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Clay Courts Confusion


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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dot means next to the players’ names to determine if a player is in the main draw, qualifying draw, an alternate, has withdrawn his/her entry, or is not eligible for selection.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 GroupLast Accepted1st Alternate/Qualifier# of displaced players
Boys 145519719/120
Boys 16434320/120
Boys 185576226/120
Girls 1469817617/120
Girls 16148316723/120
Girls 188125929/120





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