U. S. Open Seeding Preview: The Men
Yes, all right, we'll get the official list next week. So why worry, now, about the U. S. Open seeds?
Well, because we can, for one thing. But for another, the entire ATP ranking system, insofar as it's designed to do anything at all, is designed to seed the U. S. Open.
Consider: The ATP ranking system gives a huge bonus to Slam results (worth twice as much as a Masters Series result, and more than three times as much as the strongest of non-Masters Series titles). The ATP also gives a strong bias toward hardcourts -- two of four Slams, and four of nine Masters Series, are played on hardcourts. The typical player can expect to earn 45% of his points at Slams, and nearly 50% at hardcourt events; clearly the system rewards hardcourt players above specialists on any other surfaces. And since the Australian Open is played on Rebound Ace, a surface unlike other hardcourts, the U. S. Open is the event most accurately predicted by the Entry Rankings.
And so we'll look at who will be seeded where.
Under the current seeding rules, there are seven seeding tiers:
Seeds #1-2, seeded for the final
Seeds #3-#4, seeded for the semifinal
Seeds #5-#8, seeded for the quarterfinal
Seeds #9-#12, seeded for the round of sixteen, where they face seeds #5-#8
Seeds #13-#16, seeded for the round of sixteen, where they face seeds #1-#4
Seeds #17-#24, seeded for the round of 32, where they face seeds #9-#16
Seeds #25-#32, seeded for the round of 32, where they face seeds #1-#8
It really doesn't make much difference where you are seeded within a tier -- e.g. #32 is just as good as #25, or #8 as good as #5. But the difference between being seeded #16 (and perhaps playing #25 in the round of 32) as opposed to #17 (and lined up to play perhaps someone as high as #9 in the round of 32) can be quite significant.
As of now, the men's seeds aren't quite determined; we won't know the final order until we have the complete results from Indianapolis and Washington. But it's close.
The #1 seed is Lleyton Hewitt. That's fixed; no question about it. Fortunately for the ATP, it's also hard to argue with.
Given the state of Tommy Haas's shoulder (and psyche), it seems just about certain that Marat Safin will be the #2 seed. It would have been even more certain had Marat Safin been able to play, but he had to withdraw. So, theoretically, Haas could still grab the #2 spot. There are significant conditions, though: He has to win Indianapolis.
Haas will be the #3 seed unless he meets the above conditions.
The #4 seed was Yevgeny Kafelnikov's to lose. And lose it he may, since he is once again out early. He entered Indianapolis with a lead of 70 safe points over Tim Henman and 155 over Andre Agassi. But Henman and Agassi are both playing, and this week's events are worth 250 points. So this spot remains very much in play.
#5 and #6 go to whichever of the three Agassi, Henman, Kafelnikov doesn't earn the #4 seed. #7 is Juan Carlos Ferrero. #8 is Albert Costa.
The #9 through #12 seeds will be Carlos Moya, Sebastien Grosjean, Andy Roddick, and Thomas Johansson, though the order is uncertain (except that Johansson will be #12). Grosjean can pass Moya by reaching the semifinal. Roddick, because he's defending champion at Washington, has to reach the final to pass Moya.
Barring withdrawals higher up, the #13-#16 seeds are also set: Roger Federer, Jiri Novak, Guillermo Canas, and David Nalbandian. That means, yes, Pete Sampras will be the #17 seed (though, given how many clay players there are in the #8-#16 group, that may not be entirely fatal to his chances). Six of the next seven seeds in the range #18-#24 will be Xavier Malisse, Younes El Aynaoui, Gaston Gaudio, Alex Corretja, Marcelo Rios, and Sjeng Schalken. That leaves one spot in this block. Right now, it belongs to Rainer Schuettler, and it's likely to stay his. But Thomas Enqvist could theoretically bump him by winning a title.
The final seeds, #25 through #32, are always the most fluid. Enqvist will of course get one of them unless he bumps Schuettler down. Also set are Juan Ignacio Chela (the likely #25) and Nicolas Lapentti, who are not in action this week, and Fernando Gonzalez, who is out. Andrei Pavel also looks secure. That leaves three seeds. Right now, they belong to Tommy Robredo (not playing), Max Mirnyi (playing, but out), and James Blake (playing). But in theory, of players in action this week, Jarkko Nieminen, Michel Kratochvil, Ivan Ljubicic, Wayne Ferreira, and Stefan Koubek could pass Blake and Mirnyi. Some of the higher-ranked players on that list could even get up to around where Lapentti currently sits. Ljubicic and Koubek and Ferreira are already out, but Kratochvil and Nieminen are through. We just might see some changes in the list....
Right now, the alternate is Mariano Zabaleta. But he isn't playing. Most of the candidates to gain the #32 seeds are also candidates to bump him off. In fact, the odds look good that someone will. But it's still too early to predict who.