Are Top Seeds Losing Early Good For Women’s tennis?

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The third round is not even completed and already seven of the top ten women’s seeds at this year’s US Open are out. Aside from the #2 seed Maria Sharapova withdrawing due to injury¬†a day before the tournament began, six others have all faltered on court. Only the #1 seed Serena Williams, #2 Simona Halep, and #5 Petra Kvitova remain. This begs the question are top seeds losing early good for women’s tennis?

In other sports like the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, and the National Football League they want parity. These leagues don’t want the same teams to continue to have losing seasons year after year, especially the smaller organizations who struggle to break even or lose money annually. If a small team continues to lose then the fan base won’t grow and the team loses money, putting its future at risk. Unless it is a large organization like the Toronto Maple Leafs who can have losing season after losing season, but still can be at the top of the list in terms of generating revenue, then losing is almost always a bad thing.

These leagues have implemented ways to create parity. The NHL’s salary cap has made it possible for any team, whether a small market team or not, to have a chance at reaching the postseason. It’s not about who can spend the most, but who can build a team.

In baseball, a sport that is so very reluctant to changing tradition, the league added a second wild card team in each league to make the postseason in 2012. Prior to the change only eight out of 30 teams made the playoffs. Now with the second wild card 10 teams make it, but it has done more than just benefit those two teams. More teams think they have a chance at the postseason adding excitement to fan bases which was not there in the past.

In tennis however, parity is not really wanted to a certain extent. Parity hurts tournaments, especially outside of Grand Slams. The casual tennis fan most of the time wants to see the best players in the world which usually coincides with the most well-known players as well like Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, and Maria Sharapova. If top seeds lose early then these casual tennis fans aren’t going to want to go watch. As a result, tournaments lose money.

In men’s tennis, tennis fans have and are still blessed with the consistency of the top seeds. For most of the last decade Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray have dominated the sport. If we look at just their Grand Slam record since 200,3 those combined four have won 42 of the 48 grand slam titles and only twice have none of the four been in the final. Those are incredibly consistent numbers, but in women’s tennis especially as of late consistency has become an issue.

Yes, it is great to have surprise upset winners every now and then, but a pattern is beginning to develop in women’s tennis that is not good for the sport. In nine of the last 11 Grand Slams since the 2013 French Open, at least four of the top 10 seeds have been eliminated by the third round. In six of those Grand Slams five or more top 10 seeds were eliminated after just three rounds. In the 2015 Australian Open 22 of the 32 seeded players were eliminated by the end of the third round.

The inconsistency in the top seeds makes it very difficult for a tennis player to become an established name in the sport. There is too much parity currently in women’s tennis because players are not establishing their name after their upset wins. They are just as inconsistent as the seeds they upset. Prior to the US Open, the 14 players with an upset win over a top 10 seed in or before the third round of a grand slam this year have only gone on to win two or more matches three times. This makes it difficult for tournaments to market themselves.

If not for Serena’s consistency and current run for the calendar Grand Slam, it would be very difficult for networks to find mass appeal for this tournament. Women’s tennis can’t continue this way or it will be a marketing nightmare.

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