Disorder of Play

Imagine you’re a rabid Chicago Cubs fan (sorry), and you’re looking forward to the season starting in a couple of weeks. You’re thinking of making a road trip to see your favorite team. You go to the Yankees website, and all you can find are some vague references to a big series in St. Louis in May. Nothing more.

You check out MLB.com and find a story about the matchup between the Cubs and White Sox, but it’s mostly about last year. Finally you start checking the websites for other MLB stadiums, and you discover that the Cubs are scheduled to play in Milwaukee for three days in June. You consider checking another couple dozen sites and finally give up.

Baseball fans know just how ridiculous that is–you can find a Cubs schedule in any of hundreds of places, with clickable links to every other MLB team’s slate for the season. You can see a list of every Opening Day matchup or, if you want, every game scheduled for the 5th of September.

Yet this fictional scenario of fruitless schedule-hunting is exactly what tennis fans face every week of the season. It’s easy to find out where tournaments will be held, but often impossible–and always irritating–to establish who will be playing. If you want to know what the next few weeks look like for your favorite player (especially if your favorite player isn’t named Roger, Rafa, Novak, or Andy), good luck. Patience is a virtue, I guess.

Unlisted lists

Players formally commit to tour events several weeks ahead of time. Each tournament has an entry deadline (top-tier events are six weeks in advance, Challengers three weeks), and once entries are in, we have what is called–you guessed it–an entry list. You can see the list for the ATP Houston event here, since the tournament organizers chose to publish it. Not all events do.

And even when they do, they rarely keep them up to date. Throughout the several weeks between the initial list and the beginning of qualifying rounds, players withdraw and alternates enter the mix. Especially at the 250 level, it’s not uncommon for 10 or more alternates to find their way into the main draw.  But with an old list (if there is a list at all), how to know whether Tim Smyczek or Dominic Thiem or Dudi Sela or Somdev Devvarman is going to be there?

Making matters worse, Wild Card entries–players who are chosen in part to increase fan interest at an event–are often published elsewhere, for instance in a press release. 18 days from the opening of the tournament, Houston hasn’t said anything about who any of those players will be. (Though if I were a betting man, here’s where I’d put my money.)

Usually, if you’re willing to put in some effort and you want to know a specific fact–Is Bernard Tomic going to play Monte Carlo? Is Tommy Robredo going to defend his title in Casablanca?–you can find it. But is that really the best the ATP can do? Again, think of the scenario in which it takes a super sleuth to find out where the Cubs will be playing in a month.

Help us become bigger fans

Sporting organizations thrive on big fans, the ones who travel to events (paying for lots of tickets), pony up for year-long subscriptions to streaming services, and stock up on branded merchandise. These fans want to know what’s going on all the time, and they care about more than just the two players who might appear on the front page of the newspaper.

It would be so simple to make available an actual schedule, like other sports started doing back in the 19th century. In fact, before the ATP password-protected their entry lists, I did just that. Here’s a simple page that shows everyone who was on an entry list in a six-week period, along with links to the lists for each event.

That information is out there. It’s an insult to fans to hide it. We want to get excited about our favorite players–both the ones who are guaranteed a seed and the ones who are holding out hope of a spot in the main draw. We deserve better.

2 thoughts on “Disorder of Play”

  1. someone from the ATP should read this. even before, when the ATP entry lists were not password-protected, they were not really meant to be seen by fans, etc., i think.

    i think they really could/should be highlighted and easy accessible for us. at least in some way. i would also be already satisfied if it would be like before. it would be, as you mention in your post, exciting for us to have access to that. it’s interesting to study future entry lists, to be able to follow player’s schedules, and to approve of it, or to critisize it 🙂

    please keep us up to date, if the situation changes.

  2. Thanks to your article, I finally realize not all the tournaments publish the entry list and I totally agree with you.
    Last year, I flied to Malaysia for Malaysian Open, then to Beijing for China Open and came back to Shanghai for Shanghai Rolex Masters (I’m not a big fan though). I regularly checked their official sites for entry lists before I left, but got different results:
    Malaysian Open put the entry list on their site and updated it once a new player confirmed his entrance, including WC and qualifiers (Isn’t it brilliant?), which I really appreciated. It’s a ATP 250 tournament, but it was well organized.
    Nothing about the players on China Open’s site. I thought it was because the site sucked, or maybe because the organizer knew fans and media only cared about top guys. It was enough to ensure the public Rafa/Novak/Serena/Victoria would come. Fortunately, since Malaysian Open was at the 250 level, it was easier to approach the players and I was able to ask several I was interested in where they would play next, Beijing or Tokyo.
    There was no entry list on Shanghai Rolex Master Chinese site. They did have a list on English site with players who entered directly, so it was no need to update. The Chinese version was much simpler and it sucked too.
    I’m not fond of one particular low-ranked player, but I have great interest in knowing more information about not-so-famous-and-successful players. It will be great if the info can be accessible easily.

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