Top Four Seeds: Ch-ch-Changes or Status Quo?
As we head into high gear ahead of 2017’s second Grand Slam, we start by looking at the recent history of seeds in this tournament. For so many years, the “Big Four” or perhaps Big Four + Stan Wawrinka in recent times have been the key ingredients to finding a champion. This year? The “Big Four” is minus Roger Federer who is skipping the French Open to prepare for the grass court season. Last year’s finalists Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have both had issues with injury and consistency. Stan Wawrinka has just flat out struggled since March and is hoping to recapture some form again in Geneva this week.
Rafael Nadal looked a lock to be the man to beat in Paris, but his loss to Dominic Thiem in Rome may have opened the door ever-so-slightly for others to entertain delusions of grandeur. So could we see a seed outside of the top tier make a big splash this year? Since Gaston Gaudio’s improbable 2004 title run as an unseeded player, it is Stan Wawrinka’s 2015 crown that stands as the lowest seed to win in the past 12 years. The Swiss was seeded 8th when he stunned Novak Djokovic. Outside of that win, it’s been a top four seed who has hoisted the hardware in 11 of the past 12 stops at Roland Garros.
Grand Slam Semifinals Becoming Double Digit Paradise
So while the winner of the French Open may not come outside of the top eight seeds, seeing double digit semifinalists has become a bit of a trend. In each of the last three years, a double digit seed has surprised his way into the semifinals at Roland Garros. Last year, it was Dominic Thiem making his first Grand Slam semi as the 13th seed. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga made it to the semis in 2015 as the 14th seed. The unlikely trend setter in 2014 was 19th seeded Ernests Gulbis, who you can’t find with a map and compass these days. Overall, seven double digit seeds and one unseeded player have made it to the semifinals at Roland Garros since 2008. Tomas Berdych and Jurgen Melzer did the double in 2010 as double digit seeds, with Robin Soderling and Fernando Gonzalez doing the same in 2009.
This trend has not been exclusive to the French Open either with more and more double digit seeds breaking rank and bullying their way into Grand Slam semis. Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov did that in Melbourne to start 2017 at the Australian Open. Gael Monfils did it last fall as the 10th seed at the U.S. Open and Tomas Berdych was also the 10th seed at Wimbledon in 2016 when he crashed the semifinals. If you go back to last year’s Australian Open when Milos Raonic made it as the 13th seed, we’ve now seen six straight Slams with at least one double digit seed in the semifinals.
So while there may not be monumental upsets happening each year towards the business end of Slams, there are surprises that spring up outside of the “expected” names.
Seed History: 2010-2016
In scoping out the seeded landscape since 2010, you can see the lack of unseeded participants in the latter stages in Paris. Last year marked the first time 2011 that an unseeded player made it as far as the quarterfinals. That feat belonged to Albert Ramos-Vinolas. It was Juan-Ignacio Chela and Fabio Fognini who were the last unseeded quarterfinalists (2011) before ARV. That is still just three unseeded players in the quarterfinals however out of the last 56.
Unseeded players just have not made much noise at Roland Garros in the past decade. It’s been nine years now since 2008’s great surprise, when home boy Gael Monfils electrified the crowd with a run to the semis as an unseeded player. Since 2000, only four other players have advanced to the semis with Monfils being the last one to get that far.
Early Bird Specials
One thing that has remained consistent at the French Open is seeded upsets. In 2016, six seeds lost their openers. That continued a trend with at least five seeds dropping their opening match each year since 2010. Marin Cilic’s first round exit as the 10th seed was the fourth time in the last six years that a top ten seed has fallen victim to the early bird upset. We won’t know the seeded field’s draw for a few more days, but you can look at the top ten right now and fathom that this trend might not be bucked in 2017 depending on the match-ups. There are a lot of players with somewhat shaky confidence among those high seeds that will line up in round one with larger targets on their backs. More on that later in the week when the main draw is released.
In this edition of Outsider’s Edge, first of all – hey yo. Secondly, let’s concentrate on qualifiers and wild cards. The Pig isn’t going loco here to scout out longshots from this pool of players, I’m simply gonna lay down the low down on how qualifiers and wild cards do in round one in Paris.
2016 saw qualifiers go 4-12 in round one, a slight improvement from three wins in 2015. It marked the fourth straight year that four or less qualifiers won their openers. A qualifier did however score the scalp of the first round with Marco Trungeletti stunning (10) Marin Cilic in four sets. Two other qualifiers took seeds to a fifth set in the first round with Radek Stepanek doing that trick against Andy Murray. So despite just four wins overall, qualifiers definitely had the scare factor going against seeds in 2016. Since 2010, qualifiers have had some decent early results with nine wins in round one in 2011 as the high water mark. Getting match play on this surface can be a big boost going into the opening round, especially if qualifiers are paired against a player in dismal form.
Eight spots in the main draw go to wild cards each year. As per the norm, the majority of those slots are again going to French players in 2017. Veteran Julien Benneteau leads the charge along with countrymen Benjamin Bonzi, Mathias Borgue, Quentin Halys, Laurent Lokoli and Alexandre Muller. Joining the six member French contingent are American wild card Tennys Sandgren and Aussie Alex de Minaur.
2016 was a solid year by the wild cards as they went 5-2 with several French players winning. That included Stephane Robert crafting an upset of 18th seeded Kevin Anderson. The five wins last year was the most by the wild card group since four wins in 2010. It also reversed a trend in 2014 and 2015 where wild cards had gone just 3-13. Of this year’s crop, watch out for Bourgue and Halys who both won as wild cards last year. Sandgren could also be a fly-in-the-ointment depending on the match-up. He won a clay Challenger event this Spring and also made the final of another.
Plenty more preview material to come this weekend. Look for the men’s draw preview this weekend, where I’ll dissect all four quarters to the best of my bacon. Follow @tennispig all through the French Open and holla at your pig when you dig anything I do. Feedback makes me oink.