Having seen the draw on the men’s side of the Indian Wells Masters, there is a stacked draw including Juan Martin Del Potro, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Nick Kyrgios, and Novak Djokovic. This makes for a quarter full of upsets and disappointing finishes. Only one of these players or maybe none will make the semi-finals. This is the result of an unlucky draw for all of these players involved. All of these are great players, but is it really fair to award Federer 3rd round ranking points if he loses to Nadal? Obviously it is an unlucky draw, and things like that happen sometimes. What I find myself confused about is the flawed system tournaments use to seed players which creates unfair matchups for others; a system that needs a change.
Rankings status quo
For the most part, all tournaments seed their players based on current world ranking during the week of its drawing. What this means is that whatever the ATP World Rankings lists will be the seeding hierarchy for the tournament.
As far as I am aware, the only tournament that does otherwise is Wimbledon. Wimbledon has its own method of seeding players based on a combination of grass court ranking points over the past few years, and current ATP World Tour Rankings points. This differentiation in methods can change seedings a little bit. The World no. 1 can be dropped to 2nd in the seeding, or sometimes a player outside the top 10 can be elevated to no. 8 or higher in the seedings.
What this means is that a player who has a high ranking but is weaker on grass could be dropped a few spots down in the draw. In other tournaments, this is not the case and herein lies the problem.
The flaw of current tournament seedings
The current method used by most tournaments is to copy the world rankings verbatim. What this means and has meant in years past is that a player could enter into a tournament in which he is not nearly as good as his ranking would suggest. While a player might be fourth overall, he is far from the fourth best player on that surface or fourth favorite to win.
Take Roger Federer before he won his first French Open title. There were three years in a row where he met Rafael Nadal in the final. He lost all three meetings. Now during that time for 2006-2008, Federer may have been ranked #1 and best overall in the world, but it was well known that he was not the best clay court player. That distinction went to Nadal. However, Roland Garros continued to copy the world rankings and seed Federer no. 1, and Nadal no. 2, despite Nadal being the three-time defending champion in 2008.
Not to disrespect Federer, but this is a clear example of the flaw of the seeding method. With Nadal being the three-time consecutive champion in 2008, how could one have honestly said Federer was the favorite at no. 1? Besides from his fact, Nadal would continue to dominate clay court meetings with Federer in the future. This method makes as little sense as saying Nadal is a better grass court player than Federer.
What would work better?
I believe that tournament seedings should truly reflect the “favorite” in descending order. A player who is weak on a particular surface should not receive such a boost from their ranking just because he or she was better on another surface.
In addition, tournaments should take into consideration factors such as Del Potro and Federer who received significant drops in their rankings due to time missed, but were playing top 10 tennis before being injured. Perhaps in the case of Del Potro, it can be argued that he missed enough time, so no one knew what to expect from him even though he is a former world no. 4.
When it comes to Federer though, there is no excuse. Federer was no. 3 in the world before taking five months off to rest. When he came back, he was 17th, and was seeded as such. Given his level of play just before injury, one would consider he would have received a little bump in the draw, but that was not the case.
If tournaments did not copy the world rankings, then we would likely not have a quarter like the one we have here at Indian Wells.
I propose that tournaments would seed players based on recent performance as well as past performance on the surface in question. World ranking should play a role too as players can improve overall while playing on different surfaces, but not just the “copy and paste” that we have now.
What do you think? Is there a flaw in the way how players are currently seeded, or is it just fine?