It was shocking, but a low seeded player ousted Number 2 seeded Li Na in the first (women's) round of the French Open.

My understanding is that the seeding is designed to prevent this from happening so early. For instance, in a field of 128, the top seed is matched against the 128th seed in the first round, the number 2 against the 127th, etc. The idea in the first round is to eliminate the bottom 64 players, and most of the "survivors" will be seeded 1-64.

Given that Kristina Mladenovic eliminated Li Na, it's unlikely that she's really "only" 127. And she gets Li Na's (number 2) spot for the second round of 64, and is likely to be paired against say, the 63rd seeded player.

Would it be a reasonable guess that Mladenovic's true talent level is probably at least 50th to 100th, so that she's probably not an underdog against the number 63rd seed in the second round? Or does history show that these early round eliminations are "flukes" and the "eliminator" gets eliminated soon after?

  • One thing to note is that a player's ranking is determined from results over a period of time. Assuming all things equal, this would mean Li Na has a better ranking than Kristina Mladenovic because she has had better results over a period of time (in response to "it's unlikely that she's really 'only' 127" - she is ranked as such because her body of work indicates so). Ranking is an indicator of "talent level" (or they wouldn't be ranked as high), but the overall body of objective work (ie, results) has to be considered as well.
    – user527
    May 29, 2014 at 18:58

2 Answers 2


Let's clear up a couple of things first...

Only 32 players are seeded in the women's singles draw at the French Open this year. The rest of the field are not seeded, qualifiers, or wild-card entries.

Also - a players "talent level" does not necessarily correspond to their position in the draw or even their seeding. Kristina Mladenovic was in the main draw only because her world ranking 2 weeks prior to the French Open was high enough to warrant her being there. She's currently ranked 103 and has been ranked as high as 36 in her career. It was random that she faced Li Na in the first round - not because she's seeded/ranked #127.

Lastly - don't forget about the "bad day at the office" factor in tennis. As we saw with both Li Na and Serena Williams at the French Open this year - if you have one bad match where you're not playing your best - and your opponent is - you're out. That's the harsh reality of tennis and single elimination tournament competition.

Now, to answer your question...

It sounds like the seeding method you are thinking of is how the Men's NCAA D1 basketball tournament brackets are drawn up (with the #1 seed playing the #16, #2 playing #15 and so on) - but that's not really how tennis does their tournament draws.

In tennis - the seeded players are each put into their own area (usually a quarter) of the draw (how many seeds there are depends on the tournament and the size of the draw). For example, the #1 seed will be in the first/top position of the draw, and the #2 seed will be in the last/bottom position of the draw. This is done so that the #1 and #2 seeds can't possibly face each other until the final match of the tournament.

Once you go past the #1 and #2 seeds, it starts becoming more random about where the seeds fall into the draw rather than a specific formula being applied.

All that is guaranteed after #1 and #2 placement is that the following 6 seeds (#3-#8) end up evenly placed into the 4 quarters of the draw - so again, for the French Open, which is a draw of 128 players for the Women's Singles - two of the top 8 seeds will be within positions 1-32, 33-64, 65-96 and 97-128. Usually those two seeded players go into the first and last positions within those numbers (so they only face each other at the latest possible round).

After that, where the seeded players fall in the draw becomes more random (names drawn from a hat) - and where non-seeded, qualifier and wild-card players fall is also random. The fact that Li Na faced Kristina Mladenovic in the first round had nothing really to do with anything like seeding or ranking - it was just the luck of the draw. I'm guessing that 8 or 9 times out of 10, Li Na wins against a player like Kristina Mladenovic - it just happened to not be her day during that match.

To further show how the draw is more random for non-seeded players, Kristina Mladenovic played Alison Riske in the second round - who's currently ranked #45 in the world - and she also won that match. From what I've seen of lower-ranked players in grand slam events that beat a very high ranked player - the lower-ranked players usually "flame out" in the next round because of their emotional high coming off the "fluke" victory the previous round. Many examples of that come to mind - Stakhovsky beating Federer at Wimbledon and losing in the next round, Lukas Rosol beating Nadal at Wimbledon and then losing in the next round, etc. It's pretty common to see.

  • OK, Mladenovic was ranked 103, but given that she beat number 45 in the second round, she made it into the top 32, so her true talent level is at least 30th-40th. That's still "long odds" against number 2, but not as long as 103rd. Whether or not she goes further depends on how she "stacks up" against the survivors.
    – Tom Au
    May 29, 2014 at 18:52
  • 1
    Keep in mind that "true talent level" can change day to day in Tennis. Would you say that because Li Na lost to her that Li Na's "true talent level" is 104? I think not. In Tennis - most of the top 100 or 200 in the world can all compete with each other. Your seeding or ranking matters very little - it has more to do with how well you play on any given day.
    – jamauss
    May 29, 2014 at 18:56
  • When I referred to "true talent level," I meant on a given day, and also on a given court (clay versus grass, versus other courts). I also believe that Li Na regressed, and on that day, she might have been 10 to 20th, instead of "top 5."
    – Tom Au
    May 29, 2014 at 19:02
  • Keep in mind too that Tennis is a very mental and emotional sport and momentum and confidence can play a big role in the outcome of a match. I'm sure once Mladenovic won a set, her confidence was soaring and the momentum in the match shifted her way. From then, she probably felt less pressure and was willing to play a little riskier tennis since she was playing with the lead, rather than playing more conservative perhaps if she was playing from behind.
    – jamauss
    May 29, 2014 at 20:41

This was too long for a comment, so I am posting it as a CW-answer.

From Wikipedia (here is link to current revision, just in case the article changes in the future):

One version of seeding is where brackets are set up so that the quarterfinal pairings (barring any upsets) would be the 1 seed vs. the 8 seed, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5; however, this is not the procedure that is followed in most tennis tournaments, where the 1 and 2 seeds are placed in separate brackets, but then the 3 and 4 seeds are assigned to their brackets randomly, and so too are seeds 5 through 8, and so on.
While this may seem unfair to a casual observer, it should be pointed out that rankings of tennis players are generated by computers, and players tend to change ranking positions very gradually, so that a more equitable method of determining the pairings might result in many of the same head-to-head matchups being repeated over and over again in successive tournaments.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.