Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Hawaii a no-show at several Nationals - Are Nationals in Florida/Alabama unfair?

I just reviewed the flights for 2017 USTA League Nationals and five of them do not have the full complement of 17 teams.  A few go as low as 15 teams, which results in three flights of five teams and a wildcard making the semis, but there are also a couple with 16 teams.

A common theme with each of these championships is that Hawaii is the, or one of the missing teams.

Now, this could be just because they don't happen to have teams playing at that division/age/level/gender.  For example, there are typically very few 2.5 teams in most areas, and in one as small as Hawaii one can envision they may not even have teams play.  The same may happen at the 4.5+ or 5.0+ levels too.

But, is the move of most of the Nationals to Alabama and Florida perhaps also a reason?

In past years with Nationals in California and Arizona, Hawaiians were faced with a 5-6 hour flight to get there, and only that "quick" if they could get a non-stop to Palm Springs, Phoenix, or Tucson which probably wasn't likely.  So they already had the toughest trek just to get there, about the same as a flight from the New England section.

To get to Florida from Hawaii is an 11+ hour trip, and that is with the shortest connection one can find, most itineraries end up being about 13 hours.  They could fly to Australia in less time!  Is it really fair to ask someone to make that trip "just" to play three (perhaps more) tennis matches?

So lets take a look at the championships they aren't showing up to and see where they are and if Hawaii had teams.

  • 18+ 2.5 women in Mobile - Two teams played so could have gone, but Alabama is a long trip.
  • 18+ 3.0 men in Arizona - Two teams, "normal" trip to Arizona but appear to be deferring.
  • 18+ 4.5 women in Orlando - Seven teams, plenty to choose from, but none electing to make the trip.
  • 18+ 4.5 men in Orlando - Two teams, could have gone, but Orlando trip a long one.
  • 40+ 3.0 men in Ft. Lauderdale - Three teams, Florida is a long trip.

In each case, there were teams in local leagues so I believe they could have sent a team.  But in four of the five, and that just thus far, the trip was a pretty onerous one and I'm figuring that played into deciding to not go.

By comparison, last year Hawaii sent teams at 3.0-4.5 levels in both 18+ and 40+ men and women, so the missing 2.5 team is unchanged from last year, but the other four are all missing this year where they weren't last year.

Note that one could argue that for years, parts of the Continental United States have had a 5-6 hour trip to Nationals, and there are many more players in those areas so it is only fair for them to get a shorter trip now.  But it doesn't really matter how many players play in local leagues, only one team goes to Nationals so the move to Florida/Alabama would seem to be awfully unfair to Hawaii and likely is the reason they won't be at some of the championships this year.

I wrote about potential impacts of the location change for Nationals awhile back, and hypothesized the travel change would be a factor.  Hawaii was not a perennial top team in the past, but has made the semis eight times and won a title twice in the past four years, so it seems pretty clear they performance will be affected because some teams aren't even making the trip.

A few changes to flights for 2017 USTA League Nationals, a wildcard can make the semis

As we get closer to Nationals, and they are less than a month away now, there can be a few tweaks to the flight make-up for Nationals.  This generally occurs if a section elects to not send a team for a given division/age/level/gender.

For example, the 40 & over 3.0 men now has 15 teams rather than the 17 for each section, it appears Southwest and Hawaii are not sending teams.  As a result, there will now be three flights of five teams each and thus each team will get a minimum four matches rather than most having just three like is the case with four flights.

However, this also means that there will be a wildcard that makes the semis to join the three flight winners.  In the past when this has happened, the criteria for what second place team advances has been percentage of games won so I expect that will be the case again but have not had that confirmed yet.

A few other championships won't have the full 17 teams.  The complete list so far:
  • 18+ 2.5 women - 15 teams (Hawaii and Southern Cal missing)
  • 18+ 3.0 men - 16 teams (Hawaii missing)
  • 18+ 4.5 women - 15 teams (Hawaii and Northern missing)
  • 18+ 4.5 men - 16 teams (Hawaii missing)
  • 40+ 3.0 men - 15 teams (Hawaii and Southwest missing)

I have updated my post with the schedule and links to PDFs with what we know as of today and will continue to update it as I can.  Note that in at least one case, the match schedule links on the USTA site are broken but my link is still good :)


Monday, September 18, 2017

2017 USTA League Nationals in Ft. Lauderdale are still on!

The USTA elected to move a bunch of Nationals to Florida this year, some taking advantage of the new National Campus in Orlando, but a few being scheduled for Ft. Lauderdale.

A natural concern is that the weather is not as reliably warm and dry in Florida as it is in the Arizona and California deserts, and with Hurricane Irma devastating parts of Florida, there was some concern about Nationals since they start in less than a month.

The good news is Ft. Lauderdale at least, and I'm guessing Orlando as well since they didn't get as badly, are on.  This was sent to at least some Ft. Lauderdale bound captains from the USTA today:
We are excited to announce that League National Championships are still on schedule to be played in Ft. Lauderdale in October.
...
We have talked to the host facility and hotels and there was minimal damage done to their properties.  We are looking forward to a great championship season and to see all of you in Ft. Lauderdale later this fall.

So there you have it.  It is on in Ft. Lauderdale!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Breaking News: A change to the USTA League Nationals move-up/split-up rule

I just learned that a communication was sent out to some captains about a change to the move-up/split-up rule for 2018.

As background, the USTA has a move-up/split-up rule in place that requires that teams that go to Nationals split-up the following year, e.g. they can't come back as the same team the next year, or tjeu have the option to move-up to the next higher level if they do want to stay together.  Specifically, no more than three players from a Nationals team can be on the same roster at the same level.

This is done, presumably, to keep the same teams from coming back to Nationals each year.  Of course, many Nationals teams end up having some players bumped up, so that naturally changes the make-up of a team, but if a team of 16 has even eight players bumped up, only three of the remaining eight can play together on the same team.

A few years ago, when the 40+ age group was introduced a side-effect of this rule was that players that went to Nationals in say 40+ could not be on a team the following year in 18+ that had more than three Nationals players even though it was a completely different team.

I wrote about some changes made in 2015 to address several issues, but it only went so far.  Specifically, this language was still in place in the 2017 regulations:
No more than 3 players (2 for Adult 2.5 and 5.0+) who were on the roster of any team or combination of teams, that advanced to, or qualified for, any National Championship the previous year may play together in any age group within the same Division and NTRP level or lower NTRP level as the National Championship team, if their NTRP rating allows.
This meant that the scenario I wrote above would still restrict players in the other age group.

What I just learned is that for 2018 this is changing.  Specifically, some players have been told that if they go to Nationals with an 18+ team, the split-up rule will only apply to the roster of any 18+ teams the following year, but a 40+ team could have more than three Nationals players on it.  And this could go the other way with a 40+ Nationals team not imposing a restriction on the rosters of an 18+ team.

I have not seen this in any draft document for 2018, and until that happens it isn't official, but the communication to the players came from the USTA so I believe it to be accurate.

Stay tuned, as I learn more, I'll update this or write again.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The 2017 USTA League Nationals picture is nearly complete - Playoffs being played this weekend

As we enter mid-September, the teams for Nationals are nearly all decided.  I believe 18+ is fully decided, although teams may still be registering so not every team that is actually going is known, but there are a few Sectionals for 40+ still to be played this weekend and some 55+ and Mixed still being decided as well.  Here is a sampling of what we'll see completed this weekend.

  • Eastern 55+ Sectionals
  • Intermountain 40+ Sectionals
  • Mid-Atlantic 40+ Sectionals
  • Southern Cal 55+ Sectionals
  • Southwest 55+ Sectionals
  • Texas 40+ Sectionals
  • Midwest 55+ States

There are also a variety of Mixed playoffs going on, but with Mixed Nationals occurring near the end of the sequence there are quite a few of these so too many to list.

As a reminder, it is a good things Sectionals are wrapping up as Nationals start in just three weeks!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

New features to Estimated Dynamic NTRP Rating Reports - Better insight into your rating

With Sectionals wrapping up and the start of Nationals less than a month away, now is the time many players are done for the year and thinking about how they did this year and how their rating has changed.  Have they improved?  Might they be bumped up?  Or did they have a tough year and are worried about being bumped down?

My Estimated Dynamic NTRP Rating Reports have always provided great insight into where your dynamic rating likely is and provide a very accurate estimate of what your year-end level will be.  But more than just seeing a number, my reports always include my written analysis and comments about your rating and how it has been affected by play in different matches.

To aid in that analysis, I've just added some additional features to the reports.

First is around win/loss records.  I've always broken out records by singles vs doubles, but many players play in different divisions, or may play up and play at different levels.  To show finer grained detail about how you've done in each different situation, I've added win/loss records by division and level.

Here is an example, the new features in bold:

Match Record: 18-6
Singles Record: 1-0
Doubles Record: 17-6
Adult 18&Over Match Record: 6-2
Adult 40&Over Match Record: 8-2
Adult Other Match Record: 4-2
3.5 Match Record: 16-6
4.0 Match Record: 2-0

This summary will clearly show if you are doing better/worse in any particular league or level and help you identify what is working or where you need to improve.

But while team wins and standings are (in most cases) based on court wins and losses, what really affects your rating is the score and ratings of your partner (if doubles) and opponent(s).  I've broken out average match ratings a bunch of different ways, from singles vs doubles, including at different levels, and recently added showing averages for opponent's level and rating at the time of the match.  I just added showing averages for your partner's level and rating as well.

Here is that whole section with the new(er) items bolded.

Singles Average Match Rating: 3.46
Doubles Average Match Rating: 3.46
Singles Average Match Rating by Level:
3.5 - 3.46
Doubles Average Match Rating by Level:
3.5 - 3.44
4.0 - 3.67
Average Match Rating by Division:
Adult 18&Over - 3.49
Adult 40&Over - 3.55
Adult Other - 3.27
Average Opponent NTRP Level: 3.52
Average Opponent Dynamic Rating: 3.32
Average Partner NTRP Level: 3.52
Average Partner Dynamic Rating: 3.42

This shows you what is really affecting your rating, up or down.  Are you better in singles or doubles, and does that change based on the level you play?  Did you do better/worse in a given division?  And how much of your rating being high or low is due to the level/rating of your partner and opponents?  These stats can clearly show you all that, and I'll always add commentary explaining it and answer any questions.

Last, for players that went to playoffs, you want to know how you did in those matches compared to the rest.  These are matches where you get to test yourself against (usually) other strong players from other areas, districts, or sections.  These matches also have an added impact on your year-end rating and thus the NTRP level you will end up at.  The chart included in a report has always denoted these matches so you can see how they compare, and I've always and will continue to comment on the effect they will have at year-end, but now I've added showing your average match rating in playoffs.  But even if you didn't play in playoffs, you may have played players that did, so I am also now showing your average match rating in your regular season matches against them.

Here is that section from the report.

Average Playoff Match Rating: 3.97
Average Match Rating / Matches vs Playoff Players: 4.00 / 3

All of these new features are now shown in the example individual report.

Ultimately, folks are often interested in if they will be bumped up or down, and that in part depends on the year-end calculations.  And while I don't do my full year-end calculations until, well, year-end, these additional stats and metrics will go a long way to explaining what is likely to happen and why a rating is where it is.

Should you be interested in getting a report, contact me at ratings@teravation.net.  All these new features are now included in reports with no pricing changes, and if you already got your report for the year and just want the new features, drop me a note.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

2017 USTA League Nationals are less than a month away - Now is the time to scout and prepare

Playoffs within each section of the USTA are in their final few weeks for the 2017 USTA League season.  This is a good thing as Nationals are less than a month away!

I've posted the full schedule by division and date before, but as usually 18 & over gets started first with several levels being played the first weekend of October.  The 40 & over division gets started right away too though as the following weekend there is one level of 40 & over and another 18 & over level.

And since we are close to the events now, the match schedules for each championship have started to be posted, half of the events have them.  Here is a chronological list of the events with a link to the flight make-up and schedules.  I will update this table as the remaining match schedules become available.

DateChampionshipLocationMatch Schedule
Oct. 6-818 & over 3.5Surprise, AZPDF
Oct. 6-818 & over 5.0+Orlando, FLPDF (coming soon)
Oct. 13-1518 & over 4.0Surprise, AZPDF
Oct. 13-1540 & over 3.0Ft. Lauderdale, FL (clay)PDF men 15 teams
Oct. 20-2218 & over 2.5 womenMobile, ALPDF 15 teams 
Oct. 20-2218 & over 3.0Surprise, AZPDF men 16 teams
Oct. 20-2240 & over 4.0Orlando, FLPDF
Oct. 20-2240 & over 4.5+Mobile, ALPDF
Oct. 27-2940 & over 3.5Ft. Lauderdale, FL (clay)PDF
Oct. 27-2955 & over 6.0/8.0Orlando, FL (clay)PDF (coming soon)
Nov. 3-5Mixed 18 & over 6.0/7.0/8.0/9.0/10.0Mobile, ALPDF (coming soon)
Nov. 10-1218 & over 4.5Orlando, FLPDF women 15, men 16
Nov. 10-12Mixed 40 & over 6.0/7.0/8.0/9.0Mobile, ALPDF (coming soon)
Nov. 17-1955 & over 7.0/9.0Orlando, FL (clay)PDF (coming soon)

You can also see the USTA's summary page that also includes links to registration, the tournament handbook, and more here.

Note that there are 17 sections that can send teams which results in four flights, three with four teams and one with five teams.  I've noted above some flights that have fewer teams.  If there are 16 teams this becomes four flights of four teams each, and if it drops to 15 teams it is three flights with five teams each and then there is a wildcard that makes semis.

You will notice four of the events and all of the 55 & over will be played on clay.  This is a change from recent years where all matches were played on hard courts.  It will be interesting to see how the change plays out as the majority of local league play in most sections is on hard courts.

There is also a definite trend away from the desert Southwest and towards the Southeast with the majority of events being held in Florida and Alabama.  This location change may affect which sections tend to dominate at Nationals.

Now that we are getting flight make-up and match schedules, teams headed to Nationals are starting to plan, prepare, and scout.  Should you be fortunate to be headed to Nationals and have aspirations of doing well, or even if you just want to give your team the best chance of winning, my flight and team reports are a great way to do some scouting and preparation.

I've had the pleasure of doing reports for many teams playing in playoffs and advancing to Nationals the past five years, even quite a few teams winning Nationals, and have gotten fantastic feedback on how the reports helped captains prepare and know what to expect and put their players in the best position to win and advance, including quite a bit of success this year already.

Should you be headed to Nationals and be interested in getting the best information available to plan your line-ups, contact me for more information.

Updated 19-Sep-2017: Added/updated PDF links and noted where there are fewer than the normal 17 teams

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

After a weekend off for Labor Day, 2017 USTA League playoffs are back at it this weekend

This past weekend was Labor Day weekend and with it, there were no USTA League playoffs held.  But with Nationals starting in just a month, some sections are in a hurry to get things wrapped up.

This weekend finds the following playoffs taking place:
  • 40+ Sectionals in Middle States
  • 40+ Sectionals in Missouri Valley
  • 55+ Regionals in Eastern
  • 55+ Sectionals in Texas
  • 55+ Districts/States in Midwest
  • 18+/40+ Mixed Districts/States in Midwest

Good luck to all!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

2017 USTA League Pacific Northwest 40+ Sectionals results - Seattle area teams lead the way again

I did a preview of the 40 & over Sectionals for the Pacific Northwest held in Portland this weekend, here is how things turned out.

NTRP LevelWinnerRunner-upComments

4.5+ MNO-MACNO-Portland TCWon 4-1
4.5+ WNO-Sunset ACNWW-Bellevue ClubWon 4-1
4.0 MNWW-Harbor SquareNWW-Nordstrom TCWon 3-2
4.0 WEW or SOSO or EWNo score for final
3.5 MNWW-Mercer IslandNWW-EdgebrookWon 3-2
3.5 WNWW-SandpointNO-Sunset ACWon 3-2
3.0 MNWW-Bellevue Tennis AcademyNWW-Mercer IslandWon 4-1
3.0 WNWW-Bellevue ClubNWW-Central ParkWon 3-2
2.5 MNWW-Eastside TCNWW-Forest CrestWon flight going away, others 1-2
2.5 WNWW-Bellevue ClubNWW-Bellevue Tennis AcademyWon 2-1

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

With the 4.0 women still to be decided or recorded, the totals by district are:

  • Seattle - 7
  • Portland - 2
  • Eastern Washington or Southern Oregon - 1
Couple that with Seattle also having 7 runners up, and it appears Seattle was the clear leader at 40+ as they were for 18+.

Congratulations to all the winners, good luck at Nationals!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

2017 Pacific Northwest 40 & over Sectionals Preview - August 25-27 in Portland

The Pacific Northwest section is holding their sectionals for the 40 & over division for the 2017 USTA League year in Portland Oregon this weekend.  There are 76 teams scheduled to play, men and women across five NTRP levels, the format being two flights of four teams each, the flight winners playing a final on Sunday, except for the 2.5 men which is one flight with the round robin winner taking the Sectional title.  And of course, those that win punch their ticket to Nationals.

The flights are made up of four teams, each from a different district for the most part, typically Eastern Washington, Northern Oregon, Northwest Washington, and Southwest Washington, but there are a few teams from Alaska and Southern Oregon thrown in as well and a few flights with two teams from a district where there were gaps and an extra wildcard was granted.

I can do flight previews for any of the 19 flights being played, and a flight preview includes the full roster average for each team, the top-8 average for each team, and a summary of what the average rating played by court is so you can see if teams tend to stack or not and if they are stronger in singles or doubles.  And captains that have gotten these previews have done very well in playoffs, many advancing on including a handful that won Sectionals last weekend and are headed to Nationals.

As a free preview of one flight, here are the overall averages for Flight B of the 4.0 women.

Team NameAverage Rating3.54.0
HRSC-Dey3.7503.75
PTC-Zielinski/Vawter3.753.613.76
TCSP-Crites3.703.7
LRC Harris3.6403.64
This is one of the more competitive flights with the average rating for each roster spanning just 0.11.  But these are full roster averages and in one case include at least one 3.5 player on the roster, albeit a pretty good one(s), and it is who actually plays in a match that determines who wins, not the average rating of the roster.  But from this, we can see that HRSC and PTC are probably the favorites in this flight.

If you are interested in another flight or want a full report showing the top-8 averages and average played by court, contact me.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Report customers do very well at 2017 USTA League Sectionals - Nationals here we come!

Everyone that reads my blog knows I do reports for USTA League players interested in having an accurate estimate of where their rating is and the details behind how it got there.  Many of you also know I do team reports and flight reports to help captains get to know their teams better and scout opponents.

It is this time of year when it is especially rewarding to see the result of helping teams scout for playoffs and this weekend was an excellent example.

A number of teams playing at Sectionals this weekend, in fact teams across several different levels in five different sections, got team and/or flight reports and it was exciting to follow their results and see that the majority came through and won Sectionals and are headed to Nationals!  They join several other report customers that had qualified for Nationals in the past few weeks.

I can't claim that the reports are the sole reason these teams advanced, clearly the players have to go play and execute on court, but with the reports in hand and analysis performed, the captains could put their players in the best position to win and/or manage playing time to keep players fresh for the meaningful matches.  And with the results from this weekend, clearly they help.

Here is a quote from one Nationals bound captain that wrapped up their spot on Sunday.
Thanks for the reporting. It gave me the confidence to rest the players we needed for the Finals match this morning!

And from another Nationals bound captain in a different section also making it through a semi and final on Sunday.
Thank you for your advice my friend.

And that is an important note.  While there are a lot of numbers in my reports, every report is personalized with observations, advice, and recommendations as well.  It is these comments and analysis that can be the difference between a bunch of confusing numbers and actionable insight to help a team win and advance.

This was summed up in a comment from a Nationals winning captain last year.
Honestly, we could not have done this without you. Of course our players executed, but every match-up and tendency you suggested worked out. It was absolutely unbelievable. You don't know how many times we have been on the wrong side of the educated guesses without your help and we always seemed to come of the wrong side. We won 4 matches 3-2 so without your help I am sure we would not have won it.

There are more playoffs and Sectionals coming up the next few weeks, so if you are preparing to play, there is still time to do some scouting.  Contact me if interested.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

2017 USTA League Sectionals played this weekend August 18-20

Here are some sectionals that were played this weekend:
  • Eastern 18 & over and 40 & over select levels
  • Florida 18 & over (x.5 levels)
  • Intermountain 18 & over
  • Middle States 18 & over
  • Midwest 18 & over
  • New England 18 & over
  • Northern 18 & over and 40 & over
  • Southern Cal 40 & over

There were also some local playoffs for 40+ in Texas, and Georgia is having some early start league flight playoffs for 2018 already!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

What specific districts/states/areas do the best at Nationals? Is Seattle the most dominant? San Francisco close too with Dallas showing well. Interesting Tennis League Stats

I just wrote about what sections have done the best at Nationals the past four years, using that as a baseline for us to monitor if things change in the next few years with the location change for many Nationals from California/Arizona to Alabama/Florida.

Seeing which sections did well, Southern, Pacific Northwest, Northern California, Texas, and Southern California in particular, leads one to wonder if there are particular districts/states/areas from those sections that are contributing to the domination.

Looking at those sections in order, Southern is made up of nine states, here is how they've done at Nationals the past four years.  Reminder, this is for 18+ and 40+ divisions.

StateSemi-finalistsChampions
North Carolina94
Louisiana82
Mississippi52
Alabama50
Tennessee42
South Carolina32
Kentucky21
Arkansas11
Georgia10

The big surprise, to me at least, is that Georgia brings up the rear here with just one semi-final appearance.  While a lot of tennis is played in Georgia, perhaps more emphasis really is put on ALTA than USTA.  But all states are represented and North Carolina and Louisiana have done especially well.

Next, the Pacific Northwest technically has eight districts, but there are five that are active, but just three have made a mark on semis at Nationals the last four years.

DistrictSemi-finalistsChampions
Northwest Washington288
Northern Oregon50
Eastern Washington10

The Seattle area (Northwest Washington) leads the way here by a wide margin, more than tripling the top state from Southern and accounting for 82% of the PNW section's semi-final appearances and all the championships.  A lead makes sense, it is the largest district in PNW, but the margin is a bit of a surprise as well as how it ranks nationally.  If Seattle were its own section, it would rank #4 on the overall list!

Next, Northern Cal which has a seventeen of areas distinguished by flight.

Flight AreaSemi-finalistsChampions
San Francisco74
Diablo South70
Sacramento30
Diablo North30
General30
East Bay30
Marin21
Lower Peninsula20
South Bay20

Pretty good distribution, but San Francisco and Diablo South lead the way.  And note that the bulk of NorCal is effectively the greater Bay Area and removing Sacramento and the areas not bordering the Bay the total is 24, just behind Seattle, and a slightly broader definition has the total at 29, one ahead of Seattle.

Next, Texas splits things up by area of which there are 19.

Flight AreaSemi-finalistsChampions
Dallas157
Houston52
Austin30
San Antonio20
Amarillo10
NOHO10

Dallas clearly leads the way in Texas, they are the second area so far in double digits, but Houston has made a good showing.  Less than a third of the areas show up though.

Last, Southern Cal breaks things up by 11 areas and their showing at Nationals has been.

Flight AreaSemi-finalistsChampions
Orange County124
San Gabriel Valley81
San Diego51
Los Angeles10

Only four areas have made a showing, and Orange County leads the way, the third area in double digits, over San Gabriel Valley and San Diego.

Looking at the double digit semi appearance areas, we see that depending on how you define an area/district, Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area are by far the ones most consistently making noise at Nationals.  Given the population of the Bay Area is more than twice the greater Seattle area, it is safe to say Seattle takes the title for most semis appearances per capita for any area/district/state and with more championships than NorCal outright leads the area/district/state list there.

Dallas deserves an honorable mention with 15 appearances, but with a population for the greater Dallas area a lot higher than Seattle, their per capita number is lower.  Orange County with a similar population to Seattle also deserves mention with 12 appearances.

While I am from Seattle, I did not set out on this analysis expecting Seattle to be the "winner", I was really more curious how Southern's numbers were split out.  I am proud to see how well Seattle has done though, and makes me feel a bit better about any losses I have against players here now :)

Note this goes a long way to explaining why the PNW and Seattle were hit especially hard with bump ups a few years ago when a big adjustment was made.  Is it possible the move of many Nationals to Alabama and Florida will increase other section's numbers and cause different adjustments in the future?

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.

SectionSemi-finalistsChampions
Southern3714
Pacific Northwest348
Northern Cal325
Texas279
Southern Cal266
Caribbean2210
Florida228
Mid-Atlantic185
Intermountain172
Middle States162
Midwest131
New England131
Eastern113
Southwest92
Hawaii82
Missouri Valley51
Northern50

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+.

SectionSemi-finalistsChampions
Southern239
Pacific Northwest226
Northern Cal194
Southern Cal194
Texas166
Caribbean156
Florida143
Mid-Atlantic113
Intermountain102
Midwest71
New England70
Eastern62
Southwest60
Northern40
Middle States40
Missouri Valley31
Hawaii20

By and large the same order.

And for completeness, just 40+.

SectionSemi-finalistsChampions
Southern155
Northern Cal131
Middle States122
Pacific Northwest122
Texas113
Florida85
Caribbean74
Mid-Atlantic72
Southern Cal72
Intermountain70
Hawaii62
New England61
Midwest60
Eastern51
Southwest32
Missouri Valley20
Northern10

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 18 & over Sectionals results - Seattle area teams dominate and are headed to Nationals

After my update on the PNW 18+ 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-Forest CrestNWW-Eastside TCWon flight 2-1
2.5 WNWW-RobinswoodNWW-Amy YeeWon 3-0

Key:
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!

Friday, August 4, 2017

2017 Pacific Northwest 18 & over Sectionals preview

August is the month for Sectionals in the Pacific Northwest section of the USTA and things get started in a week with the 18 & over division in Spokane the 11th-13th and then 40 & over two weeks later in Portland.

Being from the Seattle area, I like to take a peek at my flight reports to see who the favorites are and what district they are from.  So is is a quick preview with a few observations from the top-8 averages for each team.

2.5 Women

Two flights, a Seattle team leads the way in one flight and a Portland one in the other, the Seattle one favored to win it all.

2.5 Men

Just three teams, a Seattle team is the favorite.

3.0 Women

Two flights, a Seattle team leads the way in one flight and a Portland one in the other, the Seattle one favored to win it all.

3.0 Men

Two flights, a Seattle team favored in each one.

3.5 Women

Two flights, a Portland team leads the way in one, Seattle in the other, but Portland is the overall favorite.

3.5 Men

Two flights, Eastern Washington makes an appearance as the favorite in one, a Portland team in the other, Eastern Washington the overall favorite.

4.0 Women

Two flights, Oregon teams lead the way in both flights, the Southern Oregon team the overall favorite over the Portland one.

4.0 Men

Two flights, Seattle and Portland teams are the favorites, Seattle the overall favorite.

4.5 Women

Two flights, Eastern Washington leads the tougher flight, Seattle the other, Eastern Washington the overall favorite.

4.5 Men

Two flights, Seattle and Portland yet again, Seattle the overall favorite.

5.0+ Women

One flight, Portland and Seattle teams the favorites.

5.0+ Men

Two flights, Southern Oregon and Seattle teams the favorites in the flights, Southern Oregon overall.

There you have it, good luck to all the teams.  Contact me if interested in more details on any flight.

USTA League playoffs on tap for this weekend - The road to Nationals is heating up

With the warm summer weather comes more playoffs this weekend.

  • Eastern is holding Districts/Regionals in Southern and Long Island regions in 18+ and 40+
  • Mid-Atlantic has Virginia Regionals
  • Middle States has Districts for 18+ in New Jersey
  • Missouri Valley has 40+ Districts in Oklahoma
  • New England has 18+ and 40+ Districts in nearly every district
  • Midwest has Districts/States in nearly every district
  • Northern 55+ Sectionals
  • Texas 18+ Sectionals for lower levels

It is never too late to get a flight or team report if you want to prepare or scout, contact me if interested.

Good luck to all!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Tennis Channel's Joel Drucker offers ideas for fixing USTA League sandbagging - Kevin's thoughts

I came across Joel Drucker's thoughts on sandbagging in USTA League a few days ago, and he has followed up with his ideas on how to fix it.  Naturally, I have some opinions too so let me comment on what he offers.

Get rid of Nationals and keep play only within sections

The idea here is that people sandbag because there is the goal of reaching and winning Nationals.  There is certainly some truth to that, but just winning Sectionals is still an accomplishment, and from everything I hear in some sections like Southern, they consider winning Sectionals to be a bigger accomplishment that winning Nationals so it would seem to make no difference for that group.  It seems human nature is that no matter what the championship is, if there is one, some people will cheat to win it.

But perhaps more importantly, not having some sort of play at the national level seems to go against the idea of a national organization like the USTA is.  It would be like the NCAA or NFL or NBA just having division or conference champs and that is it.  And some people may be more interested because there is Nationals and wouldn't be otherwise as having Nationals distinguishes USTA League from other local leagues.

Further, having Nationals does serve a purpose as it allows the USTA to compare players from different sections and use that to adjust things so that a 4.0 in Florida can be reasonably comparable to a 4.0 in Colorado or New York or California.

Kevin's verdict: I understand the point, but don't think it really solves the problem and may introduce others.

Be transparent with detailed ratings

Joel's thought seems to be that by being transparent people would know where they stand towards accomplishing goals.  I agree completely, that is a key reason why I do my ratings and reports, because people want to know where they stand and if they are improving or how much.  I don't see how this addresses sandbagging though and I think sandbaggers are actually why the USTA isn't transparent.  They believe if a 4.5 knows they are at 4.05 they would be more likely to throw a few games or a match to try to get bumped down, and the not knowing is a good thing.  Or if a 3.0 knows they are at 2.95 they'll make decisions to avoid playing anymore so avoid a bump up.

Kevin's verdict: I agree the ratings should be more transparent (although what would I do then!), but don't think doing so would address sandbagging and in fact could make it worse.

Make line-ups based on blind draws or using ratings

The goal here is to combat stacking which can result in non-competitive matches.  A blind-draw would have the captains put their players/pairs in a hat and how they are pulled out determines the courts played.  If ratings were made transparent, or even if an app were provided, another option is to let captains pick their players/pairs but they are assigned to courts based on their ratings.

Either of these would prevent deliberate stacking, but I see this less about sandbagging and more about identifying how you want to determine the best team.  Should the best team be the deepest one that can win top to bottom regardless of match-up?  Or should the best team be one that has a captain that can shrewdly get their players in the best position to win and steal a match or two?

Kevin's verdict: I have no problem with either suggestion, although it makes a captains job a lot different and removes some of the strategy involved, but the rules should be written and applied nationally for it to work, and like I said, it doesn't address sandbagging.

Take age into account for ratings

Joel asks if there is a difference between a 50-year old 4.5 and a 27 year-old one.  The answer of course is yes, but I'd contend every player regardless of age can be different and it is arguably discrimination to treat folks of different ages differently.  The NTRP system is one based on results, and so if a 50-year-old can achieve/maintain a 4.5 based on his results, good for him and age should not be a factor at all  Yes, there are different styles of play and a 50-year-old is likely to have a different style than a 20-something, but that is the beauty of our game, that different styles can play against each other and how each person executes their style and finds their opponent's weaknesses is what determines the outcome.

Kevin's verdict: I completely disagree with age based criteria for ratings.  I do believe that for ratings to be accurate you need players to be somewhat connected, and so if 50-year-olds only play others of the same age and there is no connection to the 20-somethings, that can be a problem.  But in most areas there is ample cross over between age divisions.

Emphasize participation

Joel suggests that everyone on a team should be given relatively equal playing time, not letting anyone play three matches before everyone else has played two.  Ignoring for a minute just the logistics of availability, this too is removing a captains ability to try to get his team a win.  It really is making it purely about participation, like little league where everyone gets to play.

Kevin's verdict: I don't like this idea, while USTA is "recreational", it is also competitive and implementing this turns league tennis into nothing more than a local club mixer where you get to play for 90 minutes.  I do agree it would somewhat combat sandbagging as the players that had sandbagged would not be able to play and dominate as much.  If a team wants to have a "play everyone" policy, go for it, but teams that want to compete should be able to do so, just be up front with players at the start of the year what the plans/goals are.

I applaud Joel for writing on the subject and offering up ideas, but what he proposes, IMHO, doesn't really address the sandbagging issue or waters league tennis down taking the competitive aspect out of it.

But I do agree things could be done about sandbagging.  I would offer up:

  • Tighten up the threshold for strikes - The thresholds are far too high, the USTA erring on the side of letting self-rates continue to play even when they are clearly above level.  Lower the thresholds and players would be forced to self-rate higher or get DQ'd far more easily.
  • Allow a solitary high rated match to be a strike - This would prevent someone from managing their rating by throwing a match or to to keep their rating down.  A single high match result could then result in a strike.
  • Ban self-rates from going to Nationals their first year, or require a higher minimum number of matches to qualify - Right now, a self-rate can be hidden by playing a single regular season match and being listed as the player in a default win, that gets them qualified for playoffs.  Then they can be strategically used in a few important matches at Districts or Sectionals and accumulate two strikes but be fine.  Once at Nationals, they can't get strikes.  If you just ban self-rates outright from Nationals, or even post-season play at all, the incentive to self-rate too low goes down, or the work required to spend a year sandbagging is a lot higher.  Or if the self-rate has to play more matches to qualify for playoffs or Nationals, the chances of successfully being hidden when they have to win important matches goes down.
  • Adopt anti-tanking in the NTRP algorithm - Players will deliberately throw matches or games to manage their rating down and the system allows and rewards it.  If the algorithm did something like the golf handicap algorithm and threw out a players worst scores, it would eliminate sandbagging or make it a lot harder to do it successfully.
  • Adopt consistent rules across sections - Today, National has some rules in place but allows sections to do some things as they see fit.  One is how to handle players that get strikes and whether to reverse matches or not.  In my opinion, players that are DQ'd should absolutely have their matches reversed and DQ's should be checked after every match including during playoffs.  Some sections only check at the end of players, when nothing can be done other than making the player ineligible going forward, but the rest of the team, and captain has benefited and accomplished their goal.
  • Suspend/ban captains that encourage/facilitate sandbagging - There are some captains that are notorious for cheating and flaunting the rules, and the USTA seems to do nothing about it, or have an awfully high tolerance for it.  Captains that have players that are DQ'd should be reviewed, and recurrences of it should ultimately result in suspensions.  This would not be hard, everyone knows who the offending captains are, the USTA should make a statement that such behavior won't be tolerated.

There are other ideas that have validity, but the above and others would not be that hard to implement.  I am not hopeful it will happen, however.  The USTA seems to not understand that many league players are at least annoyed by the sandbaggers, and some choose to leave the USTA and no longer play league, and so by allowing the behavior to continue they are actually hurting the game and ignoring the needs and wants of the many to enable the bad behavior of a few.  League participation is down nearly 5% over the past three years and I can't imagine that is something they aren't aware of.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Tennis Channel writer's thoughts on sandbagging in USTA League tennis

I came across an article written by Joel Drucker at Tennis Channel on The Poison Inside League Tennis.

I've written at times about the blatant sandbagging that takes place to get to Nationals, stats showing indications of sandbagging using bump up/down stats for men and women, and thoughts on if sandbagging is required to get to Nationals, along with many other league related stats, but it was nice to see someone else's thoughts on the subject.

For what it is worth, doing some checking (anyone can look him up), Joel is a 4.5 in the Bay Area and does play USTA League, so I'm guessing he is writing from personal experience and observation, and my ratings show he is not sandbagging at all :)

Joel says he will be offering suggestions on how to fix it, I look forward to reading that.

More 2017 USTA League Sectionals and other playoffs this weekend - Sectionals in Florida and Southern

The march to USTA League Nationals continues this weekend with more post-season play.

A sampling includes:

  • Florida is holding their 40+ Sectionals for 3.5 and 4.5+ at the USTA Nationals Campus
  • Southern is holding their 40+ Sectionals
  • Intermountain has 55+ Districts in Colorado and Idaho
  • Mid-Atlantic has 18+ Regionals for Virginia
  • Eastern has 18+ Regionals
  • Midwest has Districts or flight playoffs in 18+ and 40+ in Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan
  • Southern Cal has 40+ Districts
  • Middle States has a host of flight playoffs

As always, a great way to scout opponents or just if you like numbers and seeing what is predicted is to get a flight report.  Contact me if interested.

Good luck to all the teams!