Sunday, October 19, 2014

USTA League 18 & over 2.5 and 4.0 Nationals are complete - Congratulations ?, ?, ?, and Southern California

The second weekend of USTA League Nationals is complete with the 18 & over 2.5 and 4.0 levels playing this weekend in Indian Wells and Tucson.

In the women's 2.5, Eastern and NorCal found themselves in the final having beaten Southern and Pacific Northwest int he semis.  Eastern pulled out the 2-1 win, one of the wins in a match tie-break.

The men's 2.5 found NorCal and PNW in the final after wins over Eastern and Florida.  PNW won 2-1, with each of the matches surprisingly being straight sets wins.

The 4.0 women's title was won by Texas beating Southern Cal 4-1 in the final after taking out Mid-Atlantic 4-1 in their semi.

Last, the 4.0 men also found Southern California and Texas playing in the final, both coming off 4-1 wins in the semis.  Unlike the Texas 3.5 team from last weekend, this Texas team was not entirely made up of self-rated players from last or this year but did have quite a few and had lost two to DQ's earlier in the year.  They were still very strong but SoCal was too and SoCal pulled off the 3-2 win with one of the winning courts a match tie-break win.

It sounds like a great weekend of competitive tennis, but Texas and SoCal appear to be the kings of 4.0 tennis this year and NorCal making the final in both genders of 2.5 but coming in second both times.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Second week of USTA Nationals has started - 18 & over 2.5 and 4.0 this weekend

The second weekend of the 2014 USTA League Nationals is underway.

This weekend's matches are again being held in Indian Wells and Tucson, the 18 & over 2.5 men and women finding themselves in the California desert while the 18 & over 4.0 men and women are in Arizona.

The women's 2.5 level has the full contingent of teams from all 17 sections, but the men's only has 12 teams and even has three wildcards to get to that number.

For the 4.0 level, both the men and women have the full 17 sections represented as you would expect, this being the level that has nearly the most participants in USTA League (closely behind 3.5).

Good luck teams!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Nationals are complete (for some), final dynamic ratings being calculated

With the completion of the first weekend of Nationals, the first set of Nationals players can now have their final dynamic ratings calculated including all their matches played thru Nationals.  Well, sort of.  It doesn't seem fair, but some that played this weekend are going to turn around and play at Nationals again in a few weeks in different age groups.

For players that played at Nationals, what I'm able to do in an Estimated Dynamic NTRP Rating Report is include how their matches at Nationals will carry extra weight in the year-end calculations and thus an even more accurate estimate of where the player's rating will end up.

Below is an example of a chart for a "3.0" that played this weekend.  One can see that they will clearly be bumped up and were actually scaring a double bump for awhile, all while not playing up at all.

If you are interested in a report, contact me, and of course, with several weeks of Nationals to go, I can do team reports and scouting reports to aid in preparation.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Texas wins 2014 Men's 3.0 National Championship, takes sandbagging to a new level

I just saw that the Texas men won the 3.0 National Championship played in Tucson this weekend.  Congratulations to them on winning, ... and also for taking sandbagging and apparent under self-rating to a new level.

I have on occasion written about suspect matches where individual players may have been throwing matches in order to manipulate their rating down.  But I have never seen what appears to be this example of an entire team manipulating the system to get a National Championship.  Here are the details.

I've been writing about some of the progress at Nationals this weekend and had a few comments written about how some Texas individuals were doing and the team as a whole.  I then looked and saw that they won it all earlier today so decided to take a look.

First, at Nationals, in their flight they won it easily going 3-0, 12-3 on courts, losing just the 6 sets and 79 games.  While they lost the 3 courts, they won every match 4-1, most of the wins of the 6-2,6-2 type of score, and two of the losses in match tie-breaks.  In fact, take out the 29 games lost in the 3 losses and the rest of the matches, the wins, averaged 6-2,6-2.  That is perhaps a little suspicious but not that unexpected at Nationals.

It is worth noting that in their flight where they lost one court per team match, it was generally their lower rated players that lost and 2 of those 4 did not play in the semis or final, so they may have known they'd win the other 4 courts and were able to get their lower rated players in matches this way.

But in their semi, they played a Pacific Northwest team that had gone 3-0, 15-0 on courts, losing just 4 sets and 83 games.  On paper, PNW looked like the stronger team going into the final, except that it is interesting that PNW lost more games despite not losing a match, so their wins were not as lopsided at Texas'.

The result in the semi?  Texas won 5-0, losing just one set, and losing a total of 19 games in the other 4 matches, an average of slightly better than 6-2,6-3 on average.  It would seem PNW were not the sandbaggers, or they just didn't do it as well.

In the final, Texas also won 5-0 over a Northern California team that went 3-0/9-6 in their flight and had won their semi 3-2.  In this match, there was another match-tiebreak win, but the other 4 matches lost a total of only 9 games.  Not exactly the close competition you'd expect in the final at Nationals.

So, Texas was clearly the best team there, but were they the best fairly?  By the rules the USTA has in place, I have to assume it was all technically legal.  But I've written before that I think the rules are too lenient, so does it pass the smell test or the stricter rules I or others would advocate?

Looking at the Texas roster of 15, only 4 were self-rated which is not unexpected at the 3.0 level as 3.0 is a common level for new players to USTA League.  But what is somewhat surprising is that every other player on the roster was self-rated in 2013.  Ok, perhaps a bunch of friends got together and played in 2013 and enjoyed it and got some more friends to join them.

But if you look at the 2013 records, it all gets more suspicious.  Every one of the computer rated players played the exact minimum 3 matches in 2013 required to get a C rating and all did so in Texas' Fall league.  Of those 33 matches, all but three were losses or competitive wins, so these players were not exhibiting the level of play they did at Nationals in playing the minimum 3 matches.

What about the self-rated players this year?

One played only 3 regular season matches, the last being a bad loss that appears may have been thrown to keep their rating down.  Because of this low rated match, they were able to win twice at Sectionals without worrying about a DQ.

Another played only one match and was not part of the Nationals team.

The third played only once in the regular season (a default win got them their second match to qualify for playoffs), and went 2-1 at Sectionals with an odd retirement loss thrown in there.

The last played only once in the regular season (also a default win to qualify for playoffs) and that was a retirement loss, then went 2-0 winning easily at Sectionals.

From all of the above, there appears to have been an orchestrated effort to get most of the roster a 3.0C rating at 2013 year-end, and then to minimize the matches played for the self-rated players to avoid DQs.  Is this necessarily an indication of cheating?  Not on a case by case basis, but when every single player of a 15 player team falls into one of those categories, something seems amiss.

I also can't say for sure that any of the self-ratings last year or this year were inaccurate or dishonestly done.  But seeing where some of the players are now rated and observations from Nationals that some of the Texas team was not putting forth a full effort and still winning easily makes one suspicious.  It is possible that the players just improved throughout the year, but when looking at my Estimated Dynamic NTRP Ratings nearly every player is well into the range for a 3.5 now and a few are threatening being double bumped up to 4.0, and they all did this without playing up, I think it is safe to say they were not legitimate 3.0 players.

Now at Nationals, you are always going to have players playing above level, it is just the nature of the beast that the best players at a level are at the top and even above that level as they have improved.  But because of the apparent orchestration to get players C ratings, the Texas players were able to improve and be well above level without any consequence, and if they did play Fall league matches at less than full effort to secure the 3.0C ratings, those were achieved falsely and the players were fraudulent 3.0s.

And perhaps this is just a case of Texas cheating better than the other teams.  There may be some validity to that, but in the case of PNW, there were no self-rated players, only one appeal and that was an appeal up, and only one player was a self-rated player last year.

So, how could the USTA solve this?

One school of thought is to not allow self-rated players to play at Nationals.  There is some merit to this but this team would have been largely unaffected as 11 would still have been eligible since they did the minimum to get their 3.0C ratings from 2013.

Or, the rules for qualifying for playoffs are pretty low, be in 2 matches but 1 of those can be a default.  Why not increase this at least for self-rated players and not allow defaults to count as a match?  That would keep players from not playing so few matches to avoid strikes but still qualifying for playoffs.

But regarding self-rated players, something I advocate is tightening up the tolerances for strikes.  Today, a 3.0 can be clearly playing at a 3.5 level and not be DQ'd due to the tolerance the USTA allows for players to improve.  Doing this would have DQ'd 2 of the 4 self-rates on the Texas team so it would have helped, but not done enough to prevent the team from advancing.

The another option would be to not allow a player to get a C rating unless they play at least 3 matches in a league that advances to Nationals as that is the league where players are more likely to play their best.  In Texas, this would not allow players to get C ratings from playing in secondary leagues like the Fall league.  Note that some sections don't include these secondary leagues in NTRP ratings as their solution to these leagues being used to manipulate ratings.  Either way, this would have kept this entire roster as self-rated and then many of them would have been DQ'd or at risk of DQ preventing them from advancing.  Of course, the players would just have had to start earlier to get the 3 matches in during the Spring/Summer league but it at least makes it more difficult.

Last, the USTA could do away with the rule that C rated players can't be DQ'd.  One approach would be to have the threshold for a C rated player be higher than for a self-rate, but still have a threshold for strikes to preclude players that are clearly above level from continuing to play at that level.

Thoughts?  Leave a comment or vote in the poll to the right on what the USTA should do about situations like this.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Semi-finals set for USTA League 18 & over 3.0 and 5.0+ Nationals

The USTA League 18 & over Nationals continued for the 3.0 and 5.0+ levels today and we have four sets of finalists that will play on Sunday for the title.

The 3.0 women has Texas and the Caribbean facing off in one semi and the Pacific Northwest and Southern Cal in the other.  Each of the flight winner was undefeated so these are a good set of match-ups.

The 3.0 men have Eastern and Northern Cal in one semi, each having gone 3-0 but both losing 5 and 6 courts respectively, so they were close matches.  The other semi pits the Pacific Northwest against Texas, PNW going 15-0 on courts and Texas 12-3 en route to their 3-0 records.  On the surface the PNW/Texas winner would seem to be the favorite, but Eastern and NorCal may have had tougher flights as the reason for the not as impressive records.

The women's 5.0+ has Southern Cal and Texas playing each other and Intermountain and the PNW also matching up.  The PNW it appears got the wildcard into the semis.

In the men's 5.0+, it looks like the Southern Wildcard, Intermountain, and Northern won the three flights, and I believe there will be a wildcard and it falls to the other Southern team.  I don't know the match-ups yet.

Good luck teams.

Friday, October 10, 2014

2014 USTA League Nationals are underway - 18 & over 3.0 and 5.0+

USTA League Nationals for 2014 started today with the 3.0 level playing in Tucson and 5.0+ in Indian Wells.  After day one, there has been some good competition but a few teams have stepped forward to be contenders to make the semis.

First from Tucson for the women's 3.0 level, flight 1, the five team flight, has two 2-0 teams leading the way with Southern and Texas.  The winner will likely come from one of this pair.

Flight 2 has the Pacific Northwest leading at 2-0 but they still have to play one of the two 1-1 teams tomorrow.

Mid-Atlantic leads flight 3 at 2-0 but the Caribbean is 1-0 and won all five courts today they still have to play.

Southern Cal leads flight 4 at 1-0, but only won 3-2 and there are two 1-1 teams still in it.

For the men, New England has the lead in flight 5 winning their matches today 4-1 and 3-2, but Eastern won their one match 4-1 today so their match tomorrow will likely decide the flight winner.

The Pacific Northwest and Intermountain lead flight 6, but PNW has gone 10-0 while Intermountain has gone just 6-4 so far on individual courts.  But they still have to play to decide the semifinalist.

Northern California leads flight 7 but both wins were 3-2 and there are two 1-1 teams right behind them so it isn't decided yet.

Similarly, Texas leads flight 8 at 2-0 but two 1-1 teams are also behind them.

The women's 5.0 Nationals has three flights each with four teams.  Southern Cal leads flight 1 at 2-0 but two 1-1 teams are close behind.  Similarly, Intermountain is 2-0 ahead of two 1-1 teams in flight 2.  And for the sake of consistency, Texas leads flight 3 ahead of two 1-1 teams.

With three flights, I believe a wildcard will make the semis so those second place teams still have a shot.

The men's 5.0 has three flights as well, but five teams each except the Midwest team pulled out so just four teams in flight 6.

Flight 5 has Northern Cal and Southern both at 2-0, and they play first up tomorrow to likely decide the semifinalist.

Flight 6 has two 1-0 teams in Intermountain and the Texas wildcard, but the 1-1 Southwest team is still in it.

Northern has taken the 2-0 lead in flight 7 but with three 1-1 teams behind them, it is still up for grabs.

I did look at a few match-ups and with just a couple of exceptions, the higher rated players and teams are generally winning.  Even though the ratings are specifically meant to predict winners, this does help validate the accuracy of my rating estimates.

Good luck everyone!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

USTA League 18 & over 3.0 and 5.0+ Nationals start tomorrow, 2.5 and 4.0 October 17-19

USTA League Nationals for 2014 get started tomorrow with the 3.0 level playing in Tucson and 5.0+ in Indian Wells.  And following close behind are 2.5 and 4.0 next weekend, also in Indian Wells and Tucson.

Having had the opportunity to go to Nationals once, I know this is an exciting time.  Whether you are traveling today or flew in a day early yesterday, the anticipation is building.  For some, this is a repeat of what has been done before, and perhaps there are goals set to do better than last time.  But for others this is a brand new experience.  For both, a few tips and reminders:

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Tucson and Indian Wells are dry desert climates and it will be hot and you will need more water than you think.  And hanging out in the sun all day will sap your strength if you aren't used to it.  That said, Tucson's forecast is for mid/upper 80s which isn't bad, but Indian Wells is supposed to be in the upper 90s.

Have a plan as a team

Do you have aspirations of winning it all?  Or have the goals been met by just getting there?  In either case, have a plan for the weekend.

If you are trying to win it all, trust your scouting reports (you did get team reports on the opposition right?) and know who you plan to play in which matches in order to both give yourself the best chance at winning the team match but keeping guys fresh enough to make it to the end.  But be ready to adapt as you learn more about the opponents or based on the results of the matches.  And even though you've done your homework, getting updated reports during the event can be useful so contact me if you are interested in that.

If you have accomplished the goal already, then make sure everyone has the best experience.  Have the rotation figured out that will get everyone in a few matches but don't just throw players out there, you never know what might happen and you could advance out of your flight, so still give line-ups some thought.

And balancing playing time can be tricky, especially if you are trying to win it all or find yourself with a chance to advance.  Most teams bring more than the minimum number of players, but there may be a pecking order to who should play to have the best chance of winning.  Regardless of it you are going to even out playing time or not, make sure the players understand their role and what to expect.

Relax and have fun

This is probably the most important thing.  Is winning fun?  Sure, but only a few teams will even make the semis and only one team wins, so if having fun is contingent on being the champs, a lot of folks won't have fun.  And more most people, they play their best when they are relaxed.  So play your best, be good sportsmen/sportswomen and play fair, but have fun and enjoy the experience.  While some are fortunate to go to Nationals more than once, for many it may be a once in lifetime experience so enjoy it.

And to those that belittle Nationals as meaningless, that being the "best 3.5" just means there are thousands of players better than you, the same can be said for most any job or accomplishment so don't mind them.  Goals and accomplishments are personal, so set them for yourself and strive to achieve them.

And I'm pleased to say I have a number of report customers that are headed to Nationals over the next month so I'll be following all of their progress with a close eye and continuing to help several teams through the event.  Good luck to all the teams though, have fun and play your best.