Wimbledon change seeding system

Steven Wine
Monday 11 June 2001 00:00 BST

Pete Sampras may get to keep his No 1 seeding at Wimbledon, and top clay–court players will no longer have to worry about facing him in the opening round.

Wimbledon and the other Grand Slam tournaments announced changes today in their seeding systems designed to protect star players and satisfy clay and grass specialists.

Each of the four major tournaments will double the number of seeded players to 32, with the order determined using a formula that assesses past performance on the event's playing surface.

The changes by Wimbledon and the French, Australian and US Open followed four days of meetings at Roland Garros. The Grand Slam committee approved the moves partly in response to complaints by clay–court specialists that Wimbledon's previous seeding system was unfair.

"I'm very hopeful the players will see this as a positive move and a sensible compromise," said Tim Phillips, chairman at the All England Club.

The new system, to be implemented immediately, ensures that the top 32 players in the ATP and WTA rankings will be seeded.

In the past, a committee at Wimbledon adjusted seedings subjectively based on past performances on grass. Clay–court players wanted the tournament seedings to mirror ATP rankings, but instead Wimbledon will use a formula for the men that may alter seedings by five positions or more, Phillips said.

The ATP welcomed the decision to seed 32 players at the Grand Slams, but said it was opposed to determining the order based on a surface–based system.

"We have viewed it as both unnecessary and a potentially confusing addition to the game," ATP chief executive officer Mark Miles said in a statement. "By its very nature a surface–specific system will be highly technical and likely to be understood by very few fans."

While the new system was intended to establish uniformity at the four majors, "its use is less compelling at hard court events like the Australian and US Opens," Miles said.

Sampras, who is ranked No 4 but has won Wimbledon seven times, may well be seeded No 1 when the list is released next Monday, Phillips said. But Sampras' seeding will slip next year at the French Open, where he has won only three matches in the past four years.

And the new system ensures that top clay–courters are seeded at Wimbledon, and thus cannot face a top grass–courter in the early rounds.

"It makes sense," Sampras said today in London. "You'd think that 32 seeds would in order for a 128–player draw. I like it. Otherwise you could be a top seed and play someone 17 in the world.

"That's the beauty of a Grand Slam, you're gonna get upsets. But it brings some fairness maybe to the game. They obviously did it because of the complaints last year."

Gustavo Kuerten, who won his third French Open title on Sunday, has already announced he'll skip Wimbledon, which begins June 25. He cited a sore groin but has complained about the seeding system in the past.

French Open runner–up Alex Corretja, who boycotted Wimbledon last year, has not said whether he'll play this year.

Sampras, who is playing this week in the Queen's Club grass–court tournament, said Kuerten is making a mistake by skipping Wimbledon.

"I understand what he's saying," he said. "But I'd like to see him play because he can play well. He's a baseline player who can maybe not win Wimbledon but certainly be a threat. You like to see everyone play, the top player in the world, the guy who's just won the French Open.

"But he puts a lot into his clay court season, he's been playing a lot for the past six or seven weeks and he needs a break I'm sure. But, on the other hand, you've got to do what you've got to do and when it comes to majors, and especially the biggest major, you do it."

The order of the 32 seeded women at Wimbledon will again be determined by the seeding committee. A surface–based system for women will be adopted starting next year.

"What's important is that we have common rules for the four Grand Slam tournaments," said Christian Bimes, president of the French Tennis Federation.

Seedings will be doubled to assure a more balanced draw, making early–round upsets less likely. That gives top players a better chance to reach the second week of the tournament, which pleases sponsors and TV networks.

If all top players enter an event, the change also means they won't face an opponent ranked higher than 33rd until at least the third round. Previously, the No 1 player conceivably could draw No 17 in the first round.

The US Open pushed for the expansion of seedings. The French Open – where in the past two years Sampras and Venus Williams have been first–round losers – resisted but ultimately agreed to the change.

"Sixteen seeds isn't a magic number," said Merv Heller, president of the United States Tennis Association. "There are still going to be great matches the first week. I compare this to Beethoven's Fifth. You want to start out with a bang, but you want to finish with a grand finale."

In contrast to Wimbledon, seedings at the French, Australian and US Open have historically been the same as the rankings. Those three events will now also revise the order using their own formulas that grade past performance on their playing surface.

Changes will likely be most dramatic at the French Open, played on clay, and at Wimbledon. The US and Australian Open are hardcourt events.

"It's our desire to keep our formula simple," Heller said. "We'll probably have the least deviation."

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