photo : martin sidorjak
Take a moment to recall high school science class. This may be different outside of Canada, but in this country there are three basic science subjects: biology, chemistry, and physics. All three fall under the umbrella of science but typically everyone is stronger in one area.
This is exactly like the distinction between hard, clay, and grass tennis courts. Despite all being a tennis court, players’ games are often more suited to one surface over the others. Now picture a science grade based on the combination of the three subjects. However, the tests are 65% biology, 25% chemistry, and 10% physics.
Finally, imagine a physics contest where the students are ranked based on the grade that was only 10% physics. That is what the Wimbledon seeding process is in 2022. All seeds at the grass court major are based on a majority of tournaments not played on grass.
Wimbledon currently assigns a seed to a player based on their world ranking. The problem is their world ranking quite often does not reflect their abilities on grass. Through the first two rounds there have been many “upsets” that were predicted by analysts and fans.
One of the best examples is the No. 3 seed on the men’s side, Casper Ruud. The Norwegian achieved a career-high ranking on the back of his recent Roland Garros final on clay. Going into Wimbledon he had not won a single grass court match in his life. His opponent Ugo Humbert, ranked 112 and unseeded, was considered the favorite as a better player on grass and with a 2-1 head-to-head advantage.
Another example is the women’s 10th seed Emma Raducanu. She was “upset” by unseeded Caroline Garcia. The Frenchwoman had just won her third grass court title in Bad Homburg a few days earlier.
Neither of these matches were considered upsets by anyone who routinely follows tennis. This is a problem for top players who work hard to get a seed and must face a tough opponent early in the tournament.
This is not just the case at Wimbledon. Although there are more clay court events, Roland Garros could benefit from adjusted seeding as well. This year the top four contenders for the title (Djokovic, Nadal, Zverev, and Alcaraz) were all on the same half of the draw. Rafa and Novak played a quarter-final match which probably should have been a final. A man who has won the title 13 times should never be seeded fifth.
In previous editions, Wimbledon did implement adjusted seeding. Until 2021, the Gentlemen’s seeds were decided by a seeding committee or a formula that had been in place since 2002. The adjusted seeding was far less common in the Ladies’ event, but notably in 2018, Serena Williams was awarded the 25th seed while she was ranked 183. A similar situation could have happened with Serena being a wild card this year but was not given a seed. The seven-time champion could have played anyone in the first round, including world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.
Many reasons will be given as to why grand slams go according to the world rankings, usually, they state fairness. The true reason is that they don’t want to deal with complaints. The world rankings are the easiest way for them to justify their seedings but are surely not the fairest.
It is not good for the sport to see the top seeds falling in the first and second rounds. It’s also not good for players ranking points. There is no way to make everyone happy, but sometimes tough decisions need to be made and this one really isn’t that tough.
Any adjusted seeding is better than none, but here’s what should be recommended. There are 32 seeds at grand slams. The top 24 ranked players should be guaranteed a seed. Of those top 24, they can be rearranged by a seeding committee. A formula results in less controversy but is not very accurate and often is too similar to the actual rankings.
Seeds 24-32 would be open to any player in the draw. The top-ranked players would get priority and to take one of those seeds a lower-ranked player would need to meet one of the following criteria: won a grass court title this season, reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals in one of the past two editions, be a former Wimbledon champion, or have at least 30 match wins on grass in their career. Once again this would be decided by the committee.
Regardless of the argument to use adjusted seedings, the tennis is still fantastic. Everyone enjoy your Canada Day long weekend and go watch some entertaining matches!