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« On the merry-go-round-robin RR III: Roundabout robin »
RR II: Round-the-bend robin
Posted 03/02/2007 @ 6 :14 AM

2007_03_01_blake_blogTypical, I thought. A day after I run through some weird round-robin scenarios, the weirdest one of all crops up – because of the rules regarding retirements in round-robin matches, Evgeny Korolev goes through to the quarterfinals even though James Blake defeated Juan Martin del Potro 6-1, 3-1.

I was wrong. It was about to get weirder.

Initially, the situation seemed pretty definite – not simple, but definite. All the players in the group ended up tied with one win and one loss apiece (del Potro beat Korolov, Korolev beat Blake, and Blake beat del Potro).

The rules say that when the players are tied in the number of matches won, the next thing that decides the winner is the number of matches completed. A player who retires doesn’t get to count the match as a completed match, so del Potro was eliminated – he only completed one match while Blake and Korolev completed two.

That left Blake and Korolov tied. When two players are tied, then the next thing that decides the winner is who won the head-to-head match between the two. And that was Korolev, who beat Blake 6-2, 6-4.

Even Tennis Channel coverage had proclaimed Korolev the winner of the group after the match, and this is the outfit that owns the tournament.

Back in the media tent, there was much poring over the ATP rulebook and stories being written about Blake going out.

There’s usually an ATP person in the tent to answer questions and clear up issues, but after this match – no one. Minutes tick by. Talk to the media desk: Is Blake coming in, at least? Walkie-talkies get called into action. Yep, in a bit.

Then three hours tick by. Three hours. No one from the ATP. No Blake. Heck, we realize, there hasn’t even been an official announcement about Korolev being the winner of the group. Back to the desk. What’s going on? Is there a way Blake could advance? Out come the walkie-talkies again.

Tired of waiting, a couple of us take a walk over to the player lounge to see what’s going on . If the mountain won’t come to you, etc. etc. Stopped by the security guard – no media allowed in without an ATP escort. (Tennis Channel people expected, of course – plenty of them milling around inside.)

Okay – but where is the ATP person? More walkie-talkies.

We glance inside. And there’s Blake! Sitting there watching an old Roddick-Haas replay on TV. All right, we’re sidling in.

Ask around – no one knows what’s happening. Decide to ask the man himself. Hey, James, are you going through? “Yep.”

What? How? “I have no idea.”

Is this official? “Yeah, they just told me.”

Decide to leave. Or more to the point, the security guard decides we’re leaving.

Back to the desk: Blake says he’s through. Really? Yep. When did he say that? Just now, in the players lounge.

“We need better security,” cracks someone at the desk. (Yeah. Or better access to information. Three hours!)


Blake finally came in – note: with the embattled look he usually wears after a loss. He was accompanied by this statement from the ATP:

Having reviewed the situation in the Round Robin Group 1 at [the] Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas, ATP Executive President Eitenne de Villiers has issued the following statement:

“This has troubled me enormously and I feel as though I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. It’s in the interests of the fans, media, tournament and players to find a common sense solution. We have said all along we are going to learn from the experiment.

A similar situation occurred in Buenos Aires which has given us great cause for concern. It is clear that fans like RR and the research confirms that. But unless we can find a way to ensure that withdrawals don’t unfairly affect the outcome of groups I’m afriad round robin will fail.

“James Blake will be awarded the group on the basis that the rules were not sufficiently explained. James was within just a few games of winning this match comfortably to advance. Juan Martin has stated that he would have completed the match had he been fully aware of the implications of his retirement.

“The ATP will be awarding Evgeny Korolev the amount of $11,375, the average sum of the prize money for the quarterfinals and semifinals at this event.”

Following the match, del Potro said, “I wanted to finish the match, but also I was not aware of the technicality of the rule. I did not feel comfortable continuing.”

The ATP’s round robin system will be reviewed in the coming days and at the ATP Board meeting in three weeks in Miami.

The tournament issued this statement:

“The Tennis Channel Open stands by the ATP,” said Tournament Director David Edges. “This is an unfortunate situation but we will abide by the tour’s decision.”

(In other words: Oh all right, seeing as you insist – we’ll keep our top seed and star attraction in the tournament.)


It had been odd watching Blake celebrate winning the match and knowing (thinking) that he actually hadn’t got through. During the press conference, he talked about what happened at the end.:

“When he came up to net, I said I hope he gets better soon and that he does better in Indian Wells and Miami, because as I said, he seems to be a very nice kid. I looked over at my coach and gave him a little fist pump that I was through. I didn’t know the rules, I thought ‘he didn’t win five games... or six games, I’m through.’ I started to think about what I was going to do to get prepared for the next match. And then as I came off the court I was informed that might not be the case – the rule might say otherwise, ‘we’re not sure, we’re looking into it, we’re reviewing it.’ And it was just somewhat strange because I thought I’d done my job.”

From there, it took over two hours to get the situation resolved, with phone conversations involving ATP executives in multiple countries, Blake, and Korolev. So were officials inept or disingenuous when they said the rules weren’t clear?

Probably the latter. From the sound of things, something changed between the early stages of the match and the end. According to Blake, when he came off the court there were hems and haws about what would happen.

According to Lleyton Hewitt, that wasn’t the case during the match. Hewitt walked in for his interview almost exactly as Blake walked out, and both had a lot of the same questions put to them. It was interesting – Mr. Player Council vs. Mr. ATP Lawsuit.

“Me and a few other guys were sitting in the players lounge watching the match and one of the ATP people told us that Blake [needs to lose less than five or six games.] We said, ‘is there any way that Korolev gets though?,’ and they said if del Potro withdraws,” Hewitt said. “That’s the funny thing. Even on TV they were saying it. Everyone was aware of the rule.”

Blake and Hewitt also gave contrasting accounts of how Korolev took the decision. “He was ready to go. He was pretty much ready to leave. I think it’s tough. He’ll be out on tour for a long time so I don’t think one match or one tournament s going to change anyone’s career.” said Blake.

How would he have felt if the situation was reversed? “I’ll be 100% completely honest. If I was in the opposite situation – I had already rented  a car, was ready to get in the car to go to Indian Wells like Korolev was, I’d be able to come prepared and say let the person who deserves to go through, go through.”

Hewitt didn’t think it had been easy to convince Korolev of the decision. “I’m not sure. I’ve heard different reports in the locker room,” Hewitt said. “Yeah, I’m not too sure.”

And how would he feel in Korolev’s situation? “Pissed off.”

“This is a kid on the rise. He’s beaten Blake 2 and 4 two nights ago. That side of the draw’s opened up a lot as well. A little bit of prize money's not going to mean a whole lot  to him obviously... If he can get through he’s going to be lucky to be in the quarterfinals definitely but you need those breaks in tennis.”

Marat Safin, who spoke to a reporter after his night match, had the most definitive opinion on whether the decision was influenced by Blake’s profile and status. “This is exactly the saddest part... if it had been the other way around, nobody would care about it and it just would be no discussion at all,” he said. “Unfortunately, the CEO, he put James in the wrong situation. I don't think James wants to be in this situation at all, in front of all of us guys.

“Somebody got screwed, it's nobody's fault but the people upstairs.”


To go back to the decision itself, de Villiers was quite right in saying it was damned if you, damned if you don’t. When it was thought that Korolev had gone through, the rule was condemned as bizarre. When Blake was sent through, officials were condemned for breaking the formerly bizarre rule.

“I think to be honest, with all due respect, that the situation has been handled in a not professional way at all,” said Safin. “For a serious organization [like the] ATP, you can't make these kind of decisions in the middle of the week, by the phone, and the CEO disappointed me a lot.

“It will be a big thing in the coming weeks when everybody finds out what happened – Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. Hewitt was here also, he said it was ridiculous. There's going to be   serious talking.”

Hewitt was “gobsmacked” by the “decision out of the blue.”

“I’m mystified,” he said. “I’m not sure how they can change a rule mid-tournament. That’s the most frustrating thing for me as a player. To change a rule mid-tournament, that’s just not right. We all start a tournament in the same boat.

“The biggest thing is that it would be unlucky for somebody. I’m just somebody who doesn’t favor changing the rules mid-tournament.

”It would have been unlucky for  James, he was only three games away from getting through. But rules are rules.”

“There are rules, but the people that are there to change the rules did so,” Blake had countered earlier. “They made a decision and I’m very happy with it.

”At the end of the day it came down to who would have been possibly wronged more in this situation.”


A few concluding thoughts:

- Blake, who will be at the player council meeting in Miami, suggested a solution to the problem he said the USTA apparently uses – count a retirement at 2-1 or 3-1 as a 6-1 set: “you’re basically retiring each game from that point on that you would lose.”

- Why is there rule about retirements not counting as a match for the retiring player, anyway? That’s were the problem started. Well, probably to stop a player from quitting after he’s guaranteed to go through – e.g. if all he needed to do was win the first set.

Here’s the kicker: if we lost that rule and kept everything else the same, it might have been del Potro going through. Another rule states that the score of a partly-completed match doesn't count in either player’s game won/loss percentage. So del Potro (12-5) would trump Blake (6-12) and Korolev (17-18).

Might want to take a look at that one too. Again, it’s  probably there to stop players quitting once they’ve clinched their group, but perhaps also to stop a player from getting a disproportionately lopsided score because his opponent was injured. Is there any question that del Potro would have made it a closer match if he’d been playing at full strength?

- This is a new situation, but two semi-precedents in tennis come to mind. Oddly enough, they both involve Illie Nastase. One is the Masters Cup tournament when Arthur Ashe was defaulted for walking off the court against Nastase but officials later awarded the match to Ashe. The second is the infamous US Open match between Nastase and McEnroe when Nastase was defaulted by the umpire, only for the umpire to reinstate Nastase and then take the umpire’s place in the chair.

- Whatever happens now, de Villiers is in a difficult position – a significant majority of the players don’t like round robin, there was a to-do about it in the players’ meeting, and he’s himself said it’s confusing. But the statement that “fans like RR and the research confirms it” suggests he doesn’t want to admit failure either. Here’s the lesson: If something is going to be implemented in competition, it needs to be thought through and judged worthwhile. Saying ‘it’s just an experiment’ isn’t a free pass to try any old idea and at the same time avoid taking responsibility for it.

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QUIT MESSING WITH THE GAME OF TENNIS!!! Round Robin formats are for all of us who do not play on television; not for professional players, where wins move you on and losses move you out.

This is farcical. They simply cannot do this. We cannot have any confidence in an administration when they are prepared to change the rules midway through a tournament.

Tennis has been humiliated today by this shameful decision.

This is laughable. A rule might be bizarre, but it is a RULE. That justifies the bizarreness of the consequences of the rule. Now, what possible justification can they make for this decision? Safin's right. Favouritism. They need to stop messing with tennis and leave round robins for special tournaments like the Master's Cup with a draw of a few players closely matched.

Tennis and politics don't match up. See?
Remember the Supreme Court ruling that they would not override the Florida fiasco? See?

When DeV finally (if ever) sees the thru the darkness of his lies, it may only be because he was replaced.

In the meantime, the hypocrats win.

Sad thing is, I'm a reluctant Blake fan, but logic rules, rules are rules, and he should be out.

So should Round Robin be. Out. Like a Demented Serve. Out.
Like Liberace or a certain literary, retired basketballer. Out.


Absolute farce and I'd be interested to see where this so-called research showing that fans like the RR system comes from. Every tennis forum I look seems to shows that fans hate it.

I noticed this message on menstennisforums and would urge people to sign it and pass the link on. It might not work, but for the small chance it has of making a difference, I think it's worth taking 5 seconds to add your name.

If you agree with the sentiments I have expressed on this petition, please sign it and leave (if you wish) an appropriate comment (please keep it clean and constructive). I would like to get as many signatures as possible and send this to the relevant people before this "meeting" of the minds. Thanks for your time and hopefully support.

If you have a blog or run another board, please feel free to post the link there too so we can get as many names backing this. Thanks again

I was just about to post that petition - thanks :)

It's time the REAL fans were heard - I don't know who all these fans Mr De Villiers constantly refers to who love RR are, because the vast majority of fans I have spoken to either hated it all along, or were open-minded but now appalled by it.

Er - who are these fans that, according to Etienne de Villiers, like the Round Robin format? Who did the research? Who did they talk to? What questions were asked? Is the research published anywhere?

This whole scandalous debacle just confirms that Etienne de Villiers is "unfit for purpose".

It would be very interesting to hear Korolev's version of events.

In (sort of) defense of deV, I agree that afterthe snafu was discovered, they did the correct thing in awarding the quarterfinal spot to Blake. Simply put, both del Potro and Blake were NOTIFIED, at least via ATP's media outlet, that there were two possible outcomes to the match yesterday - either del Potro would advance, or Blake would advance if he won & dropped less than 6 games. They both played under that clear perception.

Had both players NOT been misled by the ATP, I can imagine a very different scenario developing - one where del Potro announces he was retiring with less than three games to go, Blake being outraged by the tanking that destroyed his chances, Blake calling the tournament director, and demanding a ruling. In that case, could the tournament director not have required del Potro to complete the match, even just standing there and double faulting?

The other scenario I imagine is del Potro doing what he said he would do, which is complete the match.

This is all the ATP's fault, but their remedy is an appropriate one. It's true that some people at the ATP realized that del Potro's retirement would let Korolev through, but the fact that they actively misled the players on court about this outcome (as well as Korolev himself) means that the harm done to Blake would have been greater than that done to Korolev (who, let's remember, could have avoided the whole thing by beating del Potro).

Look, the ATP screwed up massively. Round robin is a joke. But the harm they did to Blake in misleading him and del Potro about what the possible outcomes of the match were is the error they had to correct, and they did so, albeit in a delayed, horribly mismanaged way.

What sucks is that James is going to face the wrath of a whole lot of fans for this. Hopefully the media will back him up.

This shows everything that is wrong with round robin tennis. If ATP officials and players cannot understand the rules, how can the average tennis fan or the casual sports fan.

Excellent coverage by

Would the ATP have monkeyed with the rules like this to keep the star attraction in a larger event or were they thinking that it would slip by this time because “it’s a small tournament, nobody cares about it.”?

Seriously, rules are rules and regardless of whether an ATP staffer made an error when explaining them prior to the match, they should go by what is written on paper. It delegitimizes the tournament to change rules on the fly like this. You go with the rules and then change them AFTER the tournament when you realize they are flawed.

It is interesting that there was a similar incident last week in Buenos Aires (With one loss already, Ferrero would have made the semis by beating Nicolas Lappenti in straight sets but beat a replacement instead due to Lappenti's retirement and therefore failed to make the quarters as per the rules). An ATP that was on the ball could have stepped in and adjusted the rules for Las Vegas at that point instead of waiting until the middle of the tournament!

This is something you might do to keep a star in an exhibition tournament, not in a "real" tournament. I was undecided on the round robin prior to this. Now, I feel that we have to go back to elimination draws ASAP!

I guess "the Joker's Wild" this week in Las Vegas -- the ATP has free reign to change any rule at any time!

I am a big James Blake fan and I'm not going to back him up on this one... I doubt the media will either.

Yeah, it would have sucked for Blake to not go through, but that's the breaks - or at least ir should have been when you get beat by a lower level player like Korolev. I also have to question why the version of the rules that Blake recieved were so much different than what Hewitt and Safin knew? I don't want to think the worst of Blake, so naturally he wants to go through, but is he really being honest about his knowlege of the rules?

I think maybe Blake should have let Korolev go through - that would have been top class sportmanship. It's not like he needs the parlty $11,000 that Korolev got, and IMHO, he doesn't deserve the points after his horrible match against Korolev.

Since this is Vegas, did deV have big money riding on Blake or something?

Hewitt's presser made it clear that he *didn't* understand the rules until they were explained to him *during the match*. This "rules is rules" business sounds good but assuming the ATP flat-out misled the players about the rules, then they need to take corrective action. Otherwise, Blake would have had a huge and justifiable complaint.

The situation is not exactly analogous to Buenos Aires, since that was a withdrawal. This was a retirement.

Look, the ATP should have made it clear what would have happened in the event of a retirement. They didn't. Instead, they actively misled. A bigger deal should be made about *that* than about their resolution to the situation.

Someone was going to get screwed. Why Korolev? Perhaps it's because he's not the "star" but then again, Ferrero WAS the star in Buenos Aires, and he got the short end of the stick. I think it's because, when it came down to it, he lost more games in the round robin than Blake did after two matches.

The other shameful part, of course, is the three hours of silence during which the entire world was led to believe that Blake got screwed.

The rules were clear and understandable. They should have been enforced, even to the detriment of Blake. He was told he was out, according to the rules he was out, and he should be out. The ATP should not have had a problem enforcing that in the tie, they go to then head to head. You could say that Blake was going to be DP had he not retired...but he got beat by Kuv head to head, leading to his own demise. Round robins take place in soccer all the time.....teams get points during the round robin games....and sometimes outcomes of teams getting through are determined by rules.... sometimes because of weather conditions, games are stopped because of rain....sometimes games aren't played at all, and teams show up to shot penalty kicks to see who advances....and in some scenarios, the advancing team may even be determined by flipping a coin. While it would have been a horrible solution, in the case, perhaps it would have been the best one.....if the rules were not going to be enforced that is, which is an absolute disgrace to the ATP. Shame on you!!!!

jakester, the time to take corrective action is AFTER the ongoing tournament is completed and before the next tournament. Changing the official written rules DURING a tournament is simply wrong. Changing the rules during a tournament is not correcting anything; it's just wrong. As bizarre as the rule is, the justification of the bizarreness is that that's the RULE. Now we have an even more bizarre situation which cannot be justified, no matter what the ATP brass says.

They shouldn't have made assumptions about how the match would have been completed without the retirement. If we did that in tennis, we could just give the trophy to Federer any time he's in a draw. We don't do that, because that's why the matches are played, to determine the winner. I don't like this rule that made it so that James Blake wouldn't progress to knockout, but that's the rule. I don't like round robins either and I think they should be done away with, but nobody forces the players to enter round robins. Federer chose not to, and so could anyone else. Both players are in a bad situation here, especially Blake, but he agreed to the rules by entering the tournament.

The rules were laid out, but then they were obfuscated. The soccer situations you use as an analogy don't mention this particular case - that a player was misinformed of the rules, and then made a decision based on this active misinformation.

Honestly, instead of Blake, people should be calling del Potro out. He should have known the rules, too, right? His retirement was unnecessary and, had the ATP not stepped in, would have screwed Blake out of what he deserved - a spot in the quarters.

If the fans love round robin so much, how come the stands have appeared nearly empty for every round robin match at the TC Open?

You got to abide by the existing rule. If you think it's not a good rule,give it a good thought with all its pros and cons afterwards and reach a clearcut decision for future guidance.It does not auger well to take such extempore action.

I think it's suspicious that Korolev was unavailable for comment "according to Tour officials." What a crock! Throw some money at the problem, place a gag order on the guy who got screwed out of the tournament, and get your popcorn ready for an all American smeifinal in Vegas! Hell yeah! {Sarcasm}

Perhaps the most disengenuous comment of the entire day/night was Blake saying that he would be heading to Indian Wells in a rental car if the situation was reversed, which is complete and total BS! If the situtation were reversed, the CEO wouldn't have even been awakened from his slumber in Europe. If Korolev's agent(s) had had the audacity to TRY to get an American star replaced in the quarters, no one would have paid one second of attention to the "sore loser's" complaints about the rules and format.

I would think that more likely if the ATP had replaced Blake with Korolev, there would be a slew of law suits pending. At least some gus, Marat/Hewitt, still have a sense of fair play. Everyone knows that you can't make up the rules as you go along.

Jakester: The result in Buenos Aires may not have been exactly analogous. In fact, it was worse. Beacause Lapentti withdrew before he took the court, Ferrero had no chance under the rules to advance even though he ended up beating a healthy player substituting for Lapentti. So Ferrero gets screwed; but even bad rules are rules, right? At that point, the ATP was on notice that they had a bad rule. But they didn't change it mid-stream to benefit Ferrero even though he had a better argument than Blake. But they could have changed it for Las Vegas. They didn't. Instead, they changed it to benefit a star who had the "fortune" to play an obviously suffering opponent. There's no fairness to the rule; but then again, can it really be said Blake deserved to go through? He got smoked by Korolev and won a match when an ailing player retired. Does Blake think he deserves the quaters more than Korolev? If he does, then I think a reassessment of his character is in order. The thing just stinks, and I'm afraid that both ATP and Blake need to take significant heat for this.

And another thing... ;) When Venus Williams lost her beads back in the day at the Australian Open - or when John McEnroe was default in the same tournament, BOTH TIMES the Tour officials said that the rules were written down and handed to the players. It is not the Tour's responsibility to MAKE SURE that their players understand every rule that is written. it is their OBLIGATION to provide said rules and make sure that they are followed. Everyone had a copy of the rules, but since no one liked the outcome, except Korolev, they decided to throw them out and just go with something that worked, ad hoc. Like someone else suggested, why not just pick your eight quarterfinalists, call it an exo, and play it out? The Vegas event has already given the impression that it's a travelling circue, more than a tennis tournament, imho. Maybe Blake and Korolev should play a set of paddle tennis to decide the outcome. ;)

You have to love how Safin essentially says, "Wait til Roger and Andy hear about this..."
Kind of like Roger is everybody's main man. I like that.

This is an unbelievable outrage -- since when has tennis devolved into the spectacle of professional boxing? The round robin format in and of itself stinks, then to have it so cavalierly manipulated by the powers that be to favor a popular player is truly absurd and surreal.

This is what happens when you change the rules of a sport that has taken many decades to sort itself out -- the law of unintended consequences....

Round robins have ALWAYS been a hotbed of controversy. There is incentive for top players to tank a match in order to affect whom they would play in the quarters or semis, or to get a bit of rest after they are assured a place. I hate round robins. Nonetheless, I've tuned in to Tennis Channel three times to watch. And three times I've turned it off in less than 15 minutes. Sports fans want to watch sports, not gimmicks, and that's all that I saw on TV. The Tennis Channel Open is hopelessly gimmicky and boring. The controversy is many things, but mostly BORING. I predict this tournament is going to make history as the big joke of tennis.

Jakester: And I don't understand your comment about calling out Del Potro. His retirement was "unnecessary?" How do you presume to know that? Are you saying it was his obligation to finish a match while ill, simply to permit Blake to advance?

Okay, well, assuming you're all right and Blake is a walking character flaw, then del Potro is just as much as fault for retiring.

For what it's worth, if the ITF had put in their press kits a statement like "if Venus Williams' beads fall out during a match, it will not affect the score whatsoever" then don't you think she would have had a real beef? Because that's pretty much what the ATP did to Blake - "Blake can advance to the quarterfinals by winning the match in straight sets and surrendering five or fewer games." Well, he won the match, it was straight sets, and he surrendered five or fewer games.

People need to lay off James and put the onus where it belongs - on the ATP for completely fouling up this tournament, and for their haphazard round robin system.

And everyone who says that they're only doing this because James is a star is engaging in rank speculation.

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