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How majors should seed and bracket tournaments

Matt Zemek

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

In the past, I have tweeted about how the four major tournaments should seed and bracket their tournaments. Before Wimbledon begins, I want to write a short piece to put these ideas in a format which can be hyperlinked and used as a permanent point of reference.

First: I believe in NCAA-style seeding at the majors (and at tennis tournaments in general).

This means getting rid of draws, and thereby getting rid of any controversies about whether draws are rigged. I don’t think they ARE rigged, but as long as draws do exist, some people will wonder if they are manipulated in any way.

NCAA-style seeding means a rigid numerical order and structure in a bracket.

No. 1 plays 128 — not World No. 128, but the player whose ranking is the lowest out of the 128 in the field.

No. 2 plays 127… all the way to 64 versus 65.

The obvious and rational criticism of this plan: Whoa, Matt, this could mean the same matchup at the majors four times a year. That’s bad for the sport.

Fair point.

So, as a response to that criticism, the other three majors should do what Wimbledon does for its men’s tournament: use a surface-specific formula. That is how you can change the seed matchups at the four majors (at least three of them, since the Australian and U.S. Opens might involve very similar math) yet keep a drawless system.

Naomi Osaka would be seeded lower at Roland Garros. Angelique Kerber and Serena Williams would be seeded higher at Wimbledon. Garbine Muguruza would be seeded lower in Melbourne and New York. Variety WOULD enter the seedings, so the matchups would rotate across three surfaces.

Because the use of a generic hardcourt formula could make matchups at the Australian and U.S. Opens very similar, Tennis Australia and the USTA could devise formulas which either use half a year’s results or past results at their own tournaments to differentiate the seedings.

Some people will say the randomness of a draw is what makes it fun. I understand that. Unpredictability does make sports interesting. Why should tennis leave that behind? It is a fair question.

My fundamental response is this: A No. 1 seed has earned the right to get the best possible bracket. It SHOULD matter if you are top seed as opposed to a No. 4 seed. If places in the rankings matter — a basic concept tennis and any sport should try to promote — a No. 1 seed should not have to play the No. 5 seed in a quarterfinal. (S)he should get to play No. 8.

The No. 4 player should have to fend with No. 5.

The No. 1 seed EARNED the easier path. The randomness of a draw works against the merit-based aspects of a strictly-seeded NCAA-style bracket.

Formulas specific to a given surface will create even more merit-based components by honoring what all players have — or haven’t — achieved on that surface. Dominic Thiem deserves to be seeded higher at Roland Garros than Roger Federer. Simona Halep deserves to be seeded higher at Roland Garros than Karolina Pliskova. At the 2018 U.S. Open, Madison Keys — seeded 14 in actual reality — probably should have been seeded higher, or at least, she should have been seeded higher than Muguruza and a few other players immediately in front of her.

You can honor achievements overall and on specific surfaces.

You can adhere to strict bracketing principles AND still create variety and freshness in matchups.

You can make the races for major-tournament seedings interesting AND remove the randomness of draws, and all the other unsatisfying parts of random draws.

This is the way tennis can do business at the majors. I don’t expect it, but this is the plan, if anyone ever wants to adopt it.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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