Sunday, July 15, 2012

USTA League rules for breaking ties flawed?

Being a bit of a numbers and stats guy, and being fortunate to have played on several teams that have vied for or made it to playoffs, I've looked up and figured out most of the tie-breaking rules the USTA uses for determining placing within sub-flights and seedings for playoffs.

Within sub-flights, all the teams will have played the same number of matches and so the rules are pretty straight forward and pretty much mirrors the format that Tennis Link displays for standings.  The rules for most leagues I've seen are:

  1. Best team record
  2. Fewest courts (individual matches) lost
  3. Fewest sets lost
  4. Fewest games lost
  5. Head to head
This seems like it should be fair, although some might think head to head would be higher, but upon deeper inspection, #4, fewest games lost appears, to me at least, to be a flawed approach to use.

Let's look at an example.

If a match is lost 6-4, 6-4, they will have lost the court, lost 2 sets, and lost 12 games.  If the match is instead lost 7-5, 7-5, they still lost the court (unchanged), lost 2 sets (unchanged), but now lost 14 games instead of the 12.  And should it come down to the 4th tie-breaker, losing 7-5, 7-5 will have been worse than losing 6-4, 6-4.  That certainly doesn't make sense as the 7-5, 7-5 result is certainly at least as competitive and arguably closer than 6-4, 6-4.

Worse, using tie-breaker #4 as-is, losing a match 6-0, 6-0 is better than losing 7-5, 7-5!  Again, both are the same on losing the court and losing sets, but 6-0, 6-0 loses 12 games while 7-5, 7-5 loses 14 games. Looking at this way certainly seems expose a gaping hole in the tie-breaker procedure.  A team should not benefit come tie-breaker time by having lost a match by a far worse score.

A better tie-breaker for #4 would be game differential (games won minus games lost).  Using this, 6-4, 6-4 and 7-5, 7-5 would be the same (-4 game differential) while 6-0, 6-0 would clearly be worse with a -12 game differential.

So presently, if a team is concerned about the potential tie-breakers at the end of the season, when losing a set, make sure you lose it with the opponent only winning 6 games (e.g. 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1, 6-0) and don't push the set to a 7-5 loss or 7-6 set tie-breaker.  As it stands, the rules dis-incent competing in a set to push it to the limit which just seems wrong.

What do you think?  Should the USTA change the tie-breaker from games lost to game differential?  I think so, and if you do, let your local coordinator know.