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Icy Hots Leave Players Lukewarm

icyhotThank you to a fellow Tennis Parent for providing this detailed analysis of the new Points Per Round schedule and Designated events in the Southern Section. Please feel free to share what’s happening in your section in the Comments below.

All it took was one Icy Hot [Designated Tournament] in Norcross [GA] to convince parents and players that Southern Level 2s (STA2s) weren’t worth the time and expense of travel.

Take away the National 5 points, decimate the early round points, and players were left with a tournament that only offered value for players confident they could finish in the top 6.

The draw for the Icy Hot in February in Norcross was tough; selected players for the Boys 16s were ranked in the top 130 in the South, and the original alternate list was over 40 players long. Fast forward to the Montgomery [AL] Icy Hot in March. Originally with only 6-8 players on the Boys 16s alternate list, the tournament started with 6 byes in the round of 64 and two withdrawals. Last year there were on-site alternates to fill any open spot – not so this year. Registration just ended for the Baton Rouge [LA] Icy Hot; only 52 applicants for the Boys 18s spots by the Sunday night deadline. Possibly more spots will be filled with late entries.

Why are the STA2s snubbed? Low points, long days, lengthy draws. In 2013, even a single consolation win would net 220 points; in 2014 it earns a mere 58 points prior to bonuses – a 75% drop. With consolation rounds for players who lost in rounds 64/32/16 ending on Sunday, the most points (prior to bonus) a player can earn in the backdraw is 160. Players would need to win 3 main draw matches or 4 or more consolation matches to earn those points in a STA2. Winning only two main draw matches in a STA3, which tend to have easier draws, nets the same 160 points.

How do the rest of the points compare between tournaments? Winning three main draw matches in a STA3 garners 240 points. The STA3s finish in two days, and the champion wins 320 points with 4 main draw wins. The 4th place finisher in the STA2 also wins 4 main draw matches (with losses in SF and ¾) and earns 320 points but it takes 3 days. The number of players in each that win 192 or more points? 6 out of 32 for STA3 or around 20% while only 8 out of 64 or 12.5% in the STA3s. Only in the top 3 spots do players earn more points in the STA3; those players earn 384-640 points plus bonuses. However, to earn those points they would have had to play for 3 days and win 4-6 main draw matches. Playing a STA2 only makes sense for players who will be seeded in the top 8; with bonus points those players might earn more points than players who opt for a STA3 instead that weekend.

The silver lining in the STA2 snubfest is that players who would have never been accepted in the past will receive spots as competitors. Maybe the player was sidelined with an injury for several months, just aged up, or is a talented local player who can’t afford to travel to southern tournaments. If these players can win 3 or more main draw matches and upset some seeds, they can earn a couple hundred southern points. However, there will be plenty of noncompetitive 0,0 matches when the seeds play the locals and low-ranked. These tournaments now have a dichotomy of players – seeded talented players who are playing to win versus players who are playing just for the opportunity. The midlevel southern players will skip the the STA2s and opt for STA3s. Even some top players are skipping STA2s and playing up an age group in STA3s.

While basketball fans have their Sweet Sixteen, southern tennis players have their “Sweet 6” – the six southern 1/1A tournaments with the highest southern point values and the only southern tournaments offering national singles points. Until 2014, players had their choice of thirteen southern tournaments with national singles points and high southern point values even in early rounds. With the stripping of national 5 points and the decimation of points in the first 2 days of the tournament, the STA2s -formerly Bullfrogs, now renamed Icy Hots, have become the ugly stepsisters to the Cinderella Sweet 6.

Prom, End of Course Tests, AP tests, and state varsity tennis playoffs – the positive and negative rites of passage for tennis playing public high schoolers – may conflict with these Sweet Six. Two of the Sweet Six tournaments are only two weeks apart –  the 16s/18s in Clemson starting April 25 and the 16s/18s in Raleigh May 9. Do students study for their important tests and/or play for their school teams, or do they neglect both to ensure they don’t miss one of the Sweet 6?

Two of the other Sweet Six were scheduled in the winter – the level 1 in January and the level 1A in February, neither on indoor courts. Southern Closed remains in mid June as in past years, while the July clay 1As were moved to Labor Day. Why are there no 1As scheduled after Labor Day until mid January? Why is there a 4 month gap in the fall and only two weeks between tournaments in the spring during the busiest time of year for public high schoolers? Is USTA Southern trying to discourage tournament players from playing high school tennis by scheduling the Sweet Six during high school tryouts and playoffs? Public high schoolers can’t miss 4 days of school over 2 weeks during this busy time even if AP tests aren’t involved.

I doubt it was USTA’s intention to make life difficult for tennis playing public high schoolers but they did. Why did they need to schedule four of the Sweet Six in the first five months of the year, especially considering many players had 1A points from the fall/winter indoor southern championships in November and December of 2013? Why did they schedule an 128 draw in the winter on outdoor courts when there is high chance of rain or possibly snow? Luckily the weather held this year for that tournament, but it would have been a fiasco with such a large draw and rain.

USTA Southern please consider moving one of the 1As in April/May to the fall for calendar 2015 and possibly one of the Jan/Feb tourneys to fall too. If players are injured in the first half of the year, with a 4 month gap in the fall, those players would have a hard time catching up to their peers. The new 1As for 2014 were former Bullfrogs. Look at some of the popular Bullfrogs from the past and switch out one of them as a 1A. Ridgeland MS in February would be better as a STA2 than as a 1A. Spread out the Sweet Six and make life easier for players trying to balance public high school and tennis.

While the above paragraphs criticize the Sweet Six schedule, southern parents are grateful for USTA Southern for adding a second level 1 tournament for 2014. Having two options for southern endorsement to national championship offers families flexibility. If their players played the level 1 in January, families may travel in June before playing nationals in July/August. We only hope that public high school students will have more options or a less condensed schedule in 2015.

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