Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It’s time to change the Grand Slam seeding system. Here’s how.

Rafael Nadal has won five French Open titles but has been the top seed at the tournament just once. (Ironically, it was the only year he didn't win.) Thanks to the French's system of using the ATP rankings as the template for its seeds, Nadal has only won the title as a No. 2 seed, despite the fact that he's entered every tournament he's played at Roland Garros as the favorite.

This year, the recovering Juan Martin Del Potro will be the No. 26 seed, meaning some unlucky top seed could see the former Grand Slam champion in the third round. Andy Roddick, who plays as poorly on clay as he does well on grass, will be a No. 11 seed, one ahead of Nicolas Almagro, who excels on the surface.

Shouldn't the world's best clay court player always be the top seed in the premier clay court event? Shouldn't clay-challenged players slip a little bit in the seedings in favor of those who excel on the surface? Is it fair to move up a player like Del Potro who has a low ranking due to injury? Yes, yes and yes.

Using rankings as seedings is a logical, fair system used by both the Australian Open and US Open. (Wimbledon uses its own computer rankings designed to slightly favor players who excel on grass courts.) It needs to stop, not because it's controversial, but because it's not nearly controversial enough.

Think about it. The release of Grand Slam seedings has as much suspense as a sunrise. The announcement of the draw is nothing more than a glorified raffle. These things get no attention outside the tennis world and barely merit conversation within. Why not spice them up a little bit by adding in the human element?

The NCAA basketball tournament's Selection Sunday is a national sporting holiday in the United States. For three days after, all anyone talks about is whether the committee chose the right No. 1 seeds and which teams should have made it. The whole affair would be a lot less fun if they picked and seeded teams by computer ranking. (Am I right, BCS?)

Tennis could use this model to generate some interest in seedings and the draw. Imagine if Roddick was dropped to a No. 19 seed. Surely he'd give some choice quotes about the process and get a few news stories written about him in the process. Bam, free publicity. Or let's say it gets to the US Open and Djokovic and Nadal are separated by a few rankings points and the selection committee goes with the No. 2 player as a the top seed because he's done better on hard courts. There's another storyline for the tournament.

It's not like the plan would make things all that much different. There's only so much you can do with seedings, after all, so it's not like there's be a situation where Richard Gasquet would move ahead of Andy Murray or Roddick would go from No. 11 to unseeded. Most changes would be minor.

As a benefit, any complaints about the seeding process would disappear the instant play begins. Those NCAA bubble teams are the biggest stories on Monday and Tuesday. Everyone forgets about them when the ball tips on Thursday. Complaining about Nadal moving from No. 1 to No. 2 at the US Open is a story with a limited news cycle.

A selection process wouldn't be any more or less fair than the current system. Don't let the presence of computers and clearly defined numbers fool you, the rankings are still every bit as subjective as a selection would be. Why is Monte Carlo a 1000 and not, say, Barcelona? How is making the round of 32 at a Grand Slam worth the same amount of points -- 90 -- as getting to the round of 16 at a 1000 or the quarters of a 500 or the semis of a 250?

Make the change. At best you get a better-seeded tournament. At worst you make some news in the days leading up the major. It's a win/win.

Paz Vega Rebecca Mader Eva Green Lauren Conrad Arielle Kebbel

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