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The wrong argument

Matt Zemek

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on whether Wimbledon should use a grass-specific seeding formula. That, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing. We SHOULD explore this question. Moreover, the very limited scope of grass-court tennis in modern times makes it reasonable to assert that grass, more than any other surface, deserves its own formula.

Earlier this week at Tennis With An Accent, I stated in an article what I have previously expressed in tweets: All majors should use formulas, and draws should be eliminated, giving way to NCAA-style bracketing. 

The fact that tennis plays its four major tournaments on three (appreciably) different surfaces means that tethering each surface to a formula honors the specific nature of each event. That is an argument for the use of specific seeding formulas.

Yet, a logical person can easily turn around the discussion this way:

Are courts more homogenized in speed and the quality of bounce (or receptiveness to bounces) than in 1985? Without question. One can therefore argue that the unique nature of surface-specific courts is not as pronounced as it once was, and that formulas therefore aren’t needed.

That is completely reasonable.

Here is another reason to NOT use formulas in seeding: Non-formula-based seeding of tournaments (in other words, the normal way of seeding them) honors 12 months of work on tour. Is it bad to honor those 12 months? Surely not.

The point of these remarks, as articulated above, is to make the simple claim: The debate between the use of formulas and eschewing them is a debate between two reasonable positions.

Formulas are good. Non-formulas aren’t bad. This is NOT a case in which one side is evil and has to be crushed. No — both sides are good here. Both positions are reasonable and can be easily explained.

To that end, we shouldn’t be obsessing over this particular argument. We can and should have it, but it shouldn’t be our main point of focus… not when a GENUINE PROBLEM exists at Wimbledon, a true imbalance and a bastion of unfairness.

What is that bastion of unfairness? It’s not hard to identify: The men are seeded with a formula and the women aren’t.

This should not be so brother-trucking hard, right? This is a dual-gender event. Men and women get paid equally. They share orders of play on the various courts. Shouldn’t the two tournaments be seeded the same way?

Kevin Anderson, on the basis of his 1,200 points from last year’s runner-up result, got a No. 4 seed instead of the No. 8 seed he would have had without a grass-specific formula. That’s a big jump and a significant advantage. He won’t have to play the Big 3 until the semifinals.

The point, of course, is not that Kando deserves — or doesn’t deserve — his seeding. The point is that 2018 champion Angelique Kerber doesn’t get the same chance to benefit. She would be seeded multiple slots higher than No. 5 if the same grass formula existed for the women. Serena Williams would be seeded higher. Julia Goerges would be seeded higher.

If we care about equality and fairness, it only makes sense that if Wimbledon uses a formula for one gender, it should use the formula for the other. Do it both ways, or not at all.

It is bizarre and disappointing that the “formula or no formula” debate is sucking up all the oxygen in the room.

We should all be much more focused on making sure that Wimbledon — in 2020 and beyond — applies its rules equally, instead of creating one world here for the men and another one over there for the women.

Angelique Kerber is not less of a person than Kevin Anderson. Moreover, she WON Wimbledon. Anderson only finished second. Yet, Anderson gets his deserved seeding bump; Kerber was denied the same.

Equality? Fairness? Great concepts… but Wimbledon won’t honor them, at least not in this case.

We are having the wrong argument if we are more focused on where Federer and Nadal are seeded than on the fact that Kerber is being deprived of a benefit Kevin Anderson gained.

Oh, well: Tennis has once again done something dumb (through the vehicle of Wimbledon) just before a major tournament begins.

Death. Taxes. Tennis soiling itself before a major. A tale as old as time.

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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