When the seeds and draws for Wimbledon were announced, there was a lot of buzz about the strong possibility of another Rafa-Roger showdown. The most compelling matchup in men’s tennis—and possibly in all sports—over the last 10 years or so was a distinct possibility yet again.
But in the quarterfinals?
Assuming that form holds for their respective first four rounds and neither player gets Rosol’d, is this a problem or a gift for tennis fans?
Of course, Nadal shockingly lost in five sets in the second round of last year’s Wimbledon to the Czech Republic’s Lukas Rosol. When we next saw Rafa on the tour, he was returning from a seven-month layoff to rehab his knee. With nine tournament finals (in as many attempts), seven championships and a resounding French Open victory under his belt, it appears that the Mallorcan is returning to Wimbledon in terrific form.
He is also returning to Wimbledon as the No. 5 seed—as in four players seeded higher than him.
What’s going on, and is this a problem or a gift for tennis fans? To the latter question, I would say that this is a problem, even though another Rafa-Roger showdown—assuming that they won’t be able to both make it through to another final—could be a wonderful thing.
Tennis lovers already know that the two greatest players of their generation—and some would argue, of all time—have not met at the All-England Club since their epic 2008 Final, which was their third straight meeting in the ultimate round. Roger has won Wimbledon twice in the intervening four years, and Rafa has won one and lost another final to World No. 1, Novak Djokovic.
In this writer’s opinion, there are problems with the seeds and the draws. It seems ludicrous that David Ferrer—a wonderful player and by all accounts, a great guy—would be seeded higher than his compatriot, Nadal.
On the one hand, Ferrer (with a total record of 34-9 in 11 2013 ATP tournaments) has accrued slightly more points than Nadal, who has compiled a 43-2 record in nine tournaments. Of course, those who determine the seeds for Wimbledon have the prerogative to not blindly follow the ATP rankings. Given that, there is no justification to not seed Nadal higher than Ferrer.
Nadal has beaten Ferrer 20 out of 24 times, including a straight-set thrashing at Roland Garros by the resounding score of 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. Nadal has also won their last nine meetings. Their results at Wimbledon may be even more lopsided. Nadal has made it to five finals, winning two; Ferrer, in his best showing, made it to last year’s quarters.
My point is not to verbally beat up on Ferrer, who should be proud of everything he has done to ascend to No. 4 in the world in his profession. Everything about his game is a credit to the sport, but that does not mean that he is quite in Rafa’s class as a player, let alone that he should be seeded ahead of him when the tourney has the leeway to not slavishly follow the ATP rankings.
So much for the seeds, but how about the draws? The unfair seeding is exacerbated by draws that are illogical. For as long as I have been following sports and even making up draws (for real or mythical events), the logic and math should be pretty simple.
To simplify it further, in an eight-man (or team) draw, No. 1 should always meet No. 8 while No.4 matches up with No.5. In the other half, No. 2 draws No. 7 and No. 3 gets No. 6. Assuming no upsets, No. 1 meets No. 4 in one semi, and No. 2 has a showdown with No. 3. Pretty simple logic. In the quarterfinals, the seeds of each pairing should add up to nine; in the semis, they should add up to five.
Consider also the NCAA basketball tournament brackets, known as March Madness. Putting aside what determines the seeds and participants (which, to my way of thinking almost always unfairly favors the power conference teams), per each regional in the Round of 16, the seeds in each pairing add up to 17, and then follow the same formula as illustrated in the preceding paragraph.
The math and logic are almost trivial.
In tennis, the pairings seem to be arbitrary. Tennis fans were quite recently treated to an amazing match between Djokovic (rightfully seeded No.1) and Nadal (the No. 3 seed) at the 2013 French Open Final. Nadal, of course, went on to win the epic semifinal, but why wasn’t that the final? That was a question I asked at the outset of the tourney, and not in hindsight. And yes, the aforementioned final, where Nadal ran the No. 4 Ferrer off the court, seemed to vindicate that stance.
Regardless of personalities, rooting interests and future results, why not set up the draw in a logical and fair way?
For Wimbledon, here are the top eight seeds in descending order:
Even if we accept the unfair seeds, Nadal and Ferrer should (if form holds) be meeting in the quarters for the right to play Djokovic in one semi, while Federer should be dueling with the No. 6 Tsonga to meet with Murray in the other. Even if Nadal was given a No. 4 seed, he’d still, if the draws were done logically, meet Ferrer in the quarters, although each player would draw marginally different opponents along the way.
Certainly, results may dictate that Roger and Rafa won’t even advance to the final, and Ferrer may end up cruising through the tourney for an improbable win. That’s why we watch the matches—and all sports for that matter. I’ll also eagerly await what will be the 31st official meeting between Federer and Nadal. It just shouldn’t be happening until the final, which would be an even sweeter event for tennis fans.
But tennis fans have been denied that by a system that blindly (in the case of Ferrer and Nadal) followed the numbers when it came to seeds and then couldn’t even apply third-grade math when it came to the draws.
One More Thing
There’s not enough time and space to rant on the Serena Williams Rolling Stone mag interview and its aftermath, although nothing about it has been positive.
It’s tempting to use a little space to wonder why there is so much vitriol among fans of (chiefly) Djokovic, Federer and Nadal when, by and large, all of the rivalries between the players have been very respectful. But, enough said on these matters, for now.
Let’s leave on a statistical note, with the basic numbers provided by atpworldtour.com. If we include David Ferrer as a member of a “Big 5,” here is how each of the five top seeds have fared against the other four in their careers.
- Djokovic: 49-48
- Murray: 30-38
- Federer: 49-44
- Ferrer: 14-51
- Nadal: 73-34
* Note: Of course, I wrote this, and it was published, hours before Rafael Nadal's shocking first-round defeat at the hands of Steve Darcis. Shocking doesn't begin to cover my reaction. Still, all my points remain, even if the timing was not ideal.
Matt Goldberg, a former featured writer for Bleacher Report, is the creator of Bagels and Jocks and a co-author of the 2013 A Snowball's Chance: Philly Fires Back Against the National Media.