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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Seeding: Does It Matter?

Seeding: Does It Matter?--
©Colette Lewis 2005--

As the NCAA basketball tournament shows us with regularity, it doesn't much matter who is seeded number one. Whoever is playing better in a one-and-out format, regardless of their past performance and RPIs and all the other factors that go into the seedings, will win.

The same can be said for tennis, of course, and Clint Bowles proved that in the Spring Nationals just last week in Mobile. He played the best tennis that week, and though unseeded, he won, beating both the one and two seeds in the process. So why does it matter and why would anyone make a big deal about it?

I hear very few complaints about seeding from parents, players or coaches, because it is viewed as irrelevant. You play each match to win it, and if you beat everyone who advances along with you, you win a tournament. If you don't, it's because they played better than you did. It has nothing to do with the number next to their name.

I think seeding in tennis was developed, not for the players, but for the tournaments and the fans. Though there are many instances of memorable matches in the first few rounds, who, really, would have wanted to see the Federer-Safin match at the Australian Open in the second round? The match itself might have been played at the very same (extraordinary) level, but with the distraction of all the other matches, would we have had time to notice? Would the drama of it been as apparent? Would the focus been as great? Would the stakes been as high? Certainly not.

One of the things I like best about the USTA National Championships is the full feed-in-through-the-quarterfinals consolation draw. It's a chance to see who had a bad draw, a bad loss even, but took their second chance. It also makes the USTA national rankings (late in the year, anyway) much more reliable than those of the ITF, where there are few, if any consolation draws. But ITF events are seeded strictly by rankings, which are based on points, which demands either stellar play in major events(if you can get into them) or mediocre play in lots of smaller ones. So the more a junior travels, or the more ITF events his country can host, the better his chances of accumulating the points necessary to gain entry into a junior Grand Slam. That is, I believe, the reason that the Chanda Rubin ITF circuit was established in the US, and why the USTA agreed to change the Easter Bowl from National Championship to ITF Grade 1.

So the seeds for the Easter Bowl will undoubtedly follow the ITF rankings, and there will be upsets and none of the players will be bothered by it. But the fans should prepare themselves for some great second-round matches. A loser from a match like that could actually be the second-best player in the tournament.