1. a small hard part produced by a plant that can grow into a new plant of the same type
2. a player or team that has been given a number that shows how likely they are to win a competition
Origin and usage
The use of the noun seed to refer to a ranking given to a player or team in a competition dates from the 1930s, with the equivalent verb being used a few decades earlier, at the end of the 19th century.
The purpose of seeding is to ensure that the best players in a tournament do not meet until the later rounds, thus ensuring that they do not knock each other out in the early rounds and reduce the interest of the competition. Thus the player who is thought most likely to win is seeded first and is the number 1 seed, and so on. Seeds one and two are placed in opposite halves of the draw and are expected to meet in the final, three and four are expected to reach the semifinals and so on. All Grand Slam tennis tournaments have 32 seeds and most of them seed players on the basis of their world rankings. Wimbledon departs from this, taking into account other factors such as previous performance at the Championship or recent form. The connection between the sporting meanings and other meanings of the noun and verb is that the players’ names are spread throughout the draw just as seed is spread over the ground.
“The seed ye sow, another reaps; The wealth ye find, another keeps.”
(Percy Bysshe Shelley, Men of England)
“Wozniacki, the 14th seed and former world No 1, becomes another big name to bite the dust, beaten by a player who had never previously been beyond the first round.”
qualifier, finalist, semi-finalist