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Tennis | More Tennis

Novak Djokovic and Guido Pella © Gallo Images

Sparkling Djokovic shows grand slams lack early fizz



After moving into the third round of the French Open with minimal effort, Novak Djokovic was not going to complain about the extended grand slam seeding system that delivered a hopelessly one-sided mismatch on Thursday.

Yet as the world No 1's credentials were given the lightest of examinations in a 6-2 6-0 6-2 win over Argentina's Guido Pella, the world number 101, there were question marks about how much entertainment was being served up.

Roger Federer provided further evidence for the prosecution on Wednesday, by crushing his second-round opponent Somdev Devvarman for the loss of just four games.

The era when the very best players could have the misfortune to meet an opponent who could stretch them in the early rounds seems long past. It is now 12 years since the grand slams chose to increase the number of seeds from 16 to 32.

According to former Olympic champion Marc Rosset, this change is responsible for turning men's tennis into a dull and predictable affair.

The big picture is that since 2005, only five male players have won a grand slam tournament while 32 titles have been dished out.

At least three of those players are among the greatest to have played the game, but they have still been unnecessarily protected in the early rounds of majors when they are often at their most vulnerable.

Spending only an hour and 26 minutes on court on a day largely wiped out by the weather was enough to convince Djokovic of the advantages of a system loaded in his favour.

"There's 128 players in the draw, so I guess the 32 seeds is still fair because, at least in the opening rounds, you avoid playing somebody that's top 30 in the world," he said.

"I think it also protects those players who are maybe between 15 and 30 to avoid top players in opening rounds.

"It depends from what perspective you're really looking at it. I think that's a fair system now."

ENTERTAINMENT QUESTION

Djokovic had just showcased glimpses of his incredible ability, but the all-too-brief outing on Philippe Chatrier Court was hardly a spectacle for fans who had been soaked with downpours throughout the day.

It was a similar case when 17-times grand slam winner Federer ruthlessly destroyed Devvarman in straight sets.

The Swiss, however, can at least see both sides of the argument.

While, he believes that players earn the right to be protected to a degree, he can see that the question of entertainment needs to be addressed.

He responded to Rosset by saying: "He's not wrong about it; that's for sure."

But he is not a staunch advocate of a return to former times.

"In the slams, I came through both systems, where we had 16 seeds back in the day. It's true, you do have much tougher draws early on, but I guess separating the best a little bit is good for spectators, fans, media as well to a degree.

"Also the players because hard work throughout the season gets compensated and gets paid off in a small way. But it can be a big way, too."

Upsets do happen as Rafael Nadal proved at Wimbledon last year in losing to Lukas Rosol in the second round. He also looked vulnerable in dropping a set in his opening clash at this year's French Open.

But his opponent, the 59th ranked Daniel Brands, let the sluggish Spaniard off the hook in a way a player ranked in the top 30 might not have done.

Nobody would question the high quality on offer when the top players in the men's game finally get to meet.

Women's third seed Victoria Azarenka told Reuters that this is a "golden era for men's tennis which has never been as high before."

But, she acknowledged: "The guys who are behind them (the top four) are not winning those big titles, it feels they're like in their shadow."

Having the best players in the finals at major tournaments is undoubtedly appealing to TV executives with high-value advertising space to sell.

Yet the fans inside Philippe Chatrier Court who sympathetically applauded when Pella won a game after losing 11 on the trot, looked less than convinced.

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