In 2001, when the ATP decided to take the game's basic operating system, the rankings, and replace it with its year-long Race to the No. 1 spot, many tennis followers, including yours truly, were dubious.
The ATP braintrust of the day, citing surveys, believed the Race, starting on January 1, would create interest in a year-long quest for No. 1 as is the case with Formula One Racing. Unfortunately, it did not understand that, in tennis, fans focus on the results of four Grand Slams above all else.
Promoting the Race and hiding the rankings (now re-baptized the Entry System) from the public was a misguided notion because the rankings had long been vital for functions such as entry to tournaments and seedings at those same tournaments.
The ATP continued to use the rankings, based on a 12-month revolving cycle of results, for entry and seeding purposes. Almost immediately, the Race's shortcomings were exposed when the rankings were the only way to explain why No. 125-ranked Goran Ivanisevic, the eventual champion, needed a wild card to enter the main draw at Wimbledon in 2001.
It took until 2007 for the ATP to acknowledge its ill-conceived initiative and to resurrect the rankings and give them prominence over the Race.
By then the Race had found a nice niche as a useful indicator of how players were doing in any calendar year and also, later in the season with most of the results on the record, as a better way to create excitement in the chase for the eight spots in the season-ending ATP championships.
Now, after three years of the rankings and the Race ably co-existing, the ATP has decided to eliminate the Race. It is no longer available on its website.
"As part of our changes to the ATP World Tour, we have looked to introduce one rankings system that is as easy to follow as possible," is the claim on ATPWORLDTOUR.COM. "At times, having two, simultaneous running systems - the rankings and the Race - was confusing and difficult to for fans to follow. The ATP Rankings represents the sport's DNA."
Using that metaphor, does that suggest tennis existed without any discernable genetic code from 2001 to 2007?
Despite its excellent product, the ATP has consistently botched its attempts to re-brand itself, as evidenced by the rankings/Race fiasco.
There has also been the changing of its name from ATP Tour (1990-2000) to the ATP (2001 to 2008) and this year to ATP World Tour, prominently featuring the English word "World" despite just nine (Murray, Roddick, Hewitt, Querrey, Blake, Isner, Fish, Luczak and Ginepri) of its top 90-ranked players having English as their first language.
As well, it has renamed its year-end championships from the ATP Tour World Championship (1990-1999) to the Tennis Masters Cup (2000-2008) and this year to the ATP World Tour Finals.
In the end, who looks good through all the ATP's tinkering with terminology? The women's WTA Tour - it has always highlighted the rankings but maintained the race as useful adjunct, it has not changed its name (keeping it in line with golf's PGA and LPGA Tours) and its year-end grand finale has continued to be called the Tour Championships, with allowances made for the tour sponsor of the moment.
The WTA Tour has managed its affairs without compulsively obsessing about change, but that has not been the modus operandi for the ATP - sorry, that should be the ATP World Tour.