Why You Can't Trust Women's Seeds At Grand Slams

Posted on July 30 2018

This year’s Wimbledon saw a bizarre number of top seed fall early in the women’s draw. Karolina Pliskova was the last top 10 seed remaining in the draw, but fell in the round of 16 to leave the quarterfinals without any top 10 seeds. Serena Williams, who would ordinarily have been the number one see made it to the semi finals, however, due to her return to tennis after her pregnancy was only seeded 25.


While this might seem like quite a rare feat to have a quarterfinals that doesn’t feature any of the top ten seeds, it is not unduly surprising. Roll back to this year’s French Open, and only 3 of the women’s top 10 seeds made it to the quarters. This is in contrast to the men’s draw, where 5 top ten seeds made it to the quarterfinals. As you dig back through recent grand slams, you realise that this is a common feature of women’s tennis, seeds fall, early, and often. But why is this?


The Big 4 + 2 or 3

Up until recently, men’s tennis has been dominated by the big four of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray. You could almost bet your house that they’d all make it to the quarterfinals. Throw in players like Raonic, Del Potro and Wawrinka who have also shown incredible consistency over the years, and you’re bound to have a high number of top seed progressing through the tournament. There simply hasn’t been this kind of dominant group in the women’s game of late. It seems quite clear that when Serena is physically fit and fully motivated, she is in a league of her own, but behind her, there are a large number of women with not much between them. This can be seen in the seedings themselves, as the rankings fluctuate so greatly in the women’s game, the top seeds are constantly different. While none of the quarter finalists were top ten seeds, they are hardly strangers to the later stages of grand slams.



3 Sets vs 5 Sets

One aspect that makes a massive difference to the seeds is the men playing 5 sets. To beat Federer or Nadal over 3 sets is one thing, but to do it over 5 sets is another thing altogether. How often do you see lower ranked players push the top seeds, only to lose out in the latter stages? The top men have developed an impregnable mental strength when it comes to 5 set matches that sees them progress through the tournament more often than not. The top women do not have this edge over their lower ranked rivals as they play the same 3 set matches they play all year round. A few poor games from Simona Halep and she is in a lot of trouble, but for Federer there is a lot more time to rescue a negative situation.


While I would not advocate women switching to 5 sets, it is something that gives the men’s game a slight advantage. People love upsets, and clearly you get them with the women’s game, but in the long run star names sell tickets, and the 5 set game gives the stability to create those star names. Imagine how devastated you would be if you had a ticket to the men’s quarterfinals and Federer didn’t make it. Top seeds getting deep in to the tournament is what tennis needs and that is what 5 sets does.


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