Monday, July 1, 2019

PNW USTA League Regulations Changes for 2019/2020 - Thanks Adam!

I just received a PNW USTA newsletter highlighting a few USTA League regulations changes for 2020, and one for 2019.  These can be found here.

Most of them are minor clarifications where something wasn't clearly stated or staff had received a lot of questions, and go into effect for the 2020 USTA League season.

But one goes into effect for 2019 and is near and dear to my heart.  That is the tie-breakers used for breaking standings ties.

I've written much about it so won't go into detail again, but how standings ties are broken according to the National regulations is frankly flawed in my opinion, and I went so far as to make a regulations change proposal to National to get it fixed.  Alas, it wasn't adopted for the 2020 regulations, but I'm pleased to see that Adam Hutchinson, PNW Director of Competition that I worked with to sponsor my proposal, recognized the issue and has made a change for 2019 to fix it for the One Doubles league run in the PNW section.

Specifically, One Doubles is a league where each "team" match is a single doubles match, which means the team record is the same as the individual wins/losses record making that component of the standings tie-breaker meaningless.  In situations like this, the flawed components of the National tie-breaker come into play a lot more often and there had been numerous situations where the less deserving team had advanced.

Adam had observed this, it is part of why he supported my proposal, and decided he could do something about it in PNW and did.  Here is the write-up of the change, but the summary is that instead of using the inequitable sets and games lost components in the absence of looking at sets and games won, sets won and games won will be used.

For example, consider two teams exactly equal on all counts except for one match against a common opponent.  Who should get 2nd place?   Team A lost their match 6-0,6-0, while team B lost their match 6-7,7-6,1-0.  You would think that the team that got blown out is less deserving, but under the National regulation, team A, the one not winning a game, would advance having lost the same number of sets (2) and having lost fewer games (12 vs 14)!  With Adam's change, team B would advance first as they won a set in their loss (1 vs 0), but also clearly won more games (13 vs 0) if it came to that.

This, IMHO, is clearly fairer and will avoid the occasional situation where the "wrong" team advances.

Thanks Adam!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

NorCal USTA Un-flighted Round Robin - What should have been expected?

I just wrote about NorCal using the new un-flighted round-robin format for 40 & Over Districts last month where a 4.0 mens team went undefeated and is not going to Sectionals as there were four others and they finished 5th.

That seems like a bad thing, so I went about researching if this was a freak occurrence, or if it could have been known in advance that it was likely to happen.

I'll say up front, just looking at a situation where there are 22 teams, each only playing 3 matches against random opponents, it screams to me that it was likely for there to be a lot of undefeated teams, but let's do some real analysis to see just how likely.

To do this, I'm using my Flight Simulation Report that uses my Estimated Dynamic NTRP Ratings for the players on each team to go through one million simulations of each team's schedule ,with some random variability into how each team will do, tallying up what the most likely record will be for each team and what the standings will be.  Also, as part of doing this, I can look at how often specific situations occur, like what percentage of the time there are varying numbers of undefeated teams.

So what did it all say?

The simulation said the most likely resulting records would have 4 teams all 3-0 which would have been nice and clean.  The 4 teams in this most likely scenario were San Carlos, Bay Club, Seascape, and Walnut Creek and it turns out 3 of these teams did all finish undefeated.  So the simulation isn't too bad!

The chances of any 4 teams finishing undefeated was 41%, so pretty likely, but a lot of room for other scenarios.  Here is how the others were predicted:
  • Three - 20%
  • Four - 41%
  • Five - 30%
  • Six - 5%
  • Seven - 0.3%
  • Eight - 0.01%
Yes folks, with this format and the schedule they had, there was the possibility of eight (8) teams ending up undefeated!  Yes, it is a very slim chance, and similarly for seven, but still technically possible.

The bigger thing is that a still substantial six undefeated had a 5% chance, meaning if you hold this event 20 times it is likely that you'd have six undefeated teams once.  Having a format where that is reasonably possible is just silly!

The chance of five undefeated was an even higher 30%, nearly as likely as the most likely scenario of four undefeated.  This is in fact what happened and clearly it was not a freak occurrence but should have been reasonably expected it could happen.  Add up the chances of five or more and you are over 33%, so this is saying one of these was expected to occur in one of every three times the event would be played.

With this many teams playing just three matches, the chances of a tie for fourth place (the last spot advancing to Sectionals) is very high, and when it occurs, it is more often that not going to be very big.  Basically any time there aren't exactly four undefeated, you are going to have a large tie at 2-1.  The number of teams tied could in theory be as large as 16, but is more typically expected to be between 5 and 10 teams, still very big and highlighting the inadequacies of the current tie-breakers, especially when just three matches are played as that gives very little information to differentiate with.

What about other flights?

The women's 4.0 flight had 20 teams and fortunately only had three undefeated teams.  But what did the simulation say was likely?

Here are the chances:
  • Three - 36%
  • Four - 38%
  • Five - 11%
  • Six - 1.3%
  • Seven - 0.05%
  • Eight - 3 of the million scenarios
We see the chances of of "bad" situations is quite a bit lower, this is in part to having two fewer teams, but also the strength of the teams and how the schedule was laid out.  Still, there was a significant chance, 12+%, of five or more teams being undefeated even if one of the more likely three actually occurred.  Hold this even eight times it is likely that once you will have a "situation".

Another 20 team flight was the 3.5 women.  This ended up having a nice and clean four undefeated teams, but what were the possibilities?
  • Three - 38%
  • Four - 35%
  • Five - 10%
  • Six - 0.7%
  • Seven - 0.01%
  • Eight - 1 of the million scenarios
This is quite similar to the women's 4.0 flight, and one of the most likely scenarios occurred.  But there was still an 11+% chance of five or more, so it is likely to happen one of every nine times.

In fact, there was a team that was 2-1 in 5th place that lost a team match 3-2 on a super tie-break loss.  Had they won that super tie-break, there would have been five undefeated teams and controversy would ensue again.

I did not go through the other flights, there were fewer teams there so less chance of problems occurring, although the chances were by no means zero.

I think the above shows though that it was a little short-sighted to implement this format the way they did.  So many teams playing un-flighted round-robin against only three opponents is ripe for this to happen and it seems having a format planned with these problems built in is not really fair to the participants.

Simply playing four matches per team would have significantly improved things and reduced, but not eliminated, the chances.  I wonder why that wasn't done?

What do you think?

NorCal USTA uses un-flighted round-robin for Districts, undefeated team doesn't advance!

I recently wrote that the new format used for Nationals last year, un-flight round-robin, is starting to be used for other earlier rounds of playoffs.  Several states in Southern are using it, but I also noticed that Northern California used it for their Districts last month and taking a closer look, found some interesting situations.

Specifically, Nationals generally has 17 teams (one per section) and each team playing 4 matches, and this is enough to have some potential disasters such as very large groups of teams going into standings tie-breakers to see who advances, or even undefeated teams not advancing.

NorCal appears to have used this format with as many as 22 (!) teams and each team only playing 3 matches.  In my mind, this is a recipe for disaster as with that many teams, there is no way to avoid the possibility of 5 (or more) undefeated teams (and only 4 move on to Sectionals), and it is hard to get meaningful differentiation in the standings playing only 3 matches, especially given teams would have wildly different strengths of schedule.

But instead of me just raising the warning flag, let's take a look and see what actually happened.

Men's 4.0

This flight had a whopping 22 teams and disaster did occur here with five teams finishing undefeated at 3-0 and it appears, one of them not advancing on to Sectionals.  Teams 3 thru 5 were all tied at 10-5 on courts and they obviously didn't play each other, so it went to sets lost and one team had lost 13 sets vs 12 and 11 for the other two teams, so they were the one left out.  FWIW, my proposal I submitted to the USTA of using sets won/lost differential would have yielded the same order in this case.

But this is still brutal for the team that is left out.  You go to Districts and don't lose a team match, and aren't going on to Sectionals.  They very well could have had a tougher schedule than the other four teams and that is why they lost an extra court or set or two.  It is hard to understand why a format would be chosen like this with the likelihood of this happening so high.

Update: See this where I looked at the possible and expected scenarios for this scenario and a few other flights.

Men's 3.5

"Only" 18 teams and the standings ended up with three undefeated teams at 3-0 and a seven way tie for the fourth spot at 2-1.  This meant the flawed tie-breakers used kicked in, although in this case one team had a clearly better courts record at 12-3 vs the next best 9-6, so they advanced.

Men's 4.5+

Just 14 teams, three finished 3-0 with a three-way tie for the fourth spot.  One team had a one court better record on courts won/lost so they advanced, but is interesting that they had the same sets lost as the fifth place team and actually lost more games, so would have lost out on the flawed tie-breaker had it gotten to that point.

Men's 3.0

Just 12 teams, the chances of a situation with undefeated teams not really there, but there was a four way tie for third with the teams finishing 4th/5th tied on courts at 8-7, but one lost one more set (and won fewer too) so did not advance.

Women's 4.0

A good sized 20 teams in the flight and three undefeated teams at 3-0 leaving an eight way tie for fourth.  Worse, five of these teams were tied on courts at 9-6.  One team had lost one fewer set, so they were the team that advanced.

Women's 3.5

Also 20 teams in the flight and they lucked out with four 4-0 teams advancing.  There was a big seven-way tie for fifth giving an idea what kind of tie-breaker could have come into play.

Women's 3.0

There were 16 teams, just two went undefeated with a six-way tie for third at 2-1.  Two teams were both 10-5 on courts with the others behind so these two advanced.

Women's 4.5+

Just 14 teams, three teams undefeated with a three-way tie at 2-1 for fourth, one of those teams having a better courts won/lost record.

So there was not controversy at every level, but we did have (to my knowledge) the first case of an undefeated team being left out in this format, and several other very large tie-breaks where strength of schedule played a key role in who advanced since it came down to just a single court or even set.

I wonder if the USTA/NorCal really gave any thought to the possibility of sending an undefeated team home?  It was almost inevitable with this many teams and playing just three matches doesn't give much data to differentiate on and is very susceptible to strong/weak schedules skewing things.  I would hope they did, but then they apparently decided they were ok with it.

What do you think?  Is so many teams and so few matches taking this format too far?  Did you play at NorCal Districts and have first hand experience or feedback?

Monday, June 10, 2019

Some USTA districts are using un-flighted round-robin for 2019 playoffs - Beware of the standings tie-breakers!

Last year, USTA League Nationals used a brand new format, un-flighted round-robin, instead of having three or four flights of teams each playing a round-robin.  This meant that rather than four flight winners advancing to the semis, the top-four teams in one big flight would advance.

This format was great in that it guaranteed each team four instead of three matches, and gave a team, that was really good and just got a bad draw and lost early, a chance of still making the semis, but did introduce some new factors in deciding the top-4 teams.   Specifically, how do you compare teams that didn't play each other at all, to decide a top-4.

This meant some rarely used tie-breakers got invoked a lot, and unfortunately, in my opinion at least, these were flawed and choose the wrong team to advance several times.  I felt strongly enough about this that I proposed changes to the regulations to fix the tie-breakers, but alas they were not adopted, yet at least.

What is new for this year though is that this un-flighted round-robin (UFRR so I don't have to keep typing it) appears to be being used for more playoffs.  I've heard of at least two districts employing it later this month, and there very well could be more.

In most cases at the district level, I'm guessing the prior format was two flights of four teams, each team playing three round-robin matches and the flight winners facing off in a final.

In a UFRR, all the teams are put into one eight team flight and everyone plays four matches.  The fourth match is considered a perk to the teams as is the ability to advance to the final if you would have otherwise finished second in your flight in the old format.

The problem is, we still have the old tie-breakers that are going to be used.  And, depending on how the schedule is done, it is possible for three teams to all go undefeated but only two of those teams can advance to the final, and the current "challenged" tie-breakers will be used to determine those two teams.

I won't go into the details of what the problems are with the tie-breakers yet again (read this for a good summary), but I hope they don't come into play and pick the "wrong" team to advance.  My fear is that given the use of this format and tie-breakers enough times, it will happen again.

What format are your playoffs using?  Is a UFRR being used and if so, how many teams and how many matches?  What do you think of the format?

Leave a comment here or on Facebook.

Update: NorCal used the format for 40 & Over Districts and it resulted in a team that went undefeated not advancing to Sectionals.  Read about it here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

2019 Seattle area 18 & Over nearly complete, playoffs in June

The 18 & Over league in Seattle is approaching the last couple weeks of the season and who will advance to playoffs is still in doubt in nearly every sub-flight.

Thankfully, due to the efforts of our League Coordinator, we will have the top-2 teams from each sub-flight advancing to local playoffs, the "wildcard" round being held June 7-9 and then the conclusion of local playoffs June 14-16.

As I understand it, the wildcard weekend matches will be played, where possible, at the higher seed's facility, but all of that is expected to be confirmed on June 3 when the draws and schedules/sites should come out.

Good luck to those teams still vying for a playoff spot!

Friday, April 19, 2019

It is April, time to think about Georgia States and 2020 Leagues!

Tennis is big in Georgia.  How big is it?

Georgia usually has the 2nd most participants in USTA League of all states, second only to California.  And California is two sections while Georgia is just one of 9 states in the Southern Section!

But USTA League is not the only game in town, ALTA is huge in the greater Atlanta area, so big that USTA League has to schedule their leagues around the ALTA season leading to a number of early start leagues that start as early as May.  Yes, teams are now forming in Georgia for the 2020 championship year while most areas are just getting going for 2019.

But this packed schedule doesn't keep the USTA from scheduling multiple seasons for some leagues, which leads to a lot of teams qualifying for States.  And that is pertinent right now as 18 & Over Georgia States are coming up in a few weeks.

I've done a number of reports on teams, flights, and simulating results, and there are a few observations.

First, winning Georgia States is a tough job.  In some cases there are three flights of six teams each meaning a team must potentially win seven straight matches (5 in flight, a semi and final) to just win States and get to go to Sectionals.  And some of these teams already had to win local playoffs to make it to States.

Second, due to the early start leagues and Southern's rule allowing bumped up players to keep playing on their teams, there are some loaded teams with bumped up players still playing at their lower level.

Third, despite some loaded teams, some flights are going to be very competitive.  One flight had 4 of 6 teams all tied with the same full roster average rating, and another had the top 5 of 6 all with full roster averages within 0.04 of each other.  There are going to be some competitive matches and flight winners may not be decided until the last point is played.

Good luck to all the teams playing at Georgia States!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Get out and play a tournament! Doubles tournament at my club in two weeks

Playing USTA League is popular with a lot of players.  Playing generally one match per week over 2-3 months works for a lot of people's schedules, and it usually results in matches between player's of similar abilities.  Quite a few folks also like the idea of playing on a team where the camaraderie and team result is the focus, and everyone works towards a season long goal.

For those that prefer to have their matches more condensed and/or are working on individual goals, there is tournament play.  Tournaments are usually played over 3-4 days and on weekends, with anywhere from 2-5 matches played depending on the size of the draw or tournament format.  The USTA sanctions both age division and NTRP tournaments, and other organizations sanction tournament play as well that may be ratings based or even gender neutral.  Some players play exclusively in tournaments and don't play in league, so playing in tournaments also offers the opportunity to play new players if you grow tired of facing the same players in league year after year.

NTRP Nationals for tournament players was just held the past few weekends and these players qualified to go based on playing NTRP tournaments in the area.  Different sections use different criteria for determining who will advance, but all involve qualifying by playing in NTRP tournaments during the year to accumulate points or advancing to a Sectionals tournament to identify the top players.

If you are interested in going to NTRP Nationals next year, now is the time to start playing NTRP tournaments.  The club I play at, Columbia Athletic Club Silver Lake, is hosting a few tournaments in the next month, a doubles event starting April 25th, and a singles event starting May 16th.

If you are wanting to get to NTRP Nationals, or just want to give tournament play a try, find a tournament near you!