Kane Comes Back to Conquer Season and Finish #1
There was a lot of speculation as the 2014-2015 IRT season wound down, and in many cases unabashed outrage, at the state of the rankings and whether Kane would indeed have enough time and events to garner the points needed for a 10th #1 season ranking title. While there certainly isn’t much of an argument left to question Waselenchuk being the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) on the racquetball court, in Nadalian fashion his dominance this past season was heavily subdued by injury and nearly cost him the season end #1 ranking as a result.
It was somewhat comical to see the affirmation on fan’s faces and hear the relief in their voices when Waselenchuk took the #1 ranking back last weekend after handing Rocky Carson another sound defeat in the final. It was as if balance had been restored to the universe and all was right in the world again. It also created interest and inspection of the ranking system by fans though, which I think is great. If nothing else, the close finish at season’s end for #1 created interest around the position, which I would argue, hasn’t happened in several years; Waselenchuk has simply been too dominant. It also provided a fairly reliable line in the sand for how many wins in a season Kane will need to still finish #1, as Rocky’s ironman performance proved, he will be right there waiting if Kane can’t stay healthy.
There seemed to be much chagrin regarding Carson’s ability to be ranked #1 for a large part of the season simply due to Waselenchuk’s absence, but this is most certainly misplaced.
Professional sport by definition requires competition and ultimately victory by one party over another; a team or player collects no wins or points with the line “I would have won if I had been healthy and competed.” In team sports this is especially interesting because team depth comes into play, especially in the latter stages of a season, if teams lean on their best players too much and too often. The team plays regardless of who is and isn’t healthy and it’s the job of a good coach to recognize when players need to recover and provide them that opportunity. Championship teams rely on this depth to still amass wins while not having their best players compete all the time.
While team sports provide this additional tactical aspect, they’re ultimately not as comparable to an individual sport because of it.Sports like tennis and squash become much more consistent avenues for comparison with regard to injuries and ranking. Both use a rolling point system, where points garnered at events 52 weeks prior are dropped as new points that week are added. The ATP singles rankings even have a minimum quota of tournaments (18) that top 30 players must play in, the consequence of not meeting this criteria is to receive a nil score for that event (which cannot be replaced by another until the following season). In this way they ensure participation from the top players at the major events (Grand Slam and ATP 1000) as well as a few smaller events (ATP 500/250) over the season. This is confirmed in the rankings, where only two of the top 30 ranked players have competed in less than 18 events in the previous 52 weeks, and these two players are both ranked outside the top 10 (#15 and #30) and have 17 events each.
Squash takes a slightly different approach, as it is the players’ average points that determine their rank, not their total. There is still a minimum number of required events per season (10), after which there are tiers for how many are counted in the average as more events are played. For example, a player who competes in 13 events divides his total points by 10 events, while a player competing in 14 divides their total by 11. In this way a minimum number of events is enforced while still preserving the weight of winning events instead of simply participating in a lot of them. A scenario was brought forward in a recent The Racquetball Blog (theracquetballblog.com) article, which showed how the rankings might change based on an average finish in events played, and while there was a minimum number of events required (four) this is extremely low, and still averaged points over total events played instead of having a minimum average and tiers. For comparison’s sake, here is the same table with a minimum event number of 10 averaged for each player and a tier at 13 events (those who played 13-14 events had their points averaged over 12 events instead of 10):
|Daniel De La Rosa||Mexico|
|Felipe Camacho||Costa Rica|
The astute observer will notice that this list almost exactly matches the top 20 current IRT rankings, with Kane at the top, Rocky #2 and Alvaro third. The big difference is Ben Croft taking the 4th spot, as he had nearly the same number of points as Daniel De La Rosa and Jose Rojas but only played 10 events compared to 13 and 14 respectively. Even averaging their points over only 12 events still pushed them behind Croft for the number four spot. This illustrates that the current ranking system is similar in the number of events it encourages participation in and the benefits reaped.
This comparison is not meant to serve as the platform for a ranking system reform, rather just for fans to use as a tool for comparison between different ranking systems and the benefits/pitfalls of each. As mentioned in The Racquetball Blog article, it would hardly be fair to rank individuals strictly on there average finish in just a few events, as the purpose of the IRT is to showcase the best players, so the players have to be competing consistently for this to happen.
The IRT developed the current ranking system after the previous system awarded points based on an average of the player’s prior results, granting one round below their average for a missed event. The call for change came after the final event of the 2001-2002 season during an extremely tight race for number one. At the time, the old ranking system issued Cliff Swain points even though he missed the tournament due to an injury. His previous average was enough to guarantee he’d finish the season ranked number one without competing. Had Swain played and lost in the quarterfinals (against Sudsy Monchik, making a comeback bid) and if #2 Jason Mannino had also won, Swain would have lost his top tank to Mannino.
According to one player, the racquetball industry was “up in arms” that the system deprived fans of an exciting race at the finish. Detractors asked why the rankings system rewarded a player – and in this case the #1 seed in a competitive finish for the top rank — for NOT competing?
The PLAYERS came up with a new system they felt was fairer by not penalizing players too harshly for missing an event or two due to injury, and preserving the value of player attendance in events.
“This year, the system worked perfectly,” said retired IRT pro and IRT President, Jason Mannino. “If a player misses three to four top tier events for any reason, he should have to win every event to earn the #1 ranking. It wouldn’t have been so close if Rocky hadn’t done his job by winning events. If he’d lost in the quarters and semis, the race wouldn’t have been close. Rocky was compensated for staying healthy and winning.” Mannino also explained that even as he felt the system worked pretty darn well, he’s always looking for ways of improving it. “The system has evolved and will continue to change if and as needed.”
The results of this past IRT season will no doubt produce animated and polarizing opinions on player performance and the current criteria for measuring it. Certainly there is no doubt that Kane is still, and will likely be for a time, #1 and that his dominance is able to overcome injury and the current system. The question as he gets older has to be when will his propensity for injury become a liability he can no longer overcome and of course, who will be there to take advantage? For now, it seems, with another year end #1 in the bag, that “King Kane” is in no danger of being dethroned anytime soon.
By Tim Landeryou