What is seeding in tennis?

Tennis is a global sport that is now over two centuries old. Professional tennis tours for both men and women have shown the dramatic rise in the popularity of the sport since the 1960s. In various tournaments, players from different nationalities participate, and fight for the title, and more importantly, the ranking points.

There are different tiers of tennis tournaments depending on the ranking points they have to offer. Based on this, players are placed in a knockout format draw. Not all players play every tournament. Based on their rank and preference, players can opt for the tier of event where they are eligible to play for. 

The need for seeding

In the young days of tennis, the best two players in the draw would often face in the earlier rounds (including the first round). The only care taken back then while making the draw was that no two players of the same nationality face each other in the initial rounds. However, when higher ranked players faced each other in the early rounds more often, the tennis tour and the slam officials decided to introduce the seeding system. In this, players are seeded for an event based on their rank. For example, if the players ranked 1, 3 and 4 are playing in a tournament, then they shall be seeded 1,2 and 3 respectively for that event.

Why seed?

There are two theories that can explain why the term “seed” was chosen. In agriculture, the farmers scatter their seeds across the field. Hence, in tennis, the higher-ranked players (the seeds) were scattered across the draw so that they did not face each other in the early rounds. Another theory suggests that the tennis draw is visualized as a tree. The seeds are planted and then as the tournament progressed, would eventually resemble a tree (imagine a Christmas tree).

Number of seeds

The total number of seeds in a draw are based on the total number of players in the draw which varies according to the tier of the tournament. A slam has 32 seeds, 16 seeds at the Masters events, 8 seeds at the ATP 250 and ATP 500 events. The women’s tour also follows a similar pattern at WTA the slams, WTA 1000, WTA 470 and WTA 250 events.

Higher the seeded players, better is his or her path to the final. The placement of seeds in the draw is usually determined by a chart as oer the guidelines of the ATP and WTA tour. On some instances, the seeds are made by the organizers behind closed doors and on some other occasions a lottery system determines their spot in the draw.

Seeding in tennis thus helps in reducing the bias and gives a fair chance to every player in the draw.

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