Wimbledon 2019: Why Rafael Nadal's gripe with organisers' special seeding formula over ATP Rankings makes sense
Wimbledon seeding system and calculator is archaic and unfair to modern tennis players. Rafael Nadal has been seeded third and could face stiffer draw than had he been seeded second.
Rafael Nadal has complained about being seeded third for Wimbledon 2019 owing to their system
Wimbledon is the only tournament which seeds players according to their performance on grass
Wimbledon has had the same seeding policy since 2002 following an agreement with ATP
Wimbledon is the ONLY tournament in the tennis calendar to have its own seed calculation system. Every other tournament — slam or otherwise — goes by the rankings. Absurdly, the rule only applies to men and not women. The women's seeding goes as per the WTA ranking, bar special circumstances, but it is the men's side of things which has a different method.
Rafael Nadal has expressed his displeasure with the system in place which will see him seeded third, with Roger Federer at second after winning the title in Halle (and defending champion Novak Djokovic the top seed).
The Spaniard in an interview to Movistar said, "Wimbledon is the only tournament of the year that does it like this. It would be better to be No 2 than No 3 but if they think I have to be No 3 I will accept it and fight to win the matches I have to win. Having said that, 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."
"It’s not only about my particular case. 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."
With the third seed, Nadal will be in the same half of the draw as top seed Djokovic and could face either the Serb or Federer in the semi-finals. Had he been the second seed, he would have avoided Djokovic until a possible foray into the final while setting up a possible clash against Federer or Kevin Anderson in the last-four.
Australian Open, French Open and US Open simply keep the seedings as per the world rankings, based on the previous 52 weeks of results across all surfaces. Wimbledon, however, gives special emphasis on results on the grass.
As Wimbledon explains, "The seeds are the top 32 players on the ATP ranking list, BUT then rearranged on a surface-based system."
"The seeding order is determined using an objective and transparent system to reflect more accurately an individual player’s grass court achievements. It is based on giving additional credit for grass court performance in the two-year period immediately before the date used for seeding for The Championships."
The calculation this time around is: ATP Ranking points on 24 June + 100 percent of the points earned on all grass court tournaments in the last 12-month period + 75 percent of the points earned for the best grass court tournament in the 12 months prior to that.
By using the formula, Nadal misses out on the No 2 seed by 180 points. In the last two years, Nadal has not played any grass court tournaments bar Wimbledon. Last year, he reached the semi-finals where he lost a five-setter to Djokovic which spanned two days. Federer, meanwhile, exited in the quarter-finals but won Stuttgart, finished runner up in Halle. This year, the Swiss won his tenth Halle title and had extra points from his 2017 Wimbledon title to go past Rafa.
Getting away from the mathematics of it all, Nadal's objection does make sense. For the women's side, the tournament committee can make changes in seeding structure in some cases. Last year, Serena Williams was seeded 25th in her return from pregnancy despite being ranked 183rd at the time. This meant she would have avoided facing a seeded player in the first two rounds. As it turns out, the first seeded player she faced was Julia Goerges in the semi-finals before losing in the final to Angelique Kerber.
The seeding system agreement was struck between ATP and Wimbledon in 2002. Pete Sampras was ranked 13th in the world on the Monday preceding the start of the tournament but was given the sixth seed. He won his seventh and final Wimbledon in 2000, did not win a single title in 2001 and did not triumph on grass prior to the major.
Things have changed significantly since. The idea behind a different seeding system then was to keep distinction between clay court and grass court specialists. It meant players who were better on grass would not be given a tougher draw while clay court specialists such as the 2002 Roland Garros winner Albert Costa would be better in comparison. Many of the French Open winners would either skip the grass court major completely or not go the distance to further justify the point. From 1990 till 2004 (pre-Nadal era), Andre Agassi would go the farthest at Wimbledon after winning in Paris a few weeks earlier (1999). In the same period, four Roland Garros winners would skip Wimbledon, three would suffer first-round exits, one in the second round, two in the third round, two in the fourth round and while one made it to the quarter-finals.
That distinction is pretty small now. At the time, clay courts played slower than the swift, lush grass of All England Club. Now, both surfaces are slower in comparison and the bounce remains the same for the most part as well. Additionally, players have adapted themselves to both surfaces. Since 2005, there have been three back-to-back winners of French Open and Wimbledon, three finalists, one semi-finalist, one quarter-finalist, one making it to the fourth round, one to the third round, two to the second round with only one suffering a first round exit.
Wimbledon has been progressive about its facilities and the decision to bump up Serena last year was the right thing to. Perhaps it should extend to the men's seedings too.
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