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Carter’s Return – Ranking Options

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When Ali Carter announced earlier this summer that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and would therefore be away from snooker while he received treatment, the WPBSA were quick to announce that his ranking would be frozen, a decision that received almost unanimous support from those within the game.

What was not explained however is quite how this would work on a practical level, the official ranking list stating that ‘Ali Carter’s ranking position will be dealt with retrospectively upon his return to competition.’

Thankfully, Ali’s return to professional competition is now fast approaching in Bulgaria at the start of October for ET3 and sooner rather than later, we can expect an announcement from the governing body as to just how this will be dealt with.

Click below for my thoughts and theories as to what might happen…

  • Click here to view the rankings at the end of the 2013/14 season
  • Click here to view the latest projected seedings

The Current Position

Following the initial announcement from Ali Carter back in June, the WPBSA and World Snooker released the following statement:

“Following the recent announcement regarding Ali Carter’s current illness, both the WPBSA and World Snooker would like to make it clear that Ali’s current standing as a player will not suffer in relation to an extended period of time away from the tour. Further details will be released once Ali has completed his course of chemotherapy and wants to return to competition. We all look forward to welcoming Ali back to the World Snooker Tour in the not too distant future.”

The most important aspect for me is the section in bold and before considering how this objective may be achieved, it is useful to first look at how Ali’s standing (in reality, his top 16 status), would be affected if nothing were done at all.

Following May’s World Championship, Ali finished the 2013/14 season ranked in 13th place, £45,542 clear of 17th placed Graeme Dott. Since that time, Ali has dropped to 15th in the official list, but interestingly, due to the way that the points have come off so far this season, still stands some £44,215 ahead of 17th placed Robert Milkins.

Even on the latest projected list, set to come into play after this week’s Shanghai Masters, Ali is still currently set to be over £40,000 clear of 17th position, so is not immediately in danger of losing his place inside the top 16.

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That said, Ali has of course so far missed out on the opportunity to add further money to his total so far this season, in particular three full ranking events, two European Tour events and one Asian Tour event.

Furthermore, by the end of the Shanghai Masters, Ali will have seen £19,011 earned at the start of the 2012/13 season removed from his tally, which he has not been able to defend.

Ali also has a significantly larger amount of money to defend during the remainder of this season compared to those immediately below him, most notably in February 2015, as some £52,140 will be removed on the two year anniversary of his victory at the 2013 German Masters.

While Ali’s ranking so far suffered any great damage therefore, the effects of his early season absence will most likely be felt later in the season, perhaps seeing him forced to qualify for the World Championship if no action were taken.

So what can be done?

Option One – Minimum Points

One option to immediately spring to mind would be to allocate Ali ‘minimum’ points, equivalent to those that he would have earned so far this season had he reached the last 16 stage of the events in accordance with his seeding.

The idea behind this is that it would give Ali a level of points, calculated on the basis of the seeding that he had earned on merit following his results over the past two seasons.

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In practice, if we were to hypothetically award Ali last 16 points for each of the events staged so far this season (prior to the Shanghai Masters), he would have an extra £19,501 to his name. At present this would equate to 13th position on the one-year ranking list and would also see him back up to 13th position in the official rankings, exactly where he ended last season.

We will never know if Ali would have entered all of the events but for his health issues, but on the basis that the objective of any such change would be to ensure that Ali’s standing in the game would not suffer, this approach would appear to be worth considering.

Option Two – Retain Equivalent Points From 2012

A second possibility for Ali would be to allow him to retain his points earned from the equivalent period back in 2012, the advantage here being that rather than the amount being hypothetical amounts based upon his seeding, the money would be in some way tied to actual results that he has had in the past.

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The downside here however, is that Ali did not enjoy a strong start to the season in 2012/13, losing his opening round matches at both the Wuxi Classic and Australian Goldfields Open that year. Applying the same logic as above therefore, prior to the Shanghai Masters Ali would have an extra £10,350 to his name prior to the Shanghai Masters, equivalent to 27th position on the one-year list for this season so far and again 13th on the main two-year list.

There is merit to this approach and on paper it is not without logic, but in practice I would question whether this would be enough to adequately compensate (for want of a better word), Ali for the tournaments that he has missed so far this season.

Option Three – Protected Ranking

This idea is a bit more left-field and one that I have borrowed from another sport that I follow, namely tennis. On the ATP Tour, there is a long-established system in place that allows players who have been injured for an extended period of time to be able to return to the tour and on the basis that they have dropped down the rankings whilst injured, be able to use their previous ranking to enter a specified amount of tournaments.

The official rules are:

Q. What is a protected ranking and who is eligible?

A. A player may petition the Executive Chairman & President for an Entry Protection when he is physically injured and does not compete in any tennis event for a minimum period of six months. The written petition must be received within six months of his last tournament.

The Entry Protection shall be a position in the Emirates ATP Rankings, as determined by the player’s average Emirates ATP Rankings position during the first three months of his injury. The Entry Protection shall be for entry into the main draw or qualifying competition or for special exempt consideration. The Entry Protection shall not be used for seeding purposes, Lucky Loser consideration or for entry into the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

The Entry Protection shall be in effect for either the first nine tournaments that the player competes in using the Entry Protection (excluding wild cards and entries as a Direct Acceptance with his current position in the Emirates ATP Rankings) or for the period up to nine months beginning with the first tennis event that the player competes in, whichever occurs first.

If a player is physically injured and does not compete in any tennis event for a period of twelve (12) months or longer, the entry protection shall be in effect for the first twelve (12) singles tournaments and the first twelve (12) doubles tournaments that the player competes in using the entry protection (excluding wild cards and entries as a direct acceptance with his current position in the Emirates ATP Rankings) or for the period up to twelve (12) months beginning with the first tennis event, including Special Events – Exhibitions, that the player competes in, whichever occurs first.

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In theory therefore, could there be some sort of system employed in snooker which could see Ali effectively use his ’13th’ seeding from the start of the season to enter a specified number of full-ranking events in snooker over the next year or two, even if his ranking were to drop out of the top 16?

Of course tennis is different to snooker in that there are generally only a limited number of spaces in events, while in snooker Ali will continue to be eligible for most of the main tour events, save for events such as the Players Championship Grand Finals if he is unable to qualify.

With a lot of thought I could see a tweaked version of the system working, but in reality I suspect that there may be a simpler way of dealing with this issue.

Option Four – Average Points

A final obvious option would be simply to take Ali’s starting position of 13th in the rankings at the start of this season and to allocate equivalent points to the player 13th on the one-year list, up to the point that Ali is able to return to the tour.

If this were to be employed, as of today this would see £17,028 equivalent to 13th placed Xiao Guodong on the one-year list, added to Ali’s tally, an amount similar to that resulting from option one above.

These points could then be divided by the amount of events staged so far this season up to Ali’s return in Sofia, and removed in that manner come 2016.

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Again, this option is not without merit, but one obvious problem would be as described below…

Where to draw the line?

One crucial, but easy to miss point about most of these ideas however, would be as to where the line is drawn by World Snooker and the WPBSA, as to when Ali’s ranking is to be treated as normal again.

For example what if Ali is to return to action at the ET3 event in early October, but as he has already hinted at, is not able to compete in longer distance events such as the Indian Open and International Championship due to the ongoing effects of his treatment?

In those circumstances it would perhaps be harsh to then say that he should be treated normally following ET3, as clearly his illness would still have affected his ability to enter the other overseas events. At the same time however, for the sake of clarity there does probably have to be a point when he is deemed to have made a full return to the tour and his ranking is to be treated normally again.

Conclusion

So on the basis of these preliminary thoughts, how do I think that the governing body should deal with this issue?

It is far from clear cut and I have changed my opinion on this since first giving it consideration back in June, but my gut feeling at the moment would be that ‘option one’ would probably result in the fairest outcome. This is because this would be calculated on a logical, firm basis and one that in the short-term at least, would see Ali retain his season start ranking of 13th.

The fourth option would be one that would also have a similar result, but of the four ideas that I have come up with at least, would most require a clear cut-off point as to when Ali’s ranking is to be treated normally again and is probably the least flexible in that regard.

Option two is another logical approach and one that over the course of the season would I suspect work as well as any other if Ali were to be out longer term. On the basis that Ali is to be back in regular action by the end of the year, I suspect might not have quite the desired effect due to Ali’s results early in 2012/13.

Of course though, these are only my preliminary ideas and as always I would be interested to know what you think, both of the ideas above and as to any options that you might have in the comments section below…

  • mikets

    As he’s coming back in Bulgaria he’s presumably missing the qualifying for the Indian Open and International Championship in the next fortnight or so. Option one with last 16 points for these events as well as those he’s already missed would seem reasonable.

  • JIMO96

    Option 3 is the simplest, best defined and most obvious solution for all concerned. WSA, therefore, will needlessly complicate things by selecting 1 of the other 3.

  • E JONES

    i think option 3 too……dont complicate things too much just treat Ali as you would defending World Champ and seed him higher than his ranking for a set period then rivert back to his Ranking possition at the end of that term. simples.

    Basicly Ali should be ranked 16th what he was for the Wuxi Classic for 6 Months no matter how high or low he gets in the rankings.

    • Matt

      That was my initial preference, then while doing the article I thought that 1 would have a decent effect. It’s an interesting one, look forward to seeing what they ultimately decide. Probably something entirely different that I haven’t thought of!