Feb 19, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Champions League action continues today at 3pm ET (I mistakenly said 12pm ET yesterday, sorry if I ruined lunch).

🗣 Poll results: 73% of you said the college-to-pros transition is more difficult for basketball coaches than football coaches.

Today's word count: 1,332 words (5 minutes).

1 big thing: 🎾 A handicap, but for tennis

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) is a rating system that could revolutionize the sport at every level — from country club play, to college recruiting, to the very top of the professional tours.

How it works: The current ATP (men) and WTA (women) rankings are based on point accumulation, which benefits pros who get easier draws or play more matches and junior players whose parents have enough money to travel to tournaments.

  • By contrast, UTR is calculated based on the strength of who you play and the score (games won), not the result. It takes into account the past 30 matches — or however many that person has played in the past 12 months.
  • Players are rated on a scale from 1 (raw beginner) to 16.5 (Rafael Nadal has a 16.19 rating), and anyone can register and start working on a rating for free.
  • Like a golf handicap, it's a simple number that gives players a way to judge results other than win-loss and can show improvement when a weaker player does better than expected, but still loses, to a better player.
  • UTR pays no attention to age or gender, so it allows play between genders and mixed doubles matches to count just like any other result would.

The big picture: UTR was originally launched in 2008 to help match junior players more fairly in local tournaments. It has since evolved into something much bigger.

  • College recruiting: UTR is now the primary method that college coaches use to recruit players, since it allows them to more accurately compare kids from different regions.
  • Country clubs: The current USTA system, which ranks people by 0.5 increments forces country club pros to make difficult decisions about who makes teams, who gets relegated, etc. As more clubs start using UTR to track players and host tournaments, it could help solve that.
"I'll predict that within a year, just as it is understood that any remotely serious golfer has to maintain a handicap to play in an event, any semi-serious tennis player, kid or adult, will have a UTR rating."
— Stewart Verdery, Washington Golf & Country Club (Arlington, Va.)

What to watch: UTR ratings have begun popping up on broadcasts next to names like Roger Federer and Serena Williams, giving rise to the theory that UTR could become a "mainstream" ranking system and perhaps even replace the ATP and WTA rankings.

The other side: That isn't part of the plan, according to UTR CEO Mark Leschly: "I think they tell different stories. The ATP tells a 12-month story of how far you went in major tournaments. With us, it's how you're competing."

  • Plus, most players and tournament hosts are content with the current system because it's designed to reward players for participating in as many tournaments as possible.

The bottom line: UTR has emerged as a widely-accepted ranking system at the pinnacle of tennis.

  • But with the pro circuit representing just a sliver of the world's tennis population, UTR could have an even greater impact serving as the glue that binds tennis players of all ages, genders and skill levels together — much like the handicap system has done for golf.
2. 🎓 Head-to-head: NCAA divisions
Expand chart
Reproduced from NCAA; Table: Axios Visuals

At Division III schools, one in six students are athletes, per the NCAA. That's pretty crazy to think about — I had no idea it was that high.

P.S. ... In related news, the NCAA is considering a concept that would allow all Division I athletes to transfer once without sitting out a year.

  • Rules currently allow this in every sport except for football, men's and women's basketball, baseball and men's hockey, where transfers must sit out a season (unless they're graduate transfers).
3. 🏁 Checking in on Ryan Newman

Photo: David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With Ryan Newman in the hospital recovering from Monday's crash, I'd prefer to focus on him this morning. My full Daytona 500 recap can wait until tomorrow.

  • The latest: Newman is "awake and speaking with family and doctors," according to his racing team.
  • "The Newman Bar": Following an ugly 2009 crash at Talladega Superspeedway involving Newman, NASCAR decided to add the "Newman Bar" — an additional steel bar between the roof and the windshield — to every vehicle. On Monday afternoon, it may have saved Ryan's life.
  • "Rocket Man": Newman is nicknamed "Rocket Man," a nod to his speed and having graduated with an engineering degree from Purdue, which has produced more than 20 U.S. astronauts. Get to know him.

Go deeper: Inside the chaotic final two laps (USA Today)

4. ⛳️ RIP, Mickey Wright (1935-2020)
Credit: USGA (YouTube)

Mickey Wright, the women's golf legend who owned "the best swing ever" and gave the fledgling LPGA a crucial lift in the late 1950s, died Monday of a heart attack. She was 85.

By the numbers: Wright won 13 majors and 82 LPGA Tour titles during her career and is second on the all-time majors list behind fellow American Patty Berg (15).

"Whenever I talked to the great players like Ben Hogan and Jackie Burke about who they thought had the best swing ever, they always said it was Mickey Wright. ... You can teach with what she does just as easily today as you could 60 years ago."
— Swing coach Jim McLean

⏮ Time machine: Travel back to 1964

5. 🏀 "The most stylish duo in sports"
Screenshot: @GQMagazine (Twitter)

Russell Westbrook and James Harden will grace the cover of the March edition of GQ magazine as "the most stylish duo in sports."

"Russell Westbrook and James Harden, who've been friends since they were children playing AAU ball in Los Angeles, couldn't be more confident. About everything.
"At the top of that list are the unabashed fashion choices: madras robes, safety vests, distressed shirts that reveal under-cleavage…and that's just Russell, who was one of the first players to turn tunnel walks into fashionable moments."
"When I asked them if they've ever regretted an outfit they've worn, they battled over who could say no faster. The sartorial spectacle currently known as the Houston Rockets is almost as fun as watching them play."

See the photoshoot.

6. 📊 By the numbers
Giovanni Reyna rushes to celebrate with Erling Haaland. Photo: DeFodi Images via Getty Images
  • ⚽️ 10 goals: 19-year-old Norwegian sensation Erling Haaland scored twice in Borussia Dortmund's 2-1 win over PSG, reaching 10 Champions League goals faster than any player in history (seven games). Get to know him. (Fun fact: 17-year-old American Giovanni Reyna, son of USMNT legend Claudio Reyna, assisted Haaland's outrageous second goal.)
  • 🏀 600 wins: Baylor women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey last night reached 600 career wins in fewer games (700) than any other D-I men's or women's coach, beating out Adolph Rupp (704) and Geno Auriemma (716).
  • 👟 8% of runners: Strava, a fitness app that tracks the activity of some 50 million users, surveyed 25,000 runners and found that half of them either hate running or barely tolerate it, while only 8% love it.
7. Feb. 19, 1984: ⛷ The Brothers Mahre

Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

36 years ago today, twin brothers Phil (gold) and Steve Mahre (silver) became the first siblings to place 1-2 in the same Olympic event (slalom).

  • Bonus: To make the day even more memorable, Phil learned during a TV interview shortly after his victory that his wife had given birth to their son.

By the numbers: Despite short careers (they retired weeks after the 1984 Games), Phil and Steve still rank among the top five American men in World Cup wins:

  1. Bode Miller (33 wins)
  2. Phil Mahre (27)
  3. Ted Ligety (25)
  4. Daron Rahlves (12)
  5. Steve Mahre (9)

Where are they now: The Mahre brothers, now 60, live in Washington state and have remained active, running a ski school in Utah and even competing at the highest levels in auto racing.

Go deeper: Success never stopped for Mahre brothers (Seattle Times)

8. The Ocho: 📸 Photos 'round the world
Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP via Getty Images

NAZARÈ, Portugal — A surfer during the 2020 Nazaré Tow Surfing Challenge, which went down earlier this week. Watch the highlights.

Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

KUAH, Malaysia — A cyclist during the 25th Tour de Langkawi, which was created in 1996 as a way to put Malaysia on the world sporting and tourism map.

Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

ASCOT, England — A horse jockey on a wet and muddy day at the world-famous Ascot Racecourse.

9. 🏈 NFL trivia

Drew Brees has officially decided to return to the Saints for his 20th NFL season.

  • Question: Brees was selected by the Chargers with the 32nd pick in the 2001 NFL Draft. Who was the only QB selected ahead of him?
  • Hint: He played in the Big East.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🥊 On newsstands 30 years ago today...
Screenshot: @darrenrovell (Twitter)

Down goes Tyson.

Speaking of boxing ... Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder 2 is on Saturday night. Found two good pre-fight reads for ya.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Is this the best sports tattoo ever?" Baker

Trivia answer: Michael Vick (No. 1 overall)