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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

ITA Announces National Indoor Move to Indian Wells; Missing Drugs Focus of Georgia Tennis Upheaval; ATP Next Gen Finals to Use No-Ad Scoring, Shot Clock

Outside courts at Indian Wells Tennis Garden
The ITA announced today that the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships in Indian Wells will replace the National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships beginning in November of 2017.  The National Indoor Championships, which date back to 1978 for the men and 1984 for the women, have been held at the USTA's Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York for the past seven years, when the ITA added the USTA as a sponsor. Now Oracle has taken over the presenting sponsorship, and with its connection to Indian Wells, perhaps an individual event there was inevitable, although October's All-American Championships were also a possibility.

In addition to the change of venue and surface, the fields have been expanded, with 64-player singles draws and 32-team doubles draws, but the tournament's days--four--remain the same. This means two days of two matches a day, [correction: I am told the release is wrong and the tournament is actually five days in length Nov. 1-5] and with that plus doubles, there aren't enough courts available at Indian Wells to accommodate all the matches. Having been there for the Easter Bowl for four years now, I have nothing but good things to say about the Tennis Garden as a place to watch tennis, but the chance to spend a weekend in New York, and the ease of traveling to New York from almost anywhere, were major benefits of that location for many student-athletes. And everyone played at one site.

I hope this change turns out to be a good one, and while I'm not really a fan of indoor tennis, the traditionalist in me resists the move to a slower outdoor hard court, as it just leads to more of the same baseline tennis. Perhaps that battle is already lost, but I hope there is at least consideration of bringing back the National Clay Courts, which were discontinued in 2000. There's a nice new facility in Lake Nona that could serve as host for that.

In other ITA news, the regional winners of the various ITA National Awards have been announced.  The National winners will be revealed at the ITA Awards Luncheon in Athens on May 23rd.

One of the names on that list, men's Southeast Assistant Coach of the Year Bo Hodge of Georgia, has been suspended indefinitely by the school, as has women's associate head coach Drake Bernstein.  Chip Towers, who has covered Georgia Tennis for many years, has been following the story since last weekend, and developments are being posted at DawgNation.  The post this morning details the police department's involvement, with men's head coach Manny Diaz having reported missing prescription drugs.  Hodge and Bernstein are not named in the police report, according to Towers. A followup post is here.

A serve clock was used at the US Open Junior Championships last year

The ATP announced the format for its inaugural Next Gen ATP finals in Milan Italy in November, and has introduced many changes to a traditional setting.
  • sets to four, with a tiebreaker at 3-all; best of five 4-game sets
  • no-ad
  • shorter warmup
  • 25-second shot clock
  • no-lets on serves
  • 1 medical timeout
  • coaching, but not on court
  • free movement of fans, except behind baselines
My dislike of no-ad is well known to anyone who has read my posts over the past three years and my recent experience watching some of the Pac-12 team matches in Ojai has done nothing to change my mind. As I said earlier on Twitter today, no-ad does add drama in a superficial sense, but when all big games look the same, with a maximum of 7 points, tension never really builds, and it diminishes the mental and physical parts of the game too much for my taste.

As for the other changes, I have no real objections, although I think the 4-game sets would be a disaster for tracking statistics over the years in the sport.

I'm not sure tennis is broken in any significant way, and although I recognize TV is an important consideration, time-shifting and streaming makes a lot of the "we've got to change to fit into this TV window" thinking a bit outdated. I'm as impatient as the next person, which is why I don't object to a shot clock, but changing how the game is scored just doesn't make sense to me.  Anyway, how the players respond to this will be interesting, and whether fans take it more seriously than any other exhibition remains to be determined.