strongest/weakest if their best players are played which can also give guidance on general line-up planning.
  • The average rating of who played by court.  This can clearly show a teams tendencies and if they are stronger in singles or doubles, if they stack, and if so on what courts.  Some teams look balanced and are hard to predict, but most teams have definite tendencies.  And since the report breaks these averages out by regular season and playoffs, you can see how they change when the matches matter more.

But to make use of this info, a captain has to also understand their own team so they can actually get the advantageous match-ups.

At a high level this is usually pretty obvious, team practices and actual records and match results don't lie, you usually know who the better players are.  But there is sometimes more than meets the eye as some will do very well in practice against teammates they know well but not as well in matches against unfamiliar players.  Or some gaudy records may have been racked up against weak opponents and the player isn't really as strong as thought.

And when pairing doubles partners, unless the captain is going with the same tried and true pairings all the time, it can be useful to know who actually plays the best with who.

The flight report gives some of this info, a captain can see if they really are stronger in singles or doubles, or if the stacking they thought they were (or weren't) doing actually holds true.  But to get more details, I offer team reports that give my estimated rating for each player on a roster, what their rating was at the start of the year, what it was before their most recent match, and their record and courts played on the team.  It also includes the partner report that shows how each player's matches have rated with different partners so you can see who plays best with who.

Whether for your own team or an opponent, this gives insight to help plan line-ups and even match strategy as your players can know who the stronger/weaker player is and thus who to target from the start of the match.

I generate any of my reports on request and can customize or tailor them to specific needs and offer discussion and suggestions on how best to use the information.  I do charge for them as generating accurate ratings does involve some time and effort, but most reports end up costing the equivalent of a cup of coffee per member of your team so really are a great value if you want to maximize your chances in playoffs.  It seems like a no-brainer to spend a few bucks to give yourself a chance of making a playoff weekend not just a fun but also a winning experience.

And yes, they work.  Over the past 4-5 years many report customers have advanced to and even won Nationals, often doing better than expected in part because the reports helped them plan effectively.  Last year, a report customer won Nationals and was arguably the underdog in three or four of their five matches, but the won all five, four of them just 3-2, by knowing the tendencies of their opponent and getting favorable match-ups to perhaps "steal" a win.

And from personal experience, a team I captained won our first match at Sectionals 5-0 in part because I got the match-ups I wanted, and then I knew we were playing a team loaded at singles so I loaded up in doubles.  I got the match-ups I wanted again and we won two of the doubles courts, but the third went to a match tie-break and my guys came up just short.  But it was the right strategy, I'd take my guys in that match again any day, and had I tried to win a singles court with another player who played doubles, we might have lost 4-1 rather than 3-2.

In a match between closely rated teams, how the players do on that given day is obviously a big factor, but putting them in the best position to win can be the difference between a team win or loss.

There is still plenty of time to get reports for any phase of playoffs remaining this year.  If interested, contact me via e-mail or on Facebook or Twitter.

Upcoming USTA League playoffs for the weekend of 8/18-20

It is playoff season for USTA League and more are scheduled for this upcoming week or weekend.

The Sectionals include:

  • Eastern 18+ Sectionals
  • Intermountain 18+ Sectionals
  • Midwest 18+ Sectionals
  • Southern Cal 40+ Sectionals
  • Florida 18+ Sectionals
  • Middle States 18+ Sectionals
  • New England 18+ Sectionals
  • Northern 18+ Sectionals

And there are still some non-Sectionals playoffs taking place:
  • Mid-Atlantic Maryland 40+ Regionals
  • Texas Fort Worth 40+ Playoffs
  • Eastern 40+ Playoffs

As always I'm generating accurate team, or flight reports, and ratings have been very accurate predicting results and are a great way to scout opponents and plan line-ups.

And if you just finished playing in playoffs and are done for the year, now is a great time to get an individual report to see the details of where you are likely to end the year.

Contact me if you are interested in any reports.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

2017 USTA League Pacific Northwest Sectionals results - Seattle area teams dominate and are headed to Nationals

After my update on the PNW Sectionals through two days, matches are complete and it is time to see who won and punched their ticket to Nationals.  This time we'll go highest level to lowest.

NTRP LevelWinnerRunner-upComments
5.0+ MNWW-RobinswoodNWW-Mercer IslandWon 2-1, had won 2-1 at local playoffs
5.0+ WNWW-Bellevue TANO-Sunset ACWon flight with 3-0 record
4.5 MSWW-SprinkerNWW-NordstrumWon 3-2, one court an upset in a MTB
4.5 WNWW-Seattle TCEW-Hood RiverWon 3-2, three courts went to MTBs, NWW won two of them
4.0 MNWW-NguyenNO-Lake OswegoWon 4-1
4.0 WNO-Portland TCSO-Eugene S&TCWon 3-2, four(!) went to MTBs
3.5 MNWW-Mill CreekNWW-Sand PointWon 3-2, had won local playoffs 3-2, won all the doubles
3.5 WNWW-Bellevue ClubNO-Sunset ACWon 3-2
3.0 MNWW-RobinswoodNO-Tualitin HillsWon 3-2, won all the doubles
3.0 WNWW-Sand PointNO-MultnomahWon 4-1
2.5 MNWW-ETC or FCNWW-FC or ETCNo score listed for third match
2.5 WNWW-RobinswoodNWW-Amy YeeWon 3-0

EW - Eastern Washington
NWW - Northwest Washington, i.e. Seattle
NO - Northern Oregon, i.e. Portland
SO - Southern Oregon
SWW - Southwest Washington

With the 2.5 men still TBD, but both teams from Seattle, the totals by district are:
  • Seattle - 10
  • Portland - 1
  • Southwest Washington - 1

Seattle does have the most players generally and so has the largest pool of players to pull from and so does often lead the way at Sectionals, and in fact, last year at 18+ Sectionals Seattle won 11 of 12, so this year is actually a "down" year I guess.

But it was close, with 7 of the 10 played finals being 3-2 or 2-1 wins, so just one court difference could have changed a bunch of those results.

Well done to all those that played, and good luck to those headed to Nationals!

USTA League Pacific Northwest 18 & over Sectionals Update - Seattle dominates through the first two days

Sectionals for the Pacific Northwest 18 & over are taking place this weekend in Spokane.  Here is an update as we go into the final day.

The 2.5 women's final finds Robinswood and Amy Yee going undefeated in their flights resulting in a repeat of Seattle local playoffs when Robinswood prevailed 2-1.

The 2.5 men has two more Seattle teams in ETC and Forest Crest the only teams there and 1-1 going into their last match.  They were both 6-3 in local league play with ETC having the 2-1 advantage.

At 3.0, the women final has Sand Point from Seattle going up against Multnomah from Portland who split their round robin with Eastside but won the courts won/lost tie-breaker.

The 3.0 men's final has Robinswood facing Tualitin who had a loss and had to win their last match 3-2 to advance to the final.

At 3.5, for the women, Bellevue Club won their flight but the other flight has not finished it seems with Robinswood and Sunset from Portland both listed as 2-0.

The 3.5 men has Mill Creek from Seattle and Sand Point both going undefeated in flight facing off in the final, Mill Creek having won local playoffs 3-2.

At 4.0, Oregon dominated with Eugene facing off against Portland.

The 4.0 men has an Independent team from Seattle going against Lake Oswego from Portland.

At 4.5, the women's final finds Seattle TC and Hood River from Eastern Washington going undefeated and facing off for the trip to Nationals.

The 4.5 men finds Nordstrom from Seattle winning a tight flight on a head-to-head tie-breaker facing off against Sprinker from Southwest Washington.

The last level, 5.0+, has the women's decided with Bellevue Tennis Academy winning the flight 3-0.

The 5.0 men has Robinswood winning easy and facing Mercer Island who had to win a three-way 2-2 tie on courts won/lost, Robinswood having won local playoffs 2-1.

The totals by district are 16 teams from Seattle having won or still in it, 5 from Portland, and one each from Southern Oregon, Eastern Washington, and Southwest Washington.

Good luck to all, a review to come when it is all finished.

Friday, August 11, 2017

2017 USTA League playoffs this weekend - Sectionals begin to ramp up

This weekend, August 11 thru 13, sees a big ramp up in the USTA League playoff action.  While the largest section (Southern) has completed their 18+ and 40+ Sectionals, other sections are joining the fun this weekend.  These include:

  • Eastern 18+/40+ some levels
  • Florida 18+ some levels
  • Mid-Atlantic 18+
  • Missouri Valley 18+ and 55+
  • Pacific Northwest 18+
  • Southern Cal 40+
  • Southwest 18+
  • Texas 18+ some levels

Other non-Sectional playoffs are also going on including:
  • Eastern 40+ local/district playoffs
  • Eastern Tri-Level Regionals
  • Mid-Atlantic Maryland 40+ Regionals
  • Middle States Philadelphia 18+ Districts
  • Midwest 18+/40+ States
  • New England 40+ Districts

Good luck to all!