Southern Level 3s: One Parent’s Take on the New Format

We are more than 6 months into the new format for our Southern Level 3 tournaments, and, given that the Southern Section is often a testing-ground for policies that are later rolled out nationwide – and after spending yet another weekend at one of these events – I thought I would share my thoughts and experiences in hopes of generating some constructive dialog between us parents and USTA.

A quick recap on how the format changed in 2012 . . . the tournaments now have two 16-player draws for each age group with the brackets arranged by “waterfall” – for an explanation of exactly what that means, click here.  These tournaments must be played and completed on Saturday and Sunday with the goal of reducing missed school days.  Players are guaranteed at least 3 matches via a second consolation bracket.  The “real” consolation bracket will not play its final match, though the second consolation bracket will.  All singles matches will consist of a 10-point tiebreaker in lieu of a third set in both the main draw and consolation brackets.  There is also a new Points-Per-Round table for these tournaments with more points being awarded in every round (please note that there is NO CONSOLATION WINNER, however, so the most points awarded in the backdraw is 180).

The first thing I noticed with this new format is that there are two 1 seeds, two 2 seeds, 2 three seeds, and 2 four seeds in each age group; however, the winners of the two brackets in each age group do NOT play each other (i.e. there are 2 tournament winners in each age group).  That means the two top players at the tournament never have the opportunity to compete against one another, never have the chance to drive each other to work harder to improve.  Since healthy competition and rivalry are key factors in junior development, I don’t see how this new format is in the best interest of helping our players become stronger and more competitive once they leave the Section.  At the very least, I would like to see these tournaments add one more match to the main draws where the winners of each bracket play for the Championship.

I’ve also noticed that these events tend to have very long Alternate Lists in most age groups.  To me, that indicates a need for either (a) bigger draw sizes or (b) more tournament options.  I know y’all are sick to death of reading about my son’s experiences on the dreaded Alternate List, but, really, the size of these lists is a clear sign that there are players who want to play, so why not accommodate them somehow?

Another thing I noticed is that there are now 6 different draws – 2 Main, 2 Consolation, and 2 Extra Consolation – for each gender of each age division.  According to several Tournament Directors with whom I’ve spoken, this creates a mountain of extra work at the end of the first day of play, especially since the TennisLink tournament software hasn’t been updated to include the second consolation draws, meaning they have to be created and scheduled manually.  Assuming the Saturday matches finish by 9pm, that means the Tournament Director and staff start working on the second backdraws at that time for every single age division.  Not only do they have to create the draws, but they also have to schedule the matches and make sure they have enough courts available to accommodate the Main Draw, Consolation, and Extra Consolation matches.  Then, they usually have to be back on site before 7am on Sunday to be ready for Day 2 of play.  And we parents wonder why the folks at the tournament desk are sometimes a little grouchy on Sunday!

And, really, what’s the point of that second backdraw?  In no other tournament that I know of are players guaranteed three matches.  Why at this higher level sectional event is that the case?  Wouldn’t the players be better served by having the opportunity to play out the third set and play out the final of the “real” backdraw?  And, if you think the number of defaults is high in regular consolation draws, you should see what happens in that second backdraw.  There are so many defaults and no-shows which indicates to me that even the players don’t see the value in sticking around for that extra match or two on Sunday when they’ve already lost twice.  Why not use the second backdraw idea in lower level local tournaments instead where the participants could really benefit from the additional match play simply to gain experience?  At these higher-level events, the players are looking at the quality of the matches they get to play, and, really if we’re honest here, the quality in the second backdraw just isn’t there.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at this example from this past weekend’s Boys 18s second backdraw:

I would love to see USTA Southern take a good hard look at these Level 3 events and seriously consider tweaking the format going forward.  I would also love to see more Southern Level 4 tournaments offered on the same weekends as the Level 3s for those players who are struggling to get into the smaller draws of the Level 3s.  That way, more juniors would have the opportunity for tournament match play, increasing participation numbers which USTA keeps saying is one of its top goals.  But, you know, this is just my take on things.  How do the rest of you feel???