Marcos Baghdatis got one more Wimbledon main-draw win on Tuesday, beating Brayden Schnur. Good for Baghdatis, the 2006 Wimbledon semifinalist and 2006 Australian Open runner-up. Baghdatis had a few moments in the spotlight — more than most players get to enjoy — and will not leave the All England Club without a victory in his final appearance.
Yet, while being happy for Baghdatis, can we acknowledge something about round one of Wimbledon? Players who don’t deserve great draws got them in some cases, and players who do deserve great draws did not receive them. Case in point: Dominic Thiem having to play nasty grass-court takeout artist Sam Querrey.
On the women’s side, one could find similar examples from round one:
Heather Watson played Catherine McNally and Kirsten Flipkens played Dalila Jakupovic, but World No. 2 Naomi Osaka played Yulia Putintseva.
Readers will note that the week before Wimbledon, I wrote a post on how to seed and bracket major tournaments. The article laid down the basic ideas, but it did not make some follow-up points. I will make those points here.
Thiem was seeded No. 5 at Wimbledon. His opponent, Querrey, is ranked No. 65. If the grass formula used by Wimbledon applied to all 128 players in the men’s field, Querrey would have been seeded much higher than that No. 65 ranking.
Osaka is No. 2, as noted above. Putintseva is ranked No. 39.
Now, turn to Baghdatis. He is No. 135. His first-round opponent, Schnur, is 112.
Watson is No. 122. Her opponent, McNally, is No. 165.
Flipkens is No. 103. Her opponent, Jakupovic, is No. 143.
Sincere congratulations to all the winners, sincere commiserations to all the losers… but can we see the problem here?
It is already an issue in tennis that wild cards are handed out by the four majors with not too much regulation or oversight. Handing wild cards to players at the year’s four most lucrative tournaments gives some professionals a large paycheck and denies other pros the same equal chance. That’s a problem from where I sit. Tournaments shouldn’t have that much influence over who gets a much-needed first-round paycheck and who doesn’t.
So… if we extend that logic a little, can we then see that draws are another kind of lottery regarding paychecks?
Again, I am happy Baghdatis got one more Wimbledon match win, but if we claim to value 12 months of work on tour — 12 months which produced rankings that are generally supposed to pay off for the higher-ranked players in the sport — shouldn’t there not be a draw? Shouldn’t we not have a lottery-style structure to a tennis tournament?
Dominic Thiem and Naomi Osaka worked hard to get top-five seeds. Their first rounds should accordingly be Brayden Schnur and Catherine McNally.
Yulia Putintseva did really well to beat Osaka, but at No. 39, Poots should play a player ranked No. 90 in the first round of a 128-player event.
We have this debate between 16 and 32 seeds, as Jane Voigt thoughtfully explored at TWAA before Wimbledon began.
Yet, could it be that we are having the wrong debate in tennis?
Maybe we shouldn’t worry about 16 versus 32 seeds. Maybe we should just have 128 seeds in an NCAA bracketing structure, get rid of draws, and allow players to know exactly which opponents they will play at a tournament.
It might seem dull, but the tradeoff for that dullness (keeping in mind that seeding formulas by surface would freshen up the matchups at tournaments through the year) is FAIRNESS.
A duller but fairer world seems better than a more exciting but less fair world.
If we really want tennis players to earn paychecks more reflective of their ranking and — more precisely — more in step with their 12-month bodies of work, we will get rid of draws.
We won’t allow 135 to play 112, or 103 to play 143, or 122 to play 165, in the first round of a major, all while 5 has to play 65 and 2 has to play 39. If we want players to get larger paychecks in step with the work they do and the rankings they achieve, getting rid of draws and moving to 128 seeds is the answer.