Monday, November 13, 2017

Keeping track of the weather affected USTA League Nationals in 2017

2017 saw the USTA move a bunch of Nationals to Alabama and Florida instead of holding them in the California and Arizona deserts.  A concern I and others had was if weather would have an impact on things and it definitely has.  I've written about a bunch of the weather related issues including all out cancellations of semis and/or finals for some levels resulting in co-champions being declared, but a number of Nationals that were technically completed were only able to do so due to shortening of matches.

Here is a summary of the significant weather delays/issues I'm aware of, significant in my mind meaning any matches were canceled or playing formats/locations had to be altered to get matches completed.  If I missed any, please let me know and I'll add them.

40 & over 3.0 Men and Women in Fort Lauderdale, FL, October 13-15

This event was held October 13-15, sort of right in the heart of tropical storm season in Florida, particularly South Florida it would seem.  In fact, the facility for the event had courts damaged by a hurricane a few weeks before the event and a second facility had to be used for some matches.  But if that is all that had happened, this wouldn't make the list.

Instead, there were rain delays of several hours on both Friday and Saturday leading to playing format being changed to start all sets at 2-2 and to play no-ad.  This is a pretty significant change and could lead to different results than you'd normally get, let alone players not getting to play full matches and get their money's worth for a trip to Nationals.  They were able to get everything in on Sunday though, I believe with regular scoring.

18 & over 2.5 Women in Mobile, AL, October 20-22

Mobile is by most measures one of the wettest cities in the United States.  Add to this that there are only two indoor courts in the entire city, those being at the convention center where they roll out a carpet of sorts over cement to serve as a tennis court.  Despite this, and a history of weather issues at many events the Southern section holds there, the USTA elected to hold several Nationals there, due in part to a very large facility with a lot of courts.

The 18+ 2.5 women was one of these and flight play completed without a hitch as far as I know, but a storm was blowing in Sunday putting play that day in jeopardy.  There was perhaps time to try to play the semis on Saturday, but due to a three flight format, each team had already played twice both days so this was not done.

The Sunday storm did materialize and no matches were played, I think perhaps players got on court for about 10 minutes to warm up and that was it.  The indoor courts weren't even available, so everything was called off, no semis, no final, and all four semi-finalists were declared co-champions, including the team that didn't even win their flight and made the semis as a wildcard!  Not a terribly satisfying or equitable way to determine a National Champion.

40 & over 4.5+ Men and Women in Mobile, AL, October 20-22

The 40+ 4.5+ Nationals was held at the same time/location as the 18+ 2.5 women and naturally was affected in the same way.  However, both events had four flights and they were able to get the semis played on Saturday to whittle it down to two teams each.

But that was it, the finals were not played and so like for the 2.5 women, co-champs were declared, but just two each in this case.

Still, for this weekend in Mobile, where there were supposed to be three champs decided, eight (!) teams went home with "championship titles".

40 & over 3.5 Men and Women in Fort Lauderdale, FL, October 27-29

Do we have a theme here?

Back in Fort Lauderdale two weeks after the first weather affected event and the forecast looked really bad with a significant storm forecast for much of Saturday and Sunday.  Unfortunately the forecast was right.

USTA officials were not oblivious to the forecast and made the right move to schedule as many matches on Friday as possible, but the five team flight has to have everyone play twice on Saturday regardless, they could only do so much.

They did go to short formats again, starting matches at 2-2 and no-ad, to try to fit more matches in earlier, but even doing that they didn't get everything in before the rain arrived on Saturday.  And one of the outstanding matches was going to decide who advanced to the semis and this was going to have to be finished Sunday morning before the semis.  The winner of this match was going to face having to play three matches back to back to back!  Plus, the forecast wasn't for bright sunny conditions to start the day Sunday.

Sunday arrived and it did take some time to get the courts prepared and ready so they started late, but did manage to get everything in, but those teams having to finish flight play Sunday morning were at a real disadvantage.

But after two events in Fort Lauderdale, a 100% rate of having events significantly delayed and affected by weather, and the outcome potentially affected too.

40 & over 6.0, 7.0, 8.0, and 9.0 Mixed in Mobile, AL, November 10-12

Recurring theme, different venue.  To be fair, the 18 & over Mixed the prior weekend went off without a hitch, but here we are back in Mobile and I'm writing about it so something must have happened.

Flight play on Friday and Saturday went as planned as far as I know, but Sunday saw drizzle, and wet hard courts do not make for safe tennis.  After a several hour delay, the decision was made to move things inside.

But as I noted above, there are only two indoor courts in Mobile and these are both indoor carpet that is rolled out with taped seams, a lot different from an outdoor hard court.  But they were available!

But eight semi-finals means 24 courts and that doesn't fit into two courts very well.  Something had to give and again it was the scoring format.  Matches were a single set, no-ad (so ever shorter than the Fort Lauderdale short format) and courts were played sequentially and if one team was up 2-0, the third court was not played.

With this short format, they actually did manage to nearly get everything in with all but the 8.0 having a single champion decided, but there was a lot less tennis played with single sets and four courts not even played after 2-0 leads were taken.

Update: I learned that the 9.0 teams were actually given the choice late in the day to play back at the Tennis Center with normal scoring as the rain had stopped, and since the teams weren't leaving until Monday did that instead of sequential single set matches indoors.

18 & over 4.5 Men and Women in Orlando, FL, November 10-12

If you thought we were done and the disruption was limited to Mobile and Fort Lauderdale, you would be wrong.

While not nearly as severe as some of what happened above, there was rain in Orlando this weekend that affected matches.  Thankfully there are some legitimate indoor courts at the National Campus, but not enough for the situation and from what I'm told the women moved indoors right away but the men played in the rain for a bit before moving indoors.

They did have to shorten the scoring format again, sets started at 2-2 and no-ad scoring was employed, in order to get everything in, but they did, although the 3rd/4th place matches were not played (separate post on that coming).

So, with one weekend of Nationals still to go, there has been what I figure to be unprecedented weather related delays, cancellations, and court changes, all because of the USTA's decisions to use Mobile and Fort Lauderdale as venues for Nationals.  Both locations are likely to have storms or rain that would affect play without any viable backup plan.  At least the National Campus has enough courts and some indoor courts to adapt if needed.

All told, of the 22 18+/40+ events scheduled for Alabama or Florida, a full 13 of them were affected in one way or another with an extra six teams given "co-champion" title than planned.  That is 59% that didn't meet expectations which is a pretty abysmal showing.

There were just six events in Arizona this year (none in California), and 0% has issues.  All were played in warm sunny conditions with no rain, no shortened scoring formats, no canceled matches, and no co-champions declared.

And it all could have been avoided by simply sticking with what had been done the past 5+ years, using Palm Springs and Arizona as the main locations to host Nationals.  While "weather" can happen anywhere (and play in Tucson for a Mixed Nationals was affected several years ago), it is far less likely to occur in the desert than Alabama and Florida, and in my opinion is was just the wrong decision and arguably irresponsible for the USTA to host the majority of Nationals where problems were likely to (and did!) occur.

Players take time off from work, spend thousands of dollars on flights, hotel, food, etc. all with the expectation of getting to play several complete matches over the course of three days.  In my opinion, is the responsibility of the USTA to use locations and venues that maximize the opportunity for that, and this year that was sorely lacking.

I'll probably come up with a poll once the last Nationals are complete this weekend, but what do you think?  Leave a comment here or on Facebook.