Comment: Brilliantly unpredictable WTA proving that tennis needs neither rankings nor seeds

Simona Halep happy

World ranking points and tournament seeding are two staples of tennis, but John Nicholson says that the WTA is regularly proving how little we actually need them.

On Monday afternoon when world number one Simona Halep was dumped out of the US Open by Kaia Kanepi 6-2, 6-4 she made a little bit of history because she was one of the few top-seeded women to lose in the first round of the tournament.

Her victor, a free-hitting Estonian is ranked, for what it’s worth, 44th in the world and beat her in just 76 minutes.

Only four other top seeds have lost in the first round since the Open era began in 1968.

After what happened to the seeds at Wimbledon this year when all but one of the top 10 women’s seeds lost before the tournament was half done, it would seem that the women’s game has never been more even, and both the ranking and seeding system never more irrelevant.

Indeed, the current situation only goes to highlight exactly what is wrong with both the ranking and seeding systems and how they are locked together in a pointless self-sustaining embrace.

As I’ve said before, seeding is a legalised attempt at a kind of match fixing and you can’t say it isn’t. Players are seeded for one reason only, and that is to avoid having to play another top seed until later in the tournament. If that isn’t match fixing, I don’t know what is.

I’ve always been totally against seeding in any sport but it has become endemic as more and more money has been at stake and competition organisers want to ensure who they think are the best players will progress furthest.

Simona Halep frustrated

But right now, in the women’s game, we’re seeing how futile it is. We’re seeing how the basis on which the seeding of players is made is very flawed when a lot of players are at a similar level. Kanepi herself said, after her win “I think players are playing more equally. There are not many players anymore who are leading the game. I mean, everybody can beat everybody on a good day.”

This is self-evidently true. Since the Australian Open in 2017 seven different women have won seven Grand Slams. Should someone other than Angelique Kerber, Serena Williams, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza, Sloane Stephens or Caroline Wozniacki win the U.S. Open, it will be the first time since before the war that women’s tennis doesn’t have a repeat champion across a two-year period.

While Halep will retain her top ranking position and has been atop the listing for over half a year, what exactly this means is harder to understand.

How are the rankings even worked out? It makes little sense but I’ll tell you.

Official WTA rankings are arrived at by points earned at events in the previous 52 weeks, counting only the 16 best results among tour-level events. Players who go deeper in the more prestigious events earn the most points. A Grand Slam champion earns 2,000 points, for example, while the champion of a WTA International event earns only 280 points. Why those number of points, exactly? Nobody knows. Is that the right balance in favour of Grand Slams? How could anyone even say? It’s all made up and based on who knows what logic?

How to explain this specific weirdness – a player who beats the same opponent in a Premier-level final earns half the points they would if they beat them in a Grand Slam final. Same opponent. Different competition, 50% less points. Why?

The points assigned to different events and rounds are totally arbitrary. And those points do not change if you play harder or easier matches against tough opponents or someone who is hopeless. Worse still, if your opponent twangs a hammy and has to retire, you get the same points as if you won a game in straight sets. That’s patently ridiculous.

Because opponent difficulty is not taken into account in relation to points awarded it has caused oddities in the rankings such as Caroline Wozniacki being number one for well over a year without ever winning a Grand Slam. So was she the world’s number one, or not and does it matter when the calculation is based on such spurious notions?

A lot of people find all of this ridiculous and want a more simple system, but not me. No, I’d like both the rankings system and its co-dependent, the seedings system to be totally abolished. Why? Because they’re anti-competitive, random, pointless, based on no logic at all and let me say it again, using ranking to gear seeding is a licenced attempt to fix a tournament to some degree.

Here’s what we do instead.


All the entrants are put into a hat and drawn out at random. You get who get and you have to beat them. No rankings, no seedings, nothing, just pure competition and the best player on the day wins. That’s real sport and not this weird contrived situation that the tennis authorities have somehow created and continue to pretend has any worth even when, in the women’s game especially, right now, it is being exposed as a nonesense.

John Nicholson

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