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On Indian Wells and Miami — and Brad Gilbert’s tweet

Matt Zemek

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Aaron Doster - USA TODAY Sports

Some truths are so evident in life that you internalize them and simply accept them as part of “the way things are, and the way things are going to be.” It often takes an outside jolt or reminder — from someone such as Brad Gilbert — to think critically about a truth we might have been conditioned to passively accept, but should question more.

That is where I find myself on Monday, one day after Gilbert — the ESPN tennis analyst — posted this thought-provoking tweet during the Indian Wells tournament:

Gilbert’s tweet got a lot of attention, especially from an ATP Tour player, Taylor Fritz:

I am not here to say that Gilbert’s plan is exactly what we should do.

I am also not here to declare that the politics of pushing through these changes will be easy or uncomplicated. I highly doubt tennis, governed as poorly as it is, will immediately spring to life and make various adjustments.

I am also not going to use Gilbert’s tweet as an example of “American influence,” or as a way of promoting hardcourt tennis over clay or grass tennis.

All those subtexts are worth discussing on their own terms, but they are not the central issue here — at least not as I see it.

What is the obvious truth I have always internalized about Indian Wells and Miami but have been unwilling to speak about in public?

It is simply this: Indian Wells and Miami are NOT like the other Masters 1000 or Premier Mandatory events on tour. We all know this. We all see it in the 96-player draws.

I don’t know if this means Indian Wells and Miami should move to 128-player draws or have increased point totals on offer, but I do know this: These are seven-round tournaments, not six.

A normal Masters 1000 has 56 players. A WTA Premier Mandatory has 64. Those are six-round tournaments. The 96-player draw found at Indian Wells and Miami is a seven-round tournament. The second round is the round of 64. At a Masters or Premier Mandatory, the round of 64 is the first round.

Very simply, IW and Miami — purely in terms of the size of their draws and the number of rounds required to accommodate those draws — exist squarely between the majors and the Masters 1000s/Premier Mandatories. I am not referring to prestige or political clout or funding, just the draw-related numbers.

I am not recommending that we should give more points to these tournaments — not necessarily.

What I do recommend is that tennis find a way to reshape at least one part of the equation, in one direction or another.

Maybe the solution is to reduce Indian Wells to a 64-player draw. In that case, keep the current points structure… but if the tours maintain 96-player, seven-round draws, then yes, there should be more points awarded in the early rounds to honor the fact that a player won two matches to make the round of 32 or three matches to make the round of 16, as opposed to one match for the R-32 and two for the R-16 at a “normal” M-1000 or Premier Mandatory.

Let’s merely line everything up properly. Readjusting in the direction of expansion or downsizing is the true principle here. Whether you think expansion or downsizing is the better path is a separate discussion. Let’s make sure that tennis at least realizes the unique nature of Indian Wells and Miami… and acts accordingly.

I don’t expect reforms to occur, but let’s at least apply the proper intellectual framework to this issue.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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