January 9, 2011

Criticisms of Current Rules: Part III: No-Ad and Super-Tie Breaker Scoring

I wholeheartedly agree with the ITF including doubles at all junior events. It tremendously contributes to the overall development of junior players. However, the use of the No-Ad scoring and the Super-Tie Breaker for third set is not beneficial.

There are three goals that should be considered in making a rule change:
1. The Process Goal for the player’s developmental learning.
2. The Product Goal to establish an even playing field.
3. The Fan Goal to attract and appeal to the spectators.

In junior tennis, the Process Goal is not satisfied by No-Ad scoring. The players do not learn the discipline to labor through the lengthy, war-like games that are the key to becoming skilled in tennis.

Perhaps the most important key to achieving high level of success in tennis is developing the skill that it takes to manage the momentum of traditional scoring. Traditional scoring is multi-dimensional. No-Ad scoring is not.

Likewise the Product Goal is not satisfied either, as the best players lose some of their edge in regards to their mental, emotional, and physical skills. All advantages are neutralized by the immediate fluctuations of momentum and pressures caused by the No-Ad system.

With traditional scoring, the subtle separation that a slightly better player has in his or her skills becomes a large advantage during the match. With No-Ad scoring, however, even a big skill separation is potentially nullified with the quick gains and losses of momentum.

The Fan Goal is not being satisfied either. The No-Ad scoring system eliminates the drama and suspense of a player being able to put together three consecutive points.
The traditional scoring system is an heirloom of tennis. It is unique in the sports world. It tests the player’s ability to group points and convert games. This deep skill should not be compromised. The athlete should impact the outcome of each game, not the scoring system.

Key momentum fluctuations are drastically impacted by the use of No-Ad scoring: For example, a 30-0 lead gives the player 16:1 odds that he/she will have a game point in No-Ad scoring. Likewise, a 30-15 lead gives a player 8:1 odds that he will have a game point.

At other key times, the impact of one point unfairly loads the deck as well. The critical 7th game is a good study of this. A 4-2 lead can turn into 5-2 or 4-3 based on a net cord or a bad line call. Even though this is the most obvious example, all game points are worth two games.

In tennis, it is fascinating when players with a similar skill level are competing. The winner must be able to closeout his or her opponent at the end of the match by gaining mastery over his or her nerves. No-Ad scoring takes this dimension away from the player’s developmental process.

Lastly, major tournaments should never be determined by the use of a 10-Point Tie-Breaker for the third set. For example, at the 2008 US Open Junior event, there were 23 doubles matches on the boys draw. 17 of these were decided by a Super-Tie Breaker. This demeans a great achievement and is not a good indicator of the better team.

There should be a valid reason for that the No-Ad system and the 10-Point Match Tie-Breaker to be used for Junior ITF events. Mostly likely, they were implemented with the hope that it would prepare junior players for its use in professional doubles. There is, however, no evidence that there is a carry over value. Most doubles players in the professional ranks are singles players who did not advance far enough in the singles rankings to sustain their career.

The No-Ad system in professional tennis was implemented as a compromise to prevent doubles from being dropped from the tour. Since then, however, it has remained extremely unpopular.

Tournament owners have ignored a simple scheduling solution. Before playing any singles matches, they may consider playing two rounds of doubles on the first two days of the event. Thus, players can use the doubles matches to ready themselves for singles competition, and the first two days can be dedicated to fan appreciation and kids clinics (perhaps even conducted by the doubles players). After these first two days, tournament owners would only have to take care of the remaining 4 doubles teams.

A bad rule is much like a bad politician. Both are easy to put into place, but the ramifications can be long lasting. And once in place, the bad rule or the bad politician are very hard to remove.

The integrity of the game is founded on a level playing field. The physical, mental and emotional skills of tennis should be the sole criteria that determine the outcome of a match, rather than a well timed injury or bathroom timeout. Furthermore, No-Ad scoring and the 10-Point Super-Tie Breaker impairs the crucial role of momentum in the sport. Players and coaches who spend thousands of hours of preparation and training to execute their skills deserve the best chance to win.

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