The Universal Tennis Rating has created a new professional tournament, set to begin in May. Let’s break down the specifics and whether or not it will be successful.
The Universal Tennis Rating has officially announced, as of May 2nd, that two new tennis tournaments will be created to bring new live tennis events to fans during the suspension of the 2020 season. The events will be hosted on private courts in West Palm Beach, FL, with a limited number of staff members and no spectators
The tournament is split into men’s and women’s draws in a round-robin style with four players in each draw. The men’s draw, consisting of ATP #8 Matteo Berrettini, along with Americans Reily Opelka (39), Tennys Sandgren (55), and Tommy Paul (57). The women’s draw is led by No. 19 Allison Riske, followed by Amanda Anisimova (28), Danielle Collins (51), and Ajla Tomljanovic (56) from Australia.
There will be no spectators, handshaking, ball kids, or line judges. Additionally, one chair umpire will oversee the match, and each player will be provided with their own set of marked balls to use during the match. The courts, locker rooms, etc will all be professionally disinfected before and after play.
Let’s assess the tournament as a whole and whether or not it’s a viable option during the times without official tournaments in play.
A quick breakdown of UTR
Before an evaluation of the tournament can happen, we need to look at the UTR. The Universal Tennis Rating has emerged as the “metric system” in tennis. Similar to a handicap in golf, the UTR gives every player, from the professional level to college recruits, a numerical rating based on their performance against other ranked players. Age and gender are not put into consideration, regardless of amateur or professional status. It’s a simple system that only requires two pieces of statistics: who won, and what was the score? Because the UTR takes into account scores of matches alongside win-loss records, it results in a more precise measurement of the best players in tennis.
As a quick example, ATP World #1 Novak Djokovic leads with 16.18 points, followed by #2 Rafael Nadal with 16.17. The rankings differ from standard ones, however. Dominic Thiem, currently ranked 3rd in the ATP Standings, is ranked fifth with 15.95 and is behind Stefanos Tsitsipas and Roger Federer (ranked 4th and 3rd in the UTR standings).
What’s the benefit of the tournament?
The UTR tournament is the closest thing that tennis will get to playing official tournaments. The players competing are eligible for prize money and are not exhibitions. This allows for players to be able to get back into playing tournaments professionally and will aid them in returning to normalcy as pro players. This event, if successful, can start to aid in bringing lower-level players a consistent salary moving forward if the coronavirus pandemic continues to hold out play.
Using the UTR rankings would also allow for these events to take place worldwide. This particular event will consist of primarily American players due to the restrictions on travel and safety of players. Because the rankings factor in only the players competing and the result of the match, players that have the ability to travel safely and with little restriction could result in more of these events being held for other players to receive the benefits of the proposed tournament.
“I miss the competition aspect of sports,” Tennys Sandgren said to ESPN. “Like most other guys I want to compete, whether it’s in a Grand Slam stadium or on a private court somewhere.”
Is this a viable option as of now for players to return to professional competition?
In short, yes. Any tournament that can start to return tennis to its normal state is a huge positive for the sport. Without tournaments, many players are currently struggling with a steady income without competitive action. It’s a huge need to have a normal and consistent schedule each year, as players depend on the surplus of opportunities they receive throughout the season. The UTR tournament is the closest thing that tennis can get to a typical tournament, and it will certainly benefit players both physically and mentally if it is deemed a success.
The men’s tournament is scheduled to take place from May 8th-10th; the women will follow from May 22nd-24th. This event will be the first live tennis event since the shutdown of the ATP and WTA tours in March.