It’s part two of The Pig’s 2016 French Open preview. Today, it’s a look at how seeds have performed in recent times as well as what to expect from qualifiers and wild cards. Part Deux.
2016 French Open Preview: Historical Seed Report
At Slams, we often wonder where the suprises will come. Roland Garros was such a blood bath for anyone not named Rafael Nadal for years that we forget there have been a handful of shocking moments at this tournament. Last year produced one in the final, even if an 8th seed beating a #1 doesn’t seem that mind blowing, we know the set-up and we know it was. You also had another double digit seed in the semifinals with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga taking that spot. The #14 seed in 2015 put on a good show for the home crowd as he beat 4th seed Tomas Berdych in the 4th round and then 5th seed Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals.
2014 produced what now looks like one of the all-time anomalies with 19th seeded Ernests Gulbis getting to the semifinals. Since that stunner, Ernie hasn’t advanced past the second round of any of the seven Grand Slams since then. He was the first double digit seed to make the semis since both Jurgen Melzer (22) & Tomas Berdych (15) did it back in 2010. Robin Soderling and Fernando Gonzalez were both in as double digit seeds in 2009. Tsonga joined the club last year.
For a real surprise in Paris, you have to go back to Gael Monfils in 2008. La Monf was the last unseeded player to make it as far as the semifinals. Since 2005, only Monfils and Argentina’s Mariano Puerta (2005) have made the semis without a number next to their name. There certainly seems to be a bit more of the unknown in the men’s game with half of the “Big Four” aging and a new generation of players still seemingly not quite ready for prime time.
Double digit seeds are finding their way into more and more of the Slam semis. Milos Raonic as the 13th seed in this year’s Australian Open. Richard Gasquet as the 21st seed in Wimbledon last year. Tsonga at #14 in the French and the one that many thought might signal a trend, the 2014 U.S. Open. That is where 14th seed Marin Cilic broke the Big Four’s stranglehold on the slams and beat the 10th seed Kei Nishikori. So who might be ready to join the double digit seed club in Paris?
First, let’s take a look at how seeds have fared at Roland Garros over the last six years to break down how seeds have fared overall in Paris. One thing noticeable right away is the consistency in the number of 1st round seeded upsets (shaded gray below). There have been exactly five each year from 2010-2015.
There was not a top ten seed upset in round one last year, but both the #11 and #12 seeds fell early. Three of the last six years, we have seen a top six seed fall in the opening round. Last year’s champion Stan Wawrinka was a huge shock loser in 2013 as the #3 seed to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Tomas Berdych has been taken down twice in 1st round upsets at Roland Garros and might bear watching this year after his recent double bagel loss to David Goffin and the subsequent firing of his coach.
For the most part from the chart, you see that seeded players have made up the field for the quarterfinals almost every year in this span. Last year, seven of the top eight seeds were in the quarters. You have to dial back to 2011 to see the last time that an unseeded player made it as far as the quarters at Roland Garros. Juan-Ignacio Chela and Fabio Fognini both made it that year. Still, that means 48 QF spots in the last six years, exactly TWO went to unseeded players. Unseeded players again seem to have their work cut out for them to make a shocking late tournament appearance.
Of course one of the things The Pig always likes to keep an eye on is the “Quali-Fire” to see who makes it through qualifying. Who do they match-up with when the main draw comes out? There can be a distinct advantage to getting multiple matches under your belt in qualifying with the right placement in the draw. Likewise, wild card entrants are also very intriguing to monitor. Eight players each year get those exemptions and it seems as if many of them try to show appreciation for that reward by at least winning their opening match. As per normal, six of the eight wildcard spots are going to French players this year.
Veterans Julien Benneteau and Stephane Robert eat up two of those spots and are joined by countrymen Gregoire Barrere, Mathias Bourgue, Quentin Halys and Constant Lestienne. American Bjorn Fratangelo earned direct entry via a wildcard as well, along with Australian Jordan Thompson.
Here is a look at how both qualifiers and wild cards have fared in the past five years.
* = either a qualifier beating a qualifier or a wildcard beating a wildcard
Wildcards have stumbled a bit the past two years, going just 2-6 in 2015. Those two winners last year did make nice runs though with Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nicolas Mahut both getting to the third round. It’s still been a rough go for the wildcards in the last two years with just three first round wins out of 16 matches. From 2010-2014, wild cards were averaging at least three first round wins with four winners in 2010.
Qualifiers again were crushed in 2015 with many of them pitted against good veteran players, making their progression out of round one nearly impossible. That is now three years in a row where qualifiers have made very little noise in round one. You still can’t say that all qualifiers and all wild cards stand very little chance to advance. Simply, the first round match-ups they draw will show you if any have a realistic shot of pulling off a win or two. The last few years those match-ups have been extremely tough.
There are some tricky looking qualifiers left in the field with the final round of qualifying scheduled to complete on Friday. We will look at those more in-depth when they are placed into the draw. Be sure to keep up with The Pig by subscribing to the blog or following me on Twitter @tennispig for more this weekend, with a FULL men’s draw preview to come on Saturday.