Tennis Guide: How Does Seeding Actually Work in Tennis?

Every sports person knows that sports carry unique and different vocabulary, a bunch of terms that only ‘the die-hard fans’ would understand. ‘Seeds’ is yet one of the many odd terms one might get confused about. Here’s how seeding work in tennis:

Seeding is a standard ranking or drawing system mostly used in tennis tournaments. To be more precise, seeding is used to separate the tennis players into groups such that the best players would not be playing against each other up until the end of the tournaments. 

This system is quite important for tennis tournaments and creates a certain excitement in the big crowd of fans who just want to watch their favorite players compete against one another. 

The top players in tennis tournaments often receive a seed. Some tournaments have only 8 seeds while major tournaments such as the Grand Slams have 32 seeds. Seed is like a badge of honor for the players. 

If this system didn’t exist and the top players competed with each other in the first round, the fans who came to watch the top players in action would only watch half of the tournament. Moreover, the other players wouldn’t get the chance to showcase their skills. 

But how is seeding determined in tennis amongst so many top players? 

How Is Seeding Determined in Tennis?

The players are seeded according to their ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) and WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) rankings. Since the ATP or WTA ranking system portrays the player’s strength, the seeded players are the ones who the organizer believes to be the strongest in terms of their skills and talent.

In a draw of 64 players, there will be 16 seeds, with 1st one being the top of the strongest player. These players are then separated through a draw. The two highest ranking seeds are put into opposite sections, so they do not compete with each other before the final. 

Equal numbers of seeds are put into each section such that all 16 seeds can reach the last 16 rounds, the top 6 seeds reach the quarter-final and the top 4 then play in the semi-finals.

The players who remain unseeded have no protection from playing against the higher seeded players at any stage. 

However, sometimes the top-seeded tennis players are said to have lower rankings in WTA. Such as in the Wimbledon grand slam, the seeding method is quite unique which makes different average ranked players compete against higher ranked players. 

How Is Seeding Important in Tennis?

Tournaments would lose their fun if the top players played against each other in the first few rounds of the tournaments. The seeding system plants tennis players in groups where the top ones don’t compete against each other in the early rounds. 

All sports lovers who usually watch sports tournaments for fun enjoy that similar built-up suspense and hype about the top players reaching towards the end game for a big win. 

The seeding creates a system where the most awaited round would occur near the end of the tournament. It is a way of separating the players in the early rounds of the tournament. 

Fans usually have their favorite players and they want to see them win. But two top players playing against each other in the early rounds wouldn’t create the hype it would if they wouldn’t play a series of rounds to get towards the major win. 

This way, fans get the chance to see the top players play several matches instead of randomly competing against each other at the very start.

Moreover, it creates a fairground for some players to get to the top seeds by winning against higher-ranked players.

Financial Aspect

One more important factor, which backs seeding from a financial point of view, is that the early rounds of the tournament usually do not get more air time on television. 

This is vital because viewership and ad sponsors are huge financial assets that keep any sports tournaments going. 

» I have also written this post, about: Best Tennis Strings For Spin

What Is the Difference Between Seeding and Ranking in Tennis?

Ranks are given according to a player’s points or the number of wins in previous performances in the tournaments they competed in. A player’s seeding is based on a specific tournament, it represents the player’s chances or likelihood of winning against the other participants in the tournament. 

The rank is a player’s absolute property that doesn’t usually vary from tournament to tournament. However, a player’s seed depends from tournament to tournament as well upon the other participants of the tournament.  

A player’s ranking is based on the ATP points across all the tournaments.

Sometimes a tournament’s seeding mirrors the player’s ranks since it considers the player’s previous records in tournaments. But mostly some tournaments determine their own seeds depending on the player’s previous records and plays such as the Wimbledon grand slam.

In short, rankings include all the active tennis players in the world while a seed in tennis is ranking the players playing in a specific tournament, i.e the no. 1 seed in that tournament isn’t necessarily no. 1 in the world ranking. 

Seed and ranking are usually misunderstood as one and even though they are similar there’s a vast difference between the two. 

What Does 1st Seed Mean in Tennis?

The 1st seed represents the player deemed as the strongest and a top player in the field. Usually, the 1st and 2nd seeds are designed to compete against each other in the final rounds of a tennis tournament. 

The first and second seeds are placed in different groups so there are high chances of both the top players competing against each other by the end of the tournament.

The intention is to make them meet by the time of the final. 

How Many Seedings Are There in Tennis?

The seeding is determined after a draw between players in which a 1/4 of the players in that draw will be seeded. The number of seeds depends on the size of the tournament, the bigger the tournaments are the higher the number of seeds. 

Such as, the Grand Slams have 32 seeds format. Here is a breakdown of how many seeds there are in some famous tennis tournaments.

Tennis TournamentsSeeds
Grand Slams32 Seeds (128 Player Draw)
ATP 1000 (Masters): 16 Seeds (64 Player Draw)
ATP 5008 Seeds (32 Player Draw)
ATP 2508 Seeds (32 Player Draw)

Seedings in Grand Slams

LONDON, ENGLAND-JUNE 22, 2009: Official Tennis Ball for Tradidional Tournament at Wimbledon, London, UK

The world’s Grand Slams are divided into four major tournaments and each tournament has its own unique seeding system. These Grand Slams differ from the ATP and WTA tournaments so they determine their own seeds.

Their way of determining the seeds for the four major tournaments is different from one another, let’s see how.

Wimbledon

Wimbledon is the most awaited tournament of all the four major tournaments. Wimbledon’s method is unlike the 3 other major tournaments. 

This major has the most difficult method to determine its seeds and their way of choosing the seed of the tennis players is also considered rare and unique.

Since the Wimbledon tennis tournament’s playing field comprises grass, Wimbledon determines the seeds of their players on how well they have played in their previous grass field tournaments.

But there’s a time frame, this ranking is done by monitoring the player’s tournaments that happened within a year alongside the top players with the most points/wins in a grass-court tournament.

This is because there are only a few grass court tournaments that are played on such a high-level plus, the grass makes it difficult to play, and not every top player can play their best on a grass field ground.

After this, they also use the player’s ATP or WTA rank a week before the draw, and thus they choose their tournament’s seed ranking.

Factors that Determine Wimbledon Seedings

For your better understanding, let’s break it down into points. Wimbledon determines the player’s seeds according to the following factors.

  • 90% to 100% points earned by the players in all grass court tournaments played in the recent 1 year.
  • 75% points earned by the player for the best grass court tournament in the previous 1 year.
  • The player’s ATP or WTA ranking in the current week before the draw. 

This helps them determine the seed for the top players who can successfully play well on a grass field. Here, a top-ranked tennis player can be ranked lower than an average-ranked tennis player just because of his/her performance on a grass field court.

For example, in 2019, Rafael Nadal was ranked #2 player in the world, who then dropped to #3 because of Roger Federer’s success on grass field tournaments. 

Wimbledon likes its traditional and unique way of seeding the players; this provides an edge to the game and a certain change of scenario in all the 4 grand slams. 

French Open

The French Open goes strictly by the book of placing top players in different groups so they don’t compete against each other by the time of the final despite unique circumstances. 

Two different events have occurred that have drawn attention to the French Open tournament and their stubborn-minded seeding. 

In the year 2015, Rafael Nadal entered the French Open tournament ranked #4 in ATP.  

Nadal had a previous record of dominating the tournament history throughout his tennis career and showcased his unique way of playing on the clay of all surfaces. 

Many people were determined that Nadal would get a higher seed but the French Open remained strict by its usual rules. 

Another circumstance where the French Open didn’t move from its strict stance was in 2018 when Serena Williams returned to the Grand Slam after her maternity leave. 

Even after her famous history of winning tennis tournaments, the top player entered the tournament without a seed. 

Despite a huge backlash, the French Open showed no intention to change the rules.

US Open

The U.S Open uses a comparatively simple seeding method, the best players of tennis usually get the highest seed and are reserved till the end of the tournament. 

On the other hand, the U.S Open played a new card last year.  The major Grand Slam tournament allowed the top performer, Serena Williams after her maternal leave. 

This became a passway for absent female players who were on maternal leave to get seeded, i.e. if the tournament deemed the player’s talent worthy of being seeded. This can change the future of tennis in the U.S Open or maybe other Grand Slams as well.

Australian Open

The Australian Open is the first Grand Slam of the four major tournaments. This tournament takes place in Melbourne, Australia. The Australian Open uses the same method as the French and U.S Open. 

However, due to the long wait for the Grand Slams to begin, the seeds in the Australian Open don’t get as much controversy as the French and U.S Open do.

» Read my blog post: Here Is What Shoes Does Andy Murray Wear!

How Do Players Upset a Seeding?

Upsetting a seed means an unseeded or a low-seeded player winning against a top-seeded player. For example, in 2009, Rafael Nadal, the best player to ever play on clay ground, was the champion for the past 4 years and won 31 straight matches at the Roland grace. However, he was sent home after being defeated in the fourth round of the French Open, by the Swedish, Robin Soderling.

In 2019, the tennis champion Venus Williams was defeated in the first round of Wimbledon by a teenage player, Coco Gauff. She had entered Wimbledon on a wild card and won against her idol tennis player, Williams.

At a very young age, the now famous tennis players, Mats Wilander and Gustavo Kuerten won the French Open without being seeded. In 2017, the tennis player Jelena Ostapenko also took the world by surprise at the French Open title. 

Moreover, a player named Sloane Stephens outshined through her skills at the US Open even after battling injuries a previous couple of years. 

Tennis is unpredictable, seeds don’t determine whether the top players would win, they just determine the player’s effectiveness at winning the tournaments. But a few times underdogs have also ended up shining through their skills and talents. 

It’s a rare sight but in the history of tennis, many players have outshined their low ranks/seeds. Some examples are Kim Clijsters, Andre Agassi, as well as Serena Williams.

Men’s Wimbledon Seedings 

Below are the top ten men’s Wimbledon seedings according to their ranks for the year 2022

#1 Novak Djokovic

#2 Rafael Nadal

#3 Casper Ruud

#4 Stefano Tsitsipas

#5 Carlos Alcaraz

#6 Felix Auger-Aliassime

#7 Hubert Hurkacz

#8 Matteo Berrettini

#9 Cameron Norrie

#10 Jannik Sinner

Women’s Wimbledon Seedings

Below are the top ten women’s Wimbledon seedings according to their ranks for the year 2022.

#1 Iga Swiatek

#2 Anett Kontaveit

#3 Ons Jabeur

#4 Paula Badosa

#5 Maria Sakkari

#6 Karolina Pliskova

#7 Danielle Collins

#8 Jessica Pegula

#9 Garbine Muguruza

#10 Emma Raducanu

» You can also read my post: How Long Do Tennis Games Last?

Conclusion

Now that the confusion about ranking and seeding is out of the way, I am sure by now, the term seed and how it works in tennis is clear to you.

Apart from tennis, the seeding system is also used in other sports to prevent the top-ranked players from competing in the first rounds. Seeding is pretty important in tennis, plus if I imagine tennis without the seeding system it just seems plain old boring to me.

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