Selection Process for 2015 Nationals & Other Stuff

So much has been going on these past couple of weeks, and I’ve been remiss in posting – for that, I apologize!

The first thing you need to know is that the selection process for the 2015 National Clay Court and National Hard Court Championships has been posted. For the 16s and 18s, draw size has been increased back to 2013 numbers, 192 for singles and 96 for doubles. For the 14s and 16s, draw sizes are 128 for singles and 64 for doubles. Players will be chosen based on the criteria in the document posted here:

2015 NJTS Summary

 

The next thing is that USTA is holding its third TeamUSA online forum March 31st at 8:00pm ET. To register for a spot, click here. You’ll then receive an email confirmation with details for logging into the webinar.

For those interested, I posted an album on Facebook of my photos from my trip to the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. Click here to view the shots. My trip was absolutely fantastic! The weather was perfect, and I had the chance to see some incredible matches. My Player Guest credentials allowed me to eat with the players which was a real treat! At different times, I found myself sitting at a table next to David Ferrer, Andy Murray, Jelena Jankovic, Donald Young, Sloane Stevens, Nick Kyrgios, and John Isner. Unbelievable! No photos are allowed in Player Dining, though, so you’ll just have to take my word for it!

Finally, I’m really proud to announce that the Huffington Post asked me to participate in its series on youth sports entitled The Tackle. You can read my piece by clicking here. It’s a slight re-write of an article I posted on this site a few weeks ago, but I hope you’ll take a look and share it with your friends. The entire series is terrific, so please click on the various articles and let me know what you think.

 

Changes in National Clay & Hards for 2015

The following information appears on ZooTennis today at this link (click here for the full article):

The USTA board has approved changes to the 2015 USTA Clay Court and National 16s and 18s championships. After a qualifying tournament was held in 2014 to determine eight spots in a 128-player draw, the tournaments will revert to the 192-player draws they had prior to 2014. Alternate methods of gaining entry have also been reintroduced. The changes:

1. Eliminates Qualifier: Replaces the 64-player qualifier and 128-player main draw at the Boys’ and Girls’ 18 and 16 USTA National Clay Court Championships and The USTA National Championships (Hard Courts) and with a main draw of 192 players.

2. Creates Direct Acceptance List: Creates a Direct Acceptance List of top USTA, ATP/WTA and ITF* players to be published on May 1 that will automatically be selected for the Boys’ and Girls’ 18 and 16 USTA National Clay Court Championships and The USTA National Championships. ATP/WTA and ITF players are only included on the Direct Acceptance List for the 18 Divisions. Up to 32 players are selected off of this list for the 18 Divisions; up to 16 players are selected off of this list for the 16 Divisions.

I have seen reference elsewhere to the criteria for ATP/WTA/ITF entry as follows, although this could change:

In the 18 Divisions, the Direct Acceptance List will be comprised of the top 16 players on the National Standings List, followed by players with top 800 ATP ranks/top 600 WTA ranks, followed by top 100 ITF players. Up to 32 players will be selected by this method. If fewer than 32 players on the List enter, the open spots are filled with endorsed players from the National Standings List published at the time of selection.

3. Net Increase in Draw Size to Section Quota: The net increase in draw size is allocated to Sectional Association quota using the same quota formula that currently exists (60% based on strength of Section/40% based on size of junior membership as of December 31, 2013).

4. Sectional Ranking Tournament Winner Always Replaced with Quota Player: If the winner of the designated Sectional Ranking Tournament (May/June Sectionals) does not enter The USTA National Championships (Hard Courts) or is not age eligible, one additional player from the Section’s endorsement list will be selected. This proposed change applies to all divisions (BG12-18).

With the elimination of the qualifying tournaments, the previously published 2015 dates for the Clays and Nationals will not be accurate, so look for revisions there in the upcoming months.

While I am thrilled USTA has reverted to the larger draw sizes and alternate means of entry to, hopefully, eliminate the craziness that happened during the 2014 selection process (click here and here to read my articles), I am disappointed it didn’t happen in time for my own son to get to experience playing at Kalamazoo. That said, USTA seems to have recognized and acknowledged the problems with many of the 2014 changes and looks to be on track to correct many of them. That’s good news for those of you with kids still eligible to play.

Our Clay Courts Experience

Now that Phase 1 (the Florida part) of our Summer Tennis Travel is done, I thought I’d write up a quick list of things we experienced and learned from the National Clay Courts in Delray. For those of you who were there or at sites for the other divisions, please add to my list in the Comments section below.

1. Having qualies is great except for the fact that, if the draws had remained the same size as in previous years, boys who lost 2nd or 3rd round in qualies would still have the opportunity to play in the backdraw and to be seen by the college coaches who didn’t arrive until the main draw started.

2. Saving money by shrinking draws & having qualies is bogus. There was a no-tennis day after qualies finished and before the main draw began, requiring those players who made it through qualies and/or chose to stay and chance getting in as a “lucky loser” and/or play doubles to pay for extra day/night of hotel, food, etc.

3. The tournament charges the “official stringer” $2000 to be there. He was at our hotel, not at one of the tourney sites, requiring players to make special trips (15 minutes plus each way) back and forth to have racquets strung. He said his business was significantly reduced this year due to the smaller draw sizes.

4. A couple of the players who are in the main draw here didn’t even make the qualies for Kalamazoo. That speaks to two things: the fact that many of the top players chose not to play Clays this year and the fact that the selection process for Kzoo was such that several elite juniors were placed in the qualifying draw instead of the main draw because they chose to play an ITF and/or professional schedule as opposed to staying in their section and meeting endorsement criteria. These top players really do belong in the main draw and will probably make it through qualifying to get there. However, it’s a real shame for those players in the qualies who will face them and lose their chance at competing in the main event. It’s also a real shame for those players who were kept out of the tournament altogether because of the crazy selection process.

5. I loved having certified trainers at each site! They were kept very busy in this heat/humidity.

6. Several college coaches were on site for the 2nd day of qualies. I had the chance to speak to a couple of them and found that they were as confused as the rest of us as to how to handle recruiting for this tournament and how to plan their travel. Very few coaches were there the first day, but there was a swarm of coaches once the main draw started.

7. I asked my son if this tourney felt any different than others he’s played. His answer was, “Only that i’m not in it” meaning he didn’t make main draw singles. He really wishes he were at least in the backdraw and had a chance to be seen by more college coaches.

8. Early round blowouts are still happening despite having qualies. Really, there is nothing to do to eliminate that. USTA needs to just go back to the old draw sizes and give the most kids an opportunity to test their game at this level.

9. Not surprisingly, there were several walkovers in the consolation draw for qualies – duh! It’s a real shame for those players who didn’t get to play a 2nd match. They came all this way to play one match.

10. Of the 9 qualifiers/lucky losers in B18s, 7 of them lost in the first round of the main draw. However, one of the qualifiers won 2 main draw matches, taking out a 17 seed 0 &2, and another won 1 main draw match (for the record, the NSL rankings of these two players are 195 & 257). Of the 7 qualifiers/lucky losers who lost in the main draw first round, four of them won 2 rounds in the backdraw and one won 1 round in the backdraw. Remember: the qualifiers/lucky losers had to win 3 matches before even starting their main draw competition.

And, I just want to wish my son a very happy 18th birthday today. As I wrote earlier, he is now officially in his last year of junior tennis, and I know it’s going to be his best year yet!

As Messy As We Predicted

Image courtesy of tsukasachronicles.blogspot.com
Image courtesy of tsukasachronicles.blogspot.com

The player selections have been posted for the upcoming national hardcourt Level 1 tournaments, and, as predicted, it’s another big mess. (See ZooTennis.com for more details)

Like the clay court selections, there are several top-ranked players who were either selected into the qualifying event (16s and 18s) or placed on the alternate list or, worse yet, weren’t selected at all because they didn’t even apply. The recent Wimbledon Junior Boys Champion, Noah Rubin, is in the qualies for B18s. Last year’s Kalamazoo champion and runner-up are both in qualies as well.

Remember USTA’s reason for shrinking the draw size for this event? Remember the statement about reducing the number of 0 & 0 matches in the early rounds for the seeded players? Remember the “this will save families time and money” argument? Remember the t-shirt comment? Please go back and read my post from August 2012 (click here) for a reminder. Well, how do you think the kid who won the event in 2013 is going to feel about having to go through 3 rounds of qualies just to get in the main draw? And how do you think the kids who have to face him during qualies are going to feel? And now those kids have to be at the event 3 days before the main draw starts which costs money in terms of hotel and meals and maybe even rental car. How does any of this accomplish USTA’s stated goals?

Let me remind you, too, that USTA only has 8 wildcards to award in each age group. In the Boys 18s there are at least 15 players who deserve to be in the main draw, including the Wimbledon Junior Finalist, the winner and runner-up of the 2013 Orange Bowl, and several players in the top 15 on TennisRecruiting.net. Again, there are only 8 wildcards, so what happens to those players who aren’t among the Chosen 8? They either decide to go through qualies (if they even bothered to sign up for the tournament and were selected) or they skip the event altogether, weakening the field for our most prestigious junior event. I really don’t see how this is better for junior tennis, do you?

The USTA Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee members and the Junior Comp staff have some major cleanup work ahead of them to fix this broken system and to fix it quickly before even more kids fall through the cracks. The sad thing is that all of the selection outcomes we’re seeing with both clay courts and hardcourts were predicted and discussed ad nauseum before anything was voted on or approved and yet USTA still went forward with the 2014 changes. I want to renew my plea to USTA to go back to the drawing board, to clean up their mess, to enlist the help of current junior tennis parents way smarter than me who can help create a system that will provide the best opportunity for the most junior players to reach their highest potential.

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Clay Courts Confusion

 

clay courts

A child ranked over 1000 nationally got selected for the upcoming National Clay Court Championship while another child ranked in the top 50 did not. How is this possible? It’s one of the “unintended consequences” of the 2014 rule changes.

As you may be aware, the player selection lists were just published for next month’s National Clay Court Championships held in various locations for the various age groups and genders. Since my son is in the Boys 18s, his event is being held in Delray Beach, Florida. When making our summer plans, my son asked to include this tournament as a “reach” so that he would have an opportunity to play in front of some of the college coaches that attend for recruiting purposes.

In 2014, for the first time, the Boys 16s and 18s include a qualifying event due to the smaller draw size in the main event. The same will be the case for the National Hardcourts at the end of July/beginning of August. This is all part and parcel of the 2014 Junior Competition changes that were implemented on January 1st. This tournament is the first national level 1 championship tournament to take place since the changes went into effect. Many of the concerns that were discussed at the various face-to-face meetings, via email and phone calls, and during the Listening Tour have come to fruition, unfortunately. Below are just a few. First, though, a primer on how to decipher the selection process and where a particular player falls on the list.

1. Go to TennisLink (click here) then click on National Junior Tournaments under the Shortcuts section. In the “Month” dropdown box, choose “July” then scroll down the results page until you see the tournament for your child’s age and gender and click on the link to go to that event’s TennisLink page.

selection process
Image 1

2. Click on the Selection Process tab which is located underneath the main tournament information about 1/4 of the way down the page (see Image 1 – click to enlarge).

3. Scroll down until you locate your particular section, then click on the blue link listing your section name’s endorsement list.

4. Read the paragraph explaining what each color dot means next to the players’ names to determine if a player is in the main draw, qualifying draw, an alternate, has withdrawn his/her entry, or is not eligible for selection. (If you view the Section Ranking list, and see a ‘green’ dot next to your name, it means you are EITHER in the Main Draw OR Qualifying event. The NSL list will show you which event you are in.)

5. Next, go to the National Standing List (NSL) for your child’s age division and do the same as in Step #4.

6. If a child is an alternate, count how many alternates (yellow dots) are ahead of him/her to determine the likelihood of selection into the tournament. Here’s the tricky part, though. If a player from your section pulls out of the main draw, he/she will be replaced by the next player entered from the same section; that player could come from the qualies selection list or from the section’s alternate list. At the same time. if someone pulls out of the qualies, he/she would be replaced by the next player on the National Standing List (NSL) regardless of section.  So what happens to a player in the qualies if someone from their section drops out? As it was explained to me, the player in the qualies would move into the main draw to replace the sectional player there. However, if a player pulls out of the qualies, he/she would be replaced by the highest alternate on the NSL. Clear as mud, right?

Now, some observations and questions I have for USTA:

  • As predicted and warned against, the combination of using a quota system and sectional rankings for selection into the tournament has resulted in some very strange outcomes.
  • Each section, due to the autonomy awarded by the USTA National office, has different rules in place in terms of which types of tournaments are included in sectional rankings. Southern California, for example, includes any national tournaments played outside the section in its rankings; Florida only includes the three Level 1s and Zonals if played outside the section. The implications of this variance is that players in SoCal are rewarded for playing outside the section when it comes to sectional endorsement to the national events while players in other sections may not be given the same consideration. For example, one of the top-ranked players in the country from one of the smaller sections is in the qualifying draw for the B16s. He played a number of sectional tournaments but because his section doesn’t count national tournaments toward sectional ranking, he missed the quota. The same tournament schedule for a SoCal player would have placed him high on that section’s endorsement list because SoCal counts all national tournaments. Every section seems to have its own methodology, further adding to the confusion and inequity of the current structure.
  • In years past, college coaches have set up tables at the B18s event the day before play began so they could talk to potential recruits about their program. It was a great opportunity for some of the smaller programs, especially, to get their name out to the players and “sell” the benefits of their schools. With the qualies scheduled right before main draw play begins, will the coaches still be able do that? Will NCAA rules allow them to talk to the players if qualies are going on? If anyone has the answer to this one, please chime in! [NOTE: See Comments #12-16 below for clarification on this point]
  • In the B18s you have 5 kids in the top 100 in the nation being forced to play qualies while kids ranked between 400 and 515 are in the main draw, and in the B16s the 45th ranked kid is in the qualies while the 422nd kid is in the main draw. How can we legitimately call this a national championship?
  • The biggest thing I am noticing is that no one is playing Clay Court from So Cal.  Basically about 1/2 of the players eligible even signed up. With this new system of all the points in the level 1s, it is clear that people don’t understand the system or have just lost the desire to care anymore. With this system, if you don’t play Clay Courts, you are simply not going to have a high ranking.  In the old system, you could miss Clays – which a lot of kids did – and still have a strong national ranking because there were so many other ways to earn ranking points.
  • In the 12s it looks like the player ranked 864 in the nation got in on the boys’ side and 677 on the girls’.  It also looks like the first alternate is ranked in the high 200s for both.  This is obviously unfair, but USTA’s argument from the get-go on these 2014 changes has been that it’s irrelevant, that kids in the high 200s shouldn’t be playing anyway.  Of course, the counter argument is that USTA has now created a system that pretty much guarantees kids in the 400s will leapfrog their higher-ranked peers and get to play instead.
  • The selection process for this tournament proves how the NSL and the quotas are an utter mess.  All along, we’ve pointed out that the new system would allow for kids from weaker sections to make it as high as the top 50 in the country without winning a match outside their section. But what I noticed today when asked about something else is something I hadn’t thought of . . . it’s the chain reaction that happens as a result of the “weaker section” advantage.  Here’s one example:John Agassi (not his real name) is ranked in the top 50 in the country.  He is on the young side of the 14s ( he just finished 7th grade).  He has managed his high ranking mostly by doing well against weak competition within his section. He has almost 2000 points, about 70% of which come from sectional play.  The sectional points got him ranked highly enough to get into the Spring Team Championships.  There, he lost three out of four matches, only beating one boy, Bob Sampras (again, not his real name), who was then ranked in the top 75 in the country.  From that one win, Agassi got a total of 325 national points, 275 for the win plus 50 bonus points (the 325 are the majority of his national points). On its face, that wouldn’t seem to be too big a deal.  But the win was over a weak player from a weaker section who also got to play the tournament because of a ranking acquired from points won in his weaker section.  At the spring team tournament, that player, Bob Sampras, went 0-8 between singles and doubles.  He’s ranked just over 200 this week on TRN. Thirty-two (32) kids in Florida are ranked above him in his grade, and I’m sure there are another ten Florida kids in the grade below him who would be ranked higher if TRN combined the grades.  That means there are some 40 kids in Florida who are likely better to much better players than Bob Sampras, but he will sail into the summer level 1s under his section’s quota, while 29 of those better Florida kids will be excluded. Now let’s go back to John Agassi. He won 325 points for his win over a weak player in a tournament neither he nor that weak player should have gotten into to begin with.  To get 325 points in Florida you would have to take third place in the level 3, 64 draw, state championship.  So a Florida kid would have to go 5-1 against very tough competition to get the points Agassi earned by winning just one match against a weak player from another weak section. Aside from how all this is making the NSL irrelevant, the decision to make the 2014 points table completely disproportionate to last year’s points without making the changes retroactive to 2013 has made it even worse.  A kid who made the quarterfinals in 2013 at last year’s level 1s would have earned 350 points, a quarterfinalist at our national championships getting a comparable number of points to a boy who won one match against a weak player.  How does that make any sense? One last thing: bonus points make a system that’s already rigged to favor weak sections even more inequitable.  Why?  Because weak-section kids more easily get a higher ranking, they will have weak kids who get over-ranked from whom they can win bonus points.
  • Girls 16s is even crazier! The player ranked over 1200 in the nation got into the main draw off her sectional ranking while the player ranked in the mid 100s only got into the qualies. Three players ranked in the 1000s got selected into the main draw. Take a look at the chart below for details. The first column shows each age group for each gender. The second column lists the national ranking of the last 5 players accepted into the main draw. The third column lists the national ranking of the last 5 players accepted into the alternates (14s)/qualies (16s and 18s). The fourth column shows how many players were ranked higher nationally than those selected into the main draw but who weren’t chosen because of quotas (between 20-25% of the acceptances overall).

I welcome any feedback and/or comments on what is presented here. If your experience is different from what I’ve reported, please share that with us. If anyone from USTA’s Junior Competition & Sportsmanship Committee would like to add his/her thoughts, I know we would all appreciate that as well.

 

Age Group Last Accepted 1st Alternate/Qualifier # of displaced players
Boys 14 551 97 19/120
493 112
476 126
438 129
429 121
Boys 16 434 3 20/120
422 45
395 52
378 73
326 119
Boys 18 557 62 26/120
518 68
496 80
446 96
408 99
Girls 14 698 176 17/120
624 194
505 207
487 219
442 221
Girls 16 1483 167 23/120
1123 187
1031 199
721 200
714 226
Girls 18 812 59 29/120
795 68
731 99
640 105
588 122

 

 

 

A Great Fix

I recently met with Ross Greenstein of Scholarship for Athletes to talk about various aspects of junior and college tennis.  Ross grew up playing junior tennis and went on to play at the University of Florida.  He now works with junior players and their families to navigate the college recruiting process, so I trust him as a reliable resource on matters having to do with junior tennis and college.

He asked me to give him the down-and-dirty rundown on what’s going on with the USTA’s proposed changes to the junior competition schedule and the feedback I’ve been hearing from other parents as well as coaches.  Then, he shared with me what I consider a brilliant solution . . .

Instead of making the draws smaller at the big national tournaments (Winter Nationals, National Clay Courts, and National Hard Courts), taking away the opportunity for many junior players to have the experience of playing at these events, why not have 2 equal-sized draws of 128 each where the players ranked 1-128 play in one draw and the players ranked 129-256 play in the other?  There would be a modified feed-in consolation for each draw, so players would either be guaranteed 2 or 3 matches (that detail can be worked out later).  The two separate draws could have a staggered start-date so that court availability wouldn’t be an issue, and play would continue on a daily basis so no player would have a day off, needlessly spending money on a hotel and meals and rental car.

What made Ross come up with such a format?  He says, “I was looking at how many matches are uncompetitive at our national events.  I looked at Hard Courts and Clay Courts in the 18’s for boys and girls this summer, and over 20% of all main draws matches are not competitive.  I would define that as one of the players not getting even 3 games in either set.  6-2, 6-2 is not competitive.”

From the tournament directors’ perspective, this approach is a win-win.  More players means more income from entry fees.  More players also means more revenue for the host community in terms of hotel rooms, restaurants, rental cars, shopping, etc. which makes the event an easier “sell” to potential sponsors.

From the college coaches’ perspective, it’s a win-win.  The coaches from the top D1 schools could focus their time watching Players 1-128, those most likely to be candidates for their programs.  The coaches from the 2nd tier D1 and the D2 and D3 schools could focus their time watching Players 129-256, those most likely to be candidates for their programs.  This format would attract more coaches from a variety of schools, which would give the players and their families a chance to speak to those coaches face-to-face and learn more about the individual programs.

I asked University of Georgia’s Men’s Head Coach, Manny Diaz, what he thought of the proposal.  He says, “I like the idea. In the context of keeping more kids involved in the highest levels of our sport, I would also think having a 64 qualifying draw with 8 qualifiers into a 128 draw would be a good consideration.”  Not a bad addition to the plan, Coach!

From the players’ perspective, it’s a win-win.  More kids get to play in the most prestigious American junior tennis tournaments.  They have the opportunity to play more competitive matches from the get-go since the draws will be separated by ranking, which should avoid that dreaded 0&0 “triple crown” effect that Lew Brewer alluded to when I spoke to him about the smaller draw sizes.  More players have the opportunity for face-to-face meetings with coaches who will be interested in, and have the possibility of, recruiting them.  For those players in the 129-256 draw who aspire to play at a higher-level D1 school, getting their ranking into that top 128 so those coaches will watch them play gives them a concrete goal to work toward for the next year.  For those who say it’s too expensive to travel to these national events, this proposed format would reduce the amount of time you would have to stay at the event by ensuring play (barring weather delays) on consecutive days.  Of course, whether or not a family chooses to travel for a child’s tennis is completely their own decision, but if the child’s goal is to compete on the national level and eventually play college tennis, why not provide a scenario that gives them the best chance of getting into the tournament and playing some good competitive matches while there, not to mention the best chance of being seen by the appropriate college coaches?

And, unlike the “waterfall draws” of our current Southern Level 3 tournaments, under this proposed format the top kids would get the chance to compete against one another, driving each other to get better.  Ross told me the story of a player he worked with a few years ago.  He asked me, “Do you remember when Federer was #1, Nadal was #2, and Djokovic was #3?  Do you know how many times Djokovic played Federer and Nadal that year?  Thirteen times!”  Ross talked about how much Djokovic improved that year, how playing the top two guys drove him to work harder to figure out how to beat them.  He then went on to tell me about his player, ranked #3 in the country, a very strong recruit.  “Do you know how many times my player got to play the #1 and #2 players during his junior year?  Zero!”  That is one of the often-overlooked flaws in our current tournament system.  We need rivalries at the top.  That’s what fuels hard work, ambition, and a hunger to get better.  And it’s one of the reasons we see many college players at the top programs develop to the next level – that daily competition against their peers.

To summarize . . .
Benefits:
  • Better match play for all participants
  • Better for athletes and parents in the recruiting process
  • Better for college coaches in the recruiting process
  • Better for the host city and the tournament director
  • Gives more kids a chance to play the big national events
  • Gives kids concrete goals to shoot for
Negatives:
  • I just don’t see any.  Do you?  If so, please share in the Comments below.