ATP Grand Slam Australian Open: Is there a need for 32 seeds?

Is it time for the number of seeds to be culled back to 16, as it was pre-2001?

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Is there still a need for 32 seeds in grand slam tournaments? Or is it time for the number of seeds to be culled back to 16, as it was pre-2001?

There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Professional tennis players are all too aware of that - every time they are out on court, they're chasing down every ball, fighting for every point and always trying to win.

The introduction of 32 seeds from 16 at grand slams in 2001 was supposed to - theoretically - give the best players in the world a greater chance of progressing deeper into the major tournaments.

It was also designed to protect, for instance, the world number 17 from having the chance to play the top seed in the first round, and try to create matches between the stars in the second week.

Alas, sport is nothing if not a canvas of the unexpected - and day one of the Australian Open displayed exactly that. It does not hand the big names victories on a platter.

As it happened, Ana Ivanovic - the fifth seed - and 32nd seed Belinda Bencic both bowed out in the first round, leaving one section of the draw wide open.

Already guaranteed of a fourth-round appearance at a major are one of Ivanovic's conqueror Lucie Hradecka, Polona Hercog, Klara Koukalova or Julia Goerges.

Sure, seeds were bundled out prior to 2001 - but there was more prestige, more onus on playing a seed. These days, one quarter of the draw is seeded.

Seeding also is, at times, an unwanted burden. Bencic is just 17 years of age, and while she is comfortably ranked inside the top 50, the expectations on her teenage shoulders are infinitely raised when there is a bracketed number next to her name on the scoreboard.

The one question that needs to be asked of the International Tennis Federation - who are the overriding body for the majors - is: would a reduction in number of seeds lessen the current product on show?

I, clearly, am arguing it wouldn't. The world numbers 17-32, of course, would argue the affirmative. They, and supposedly the fans, are the beneficiaries of the system.

If grand slam officials continue to try to force the best match-ups to be from the third round onwards, so be it. But there's only so much you can control, as day one has taught us.

As a fan, one of the best matches I remember from the past 10 years at the Australian Open was Andy Roddick meeting Marat Safin in a third-round, Friday night blockbuster in 2007.

At the time, pundits rued the clash of two stars such as the major-winning pair so early in the tournament.

Me? I sat back and enjoyed the show. Third round, semi-finals, first round of qualifying... give me two quality players, I'll watch them in a barnyard too if need be.

The ironic part of the early blockbuster was that both players were seeded anyway, Safin handed the honour of 26th seed against Roddick's sixth seeding - but the clash was still unavoidable.

There is no way of guaranteeing quality match-ups late in a tournament - it is a competition after all - so it is about time to return the prestige of a seeding to the top 16.

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