Luck of the Draw: US Open

The US Open draw ceremony has been completed, having proved about as interesting as these things can, which is to say not very. Rafael Nadal was on hand to lend the affair some cachet, and he performed his assigned task of drawing numbers out of a trophy with consummate professionalism. Given that this is a task that my two-year-old son could excel at, it would take a special effort indeed to over-emphasise Nadal’s performance. Pete Bodo over at Tennis.com makes that special effort:

I was amused to see that instead of merely handing the chip to Gayle Bradshaw, so he could match the number to the name on his seeding list and call out the player’s name, Rafa quite unncessarily [sic] took it upon himself to call out the number each time he pulled a chip. Whatever else you want to say about Nadal, this little detail suggests that he’s got a real team player’s instinct. And if agrees to do a job, he’ll do it the right way. It’s in such little moments that you often get glimpses into a person’s basic character.

I am happily reminded of that famous Chinese proverb, that you do not truly know a man until you’ve watched him pull numbered objects out of a container of some kind, probably. It also means that a post-tennis career conducting lotteries in the third-world is a real possibility for the Spaniard. Something to fall back on.

In the meantime, he’ll presumably be staying with tennis a while longer, given that he has been gifted a draw as favourable as his last one. He opens against Andrei Golubev, whose winning streak of one was cruelly cut short last week. As ever, Nadal has been drawn to face a Spaniard in the quarterfinals. As was the case in Melbourne, it is David Ferrer, who proved so merciless in crushing an injured friend’s dream of completing the Rafa Slam, which was kind of a big deal at the time. Nadal is due to face Murray in the semifinals. Yes, that’s correct: again.

It also means that Djokovic and Federer are drawn to meet in the other semifinal. The wailing of the conspiracy theorists is fit to lift the roof, or it would if they didn’t all live in caves. It’s all rigged. This configuration has occurred at 14 of the last 16 majors, which seems to me to be an excuse to revel in the vagaries of chance. Characteristically, the cynics have proven less whimsical.

This time around they’ve arrived with ammunition slightly more potent than their own idiocy, most notably a piece that appeared on ESPN’s Outside The Lines recently, which made the rather minor claim that the top two men’s and women’s seeds have traditionally faced less threatening opponents than they statistically should have, and then linked it to the rather large claim that the US Open draw was therefore being manipulated. At its heart, it was unremarkable tabloid guff, and should have elicited no response stronger than mild diversion. Inevitably, the mole-hill became a mountain.

Permitting for a moment the scope of the claims, it begs the question of why the USTA would even bother? Do the top two seeds have so much trouble navigating the first round that such measures are necessary? And what about the next few seeds? Further analysis reveals nothing untoward about their draws. Furthermore, there are no strikingly anomalous results in subsequent rounds, which you might think would be the case if the goal was to ensure the seeds gained safe passage into the second week. Furthermore, it’s not as though the top two seeds have always been Nadal and Federer (they aren’t this year). In years gone by, what would the USTA hope to gain by helping out, say, Dinara Safina? Does anyone really believe they would risk an inevitable shit-storm of controversy for her? Yes, people do. They believe that.

They also believe that the draw was rigged for Federer and Nadal to be on opposite sides, notwithstanding that the draw was seeded based on the order in which Nadal so revealingly drew those tokens from the trophy. Clearly he’s in on it too, although you’d have to imagine he’d rather face Federer than Murray in the semifinal. I suppose the USTA’s plans are more nebulous and ineffable than we can possibly fathom. It doubtless goes right to the top, and if they are willing to go to considerable effort to provide an unnecessary advantage to a few players, there’s no telling what pointless extravagancy they’re capable of.

The US Open draw can be found here.

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