Friday, August 17, 2018

2018 USTA League playoffs continue in many sections

After a busy weekend last week, the playoff wagon keeps going this weekend with more this weekend.

Sections holding Sectionals include Eastern, Florida, Hawaii, Intermountain, Middle States, New England, NorCal, and Midwest and several Districts and Regionals are being held in other sections.  At the conclusion of this weekend, more teams will be headed to Nationals and the new format for this year.

Closer to home for me, we are having local playoffs for 40 & Over and 55 & Over Mixed and I'm pleased to say the club I play at (Columbia Athletic Club / Silver Lake) is well represented.  There are seven teams playing in the four different draws, two apiece in three of them.  And interestingly, in the 55 & Over 8.0 draw where there are two from my club, the other two teams are also from a single club, Harbor Square.  Is there some hidden message about the age of the members and style of play at these two clubs? 🤔

In any case, good luck to everyone whether playing local or section level playoffs.  And remember, I can do individual, flight, or team reports for anyone interested in seeing where their rating may stand or scouting for playoffs.  Contact me if interested.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

2018 USTA League Nationals "flight" schedules available, who plays who in the new format

I just wrote about 2018 USTA League Nationals and how the new format might change things with some simulations, and turns out that the "flight" schedules have been published, at least in preliminary format, so we can see who plays who in the new flightless round-robin format.

I'm looking through them to see what I can learn and decipher about how teams are being matched up, but you can take a look for yourself by visiting the USTA's Nationals Schedule page and for each level, there is a "Schedule" link to see who plays who and when.

One observation is that as expected, it appears teams will play two matches each day.  One odd thing is that for 5.0+, two teams will play each other twice which doesn't seem right, but I need to look more closely to see why that is.

Note these are marked are preliminary, so I imagine they could change.

Stay tuned for more!

Going to 2018 USTA League Nationals? Remember, format change this year! See simulated scenarios

Sectionals for USTA League are being played and completed across the USTA, especially in the 18 & Over division, and Nationals are scheduled to start in less than two months with events in Orlando, FL and Arlington, TX October 5-7.  So now is a good time for a refresher on the new format introduced for this year.

Feel free to read what I wrote earlier, but the summary is that unlike past years where the 17 sections were split into four flights, three with four teams and one with five, this year there will be no flights and instead, each team will play a random round-robin of four matches.

There will still be four teams advancing to the semi-finals, but without fixed flights, it will just come down to standings from the random round-robin play to determine the top-4 teams.  The standings will be determined using the traditional team win/loss, then individual court win/loss, then head-to-head, then sets lost, and then games lost.  While this method of determining the standings works fine for regular season flights and playoff flights where everyone plays each other, the big question, in my mind at least, is if this will be equitable in a format where all the teams don't play each other (more below so keep reading!).

The good news is that with this format, all teams will play the same number of matches, four, instead of most of the teams having just three matches.  So this means more opportunity to get everyone a match or two if you have a large roster.  It also means that, in theory at least, a team that lost a match in a tough flight and missed out on making the semis to the team they lost to now has a chance to still find their way in to the semis.

So how might this all play out?  I discuss some possible scenarios below, and I've actually done simulations with millions of iterations to see how common some of the scenarios are.

Without going into too much detail, my simulations assign a representative strength (based on frequent top-8 averages I've observed) to each team and then have some built in variability of a team playing better/worse than their strength for a given match.  All the matches are then simulated a million times and I take a look at the chances of different scenarios.  On to some observations!

First, it is possible for there to be five teams that finish undefeated and in this scenario, one of those teams will be left out of the semis.  Under the old format, going undefeated in your flight would guarantee the semis and now that isn't the case, so should this happen, that would be tough to swallow, especially given the questionably equitable tie-breakers (see below).  What are the chances this happens?  My simulations say there is a 1-2% chance, so it certainly won't happen often, but with nearly 40 different Nationals to be played each year, there it is likely to happen once every year or two.  We'll have to see if my simulated chances come to fruition.

Second, the ideal scenario to avoid any controversy would be for there to be four 4-0 teams.  The chances of this are actually reasonably high at 16%, so about 1 in 6 events we'll have a nice clean set of semi-finalists.  That still leaves a lot of times where it won't be clean and tie-breakers will come into play.

Third, 84% of the time it appears there will be a tie for fourth.  This will often be just a few teams, but there are scenarios where it is more than a few and even more than half the 17 teams!  In fact, it is exceedingly unlikely, but my simulations show it is possible for there to be a 12 way tie for fourth!  Won't that be a fun tie-breaker to figure out.

Here is the break out of how often the various number of tied teams may occur when there is a tie for fourth:

  • 2 - 6%
  • 3 - 21%
  • 4 - 31%
  • 5 - 25%
  • 6 - 13%
  • 7 - 4%
  • 8 - 1%
  • 9-12 - <1% (but still possible!)
  • (yes, some numbers above are rounded up so the total is >100%)

So the most likely number of teams tied for fourth is 4, but we can expect to see 5 teams tied 25% of the time there is a tie for fourth.

Fourth,  since it is a random four match round-robin, some teams will have tougher schedules and some will have easier schedules.  In fact, my simulations show that the "best" team may not make the semis nearly 10% of the time because they have a tougher schedule and lose a match while other on paper weaker teams with easier schedules go undefeated or beat the stronger team out in a tie-breaker.  Correspondingly, the weakest team there actually has a chance, albeit a very small one, of getting an easy schedule and making the semis.  So just as the old format, there is still a "luck of the draw" factor that will significantly influence who will advance.

Fifth, we see that tie-breakers are going to come into play a lot of the time (84% for those paying attention).  The first tie-breaker is individual courts, but with just four matches played, my simulations show that won't decide things a full 31% of the time there is a tie.  It then goes to head-to-head, but with each team only playing a quarter of the opposition, it is more likely than not that there won't be a head-to-head match to break the tie.  In fact, it is possible the tied teams may not have even played any common opponents!  That means we'll go to the sets lost tie-breaker.

Because regular season flights play more matches, and because regular season flights and normal playoff flights all have head-to-head matches, the sets tie-breaker is rarely used and for that reason, I don't think people understand that it is fundamentally flawed.

Consider two teams, A and B, that both go 3-1 in their matches, and both go 13-7 on individual courts.  Let's assume for simplicity that both teams have all their wins be in straight sets, but team A has all their losses be in straight sets while team B has all their losses be in third set tie-breaks.  Both teams will have lost 14 sets so by the sets lost tie-breaker they are tied, but team B, in my opinion at least, did a lot better as they took all their losses to third sets and they won a lot more sets than team A did.  But the sets lost tie-breaker gives them no credit for that.

Worse, if we modify the above scenario to have team B lose just one set in one of their wins, they now have lost 15 sets and lose the tie-breaker to team A despite team B winning 7 more sets than team A did.  Does that seem right?

It seems pretty clear, and frankly pretty easy to do, that this tie-breaker should be sets won/lost differential instead of just sets lost.  But because it is sets lost, and because this tie-breaker will come into play in the new format, it is not just possible but perhaps likely that the "wrong" team will win the tie-breaker and advance.

Sixth, taking it a step further, because the sets lost tie-breaker does not differentiate between our team A and B above in the first scenario, things will get to the games lost tie-breaker perhaps more often than you might expect (I haven't done a full simulation of this yet).  Unfortunately, games lost suffers from the same plight as the sets lost tie-breaker, but it is even worse.

Consider a team A that loses a set 6-0 and team B loses a set 7-6.  If you look at games lost, team A, that didn't win a game, will look better in this tie-breaker having lost just 6 games to team B's 7 games lost.  In essence, team B is penalized for keeping the set close and forcing it to a tie-breaker.

Again, it seems pretty clear, and would be easy to do, that this tie-breaker should be games won/lost differential and that would make it a lot more equitable.

I certainly hope things go smoothly at all the Nationals this year and there is not controversy with undefeated teams missing semis or inequitable tie-breakers causing much angst and confusion over who should advance.  I'll certainly be monitoring and look forward to hearing from anyone at Nationals how they think the new format works.

But what do you think now?  Am I just too much of a nerd thinking about all the possibilities, and should anything strange happen it is no big deal?  Or should we be worried that there will be confusion and controversy with the new format?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Results from Pacific Northwest's 18 & Over USTA League Sectionals

A big weekend of playoffs is complete, the PNW contributing its 18 & Over Sectionals, and being from the section I always like to look at who won and the distribution across the districts.

The last few years, the Seattle area has dominated (formally known as Northwest Washington or NWW) and sent by far the most teams to Nationals, 10 of the 12 teams last year.  Did this change this year?

The 2.5 women had the full complement of eight teams, Robinswood (NWW) and Eugene (Southern Oregon) making the finals with Robinswood winning.

The 2.5 men had just three teams, two from NWW and Eastside (NWW) won the round-robin easily.

The 3.0 women had Robinswood (NWW) and Lakewood (Southwest Washington) in the final with Robinswood coming out on top.

For the 3.0 men, Clackamas River (Northern Oregon) and Eastside (NWW) made the final with Eastside winning easily.

The 3.5 women saw two NWW teams in the final with Sand Point besting Robinswood.

Same for the 3.5 men, Robinswood and Mill Creek faced off from NWW with Mill Creek winning.

The 4.0 women saw NWW absent from the final with Cascade (NOR) and Valley (SWW) playing and Cascade getting the close win.

The 4.0 men saw NWW back with Mercer Island (NWW) beating Lake Oswego (NOR) in the final.

At the 4.5 level the women's final had Nordstrom (NWW) face Green Meadows (NOR) and Green Meadows come out on top.

The men's 4.5 final had Spokane (Eastern Washington) face Amy Yee (NWW) and Amy Yee coming out on top.

The 5.0+ women was round-robin with Sunset (NOR) winning the flight.

The 5.0+ men saw two Northern Oregon teams face off with Glendoveer beating West Hills.

Totaling things up by district:

  • NWW (Seattle) - 8
  • NOR (Portland) - 4

This is not as dominant as last year, Portland did step up, but Seattle still takes the bulk of the wins and sends teams to Nationals.

Congratulations all!  40 & Over Sectionals in less than two weeks now!

More USTA League Sectionals are complete and teams are headed to 2018 Nationals

With the completion of play Monday, another weekend of playoffs is complete!  Yes, some sections have their playoffs go through Monday, probably a topic for another blog entry on another day.  And this was probably one of the biggest weekends of playoffs with States/Districts taking place across the Midwest and other sections, but some sections holding Sectionals meaning more teams are qualified for Nationals.

18 & Over Sectionals were held in the Caribbean (55 & Over too), Eastern, Mid-Atlantic, New England, Northern, Texas, Florida, Pacific Northwest, Southern California, Southwest, .  That is over half the sections, and with Southern and Missouri Valley already being done, and Northern California, Intermountain, and Middle States playing next weekend, the teams for 2018 18 & Over Nationals will be determined very soon.

As a reminder, the format for Nationals has changed, there are no longer four flights but un-flighted random round-robin play.  Read here for more information and I'll be writing more soon.

Good luck all!

Friday, August 3, 2018

2018 Washington State Open this weekend at Seattle Tennis Club

If you live in the Seattle area and are wanting to see some good tennis, the Washington State Open is being played at Seattle Tennis Club this weekend through August 5th.

I believe this tournament is the largest Open and Age Division tournament in the area with a field of nearly 128 in the Men's Open draw, and large fields in many of the other draws too including some top ranked players in several of the Age Division draws.

Browsing the draws I see players from Oregon, California, British Columbia, Idaho, Hawaii, Arizona, and even as far away as Minnesota and Florida!

It looks like the weather should be nice this weekend so go on out and enjoy some good tennis in a beautiful location.

2018 USTA League playoffs continue - Midwest in full force

The road to Nationals continues this weekend as more sections and areas have playoffs.

The Midwest really gets going with Districts being held in Central Indiana, Southeast Michigan, Ohio Valley, Northeastern Ohio, and Chicago.

Northern California also has Districts for 18 & Over, and several areas in Mid-Atlantic have some playoffs as does New Jersey and Long Island.

Good luck to all!