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February 9, 2011

Deferred Compensation

It's a funny thing about tennis rankings -- like Wall Street bonuses, they don't always reflect how well a player is doing at a particular moment in time.

Those familiar with the system know players accumulate points at every tournament they enter on a fifty-two week rolling basis, earning more at larger events and the deeper they go into draws. Since the athletes retain credit for wins up to a year -- and are held accountable for long-ago losses -- they arguably get a sort of grace/waiting period before being paid for their most recent results.

That means a severe underdog can beat a heavy favorite at a given tournament, but if she happened to advance farther last time, even if via a much easier draw, she could lose ground despite improved play. Furthermore, as we've seen so often recently, a player can climb the ranks by entering events week after week, building himself insurance if he should be beaten early at the Majors.

Perhaps that irony is best represented in the ascent of Sam Querrey, currently a career high #17 in the world despite having won only one match since the U.S. Open -- and losing to players like Santiago Giraldo and Lucasz Kubot. This week in San Jose, the American boasted a #3 seed, but still couldn't get out the gates and fell in straight sets to Lukas Lacko, ranked out of the top hundred.

What's propping him up? Titles in Belgrade, Queen's Club and Los Angeles over the spring and summer have a few more months of shelf-life, but the five hundred points he earned fifty-one weeks ago in Memphis are about ready to walk out the door unless he ups his game fast. Otherwise, it sure looks like Sam is about to reap the pain of some sloppy recent play.

Vera Zvonareva is in a slightly different, but steadier, boat. Arguably coming off the best year of her career, making final appearances at her first two Slams, she actually doesn't have the hardware to back it up. The only trophy she won in 2010 was in Pattaya City, a smaller tournament in Thailand where she's defending this week, and if she doesn't make good on her top seeding she'll have no titles to show for all the progress she's made. But though her ranking may come into jeopardy later in the year, I feel she's got the potential for a strong spring and summer, and could come out swinging even harder when its time to defend her points.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, it looks like Kim Clijsters' patience and six months of hard work is about to be rewarded. The winner in New York, Doha and Melbourne has been inching her way back toward the #1 position -- a spot she last held before she ever won a Major trophy. But now she's one win away from reclaiming the spot from Caroline Wozniacki, and if she makes the semifinals in Paris this week we'll see current dominance finally reflected in the rankings.

At the end of the day, everything probably works out -- stale points eventually drop off and fresh ones get added on, allowing standings to represent where the strength in the sport is, and both the ATP and WTA championships use a calendar year race to determine their qualifiers. But maybe it's time to re-evaluate the system, give more weight to recent results, so that rankings are more reflective of the current environment.

After all, wouldn't we all be better served if only true merit was rewarded?

2 comments:

wanderingmirages said...

I was talking about something very similar in my post!

Pls check it out and let me know your feelingZ! :)

Nice to discover your page, than you for sending me the DM on twitter, count me in as a regular follower!

My post -

wanderingmirages said...

I was talking about something very similar in my post!

Pls check it out and let me know your feelingZ! :)

Nice to discover your page, than you for sending me the DM on twitter, count me in as a regular follower!

My post - http://is.gd/federerrankings