Will Freshness be a Factor at the French Open?

In reaching the quarterfinal at the 2018 French Open, Alexander Zverev not only has earned the best Grand Slam result of his career, he also joins a short list of 4 men in the Open Era who have played 3 or more five-set matches on their way to the Roland Garros quarterfinals. Is Zverev’s gruelling journey to the second week most likely to hurt or help his chances for the title?

Getting to the second week of the French Open is notoriously a grind. But this year, Alexander Zverev has taken the typical wear of the red dirt in Paris to a new level.

Only 21 men in Open Era history have played 3 or more five-set matches thru R16. The most recent on that list were Tommy Robredo and Gilles Simon who both racked up multiple five-setters back in 2013. Only 4 of these 21, however including Robredo, managed to advance to the 5th round. Now, Alexander Zverev makes that 5.

In terms of actual match time, Zverev has played a total of 718 minutes (just shy of 12 hours) on court this year at Roland Garros. When we compare that to the average match time thru the first four rounds of past (starting from 19961) winners, finalists, semifinalists, and quarterfinalists, we find that it is well above the norm by nearly 3 hours. It is also higher than total match time for 90% of past quarterfinalists or better.

Zverev will not only be heading into his quarterfinal match against Dominic Thiem having played more than 174 minutes than his opponent; he will have one of the highest levels of match load than most quarterfinalists have experienced at the French Open in the past 25 years.

Given these numbers, we will all be wondering how it is going to impact Zverev’s prospects for the title.

Since the mid-1990s, Alexander Zverev takes the 10th place of players who have spent the most time on court in the first four rounds of the event among players who reached the French Open quarterfinals. Albert Ramos was the second most recent player who lands in the top 10 most played, who ended his journey in 2016 with a quarterfinal loss to Stan Wawrinka.

In fact, 6 of the 9 in this list (the 9 before Zverev), lost in the quarterfinal. If all outcomes were equally possible for these players, you would expect 4 or 5 quarterfinal results.

Only one player who had to really grind thru the first week went on to win the title, that was Rafael Nadal in 2006. Interestingly, both Nadal and another top 10 grinder—Juan Martin Del Potro— are still in the draw. That fact and the heavy number of quarterfinalists among the players with the highest match loads suggests Zverev’s uphill battle toward to the title is most likely nearing its end.

  1. Match time from public tennis sites is only complete beginning in the mid-90s ↩︎