The ATP 250-level tournament in Newport this week is empty of the game’s best players. The top seed is John Isner, ranked 46, and the 8th seed is Tobias Kamke, who is barely within the top 100. This is no surprise. Newport has one of the weakest ATP fields every year, situated as it is the week after Wimbledon, simultaneous with Davis Cup.
In a little study I did last year, I discovered that at least in 2009, Newport did have the weakest field of any ATP 250 event. If you click the link, you’ll find a variety of metrics, but I think we can focus on just one: the median rank of main draw players. By using median instead of average, the numbers aren’t skewed by a lowly-ranked wild card or qualifier.
In 2009, the players in the Newport draw had a median ranking of 125–that is, half the players in the main draw of an ATP event were ranked above 125. Grand slams usually manage about 110 players below the 125 mark, but Newport only got 16–and most of those were closer to 125 than to 1. Last year, the median fell to 129.5. It may be a small consolation that Johannesburg’s field was equally weak.
A glance at this year’s draw can tell you that not much has changed. Thanks to many late withdrawals, the cut fell to 218, which is considerably higher than the cut at some challengers. For all that, the field quality has improved somewhat, to a median rank of 111. That leaves Jo’burg in the dust; the South African event had a median rank of 118.5.
The non-challenger challengers
A few tour-level events–Newport, Jo’burg, and perhaps San Jose–obscure the line between the tour and challenger levels. In the eyes of the ranking system, they are very different–Newport is worth 250 points to the winner, while no challenger is worth more than 125. But for all intents and purposes, Newport and Jo’burg are challengers.
Last year, the May event in Bordeaux attracted a field with a median rank of 128–just above last year’s Newport and Jo’burg numbers. This March, the odd 24-man field at Le Gosier had a median rank of 123. Already in 2011, six challengers with 32-man fields had median ranks below 150, putting them in the same ballpark as the lowest rungs of the tour.
All of this is another strike against the ranking system, which treats Newport as if it were equivalent to, say, Sydney, where the last direct acceptance this year (#53 Benjamin Becker) was higher-ranked than Newport’s second seed (#60 Grigor Dimitrov). Bad news for properly ordering second-tier pros, but good news for Isner, who can take advantage of this week’s cupcake draw to bounce back to as high as #36.