Next year, the U.S. Open and the other three Grand Slam tournaments will return to the practice of seeding 16 players each in the men’s and women’s 128-player fields. The decision was made last November and raises the question of how it might impact another situation similar to Serena Williams’ in 2017.
Away from the tour on maternity leave for 16 months, Williams’ ranking had plunged from No. 1 to 183rd, and since the Slams basically seed according to ranking, Williams was not seeded at this year’s French Open. She was seeded 25th at Wimbledon and, with her ranking rising to 26th, she is seeded 17th at the Open.
The seeding process is meant to “protect” players with the highest rankings against having to face any other seeded player through the Slams’ first two rounds. It not only is considered a reward for players’ earned high rankings but also a guarantee to spectators and TV executives that the big names will be around longer.
It was only in 2001 that the Slams doubled the number of seeds from 16 to 32, a move that tennis’ premier historian, the late Bud Collins, disliked. “Why not have some first-round fun?” he argued, reasoning that fewer could seeds put the best players in immediate danger.