When the Novak Djokovic-Rafael Nadal Roland Garros quarterfinal is over, we will celebrate, at least in the sense that we will hail the deserving winner and honor the gallant loser. We will look back on the latest and most important iteration of an iconic and historically consequential rivalry. We will look at the first match ever played in which the two competitors, at the time they played, held 41 major trophies. We will note the winner’s pursuit of history, whether it might be Djokovic’s chase for back-to-back French Opens and a 21st major, or Rafa’s 14th Roland Garros title and a 22nd major.
We will celebrate (hopefully there will be no injuries) after the match is over. For now, though, outrage greets this quarterfinal … because it never should have been a quarterfinal.
Djokovic, the No. 1 seed, is supposed to be rewarded for being World No. 1. If you bother to have seeded tournaments, the whole purpose of seeding is to protect higher-ranked players. Remember the controversy surrounding the issue of whether to keep seeds at 16 or expand to 32. The whole point of that debate was to make sure World No. 15 didn’t play World No. 20 in the first round. Seeds weren’t protected.
At this French Open, Novak Djokovic hasn’t gotten any protection in the final three rounds.
While Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev crashed out of Paris before the quarterfinals, in a half of the draw which won’t produce a seed higher than No. 7 and could produce an unseeded player or a player outside the top 15, Djokovic has to play the 13-time Roland Garros champion and No. 5 seed in the quarters.
If by chance Nadal was seeded No. 8, his lower ranking would create an unfortunate convergence of events, but at No. 5, the idea that a top seed should face him in the round of 8 is ridiculous.
If a round of 8 exists at a seeded tournament, there should never be a debate about the structure. In tournaments around the world, quarterfinals place 1 versus 8, 2 versus 7, 3 versus 6, and 4 versus 5.
The cruel irony of the random draw at Roland Garros is that it did match 3 versus 6 and 2 versus 7, only for 1 to play 5 and 4 to play 8. Half of this draw was luckily appropriate, but the other half was a disaster.
Djokovic as the No. 1 seed gets punished, Tsitsipas — though he botched his opportunity — gets a favorable path as the No. 4 seed.
This is not how seeded tournaments are supposed to be structured. Everyone can see this.
Except the people who run tennis and its major tournaments.
NCAA-style bracketing — 1 plays 128, 2 plays 127, and on down to 64 playing 65 in the first round — should be the obvious change for tennis. Tournaments can mix their matchups by using surface-specific formulas plus weighted tournament-specific formulas. The same players don’t have to meet all the time. This is not hard.
Tennis and its leaders just don’t care about protecting top players or doing things the right way.
Djokovic-Nadal as a semifinal would have been unfortunate but understandable. As a quarterfinal? Not acceptable under any circumstances.
We will celebrate the winner when it’s over. For now, pitchforks must fill the streets of Paris. We need a revolution in tennis.
Yellow Vests, anyone?