Top Level Sports
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Top Level Sports

Should Wimbledon Change Their Seeding Formula?

Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam that doesn’t seed Men’s Singles by the ATP Rankings.

Photo by Zoë Reeve on Unsplash — Roger Federer is the #2 seed for the 2019 Wimbledon Championships

The 2019 Wimbledon Championships kick off on July 1st, but even before the unveiling of the bracket, the tournament’s seed list has people talking.

Controversially, Roger Federer has moved up to the #2 seed, overtaking Rafael Nadal, who is currently ranked #2 in the world in the ATP Rankings. Notably, Kevin Anderson also benefited from the seeding, soaring four spots from his #8 position in the ATP Rankings to the #4 seed at Wimbledon.

These differences stem from Wimbledon’s unique seeding formula, which magnifies the value of results on grass courts. While all three other Grand Slams seed their tournaments based on the ATP Rankings, Wimbledon seeds the Men’s Singles (and only Men’s Singles, we’ll get to that later) by taking the ATP Rankings and adding a 100% bonus to points accumulated on grass courts in the prior year and a 75% increase to points from grass events in the year before that.

While Rafael Nadal did not play an event in the three weeks between his French Open victory and Wimbledon, Roger Federer did. Federer’s victory in the Halle Open gave him enough bonus points to surpass Nadal, while Anderson’s appearance in the 2018 Wimbledon final gives him the bump to #4 in this year’s event.

This is important because it now means Federer will be placed on the opposite side of the draw to #1 seed Novak Djokovic, meaning the two would not be able to play until the final.

Nadal was understandably frustrated by the result of the seeding, but his main complaint was that Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam to seed in this way.

“The only thing that doesn’t seem right about this issue is that it is only Wimbledon that does it. If they all did it, it would seem more correct.”

He would go on to add that the Wimbledon rankings neglect players who have been in-form on other types of courts.

“It’s not only about my particular case,” he said. “There have been many occasions when players have played well all year on all surfaces but Wimbledon does not respect the ranking they have earned. For this reason they get more complicated draws.”

Even #1 seed Novak Djokovic found the seeding to be odd. I tend to agree with both Nadal and Djokovic, although the reasoning behind Wimbledon’s seeding makes sense in theory.

Nadal is a wizard on clay courts and has won the French Open an unprecedented 12 times, boasting an overall 93–2 record in the event. Without a doubt, Nadal should be the top seed in the French Open every year until he retires or shows a significant decrease in ability.

However, that isn’t the case. In this year’s French Open, for example, Nadal was seeded #2, matching his ATP rank. Nevertheless, he cruised to a title, dropping only two sets along the way.

Wimbledon’s formula is designed to be the grass-court equivalent of giving a player like Nadal the #1 seed.

It is strange, though, that Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam to attempt a formula like this. Even more specifically, it’s strange that the special seeding formula is only applied to Men’s Singles. For Women’s Singles, the WTA Rankings are used, with the ability to make a change if deemed necessary (Serena Williams was given the #25 seed in 2018 after returning from pregnancy despite having fallen to #449 in the world due to inactivity).

There is no reason the genders should use different rules, regardless of what the rules ultimately are. And whether this is true or not, it can be argued that the tournament organizers are putting more care into the men’s side by even creating special rules for their draw.

My thought is that it makes sense to reward performance on a specific type of court to some extent, but the current bonuses at Wimbledon are too high. Federer, who trails Nadal in ATP points 7945 to 6620, should not be able to pass Nadal. For a gap that large, it just doesn’t make sense.

Additionally, two years in a long time for previous results to still impact future rankings. You also wouldn’t want to incentivize playing in certain events over others just because of the seeding advantage it would give you in a Grand Slam.

At the end of the day, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Winning a Grand Slam requires seven victories, and if one of those matches is to be against Novak Djokovic, it just might have to come earlier for Nadal. But the system is clearly imperfect, and especially with valuable prize money and ranking points on the line, Wimbledon and other Slams should take a closer look at the way tournament draws are conducted.

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