We are a day away from the first round of the 2018 French Open. Who are tennis fans most likely to see in the final stages of the event? And who among the top contenders were favoured by this year’s draw?
When the Roland Garros main draw kicks off this weekend, all eyes will be on Rafael Nadal. Many are saying that an incredible 11th title for the Spaniard is a foregone conclusion.
How much of a Goliath is Nadal heading into Paris?
Based on clay- and injury-adjusted Elo ratings, Nadal is the strong favourite for the title. His prediction of 38%, more than twice as likely as the 2nd most favoured player. Still 38% is by no means a sure thing and leaves room open for a new slam title winner, like Alexander Zverev (my 2nd pick) or David Goffin, to emerge (especially if the injury rumours surrounding Juan Martin Del Potro turn out to be true).
This chart focuses on the top pick in each quarter. Dominic Thiem, the only player to defeat Nadal on clay in 2018 so far, is actually the 4th pick overall with a 7% chance for the title. By landing in Zverev’s quarter, he ends up just slightly behind the top pick for that quarter.
Both Thiem and Zverev got some luck of the draw, the prospect of facing each other in the quarterfinal being their main barrier to advancing to the semifinal. Nadal’s quarter, which includes Kevin Anderson, Diego Schwartzman, and young gun Denis Shapovalov, is actually the one found to be the most challenge as it would have the biggest negative impact on the top player in each quarters chance at the semi.
Still, no quarter is more than a few percentage points different from any other in terms of difficulty. So we should consider that draws to be fairly balanced on the men’s side this year.
As has been characteristic of 2018, the women’s draw is bound to give us some of the most competitive matches of the event. Elina Svitolina and Simona Halep are the two top picks for the title with chances that are nearly even. And just percentage points behind are Caroline Wozniacki and Karolina Pliskova.
Defending champion and surprise winner last year, Jelena Ostapenko, is still an outside favourite this year, with just a 1% prediction of a repeat win.
With no single competitor having more than a 17% chance for the title, we can expect a real fight in the final week in Paris.
With such narrow margins separating the top picks in each quarter, the luck of the draw becomes an even bigger factor than for the men. Looking at the impact of each quarter’s contenders on the chances of the top 4 picks, we do find that Svitolina in fact got a substantial boost in her chances owing to landing Q3, which is associated with an average boost of 3 percentage points in progressing to the semifinal.
Wozniacki fared the worse by getting Q4. This quarter is expected to hurt her chances by nearly 5 percentage points, far worse than Nadal’s ‘tough’ draw. Those odds are mostly due to that fact that two top 10 picks for the title—Petra Kvitova and Darya Kasatkina—could both be on Wozniacki’s path to the semifinal.
Much of the talk this week has been on the unseeding of Serena Williams. Many might expect Karolina Pliskova’s draw to have been the worst as that is where the unseeded champion ended up. But, with Serena’s absences and smattering of lacklustre performances in 2018, she is actually only 22nd among the women competitors according to Elo ratings. So, while it would be a thrill to see a Williams vs Pliskova R16, the prospects of that aren’t great.
While no single result is a certainty, we can be certain that the two weeks ahead will be full of exciting tennis.