It is not five minutes to midnight on the WTA Tour. It is not five minutes to noon. It is precisely five to 12.
Here is the explanation of that statement: Fans of sports teams like to remind rival fans of painful defeats. In American sports, one of the nastier rivalries in professional football is the one between two Southern cities, Atlanta and New Orleans. Atlanta’s professional football team is the Falcons. New Orleans’ pro football team is called the Saints.
The Atlanta Falcons led Super Bowl LI two years ago by a score of 28 to 3. They lost the game, the largest lead in 53 Super Bowls which has ever been squandered by one team.
New Orleans Saints fans will never let Atlanta fans forget about “28 to 3,” so as a way of rubbing it in, Saint fans will say, “What time is it? 28 to 3.”
To be clear, they are NOT saying it’s 2:32.
It is SPECIFICALLY 28 to 3.
So, with that in mind, the time on the WTA Tour is 5 to 12 — not 11:55.
If you look at the WTA rankings entering the final weekend of April, you will see the following, keeping in mind that Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber are moving up due to their performances in Stuttgart, while Karolina Pliskova will move down after failing to defend last year’s points:
— Matt Zemek (@mzemek) April 26, 2019
The top eight players would be quite formidable in any combination, but you will notice that players ranked 9-12 have conspicuously more big-tournament presence than 13-16. (Wang Qiang, whom you cannot see in the tweet above, is No. 16.)
The point is plain: Given the fact that tennis draws put seeds 1-4 versus seeds 13-16 in the fourth round, and 5-8 versus 9-12 in the same fourth round, we are looking at a Roland Garros tournament in which the 5-12 matchups in the fourth round could be the best matches of the tournament.
On the heels of that statement, consider this next point: If the winners of the 5-12 fourth-round matches require two and a half or three hours to win their matches, while seeds 1-4 win their fourth rounders quickly, that could easily reshape the competitive calculus in the Roland Garros quarterfinals.
The bottom line: The No. 4 seed (or any top-four seed) looks like a prize this year in Paris.
Even though certain seeds have usually been more of a focal point at the men’s major tournaments than at women’s majors, given the elite nature of the Big 3 and the considerable depth of the women’s tour (which has reduced the significance of getting an especially high seed for the women — ask Simona Halep, whose No. 1 seed meant a date with Serena Williams in the fourth round of the Australian Open this year), the structure of the top 16 shows that being caught in the 5-to-12 range means a brutal fourth round followed by what is likely to be a tough quarterfinal. Getting a top-four seed will smooth the path in France.
That is what Angelique Kerber, Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens, and Ashleigh Barty will be playing for in Madrid and Rome.
It’s not 11:55 — or just before midnight, or just before noon — on the WTA Tour.
It is 5 to 12.