As people across the globe swap out their 2017 calendars for 2018 calendars, the ITTF has also decided to swap out their old world ranking system. The new system has certainly shaken the table tennis community, with previous world number 1 Ma Long now ranked at no. 7. Likewise, Ding Ning has dropped to no. 21, and Liu Shiwen to no. 24. However, many players have also benefited from the new system, such as the new world no. 1, Dimitrij Ovtcharov, and USA’s very own Kanak Jha, who has jumped into the top hundred.
This is because the previous system—similar to the USATT rating system—focused on results against individual opponents, while the new system emphasizes tournament results and participation, concentrating on the round reached instead, much more like the World Tennis rankings.
For example, if Timo Boll defeated Ma Long in the World Championship Finals, Boll would gain points for winning the tournament, not for defeating Ma Long. If Boll had defeated Ovtcharov in the final round, Boll would gain the same amount of points.
The change has brought a wave of controversy and debate. Many fans claim that primarily basing world rankings on participation is shallow and inaccurate; instead, rankings should be reflective of one’s skill level. Critics argue that if a world ranking system doesn't accurately rank players by skill, rankings will become essentially meaningless, and inaccurately seeded players will disrupt tournaments.
Additionally, while increased participation is great for spectators, the new system may over-strain players. This is especially problematic for older players such as Samsonov and Boll, and injuries may become widespread. Some also believe the new ranking system to be an anti-Chinese move by the ITTF, as numerous dominant Chinese players experience a drastic decline in their rankings.
The ITTF, however, doesn’t seem to be phased by the criticism, claiming the new system is a necessary change that will benefit both the players and the spectators, while simultaneously simplifying the calculation process. Steve Dainton, the ITTF Marketing and Commercial Director, claims the new system will increase prize money, boost the profile and popularity of players, and improve the overall quality of tournaments. “For them [ITTF Tournaments] to be the most important, we need the best players playing at the events” he asserts. Often changes can be difficult to process but the ITTF is following a model more closely matches with Tennis, a system which has been very popular around the world.
Will the new ranking system usher prosperity to the international table tennis scene, or will the new system destroy the significance of being world number 1? Currently, it is too soon to tell, as fans across the globe are split on the issue. One thing’s for sure; we’ll be seeing top players at international tournaments a lot more frequently.