Sunday, October 26, 2014

USTA Nationals Wildcard Tie-breaker - Is it fair?

At several of the USTA Nationals this year, there are not a full four flights due to some sections not sending teams.  This results in three flights with the winner advancing to the semis, but a wildcard then being needed to fill out the semi-finals to four teams.

The tie-breaker the USTA has elected to use is percentage of games won amongst those teams that finished second in their flight.  Is this fair or the best option?

First, the flights don't always have the same number of teams, so going on team record or team winning percentage won't work as you aren't comparing apples with apples.  For example, the second place team in the five team flight may be 3-1 so 75% winning percentage will the second place team in a four team flight would be 2-1 or 67%.  The four team flight will always lose.

What about percentage of courts won?  This would seem to be more fair, all teams get to play five (usually) or three courts each and enough courts are played that the difference between four and five team flights kind of goes away.  For example, a four team flight second place team may win 4-1 and 3-2 and lose 3-2 resulting in a courts won record of 9-6.  A five team flight second place team may win 4-1, 3-2, 3-2, and lose 3-2 and have a record of 12-8.  Both of these are 60%, so clearly you'd need a second tie-breaker as ties here might be pretty common.

You could also look at percentage of sets won instead or as the second tie-breaker.  This is quite a bit less likely to end in a tie so could serve either purpose.  This would reward the team that is able to win more courts in the first place, and then win in straight sets more often and avoid match tie-breaks.

But the USTA chose percentage of games won.  My guess is since this is far less likely to ever end in a tie, it was simpler to do as there is just one tie-breaker that has to be calculated and you don't have to have a backup.  What it also does though is reward a team that is deeper and doesn't give up games in their wins and even in their losses keeps it close.  It punishes a team that may stack and give up a court, as their percentage of games won is hurt on that court where they likely lose badly, a 6-1,6-1 loss being far worse in this tie-breaker than a 6-4,6-4 loss.

Note that at least the USTA is using a percentage in this case unlike the games lost tie-breaker used in regular season league play that is flawed.

So, is that fair?  Should preference be given to the deeper team over the scrappy team that manages to finish second through smart captaining and getting favorable line-ups?  That probably makes sense, but what do you think?