And former pro Cliff Drysdale, who’ll help call the matches with Evert for ESPN, is so impressed with Williams’s form and power so soon after a near year-long hiatus that he puts Williams’s chances of winning the season’s final major equal to that of the rest of the 128-player field combined.
Nonetheless, U.S. Open officials on Tuesday seeded Williams 28th, adhering strictly to current world rankings rather than exercising their prerogative to adjust seedings based on recent performance and common sense.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Drysdale said in a conference call, adding that he would have seeded Williams eighth.
Said Evert, who won 18 Grand Slam titles: “I think they could have made a much better judgment call. She won both warmup tournaments [in Stanford and Toronto]. That shouts loud and clear: ‘I’m back! I’m beating the field! I’m still the best player in the world when I’m healthy!’ I was surprised.”
No professional tennis player has bounced around the rankings as much as Williams, who has lost the No. 1 spot several times in her 16-year pro career because of injury, illness and apparent indifference only to rededicate herself and reclaim it.
Her most recent comeback, at 29, eclipsed all others. After idling 11 months following foot surgery and a pulmonary embolism, Williams reached the fourth round of Wimbledon with only one tune-up tournament under her belt.
Despite the myriad questions about her form and fitness, Wimbledon officials ignored her lowly ranking and seeded Williams seventh for the grass-court classic in acknowledgement of her record at the All England Club.
But U.S. Open officials made no such accommodation despite Williams’s three titles and the fact that she won two of the three hard-court tournaments she entered this summer.
As a result of her 28th seed, Williams is projected to meet a player ranked among the top 10 in the first week of the U.S. Open, which gets under way Monday, setting up a clash that Evert views as unfortunate for both the players and the event.
“It hurts the field is what it does,” Evert said. “It really doesn’t hurt Serena as much as it hurts the other players. One of the top seeds will get her in the third round.”
Said Drysdale: “I think this is a perfect example of what they should not do, which is go with the rankings.”
World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who has yet to win a major title, is the top seed. Russia’s Vera Zvonareva, the 2010 runner-up, is seeded second. The withdrawal of two-time defending champion Kim Clijsters nudged fourth-ranked Maria Sharapova to the third seed.
Only four past U.S. Open champions will be among this year’s women’s field: Serena (who won in 1999, 2002 and 2008), Venus Williams (2000, 2001), Sharapova (2006) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (2004).
Venus Williams, ranked 36th, is unseeded.
The men’s seeding will be announced Wednesday.