As tennis prepares for the second slam of the season, we look at the players who have raised their game the most in the past year.
Confidence is one of those intangibles that is often pointed to as a key to success at a Major. Though we won’t be able to know exactly what level of confidence each player is feeling when they step onto the dirt in Paris in the coming days, we can look at who has the most reason to have a new sense of confidence based on the level of their improvement since the 2017 French Open.
Among the men’s seeds, there are 9 players who have had a change of 100 points or more in their clay-adjusted Elo Rating from the start of the 2017 French Open to now. Five of those changes have been in the negative direction. Most notable and most obvious among them are the declines of Novak Djokovic, Kei Nishikori; Djokovic losing a remarkable 325 points and Nishikori and Wawrinka each losing close between 150 and 200.
While both Nishikori and Djokovic revived some hopes with their quarterfinal and semifinal results in Rome, their is still a far way for both to go to return fan expectations to where they were in 2017.
The story on the men’s side isn’t all negative though. There have been some major moves by several of the French Open seeds heading into Roland Garros. In fact, the biggest change of all goes to Canadian phenom Denis Shapovalov, who has raised his level by 441 points in just a year. Just to give that improvement some perspective, that is roughly equivalent to gaining 40 percentage points in his match win chances.
If any one deserves a momentum effect, it should go to El Shapo.
Other notable movers up include another young star, Andrey Rublev, the new British hope Kyle Edmund, and Serbian Filip Krajinovic. Krajinovic in particular may need to gain strength from those numbers, having been out of competition since Miami.
On the women’s side, looking among all of the seeds with the inclusion of Serena Williams, the story is generally a much rosier one than on the men’s side. There are 8 women who have had a change of 100 points or more in the clay-weighted Elo ratings, and 5 of those have been toward to the good.
The most improved heading into the Roland Garros first round is Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu, based in part on her recent impressive runs in Prague and Strasbourg. Buzarnescu stand out performance in the past year is made especially interesting this year as she takes the 31 seed and was just on the cusp of a possible lost seed had a place among the seeds gone to Serena Williams.
The other four women who have made impressive gains in the past year include Next Gen players Anett Kontaveit and Elise Mertens, as well as Caroline Garcia and Maria Sharapova. Garcia and Sharapova are especially interesting as they not only could take to the dirt with a new sense of confidence but they are also among the top 15 most likely contenders for the title.
Only two of the official seeds, Kristina Mladenovic and Johanna Konta, have had an overall decline in the past year. Konta has never advanced beyond the first round of the French Open and she will need to shake off a less than perfect past 12 months to change that stat in the coming weeks.
Although most of the attention in this post has been on the French Open seeds, an exception has to be made for Serena Williams. Many felt that the choice to deny Serena Williams a seed was a poor reflection of her actual chances in the draw. However, the reality is that Williams' time away and her humdrum attempts at a return have resulted in a sharp decline in her expected ability.
Williams will head into Paris on a 52-week 323 point decline. That trend, weeks without match play, and the media scrutiny that the 23 slam holder will be under, will make for an especially challenging event. But if anyone can turn extreme adversity into victory, it’s Serena: a force no one should entirely count out of pulling off another title run on clay.