The Rankings That Changed Doubles
The Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings have become an indispensable part of tennis accepted universally by players, tournaments and fans.
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings.
In the first decade of Open tennis, the sport experienced phenomenal growth with prize money increasing each year at a rate of between 20 and 50 per cent. But only those players who had competed in tournaments over the preceding 12 months, with prize money of $25,000 or more, were listed in the Emirates ATP Rankings, established on 23 August 1973.
"Prize money was weighted 80/20 in the favour of singles players," former player Mike Estep, later an ATP Board member, told ATPWorldTour.com. "You'd go to play singles, then, once you lost, you'd focus on doubles. You simply couldn't make a living as a doubles specialist."
In March 1976 a little more than 300 players were world-ranked, with one ATP point or more. Each player competed in both singles and doubles competitions on a 95-tournament circuit.
Jimmy Connors ruled world tennis. But who was the best doubles player? It was a difficult question to answer.
With just four full-time staff, the ATP, already one of the major forces behind the phenomenal growth of professional tennis, unveiled its latest innovation: the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings in early March 1976. The system gained immediate credibility and legitimacy.
Raymond Moore, the first Chairman of the ATP Computer Rankings Committee, successfully lobbied the Men's International Professional Tennis Council, which oversaw the sport from 1974 until 1989, with the help of three ATP representatives, to officially select the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings to determine entries and seeding in Grand Prix events for 1976. "It got through by a vote of 5-4," Marshall Happer III, the future Commissioner of the MIPTC, told ATPWorldTour.com.
"The Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings recognised those players who performed better in the team format, rather than on the singles court and became the arbiter of a player's ability to compete on the circuit," Charlie Pasarell told ATPWorldTour.com. "It gave numerical recognition and hierarchy."
Using the ATP's existing sliding point scale, based on the Emirates ATP Rankings, total points were divided by tournaments played to determine a player's average. If a player had played in less than 12 tournaments, his total points were still divided by 12.
"Dot Matrix prints outs would hang around the walls of locker rooms," recalls Estep. "Players would often look for their ranking, but also their closest rivals. They'd also look to ensure the points were accurate. At the time, no one realised the importance of doing the rankings each week, only the year-end rankings mattered. So when the rankings were run, they had impact. Doubles points were initially based on the points awarded in singles competition, minus the second round because of the differences in the size of the draw.
"But as the 1970s drew to a close, $25,000 tournaments were now considered small events. The criteria needed to change as both sets of rankings were based on prize money. It was a challenge, particularly in doubles, to keep the rankings system accurate."
In 1979, when the United States Tennis Association (USTA) had a competing computer ranking system, the ATP's secretary Jim McManus and Happer III, the then organiser of the USTA's Satellite and Challenger Series Tournaments, joined forces to grow the number of players listed in the Emirates ATP Rankings and Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings.
It proved to be a masterstroke. ATP points began to be awarded to tournaments divided into three classes: star, qualifying (assigned or called by the MIPTC) and satellites. Star tournaments were classified according to its prize fund and the number of participants.
"The MIPTC worked with the ATP to give points to third and fourth tier satellite tournaments, under $25,000," said Happer. "It ensured new sponsors were attracted to the sport and the change subsequently developed ATP Challenger Tour events."
By the mid 1990s, players realised that it was possible to make a living by playing just doubles. "With better treatment and changes in racquet technology, players in their early 30s were able to switch from the singles court to doubles and prolong their careers," said Pasarell.
Jim Pugh, a doubles No. 1 for 12 weeks in 1989, told ATPWorldTour.com, "When the tournaments started being required to pay for every main draw players' hotel room as long as they were still in the tournament, there were many more doubles specialists than before. And a new trend started: a few of the doubles teams started having a doubles coach, whereas I had only known the singles players to have coaches before."
"Doubles changed dramatically when they increased the prize money and coaches started travelling more with the teams," David Pate, who spent 25 weeks at No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings, told ATPWorldTour.com. "The Jensen brothers [Luke and Murphy] promoted themselves and the sport tremendously, and I believe that the Bryan brothers [Bob and Mike] have carried the torch from then on."
Since March 1976, the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings have provided a fair analysis of a player's performance as well as an objective means to determine entries into tournaments.
Forty seven players from 17 different countries have reached the summit of the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings, with 24 different players finishing year-end No. 1. Only six doubles players have spent more than 100 weeks at No. 1 including, Mike Bryan (454 weeks), Bob Bryan (439), John McEnroe (269), Todd Woodbridge (204), Daniel Nestor (108) and Anders Jarryd (107).
Marcelo Melo, the current incumbent since 2 November 2015, has spent 18 consecutive weeks at No. 1.
Today, the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings still bears some of the hallmarks of the original sliding point scale. With more than 1,830 listed players, it is now based on calculating a player's total points from his best 18 results from all eligible tournaments, including the elite season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals played in a 52-week ranking period. For entry purposes there are no mandatory events, however, once a player is accepted into the main draw of one of these 12 tournaments, his result counts towards his ranking, whether or not he participates.
Like the Emirates ATP Rankings, it has become an indispensable part of tennis, accepted universally by players, tournaments and fans.