Thursday's draw ceremony for the U.S. Open tennis championship was the first major gathering of the event's two-week run. Everybody who is anybody in the American tennis hierarchy was there, from the U.S. Tennis Association president to the official in charge of the qualifying event, which began Friday.
There is a prescribed procedure for this affair. The U.S. Open Committee provides the referee with its seeding list -- 16 men and 16 women -- for each draw of 128 players. When Wimbledon decided on an unprecedented No. 1 coseeding for Chris Evert Lloyd and Martina Navratilova in June, some observers thought the USTA might do the same.
Not a chance.
Evert and John McEnroe are top-seeded in the women's and men's events, respectively. The reason: both are ranked No. 1 in their respective official computer rankings. There were no surprises in either seeding list except that Aaron Krickstein and Eliot Teltscher -- both members of the U.S. Davis Cup team which recently lost to West Germany -- dropped out because of injuries.
After the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds are selected, the referee places the No. 1 at the top of the draw and the No. 2 seed at the bottom. The Nos. 3 and 4 seeds are drawn by lot; the first name plucked is placed at the top of the second quarter and the next is placed at the bottom of the third quarter. Thus, the Nos. 3 and 4 men's seeds, Mats Wilander and Jimmy Connors, could have been placed in either half.
Should the top four seeds hold up through the semifinal round, here are the possible confrontations. McEnroe is slated to meet Wilander, and Ivan Lendl, the No. 2 seed, could face Connors. For the women, Evert is to meet the third-seeded Hana Mandlikova and Navratilova is to face her doubles partner, Pam Shriver.
Seeds 5, 6, 7 and 8 then are drawn by lot and placed on either the top or bottom vacant lines of the four quarters. Seeds 9 through 16 also are drawn by lot and placed straight down the draw on the vacant top or bottom of each eighth of the entire listing. Consequently, the 16th and last seed has the same chance of playing the No. 1 seed in the round of 16 as does the ninth seed.
That's right. It makes no difference whether a player is seeded 9 or 16.
Once the seedings are finished and understood, there are other questions that might arise at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
Question No. 1: Where is Boris Becker, the Wimbledon champion and the No. 8 seed? He is at the bottom of McEnroe's quarter and only Joakim Nystrom, the No. 10 seed, stands in the way of Becker's route to the quarterfinals. McEnroe should breeze to the quarterfinals, his toughest competition Jimmy Arias or Tomas Smid.
Question No. 2: Does Connors, who has not won a tournament this year, have a chance? Maybe. The luckiest of the top four seeds, he has four qualifiers in his eighth of the draw. But Stefan Edberg, the No. 11 seed and Connors' conqueror in the USTA Indoors in February, awaits him in the fourth round. Connors, incidentally, makes it a practice never to look at his draw more than one day in advance.
Question No. 3: where are the babies, 15-year-old Gabriela Sabatini and 16-year-old Steffi Graf? Sabatini, seeded 10th, is in Mandlikova's eighth and could face Andrea Jaeger in the third round. Graf, seeded No. 11, is in Shriver's quarter with a difficult road all the way.
Question No. 4: Does any woman other than Evert or Navratilova have a chance? The answer is a qualified yes. Mandlikova and Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, the fifth seed, have outside chances to win it all. In the last 10 years, Evert or Navratilova have won all but two Opens. Mandlikova reached the finals twice and has had a good year. Kohde-Kilsch has a win over Navratilova this season.
I foresee an Evert-Navratilova women's final and a McEnroe-Edberg men's final. If I am wrong, I can blame it on the seedings.