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Seeding for National Hardcourts

I have received several emails and phone calls about the seeding for the National Hardcourt tournaments that started this weekend. I will admit, the seeding process as described in the USTA document below is a bit vague and confusing. That’s why I reached out to USTA’s Director of Junior Competition, Lew Brewer, for clarification.

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Seeding Criteria – USTA
[docupress-document url=’https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Ftq1H6GNNsVXVUQQ_kQzwpwDph4NaklS/view?usp=drive_web’/]

In order to view the National Seeding Lists for each age group, referenced in the USTA Seeding Criteria, click here.

According to the document above, seeding for the Girls and Boys 18s is based on:

  1. National Seeding List
  2. WTA, ATP, ITF Ranking
  3. Ratings
Does “ratings” mean UTR???

But what does “ratings” mean? Is it UTR?

According to Colette Lewis of Zootennis.com via Twitter, “UTR is also listed as an option in seeding guide.” The seeding guide is part of the Junior National Handbook for tournament directors, but, again, I have not been able to get a copy of that handbook yet other than what I posted above. Again, according to Colette, the seeding guide used to be part of Friend at Court, but USTA removed it in recent updates and posted it online as its own document. It is interesting to note, though, that the word “ratings” is used as opposed to UTR, leaving that last criteria vague and open to interpretation.

I have asked several people – including the tournament directors for some of the 2019 National Hardcourt events – to clarify if and how UTR was used in the seeding process. So far, I have no clear answer. However, given the seeds for the Girls 18s event, it seems UTR must have come into play.

According to Lew Brewer, “ratings” can refer to UTR or Junior NTRP but the primary factor in seeding is USTA ranking taken from the Singles Seeding List (which only includes singles results whereas the Standings List includes singles and a portion of the doubles results) just as the regulations state.  “They also took UTR into consideration if it’s within ranking band,” according one high-level USTA Player Development coach.

In the Girls 18s event, there are 8 competitors listed who have WTA points:

  1. Hailey Baptiste – WTA 283
  2. Katie Volynets – WTA 387
  3. Emma Navarro – WTA 425
  4. Natasha Subhash – WTA 470
  5. Alycia Parks – WTA 501
  6. Haley Giavara – WTA 650
  7. Peyton Stearns – WTA 725
  8. Connie Ma – WTA 736

Of those 8, only one, Haley Giavara, is not seeded [Note: Haley was put in as a 33 seed at the last minute after another seed withdrew from the tournament] even though her WTA ranking is higher than other seeded players. There are 64 total seeds in the draw. In prior years, seeding for the Girls 16s and 18s has been done according to WTA, ITF, then USTA national ranking. This year, though, USTA ranking takes precedence. Haley’s coach asked the rhetorical question: “From a player development standpoint, is USTA saying it’s better to play USTA junior tourneys than WTA events?”

Per Lew Brewer and the Seeding Committee, the WTA ranking cutoff for seeding in the Girls 18s was 600. Haley’s coach, Ken Giavara, thought her 650 WTA ranking was high enough to earn her a seed this year. He and Haley made a conscious decision to skip a WTA event in Texas a couple of weeks ago because they thought her ranking was good enough. Had they known about the 600 cutoff number, they would’ve gone to Texas instead of using the time for Haley to get in one more training block and some rest before Hardcourts.

Please understand that seeding at these National Junior Tournaments is based on a combination of objective rankings/ratings combined with subjective discussions (the All-Factors Method) inside the Seeding Committee meetings. When Coach Giavara emailed the Seeding Committee to inquire about Haley’s omission from the list of seeds, the response he received was, “Haley was considered for seeding. No players were seeded based on WTA rank who were ranked outside WTA 600. The last player seeded based on WTA rank is ranked 501.”

Nowhere in the seeding guidelines are ranking or rating minimums or maximums listed, however. Nowhere does it say you must be ranked X or above to get seeded or have a UTR of Y or above to get seeded or have an ITF jr ranking of Z to get seeded. USTA continues to have an issue with transparency when it comes to tournament seeding.

I emailed Lew the following: “You mentioned you used 600 as the WTA ranking cutoff for G18s seeding. Can you tell me what the other cutoffs were for both boys and girls 18s? USTA ranking, ITF junior ranking, ATP ranking, and UTR and Jr NTRP rating? I think it’s important for families to have that information since it isn’t specified in the seeding guide.” As of publication, I have not received a response to that email. 

Coach Giavara is fed up. “Based on the disaster of the last two years it’s probably time for the USTA to abandon the secret ‘Lew Brewer’ seeding method where Lew Brewer can override a WTA ranking,” he told me.

Let’s look at the Top 16 seeds for both the Girls and Boys 18s:

[docupress-document url=’https://drive.google.com/file/d/1EfrU7P3-9JknZgWZym6-tkPsZ5yp8jyC/view?usp=drive_web’/]

In the chart above, I used data pulled from the USTA National Seeding Lists dated 7/24/19, ITF Junior Rankings as of 8/1/19, WTA/ATP Singles Rankings as of 8/1/19, and UTR as of 8/1/19. As you can see, I was unable to find any Junior NTRP rating data for the top-seeded players. I asked Lew to help me with the Junior NTRP data, and he replied, “We don’t really have a convenient way for public display of JrNTRP as we are still working on the future of JrNTRP especially in relation to the new ITF rating system.”

So, why the long article about all this? Why should anyone care who is seeded where in our biggest national junior tournaments?

For the 18s divisions, a wildcard into the US Open is on the line. For our country’s top Juniors, their placement in the draw is extremely important.

The issue, as I mentioned above, is transparency. For as long as I’ve been writing for ParentingAces, I have been asking USTA to give parents, players, and coaches a look behind the curtain, to be open and up front about how they seed as well as how they award wildcards. This year’s seeding – and wildcard awards which I’ll write about at a later date – at National Hardcourts proves the process is still cloaked in secrecy and back-room discussions.

If we don’t have a clear understanding of how the USTA junior competition structure actually works, how can we possibly guide our children through it properly? Please, USTA, show us the Man Behind the Curtain.

Note: I will be on site at the Girls 12s Hardcourts on Monday and at the Girls 16s and 18s Hardcourts for the final weekend. If you will be there, too, please let me know so we can connect. For the official press release on the Girls seedings and draws, click here.

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