The ATP has confirmed its rankings system will be adjusted due to the impact of coronavirus pandemic, once the Tour resumes, in a move that will greatly benefit Novak Djokovic and protect Roger Federer, but could well hurt Rafael Nadal.
If the ranking points won't be frozen then most of us would be forced to go play because our ranking will drop and we wouldn't have any say in it. But if the rankings are frozen then I am staying here, I will stay in Europe where it's safe with my family. Alexei Popyrin
Tennis across the globe had to be halted as a result of COVID-19, with unofficial invitational events taking place sporadically since June, most under strict social distancing guidelines.
The rankings, which reflect a player’s standing among the world’s best players and are used for tournament entry and seedings, are calculated on performance on the sanctioned pro tours.
The ATP Tour is scheduled to restart in August with 2 tournaments in America ahead of the US Open and 3 events planned in Europe before the French Open in late September.
In anticipation of the return of competition, the rankings, which traditionally operate on a ‘Best 18’ results basis over a rolling 52 weeks, will now cover a period of 22 months, from March 2019 – December 2020, but players cannot count the same Tour-level tournament twice in their ‘Best 18’ breakdowns.
Under the revised rankings system, there is now arguably less incentive to return to New York to better or equal a strong result at last year’s US Open, paving the way for defending champion Nadal, the World No 2, to skip the hard court major.
His run at the French, where he is also the defending champion, will also have no effect on his ranking.
Last year, Nadal recorded his 19th career Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows, inching him closer to equalling Federer’s record 20 tally of major singles triumphs.
Nadal, however, could well lose ground to Djokovic, who will be hoping to add to his points across both Grand Slam events.
The reigning Australian Open and Wimbledon champion, who is 3 Grand Slam titles behind Federer and 2 off Nadal, is now likely to extend his lead over the Spaniard at the top of the rankings.
Djokovic has spent 282 weeks as World No 1 and will surpass Pete Sampras after 5 more at the top when he will be second to Federer at 310.
The rankings adjustment is of great benefit to Federer, who will miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury, because the Swiss now not lose any of his points in the 22 week period, and is therefore unlikely to slip too far down the rankings from his spot as World No 4.
The rankings, which have been frozen since 16 March 2020, just days after the ATP Tour was suspended, are being revised to deliver the following key objectives:
- Provide flexibility & fairness to players across all levels in parallel with the condensed number of points available as part of the revised provisional 2020 calendar.
- Provide stability for players who cannot or prefer not to compete in 2020 due to health & safety.
- Provide a system that can adapt to further changes in the calendar if necessary.
- Reward players who perform well following the resumption of the Tour in 2020.
- Retain the principle of defending tournament points week by week in 2021, maintaining player mobility in the rankings.
Among the key elements of the revised 22-month Ranking system are:
- A player’s ranking will be comprised of his ‘Best 18’ results between March 2019 and December 2020.
- A player cannot count the same Tour-level tournament twice in his ‘Best 18’ breakdown. For example, a player who played the Mutua Madrid Open in 2019 and plays Madrid again in 2020, will count the better of those two results.
- Tour-level tournament points added in 2020 that count in a player’s Ranking Breakdown will remain on a player’s ranking for 52 weeks, or until the event in question is played again in 2021, whichever comes first.
The temporary changes to the Rankings system have been made in consultation with the four Grand Slam tournaments and the ITF.
Should the 2021 season be impacted by Covid-19, further adjustments to rankings will be considered.
Australia’s Alexei Popyrin, who expressed his reservations about a trip to the United States, has since become the first player to officially confirm that he will not be playing at next month’s US Open due to the health concerns.
“Right now there are talks regarding the US Open but I really don’t want to go with the situation in America right now,” Popyrin, who is in France competing in Patrick Mouratoglou’s Ultimate Tennis Showdown event, said a few days ago.
“If the ranking points won’t be frozen then most of us would be forced to go play because our ranking will drop and we wouldn’t have any say in it.
“But if the rankings are frozen then I am staying here, I will stay in Europe where it’s safe with my family.”
Popyrin has now said: “I never really wanted to go to play US Open. I think with the situation that’s happening in America right now, it is very hard to go and play the US Open. I think it’s a big risk for everybody to go and play.
“From who I’ve spoken to, some are afraid of the virus, some aren’t. Some think it’s just a hoax, we’ll have to wait and see how many players go.”
Djokovic is still undecided: “I still don’t know if I will play at the US Open. Washington I’m definitely not playing, Cincinnati is planned. Participation in Roland Garros is safe for now, and Madrid and Rome are also planned.”
The revised FedEx ATP Rankings will determine the singles qualifiers to the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals.
As normally, points earned at the season finale (as an additional 19th event) in 2019 will not count towards a player’s qualification for the 2020 event, ensuring a level playing field for 2020 qualification.
In doubles, the 2020 FedEx ATP Doubles Team Rankings will continue to be used to determine the eight teams that make it to London.
All those, therefore, who qualified for last year’s ATP Finals will be positively benefited by the rule changes.
Daniil Medvedev, the World No 5, amassed a huge total of points in the American hard court swing last summer, all of which will be protected under the new system, and almost certainly will guarantee him a spot in London.
It is less good news for those who started 2020 well, though, such as Britain’s Dan Evans, who was No 11 in the Race to London and just 200 points off the 8th and final qualifying spot.
While it was far from guaranteed he would qualify, his chances have now been seriously dented by other players having their 2019 points protected.
Clearly, there will be winners and losers arising from the new system.
The WTA is now also expected to modify its formula to determine its rankings during the COVID-19 crisis.
Meanwhile, Simona Halep told the BBC’s Best of Wimbledon programme on Tuesday evening: “The US is going to be difficult. It depends on the restrictions.
“I have not fully decided yet but I am a little bit worried to make that move. But I’m just waiting to see what is going to be decided and what actually the other players will do.”