Bernard Tomic has played just one tour-level match this year, falling as low as No. 243 in the ATP Rankings. But that did not stop the Australian in Roland Garros qualifying.
The former World No. 17 defeated Goncalo Oliveira 7-6(5), 7-5 on Friday to advance to the main draw in Paris for the eighth consecutive year. The 25-year-old, a three-time ATP World Tour titlist, did not drop a set throughout qualifying, advancing with the loss of just 3.5 games per set on average. Tomic’s qualification sets the stage for an interesting first-round matchup against compatriot Nick Kyrgios. It will be the first FedEx ATP Head2Head series meeting between the two talented Aussies.
Another former Top 20 player, 2014 Roland Garros semi-finalist Ernests Gulbis, also moved on. The Latvian will compete in the main draw for the 12th straight year after ousting Alessandro Giannessi 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
This will be Gulbis’ 40th appearance in a Grand Slam main draw. The former World No. 10 seeks his first tour-level victory since the 2017 US Open, where he beat Giannessi in the first round before falling against eventual finalist Kevin Anderson. He will face No. 29 seed Gilles Muller in their second FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting. Luxembourg’s star won their first encounter at the 2011 US Open.
Three #NextGenATP stars also advanced on Friday, with Norwegian Casper Ruud joining Spaniards Jaume Munar and Carlos Taberner in what will be the first Roland Garros main draw for all three players.
Rounding out the qualifiers on the terre battue are Guido Andreozzi, Thomaz Bellucci, Rogerio Dutra Silva, Santiago Giraldo, Martin Klizan, Jozef Kovalik and Elias Ymer.
The Grand Slams provide a unique challenge for the ATP World Tour’s stars, as players compete in a best-of-five set format. And judging by historical success, one superstar has risen to that challenge exceedingly well, which may prove important during the Roland Garros fortnight.
Novak Djokovic is second among active players in both fifth-set win-rate (75.7%) and five-set victories (28-9) according to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone — the only other player in the Top 5 of both categories is Feliciano Lopez (68.6%, 24-11). Only Roger Federer, 30-20, has won more five-setters than Djokovic.
Most Five-Set Wins Among Active Players
In recent years, the former World No. 1 has been especially dominant when matches at the majors have gone the distance. Dating back to 2010 Wimbledon, the Serbian has won 19 of 23 five-setters, with 10 of those victories coming against opponents inside the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings. Just one of his previous nine five-set triumphs came against a Top 10 opponent.
So maybe, as Djokovic continues his recovery from a right elbow injury, he will be able to lean on the confidence he has gained from battling through tough matches at Grand Slams to climb back toward the top of the ATP Rankings, in which he currently sits at No. 22. Djokovic’s most recent five-setter was in Paris last year against Diego Schwartzman. Afterward, he explained the key to his victory.
“I was mentally still strong and as calm as I could be, even though I was two sets to one down,” Djokovic said. “I kept believing I could break his resistance.”
Best Fifth-Set Win-Rates Among Active Players
Djokovic has not been the only one to say that. Spaniard Tommy Robredo, who leads active players with a 77.3 per cent win-rate (17-5), agrees.
“You need to be very strong physically and I think one of my qualities is that physically I’m very good. Then mentally, you have to believe,” Robredo told ATPWorldTour.com. “I think that's because I’m strong physically, I can believe that I can do it a little bit better than others. Obviously there’s a bit of good luck, which helps. But when you’re 17-5, I think it’s more about the mental and physical [aspects].”
While Robredo did not qualify for Roland Garros this year, the terre battue is home of perhaps his most impressive streak. In 2013, he won back-to-back-to-back five-set matches from two sets down in the second round, third round and Round of 16 to reach the quarter-finals in Paris for the fifth time. He has won seven matches in his career from two sets down, which left him no room for error.
“To come back from two sets down, it’s important to be mentally strong, to believe that you still can. And then you have to see yourself as strong after winning the third set because you need to win two more,” Robredo said. “When you come back from two sets down to 2-1 down, the other player has to start thinking and then if you’re physically good, you have a chance.”
Besides Robredo and Djokovic, only two other active players have won more than 70 per cent of their five-setters — Kei Nishikori (72.7%, 16-6) and Tomas Berdych (72.4%, 21-8). Rounding out the Top 5 is Feliciano Lopez, who holds a 24-11 record (68.6%).
And if the stats showing Djokovic's prowess in these categories are not enough, World No. 1 Rafael Nadal shared his thoughts about the longer format at Grand Slams after defeating Alexander Zverev to claim his eighth Internazionali BNL d’Italia title last weekend.
“Tennis is tennis. It doesn't matter best of three, best of five,” Nadal said. “[But] playing best of five is a big advantage for the best players.”
Could that be a key for Djokovic in the French capital?
Rafael Nadal has been tested — by his body, as well as his opponents this year — in pressure situations and he arrives at Roland Garros full of confidence and seeking his 11th trophy at the clay-court major.
In spite of an outstanding 79-2 record on Parisian red dirt, the World No. 1 cannot define what makes May in the French capital so pleasing. “I’m not sure what it is about Roland Garros that brings out the best in me; but playing on clay, where I've had so much success, and also having to play best-of-five matches, all of that makes a difference."
Set to face Alexandr Dolgopolov in the first round, the 31-year-old feel’s he's physically in a good place, but is well aware he'll need to be better than good if he's to win his 17th Grand Slam championship trophy.
"I'm feeling good,” said Nadal, who had suffered from a right hip injury earlier in the year. “Of course, after a very tough start to the season with two injuries, I've managed to come back and play very well. I’ve played a lot of matches this season and have had good success. Every tournament is different, and here in Paris we're trying to get in some solid practices so that I'm fit and ready for my first match. I want to be as competitive as I can be from the start."[ALSO LIKE]
The Spanish superstar has dominated the spring European clay swing, winning 11th titles at both the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters (d. Nishikori) and the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell (d. Tsitsipas), in addition to his 32nd ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown — and eighth — Internazionali BNL d’Italia last week (d. A. Zverev). With a 23-2 mark this year, he has compiled a 19-1 record on red dirt.
But it was his Madrid quarter-final loss to Dominic Thiem, on 11 May, which snapped 21-match and 50 consecutive sets winning streaks on clay courts, in addition to battling wins over Fabio Fognini, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev at the Foro Italico in Rome, which have tested the mettle of the World No. 1.
"Everyone knows Madrid is the most difficult clay court event of the season," Nadal explained. "Because of the high altitude, the balls tend to fly. I lost. After that, it was important for me to stay strong mentally and to focus on Rome.
"I think I played a good tournament in Rome, winning some important matches, and at the same time pushing through tough situations — situations that I didn't have to endure at events leading up to this. I’ve had plenty of high-pressure moments, and I came back from a set down against Fognini. Then, I played a very tough first set against Novak in the semi-finals. The final had a little bit of everything. These situations help to keep me going and help me stay confident. It's tennis; it's normal to find yourself in difficult spots like I did [in Rome]."
After a one-week hiatus, following his loss in Madrid, Nadal is back at No. 1 in the ATP Rankings and looking forward to creating more history in Paris.
Alexander Zverev may have won two titles and compiled a 14-match winning streak during the clay swing, to rank as one of the hottest talents on red dirt this year, but he isn’t leaving anything to chance on his third appearance at Roland Garros.
The German entered the clay-court major last year on the back of winning the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown, but lost in the first round to Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.
“I've played good tennis in the clay-court season so far, and I know that I'm able to do so hopefully here, as well,” said Zverev, in Paris, on Friday. “But, I just want to go match by match and see how the tournament goes and we'll see who will play his best tennis here.
“I'm not trying to think ahead. I have done that before in Grand Slams, and I lost early. I'm going to try to avoid that. I'm going to try to prepare myself the best I can and play the best tennis I can. The rest will take care of itself.”
Zverev, who will play Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis in the first round next week, features in the bottom quarter that includes 2015 titlist Stan Wawrinka, two-time semi-finalist Dominic Thiem and Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters runner-up Kei Nishikori.[ALSO LIKE]
“If I lose to somebody that plays better than me on that day, and I have done everything right and I have played great tennis during the day and I lost, that's okay, as well, because it happens. Sometimes other players are better than you.
"But I know that right now it's more about preparing yourself for the long match, preparing yourself for the best tennis that you might play here.”
In his 11 previous Grand Slam championship appearances, Zverev has only reached the fourth round once at Wimbledon in 2017.
“This is a long tournament with a lot of hard matches,” said Zverev, the second seed. “I'm not trying to think that I'm going to play Rafa in the final. That's not how I'm thinking. I'm thinking about every single match. I'm thinking about how to beat Berankis in the first round. That's my thought process right now.”
The 21-year-old Zverev has put together an ATP World Tour-high 30 match wins this year (30-8), which includes two titles from four finals. He’s won 16 of his past 18 matches, including back-to-back triumphs at the BMW Open by FWU (d. Kohlschreiber) and the Mutua Madrid Open (d. Thiem).
“It's obviously been a fantastic clay court season for me,” said Zverev on Friday. “Winning so many matches in a row, as well, over a period of Munich, Madrid, and Rome (l. to Nadal), was great coming in here.
“Obviously, there is a lot of other great players playing here, Rafa, Novak, and everybody. They are all getting on top of their game. I think this is going to be a very interesting tournament.”
Michael Stich remains the only German in the Open Era (since April 1968) to have reached the Roland Garros final. Stich was beaten by former World No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the 1996 title match.
The preparation is now over. After three clay-court ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events, two 500-level tournaments on the surface and 11 ATP World Tour 250 events, the ATP World Tour is ready to take on Roland Garros. There is a lot on the line on the Parisian terre battue, with a massive 2,000 ATP Rankings and ATP Doubles Rankings points available for the winners. From former champions to the rapidly rising #NextGenATP, tennis fans are in for a treat as the fortnight is set to begin.
1) Undécima: Rafael Nadal eyes a historic 11th championship at Roland Garros, where he could tie Margaret Court at the Australian Open for the most titles won by a man or woman at a Grand Slam event. Nadal is 79-2 at Roland Garros and 104-2 in best-of-five-set matches on clay. Outside of the World No. 1’s two losses, only John Isner (2011) and Novak Djokovic (2013) have pushed Nadal to five sets in Paris before losing.
2) Rafa In Form: Nadal, who turns 32 on 3 June, is 19-1 on clay this season with his 11th Monte-Carlo, 11th Barcelona and eighth Rome titles. He must win his 11th Roland Garros title to remain No. 1 in the ATP Rankings. Otherwise, Roger Federer will resume as World No. 1 on 11 June. From last year’s event on the terre battue until this year’s Rome quarter-finals, Nadal won 50 consecutive sets on clay, a record for most sets won in a row on a single surface.
3) Sensational Sascha: World No. 3 Alexander Zverev has reached five of the past 10 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 finals, winning three titles. Could this be the moment for the 21-year-old German to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final? Zverev leads the ATP World Tour with 30 wins this season. He is also No. 1 in the ATP Race to London, ahead of Federer by 25 points and Nadal by 95 points entering Roland Garros.
4) Party Of Two: There have been 16 World No. 3s since 25 July 2005, while only Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Andy Murray have been in the Top 2. Zverev can become No. 2 if he wins the title and Nadal does not reach the final or if he advances to the final and Nadal loses in the first round.
5) Rare Company: Djokovic is one of two men to defeat Nadal at Roland Garros, joining Robin Soderling by beating the Spaniard 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 in the 2015 quarter-finals. Now 7-16 in his FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry against Nadal on clay, Djokovic is the only player with at least four clay-court wins against the 10-time champion.
6) Dominant Thiem: World No. 8 Dominic Thiem earned his third FedEx ATP Head2Head clay-court victory over Nadal on 11 May in Madrid, snapping the Spaniard’s 21-match and 50-set win streaks on the surface. Thiem has reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros in the past two seasons.
7) Stan The Man: Who has the most wins at Roland Garros since 2015? Not Nadal. Not Djokovic. Stan Wawrinka, that’s who. The Swiss is 18-2 on the Parisian clay over the last three years, winning the title in 2015, reaching the semi-finals in 2016 and advancing to the final in 2017.
8) Delpo Rising: Few players have impressed as much early on in 2018 as Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentine won 22 of his first 26 matches to start the year, claiming his maiden ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title at the BNP Paribas Open, ending Federer’s 17-match winning streak streak in the final.
9) #NextGenATP Watch:The Top 5 players in the ATP Race to Milan will be in action, including Frances Tiafoe, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Denis Shapovalov. Tiafoe won his first ATP World Tour title at Delray Beach, Tsitsipas reached his maiden tour-level final at Barcelona, and Shapovalov is the new No. 1 Canadian in the ATP Rankings.
10) Super Streaks: Feliciano Lopez will play his 65th consecutive Grand Slam main draw at Roland Garros, tying Federer for the all-time singles record. Mike Bryan is appearing at his 77th straight major in doubles, but first without his injured twin brother, Bob Bryan. Sam Querrey will team with Mike and try to help the 40-year-old become the oldest World No. 1 in ATP Doubles Rankings history.