(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)
Seeding at the Wimbledon Championships is not determined in quite the same way as at other tennis tournaments. Instead of being based solely on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Entry System Position, seeding at Wimbledon for the men’s singles takes into account grass court performance. Thus seeding will not necessarily be in the same order as the 32 highest ranked players.
In tennis tournaments and other sports, the better-performed individual players and teams are seeded so as to protect them from early elimination. If the names of all 128 men (or women) in the singles draw at Wimbledon were placed in a barrel and names drawn at random, two top ranked players might play each other in the first round, knocking one out. Much lower ranked participants would have a reasonable chance of advancing through the rounds and reaching the finals without meeting a really good player.
To try and reduce such inequities, the names of the 32 highest ranked men and 32 women are arranged in the draw in such as way that none of them will play one another until the third round. The top 16 seeds will not meet until the fourth round, the top eight before the quarters, the highest four until the semis, and the top two seeds cannot meet until the final. The other 96 entrants’ names are drawn from the barrel and fill the remaining places, such that no seeded player has another seeded player in their initial group of four who meet in the first two rounds. The system is never completely fair as the 33rd ranked player could meet the top seed in the first round, and the person ranked 32nd could play a qualifier.
Wimbledon takes the ATP rankings as at mid June and then, unlike other tournaments, makes some adjustments. Firstly, it doubles the points that players have earned in grass court tournaments over the previous year. Secondly, it multiplies by 1.75 the points earned on this surface 1-2 years ago. These ‘bonus’ points are added to the normal ATP points from other tournaments to arrive at revised total points and new rankings. This listing determines the order of the 32 seeds.
This means a player ranked 10th in the ATP rankings might move to, say, 7th in the rearranged rankings at Wimbledon with good grass court performances. The player is ‘protected’ from meeting a top eight player until the quarters, whereas he might have had to meet a top eight player in the fourth round if unadjusted ATP rankings were used. In 2009, Marat Safin moved from 23rd seed to 15th seed under this system, meaning he couldn’t meet a top 16 player until the fourth round, instead of the third round. This year (2010), Andy Murray moved up from a ranking of 5 to a Wimbledon seeding of 3, which means he can’t play another top 4 player until the semis.
The arguments behind the different system of seeding players at Wimbledon is because the tournament is played on grass and if a player has excelled on grass at other events, then he should be entitled to a higher seeding than his position in the ATP rankings. Most tournaments are now played on hard courts or clay. Apart from Wimbledon, the remaining grass court competitions on the ATP circuit include the AEGON Championship at Queen’s, London and the AEGON International at Eastbourne, UK, both lead-up events to Wimbledon. The others are the Gerry Weber Open in Germany, the Topshelf Open in the Netherlands, and the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships at Rhode Island, US.
Opportunities for any one player to compete in grass court tournaments are even fewer, because the Gerry Weber and Topshelf events are held at the same time as the respective AEGON competitions. The Hall of Fame tournament is held in the week following Wimbledon when many of the top players take a break. The two AEGON tournaments in June are favored by most players so they can acclimatize to English conditions and try to gain some extra points before the Wimbledon seedings are announced. The system provides a real boost for these tournaments and perhaps this is a major reason for the continuation of this seeding method. Indeed, Wimbledon contributes to the other tournaments on the grass court circuit.
It is hard to think of other reasons Wimbledon continues with its different seeding process. The serve and volley style of play is no longer an advantage on grass, due to advances in racket technology allowing everyone to hit the ball hard these days. A player that comes into the net will be passed much of the time. Nearly everyone now plays from the baseline on all surfaces.
Curiously, the women’s seeding is not adjusted for grass court performances. Here the seeds are based on the Women’s Tennis Association rankings, although changes may be made depending on the view of Wimbledon’s Committee of Management. For example, in 2009, an adjustment was made for 2004 winner Maria Sharapova who had been out injured for nine months and she became the 24th seed.
Wimbledon’s way of determining the seeding is controversial and is inconsistent between the men’s and women’s events. Given the conservative nature of the committee and the tournament, and the support it provides to other grass court competitions, the method is unlikely to change anytime soon.