October 1, 2019
Have you ever wondered how the Wimbledon draw is managed? More than 600 players took part in Wimbledon last year, making the task of working out where each player belongs within the draw a serious challenge for organisers. The Wimbledon draw is equal parts organisation and randomness, combining a huge number of players drawn “out of a hat” and careful placements of top-seed players to make sure matches are as balanced and fair as possible. In this guide, we’ll dig into the logic behind the Wimbledon draw to work out how players are selected and placed, how the top players are organised into each round and how Wimbledon’s organisers keep the event as balanced as possible.
The basics of Wimbledon
Before we look at the system used to work out the Wimbledon draw, let’s cover the basic rules of Wimbledon. The Championships is a single-elimination tournament; each match pits one player (or team) against another, with only one continuing. When a player wins a match, they progress into the next round. When a player loses, they drop out of the tournament. Players or doubles teams that win seven matches in a row win the tournament. Simple, right?
The one exception to this system is mixed doubles, which involved 48 teams. Due to the number of teams involved (48 teams can’t be divided neatly into multiples of 2, like 64 can) some mixed doubles teams have byes. Because The Championships is a single-elimination tournament, it’s important that the best players don’t play against each other too early. If top-seeded players were matched up early in the tournament, many wouldn’t make it past the first round.
This would mean that less capable players would easily make their way through the first few rounds of the tournament before running into the top-ranked players later on. Because of this, Wimbledon’s organisers seed 32 players before the draw starts.
The random draw
The Wimbledon draw is randomly selected, and players are assigned a placement in the tournament by a special computer. Before the random draw begins, the 32 seeds in each category are removed from the draw – the organisers add them back in later. Both the gentlemen’s and ladies’ singles tournaments take place over seven rounds, from the first round until the final. Non-seeded players are randomly assigned their places within the first round of the tournament by special computer software. Since the first randomised computer draw doesn’t contain seeded players, not all players are immediately matched with someone. Once the first draw is complete, seeded players are added in to fill the draw for the tournament.
Organising the top seeds
The Wimbledon organisers choose 32 seeds within each category. For doubles, 32 teams are seeded. These seeds are then distributed evenly throughout each section of the tournament draw to prevent them playing against each other too early. Each seed is then randomly added into the available spots in each draw.
Since the first randomly selected draw doesn’t contain any seeded players, there are exactly 32 spots for the 32 seeded players to be placed into. Let’s use the gentlemen’s singles draw as an example. 2014’s first seed was Novak Djokovic. Rafael Nadal was second, Andy Murray was third and Roger Federer was fourth. You can read about the seeding criteria and system, which was changed in 2001, in the Independent. The top seeds are then randomly sorted into the draw, with the computer software ensuring that none of the seeds compete against their immediate rivals. Look at the draw for 2014’s tournament and you’ll see that:
- Novak Djokovic  was sorted into Section 1
- Rafael Nadal  was sorted into Section 4
- Andy Murray  was sorted into Section 2
- Roger Federer  was sorted into Section 3
This pattern continues for the 32 seeded players – each one (or team, in the case of doubles) is sorted into a different bracket for the first round of The Championships to prevent top-seeded players from competing against each other. Because of the way they were sorted into the draw, there was no chance of the four top seeds competing against each other until the semi-finals. Likewise, the top eight seeds couldn’t play against each other until the quarter-finals.
Putting the draw together
Once the seeded players have been organised and placed into the draw, the draw is finalised. There are some unfortunate ‘glitches’ of a random selection – in 2014, the top-seeded Novak Djokovic faced 74-ranked Andrey Golubev in the first round. Although the draw gives an advantage to top-seeded players, who compete against players that are often far below their rankings early in the tournament, it prevents two top-seeded players from competing early and resulting in a less balanced final.
Can you work out 2021’s top seeds?
Next year’s Wimbledon top seeds won’t be announced for several months, but it’s always fun to speculate on which players will rise to the top and which will fall to lower rankings than in 2019. Who do you think will rise, and who do you think will fall? Each year, Wimbledon’s seeding system shocks some and surprises others. Who do you think will surprise sports commentators before Wimbledon 2020 begins?