Rafael Nadal had little trouble dispatching fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in yesterday’s French Open final. After surviving a five-set classic Friday against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, Nadal beat Ferrer in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.
Then he dropped in the rankings.
Ferrer, the recipient of Rafa’s beatdown, actually jumped Nadal in the rankings. Ferrer, who was ranked fifth before Roland Garros is now fourth. Nadal, who was ranked fourth, is now fifth. (Novak Djokovic is first, Andy Murray – who withdrew from the French Open because of an injury – is second and Roger Federer is third.)
So how does the runner-up in a Grand Slam move ahead of the champion of a Grand Slam on the Monday following that tournament?
The answer isn’t as complicated as you’d think.
Here’s how it works. The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the governing body of men’s tennis, ranks players according to the points they’ve earned over the past 52 weeks. Points come from the four Grand Slams, the eight World Tour Masters 1000 events, the ATP World Tour Finals event, and a player’s six best results from other ATP tournaments.
Points earned from these events remain in the system for one calendar year (with the exception of the World Tour Finals points, which stick around until the conclusion of the final World Tour event of the following season). This week, the points from the 2012 French Open dropped out of the system and were replaced by the 2013 French Open points.
The 2,000 points that Rafael Nadal earned for winning last year’s French disappeared and were replaced by the 2,000 points he earned from this year’s tournament. So his overall point total, 6,895, didn’t change.
Ferrer had earned 720 points for advancing to the semifinals of last year’s French Open. This year he received 1,200 points for advancing to the finals. When the 1,200 from this year replaced the 720 from last year, Ferrer’s total rose from 6,740 to 7,220, putting him ahead of Nadal.
On the surface, it may seem as though Nadal is being penalized for winning last year’s event. Because he won the 2012 French Open, he was incapable of improving his point total. He had to win a Grand Slam just to stay at 6,895.
But Nadal still has an advantage over Ferrer in French Open points. He just doesn’t have enough of an advantage to compensate for the fact that Ferrer has more points from other events. This is largely due to Nadal missing several tournaments in 2012 and early 2013 with a knee injury. Ferrer’s point total, for instance, includes 450 points from the semifinal of the 2012 U.S. Open, a tournament than Nadal withdrew from.
You could argue that the ATP should weight recent tournaments over those that happened 51 weeks ago. The 2013 French Open, which ended yesterday, has the same value in the rankings as 2012 Wimbledon, which happened 11 months ago. And you’d have a pretty good argument. But as it stands now, Ferrer has accrued more points over the past 12 months than anyone other than Djokovic, Murray, and Federer, and is therefore ranked fourth.
Granted, no one would argue that Ferrer is a better player than Nadal. Nadal is just one of many great players who have slipped in the rankings because of an injury. If he can stay healthy, things will work themselves out and Rafa will be back in the top four where he belongs.