The “Science” of Seeding

scientistTournament seeding can really decide what kind of results players will have. If you don’t get a seed, but play one in the first round, you could be out. With the seeding for the first 2016 tournament out today (see below), we asked USTA Florida’s Mark Taylor how they are decided and got some valuable insights…

I am the Adult Competitive Chairman for USTA Florida and will be thru the 2016 season. I am also the Florida Cup commissioner (which in my opinion is now one of the top team events in the country). For Florida rankings it is important for players to focus on the Super Senior circuit (both West coast and East coast) which runs January thru March.

There are not any planned changes to the Florida rankings process……Personally, I would like to see more tournaments count towards the rankings but I’m in a minority in that view. The section has done surveys over the years and the results reflect what you currently have. I’m old school in the opinion that the more matches played, the more results that can be digested the better the overall product.

Not An Exact Science

I can only speak for the tournaments that I oversee as far as how rankings translate into seedings. I will say this…….it’s not an exact science.

When I do seedings, I look at everything you can think of and I look at every player’s tennis resume’ for the last 12-14 months of play. I don’t look at what happened 2, 3 or 5 years ago. Players age up, players may play down, injuries occur, life circumstances happen. Things constantly change and evolve.

I look at current rankings (both national and sectional) and one doesn’t necessarily supersede the other. One player may have the financial resources to travel whereas another may not. I look at how active you are, do you play a full schedule, surfaces, who you beat, who you lose to, scores (losing 6-4 in the 3rd set vs. getting beat 2 and 1). Strength of tournament (some of these Cat 2’s have been watered down, some divisions are nothing more than a round robin).

There are a lot of variables and at some point I make a decision and we go play. I do not like the “block seedings” (4 guys seeded at #5, 4 guys seeded at #9, etc.) That’s the easy way out and I’m aware that even the national events do that. You won’t see that in a tournament that I seed.

Aging Up

Players moving into a new age group is also something I’m aware of. First year guys in a new division can really get a jump on that division if they are healthy. It is always good to be the “young guy” again every 5 years.

Doubles seedings can be challenging when guys play different weeks with different partners. Teams that stay intact for a while makes it easier to evaluate.

Head to head results have an impact both singles and doubles as well as recent results as an indicator of where your game is currently. For instance, Longboat Key just completed a couple of weeks ago. That tournament is more reflective of how you are playing right now than say a tournament last February or March (it’s an indicator, not a make or break). One thing for certain, seedings and rankings generate a lot of discussion and debate.

I’m very pleased that we have Colonial Country Club and Payne Park back on the 2016 SSGP schedule. The Florida Cup matches are going to be at University Park Country Club in Sarasota April 9-10. I wish everyone a terrific start to their tennis season and hopefully players can stay injury free. As we all know, that becomes a top priority as we all get older.

Mark Taylor
USTA Florida
Florida Cup Commissioner

Any questions or comments???

Colonial: For this week’s first tournament, i was fortunate to squeeze out a #7 seed in a strong singles field; and Chuck Kinyon and i are #4 seeds in the doubles draw. The full list is HERE

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4 thoughts on “The “Science” of Seeding

  1. This is very informative and insightful. Still, I wonder just how much energy players should really put in to concerns about being seeded and all the jockeying I hear that goes around as players appeal their seeding. So what if you have to play a higher-ranked player earlier than desired? Do you think Rod Laver ever cared what he was seeded? If you’re going to compete, you must beat who’s in front of you, that simple.

    OK, yes, seedings can have impact on results; and in turn, on rankings? So? Then what? Does anyone playing these wonderful recreational events rely on results and rankings for food, clothing and shelter?

    As many of us know, one of the original premises of seeding in tennis was to keep better players from meeting one another until the later rounds. At the highest levels of the game, be it amateur or pro, this had relevance given that those players actually were competing for significant rewards that had vocational consequences — precious spots on Davis Cup teams, compensation, etc.

    But that’s hardly the case for recreational players, be it age group or NTRP.

    Yes, I love the rigorous approach to seedings that’s explained above. Exemplary — thoughtful and fair. But there are times I feel it gets a little overcooked. What truly is the consequence of someone not earning a precious 5-9 seed? Or playing a 1-4 seed in the first round?

    Joel – Philosophically true… but consider the case of players (ex Winder Bill), who will pay up to $1,000 in air, hotel, entry etc to fly to a National Tournament only to be unseeded and play one of the top guys in the first round and get knocked out first day. Yes, there is the “back draw,” but kinda like being in the “kid’s table” Republican debates. 🙂 thanks as always. george

  2. I agree with Mark Taylor, in the fact that more tourneys should count towards seeding.
    Our group has been fighting for this for at least 5 years – but have either ignored or stonewalled. The people behind the curtain are curtailing competition !!

  3. Leon, my good friend, I can assure you that no one ignored you , they just disagreed with you. When I was on the committee we had a long discussion on the merits of more tournament but on the basis of cost , as George mentioned with Winder, accuracy , by having fewer tournaments counted it assures most of those who are attempting a good ranking will have the same number of tournaments counted, and using a “best of system” which encourages players to play more if they want to try to improve their ranking. While Nationally the four best are counted, each section can require more such as FL which has min of five. When the min is increased it only improves the ranking if most players can play the min, otherwise it just benefits those who have the time and money to play. For those who have the resources & time to play more there is a benefit in that by playing more and doing better you can improve your ranking. They just don’t get a better ranking because they could play more tournaments.

  4. There’s a chance no matter how the seeds or draw shake out that a player will play a top seed in early round. I think it’s quite sad that people who are at heart recreational players sometimes treat back draws with disdain rather than throw themselves into the heat of battle. Why are we playing this sport in the first place? Isn’t the idea at heart to get some quality exercise by engaging body and mind in this wonderful sport? Yes, of course, I understand the pursuit of results and rankings. But sometimes when I read so much dialogue about all that, makes me think of school age adolescents who put more energy into earning grades (outcome) than actually learning (process).

    As far as someone spending $1000+ to go to a national tournament and losing early goes, I really have no sympathy. The person can clearly spare the discretionary cost and is well aware of what might occur. Really, so what?

    Joel – We are starting the New Year kinda hard-hearted. 🙂 george

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