Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A dirty deed, indeed

Now that the grass-court season has (almost) come and gone—the men are playing in Newport this week—it's time for the players to start getting ready for ... the clay again?

There's three tournaments on the dirt this week that the men are playing in, and two for the women. The men are playing in Switzerland, Sweden and Stuttgart, while the women are in France and Palermo.

Something, though, has really stuck out to me on the men's side with the tournaments this week: Why are there first-round byes for the top four seeds at these events? Did I miss a memo or something? I can't recall a 32-player draw this year passing on the top four to the next round. Or in recent years, for that matter.

I should mention this: I HATE first-round byes at 32-draw tournaments! The WTA has been doing it forever, and I'm not a big fan of it there, either. Is it done for the players' sake? Is it a reward to them for what they've accomplished? Is it to cut down on the amount they have to play?

Well, I know the players complain about the travel and having to deal with injuries, but if you notice, it's only the top ones that do that. Journeymen and women can't play enough!

First-round byes can be both beneficial and harmful to the top players, I feel. Look what happened with Novak Djokovic in Indian Wells this year. He had a few days off, played a qualifier, Kevin Anderson, who had been on a hot streak and promptly lost. Would an extra match under his belt helped him get a better foothold into the tournament? No doubt.

But also if you look at the beginning of the year, where Maria Sharapova won multiple tournaments in a row, fewer matches probably kept her fresher.

If the ATP is doing the byes because it's the week after Wimbledon, that doesn't make much sense to me: The only semifinalist on both sides playing is Marat Safin, who just lost his match in a tight three-setter in Sweden.

Aside from all that, shouldn't the fans get to see as much tennis as possible? I guess it's the economy, though, forcing tournaments to struggle to accommodate players. Stuttgart used to be the fifth-biggest clay-court tournament on tour for the men, but look what it's been reduced to.

That's it for my rant on the matter.

Well, one more thing: Defending Swiss Open champ and bye beneficiary Paul-Henri Mathieu (pictured) lost his first match today. I just wouldn't mind saying bye to byes!

(Photo: AP)


Naf said...

Yo, Van!
You've got a point there. I guess it's considered a reward. For the women, it's worse, because the competition is (let's face it) weak. So those tournaments tend to be very tough to watch. I'm thinking of the one Lindsay Davenport won this year, where her only real competition was Vera Zvonareva. Lame!
Fine post, BTW!

Kyle Wasko said...

I didn't even know they did this for 32 person tourneys. Weak, indeed. Does that mean there are only 28 total players (4 byes, 24 other players playing for the remaining 12 second round slots)? If so: odd.

Love the blog. Keep up the great work.

freakyfrites said...

Didn't even realize this was going on! i guess these little tournaments need to do everything possible to entice top players, even though the top players don't show up anyway.

Shelia said...

I too have always seen it as a reward, as well as a small bit of time off for the busy player. Otherwise I don't see its purpose. I think of it like the now non-existent "quality points." Now those are what I think should have been left in place.

When players have an active season and are maintaining a top ten ranking, I think a first round bye is a nice little trinket.

Jodi said...

I'm undecided on the matter of first round byes. Sometimes it's good - I think it's OK in tournaments like Indian Wells and Miami - but you're right, it has no place in 32-draw tournaments. Especially when you look at the qualies, where there are so many players desperate to get into the main draw. They should totally be given the opportunity.

Good rant. :)

van said...

Hey everybody, thanks for the comments!

• Hey Naf. Yeah, that was bad. I think at those smaller events a big-time player can show up, know she's gonna get a first-round bye and blast through the draw. Lame, indeed!

• Hey Kyle. Yeah, that's how it breaks down. I hope it doesn't stay that way with the ATP. The WTA has been doing it so long, I can't even see them changing it. Thanks for the compliment!

• Yeah, Freakyfrites, I just noticed them doing it this week when I was checking out the draws this week. And yeah, Newport never gets any top players: Fish and Santoro were the top two seeds and they got byes!

• Hey Sheila. I don't know why they did away with the quality points either. I feel like the top players don't play enough as it is: Granted, they're getting deeper in the draws, but still. At a 32-draw event, I think they should play from the start.

• Yeah, Jodi, I can see it in Masters events (even though I think it came back to bite Djoko in IW this year), but you're right: It only narrows the amount of players that will be out on tour trying to make it, if that's what the tours are trying to do.

Anonymous said...

top players would skip tourneys like the ones you mention here if they had to play first round. the top players have matches all week, every week--the journeymen play one or two rounds only then have all week to rest. of course they don't complain.

last week in los angeles, roddick didn't have his first match until thursday and reportedly earned $200,000 in appearance fees in addition to prize money. the tournament needed him more than he needed it. as long as players want the first round bye, they'll get it.