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When someone talks about seeding in tennis, you might imagine officials seeding the grass court for a new season. While that is not technically wrong, there is another form of seeding in tennis that is incredibly important in professional matches. In the context of sports, seeding is a crucial element that gives weight to the ranks of the players. Some of the most major tournaments in tennis utilize seeding. Here is everything you need to know about seeding in tennis, including why and how it is done.
Let’s get started.
What is Seeding in Tennis?
In many sports, a seed is a standard operation based on the rankings of players, ensuring that the best players play those who are among the same rank. Furthermore, it also ensures that the better players play later in the tournament. In tennis, top players receive the seeds. There are some tournaments that give out a small portion of seeds, while Grand Slams may give out 32. Seeds are also useful to the fans who look at the upcoming matches to determine the skill level of the players. Those on the top are ranked the highest, while those on the bottom are lower-ranked.
Seeding can be done a couple of ways. One way is to pit the first seed against the last one. Then the second seed goes against the second-to-last and so on. The far more common practice is to position the top two players on either side of the seeding board and adjust the rest of the seeds and brackets from there.
Seeding Begins With the Rankings
One thing you need to know about seeding is that one’s seed is determined by the ranking system. Both the ATP and WTA have rankings to order professional players based on their wins and losses for both singles and doubles. Points are assigned for each match. One’s rank is the result of the 18 best results across 365 days.
The lower your rank, the better you are. In other words, it is better to be No.1 than to be No. 100. Rankings are always changing. Some players move up and down throughout the year, while others will hold a position for a consecutive number of weeks.
When determining someone’s seed, officials may simply copy and paste names into seeds depending on the rank. Others will get a bit more creative.
Why is it Called Seeding?
You may be wondering why on earth this kind of system would be called seeding. Well, in a sport with terms like bagel, pusher, and ace, seeding does not seem too far-fetched. In actuality, seeding is used in a broad range of sports.
The meaning behind seeding comes from gardening, where the gardener chooses specific seeds and plants them in a certain spot then positions other seeds or plants accordingly. The same is true in sports. You select the players with the strongest rank then arrange the games so that the entire tournament flows (or grows) a certain way.
Some people will say that seeding isn’t fair, while others believe it is the most fair system available when structuring the matches in a tournament.
How Many Seeds in Tennis are There?
The number of seeds depends greatly on the size of the tournament and the draw. Generally, the number is ¼ of all the players. Here is how that breaks down:
- ATP 250:32 player draw and 8 seeds
- ATP 500:32 player draw and 8 seeds
- ATP 1000 (Masters): 64 player draw, 16 seeds
- Majors/Grand Slams:128 player draw, 32 seeds
As you can see, the bigger the tournament, the greater the number of seeds. Back in 2001, each of the Grand Slam tournaments adopted the 32-seed format. Seeds are determined about 1-2 weeks before the tournament, and so the ranking a player enters the tournament with may not be accurately reflected in their seed. Once the seeds are figured out, the brackets go up.
Why is Seeding in Tennis Important?
As mentioned earlier, some people see seeding as unfair, because it makes it harder for the lower ranked players to work their way up to the finals. However, separating the best players from the earlier rounds makes for a more compelling tournament. No one wants to see the greatest players in the world go first. Okay, maybe you do. But it is a bad business move for the stadiums trying to generate money, as well as broadcasters.
Tennis seeding has been around for a very long time and has undergone few changes. This means that those who were up-and-coming had to deal with the same structure of tournaments as those now at the bottom. Plus, seeding does not make it impossible for the first or second seed to win the whole tournament.
Take, for instance, Ashleigh Barty. During the 2022 Australian Open, Barty started out as the number one seed. She was at the bottom, but she worked her way to the top. She went against the 27th seed, Danielle Collins, in the final. Among the other top five seeded female players, three of the five were eliminated early. Barbora Krejcikova, the 4th seeded, was knocked out in the quarterfinals. So while there were dozens of talented female players, Ashleigh Barty went on to become the first Australian player to win the tournament in 44 years.
Here are the highlights from that stunning final match:
Here is another example of the fact that seeding is not unfair. The top player is never guaranteed a win. Seeding can work against the No. 1 ranked player in amazing and appalling ways. Take a look at the 2009 French Open, where Rafael Nadal, an amazing player on clay courts, was slated to win. Then during the fourth round, Robin Soderling, a Swedish player, sent him home. Prior to that, Rafael Nadal had been the reigning champion for 4 years and had won 31 matches in a row.
Another time the underdog won was in 2019, when a 15 year old named Coco Gauff upstaged her idol, Venus Williams during the first round of Wimbledon. Gauff was a wildcard.
Check out the highlights from the Gauff vs Williams match:
About Seeding in Grand Slams
Every major tournament can choose how they seed their players, but each tournament uses only 32 seeds. Since Grand Slams are separated from WTA and ATP tours, the officials can do whatever they please when it comes to designating players a seed number. So how do the Grand Slams handle seeding?
It’s pretty straightforward. Here is what you need to know:
Australian Open Seeding
Being the first Grand Slam of the calendar year, the Australian Open beckons all players to Melbourne, Australia. Since it is so early into the year, most players are not worried about defending a win streak or utilizing seed matches to bump up their rank. Because of this, the seeding process of the Australian Open feels a bit unpredictable. You never truly know which player will get which seed. That said, most of the time the top players get the best seed numbers.
Also, on the official Australian Open page, it states: “The first seed and the second seed are placed at opposite ends of the draw, with the intention being that the best two players will not meet before the final.”
French Open Seeding
Where the Australian Open is unpredictable, the French Open is known for being stubborn when it comes to their seeding process. Everything is by the book. Your rank determines your seed number. If a player is not deemed worthy of a seed, they will not receive one.
There are two prime examples of the French Open being hard-headed when it comes to seeding. First, in 2015, Rafael Nadal was No. 4 in the ATP rankings. He had dominated tournaments and won numerous times on the clay court at Roland Garros. The French Open gave him a seed based on his rank, no more, no less. Fans, on the other hand, were floored that the officials did not give Nadal a higher seed.
Later, in 2018, Serena Williams entered the French Open without a seed after coming back from maternity leave. This did not sit well with fans, and the officials received backlash. Yet, they held their ground.
Out of the four major tournaments, Wimbledon’s seeding structure is by far the most difficult to understand. Part of the reason is that Wimbledon is the only grass court in the Grand Slam circuit. Some players may not be accustomed to playing on grass, and they take that into account.
In order to choose a seed number, Wimbledon also considers the following:
- A player’s current ATP or WTA rank one week before the draw
- 75% of the points the player earned for best performance on a grass court tournament 12 months before the tournament
- 100% of the points earned for all tournaments played on grass over the past 12 months
Example of Wimbledon Seeding Calculation
Below are numbers from Roger Federer’s 2017 year. Take a look at how the stats are used to come up with seeding points:
|ATP Ranking Points||4945|
|2016 Grass Court Points||900|
|75% of 2015 Best Grass Points||900|
|Total Seeding Points||6745|
The numbers generated by these three points are totaled, creating a new rank for the player in question. This can greatly change the seeds. One example happened recently, in 2019. Nadal was ranked No. 2 at the time but dropped to No. 3 at Wimbledon because Roger Federer had better success on grass courts. This didn’t change things much, because Nadal and Federer met on the court during the semi-finals. However, Federer did beat Nadal, proving that a little more experience on a grass court goes a long way.
Will Wimbledon change their seeding structure? Maybe. Wimbledon is full of traditions, including having the players only wear white. Because the seeding method is part of the history, there is little chance of it getting revamped entirely. In 2021, Wimbledon did say that they would abandon this method for men’s matches, but it continues to stick for women’s matches.
US Open Seeing
The US Open is much like the Australian Open and French Open in that they look at a player’s rank and assign their seed based on that number. In short, the best players get the best seeds.
Interestingly, the US Open officials are far less stubborn when it comes to assigning seeds. One example was in 2018. Serena Williams had come back from maternity leave. She did not receive a seed from the French Open, but the US Open opted to give her the 17th seed, based on past performance. She made it to the finals of the tournament, where she lost to Naomi Osaka.
Your Tennis Knowledge Has Grown
What is seeding in tennis? Seeding is a system designed to keep the top players from losing too early in tournaments. While there is always the potential for an intriguing upset, tournaments always go better when the top players get to face one another after the others have been sent home. Seeding may not always favor the underdog, but it has also created some interesting matches in the past. What are your thoughts on seeding? Let us know!