I served as Tournament Director for the Men's 75 & 80 Grass Court Championships for the five-year period from 2000 through 2004. I've also served as referee for the Morristown NJ Cat II tournament since 1999 and as Circuit Chair for men's 70 and 75 divisions for nine years. From my experiences as a TD, referee and active player in numerous Cat I & II events, it's clear to me that most tournaments are best served by closing doubles and singles draws as the same time — especially when combined with the practice of using "voluntary/signup" consolations.
The benefits to players include more predictable playing schedules, easier recovery from rainouts and significantly fewer conflicts with consolation events. Local players can manage their professional schedules while out-of-towners can optimize their travel plans and shorten their hotel stays. In the case of the 75/80 Grass that I ran, finishing on time was critical as it was immediately followed by the 75/80 Clay — five hours away by car. I routinely received thank-you notes from players commenting on how well the tournament had been run.
It's certainly true that assistance from Tournament Directors before entry deadlines is essential to making what I call "early" doubles closings work well. Last July, I conducted an email survey of about 80 to 85 contributors to this website. Their responses were uniformly in favor of early doubles closings except for a few who'd been either ignored by TDs or refused refunds.
The practice is still controversial (even though it's recommended by the Adult/Senior Competition Committee and required at ITF-sanctioned tournaments) as it appears that players are reluctant to forego the flexibility offered by signing up for doubles on the opening day of a tournament — even top players who would never, ever compete without an arranged partnership. That point of view was forcefully illustrated in Houston recently when Gordy Nichol conducted an informal survey of player attitudes to what I call "early" closing of doubles draws. Imagine the initial respondent's astonishment when his pro vote was followed by 31 nays (27 in the 70s and 4 in the 75s).
The survey results are hard to understand as entries (for singles and doubles) ended ten days before play began. Nonetheless, the result was an unusually large number of doubles entries (72 players total vs. 74 in singles) and where each and every one of the survey respondents had arranged their partnerships and registered before the deadline. Doubles play began on Monday and both finals were played a day before the singles finals. With so many doubles matches already played, scheduling of consolation matches was a simple matter. In summary: a terrific outcome.
In mid-summer of 2008 I posted arguments in favor of the practice and included a suggestion that tournaments include language like the following on their entry forms and on their USTA tournament web page:
Doubles and singles draws will be made at the same time. Interested players should enter with or without a partner. Players without partners will be put in contact with each other and refunds will be given to those who remain unpartnered.
A number of tournaments (Houston included) have since adopted the practice. Early results are encouraging as the message is both instructive and reassuring. I expect that closing doubles draws at the same time as singles will become both more widely accepted and better implemented. It's important for tournaments that attract players from out-of-town — especially if they're played outdoors.
More benefits: players get a better opening day workout and don't have to play both singles and doubles at the (more demanding) end of the tournament and, as Jim Nelson pointed out, it's much easier to manage air travel at the back end of a tournament than at the beginning.
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