ATP announce new ranking system to deal with coronavirus impact

The ATP Tour announced details of the revised rankings system in place for the sport’s resumption in August.

Rankings on both the ATP and WTA Tours have been frozen since tennis was shut down in mid-March 2019, leaving Novak Djokovic and Ashleigh Barty respectively holding the top spots.

The ATP Tour is currently scheduled to resume after its long hiatus on 14 August with the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., followed by a US Open to be played behind closed doors in New York and then a four-week European clay season which will include the Masters 1000 Series events in Madrid and Rome and then French Open – all of which are usually played in May-June.

Ranking points determine which tournaments a player can enter and have a very direct relationship with earnings potential.

The ATP Tour’s plan is to shift the basis of the rankings from a rolling 52-week period to a 22-month period. All tournaments from March 2019 to December 2020 will be eligible for inclusion in a player’s ‘Best 18’ results.

A player’s ranking is comprised of points earned at the 12 mandatory events – the four Grand Slams and eight Masters 1000 Series events – and their best six results from other countable tournaments.

The key point about the revised ranking is that players who are unwilling or unable to compete at tournaments for the remainder of the 2020 season won’t lose out, because they will still be able to count the points from the 2019 edition of that tournament among their ranking total.

Tournaments obviously cannot be counted twice. This may make it even less likely that Rafael Nadal, who has expressed unease about the idea of travelling to the USA for the US Open, will defend his title in September – he won’t lose or gain any points either way.

Points earned in the remainder of 2020 will remain countable for 52 weeks, or until the tournament is played in 2021, whichever comes first. So points earned at the 2020 French Open, which will be played at the end of September, will drop off when the 2021 tournament takes place at its regular time in late May.

The ATP Tour emphasized that the revisions to the ranking system had been undertaken in consultation with the four Grand Slams and the ITF and added:

‘Should the 2021 season be impacted by Covid-19, further adjustments to Rankings will be considered.’

The ATP Race to London, which tracks the accumulation of points through the calendar year with the top eight players comprising the field for the Nitto ATP Finals in November, has been effectively cancelled for this year. Qualifiers for the season-ending championships will be determined by the revised ATP rankings as outlined above. They will therefore reflect how players performed in 2019 as well as during 2020.

One beneficiary of the revised rankings could be Djokovic. When the rankings were frozen, Djokovic had amassed 282 weeks as world no. 1, putting him third in the overall standings and just four weeks behind Pete Sampras in second place. Djokovic retired in the fourth round of the US Open and lost in the semifinals of the French Open in 2019; if he can better either result during the condensed 2020 season, he will boost his chances of remaining no. 1 and overtaking Sampras. Nadal, who won both the French and US Opens in 2019, can add no points from either.
Another beneficiary of the changes is Roger Federer. Due to surgery on his knee in February, Federer always intended to miss much of the spring hard-court season and the entire clay-court season, and shut down his season for good after a second knee surgery in July. Now he will be able to keep his points from winning the Miami Masters, Basel and Halle and reaching the Wimbledon final and French Open semifinals in 2019 until those events are played again in 2021, which should cushion the drop in the rankings he would otherwise expect to take.

Former French Open finalist David Ferrer now coaching Alexander Zverev on a trial basis.

Zverev and Ferrer are currently in the early stages of a two-week trial to test out the possibility of a more permanent arrangement.

Marca.com reports that Ferrer has travelled to Monte Carlo, where Zverev lives, to work with the German player. If things go well, Ferrer could join Zverev’s coaching team for the European clay-court season, with the Madrid Masters, Rome Masters and French Open all due to take place in a four-week period from mid-September.

It’s not clear whether Ferrer, who has a two-year-old son, would travel to the USA for the upcoming US Open even if the coaching trial goes well.

David Ferrer retired in May 2019 (Photo by pressinphoto/Sipa USA)

Ferrer was ranked as high as world no. 2 and reached the final of the French Open in 2013. He retired in May 2019 after persistent injury problems. Ironically enough, it was Zverev who beat the Spaniard in his final match, at the Madrid Masters.

The announcement comes with Zverev under fire for apparently breaching COVID-19 safety protocols. The 23-year-old German was one of the players who took part in Novak Djokovic’s Adria Tour, which was cancelled after players began testing positive for coronavirus. Zverev was not among them, but declared that he and his team would be self-isolating for the recommended 14 days – only for video of him partying in a crowded club six days later to emerge on social media.

He was heavily criticised, with Nick Kyrgios among those calling his behaviour ‘idiotic’ and ‘selfish’, while the director of the Berlin tournament Zverev is due to play from 13-19 July said he might rescind Zverev’s invitation or require him to follow a strict code of conduct while in Berlin.

Ferrer was known as one of the most hard-working, humble and professional players on the ATP Tour, so bringing him on board at this point could be a strategic move to divert attention from criticism of Zverev, who has been slated for a perceived lack of professionalism in the past as well as for his ill-advised behaviour during the COVID-19 crisis.

This is not the first time that Zverev has shown himself willing to add a big name to his coaching team – but his previous partnerships haven’t worked out well.

Zverev with Novak Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov and Dominic Thiem during the Adria Tour – Dimitrov would be the first to test positive for coronavirus (PA Images)

Zverev worked with Juan Carlos Ferrero, the former world no. 1 and French Open champion who, like Ferrer, hails from Spain. The partnership began in July 2017 and lasted eight months before the pair split after the 2018 Australian Open, with Zverev claiming that Ferrero had been ‘disrespectful’ to his team while Ferrero heavily implied that Zverev’s lack of professionalism was to blame, saying that they had ‘different ideas about how to be a professional off the court’. Zverev’s habit of arriving 20-30 minutes late to a practice session was one of the issues cited by Ferrero.

Ivan Lendl, who won eight Grand Slams during his time as a player and went on to have a highly fruitful coaching partnership with Andy Murray, began working with Zverev later in 2018. The year ended with Zverev’s biggest title to date, scoring back-to-back victories over Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to win the season-ending ATP Finals in London. But the 2019 season was a torrid one for Zverev, who struggled on the court while being mired in a legal dispute with his former agent off the court, and Lendl announced the end of their relationship in July.

Lendl noted that Zverev ‘was still very young’, adding: ‘[C]urrently he has some off-court issues that make it difficult to work in a way that is consistent with my philosophy.’

Zverev shot back that he felt like he wanted more of Lendl’s attention on the tennis court and less on the golf course.

Regardless of his off-court difficulties, Zverev is still considered to be one of the leading lights of the younger generation in men’s tennis, although Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem have all overtaken him in the rankings.