By David Arkow
With 120 singles matches completed on the men’s side of the draw, that provides a great opportunity to look back at some of the best matches so far as well as look forward to the exciting matchups to come in the final weekend. At the start of the tournament, we simulated the original draw to give all players a probability not only to win the whole tournament but also to reach a specific round. For example, at the start of the tournament, No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic had a 65% chance of reaching the quarterfinals given that he had to win four matches to get there. Now that Djokovic has reached the quarters, along with 7 other players, we can run a new simulation to give updated probabilities for each of the remaining players to advance. Obviously, all of their current probabilities to win the title will be greater than their original as there are only 8 players remaining (3 rounds) as opposed to the initial 128 players (7 rounds).
Model Check In
Now that more than half of the tournament is complete (and 95% of the total matches), we can reflect back at how successful the simulation was. Quantifying success does not mean that the favorite (>50% player) should win all the time. After all, it is sports and that never happens. Rather an accurate model would correctly predict those players with a 70% chance of winning to win 7 out of 10 times. It should be very accurate at picking heavy favorites and less accurate at picking closer matches to make sure it is calibrated correctly. Some overall trends from the tournament find that upsets (when one player has less than a 50% chance of winning) occurred 30% of the time in the first round, 22% of the time in the second round, 8% in the third round, and 0% in the fourth.
Having a draw with 128 players, there is pretty much guaranteed to be some big upsets. Using the initial simulation, we can quantify exactly how rare certain upsets are rather than just looking at the ranking differential between the players. After the first four rounds of the tournament, here are some of the most surprising upsets.
Thiem’s first round upset was probably the most shocking of the men's. He had an 86% chance of defeating Andujar and an 8% probability to win the whole tournament. This was definitely a surprising result as Thiem had faced Andujar three times prior in his career, all on clay, without dropping a set. It looked as if that streak would continue with Thiem going up two sets to none, but Andujar stormed back to take the next three, a rare feat in tennis especially over a Top 5 seed. Clay is also known for being Thiem’s best surface making at least the quarterfinals every year since 2016 (and two finals losses to Rafa in 2018 and 2019). Andujar on the other hand has only made the third round at Roland Garros once (2015) and hadn’t won a main draw match since until knocking off Thiem. Although many likely didn’t follow Andujar’s priors, he did upset Federer in three sets making a run to the semifinals at Geneva. For what it is worth, the simulation did have Thiem with a lower probability of winning the tournament (8%) than Alexander Zverev (13.5%) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (11%) despite being seeded higher than both of them.
Andrey Rublev was the only other single digit seed at No. 7 upset in the first round by Jan-Lennard Struff also in a tight five-setter. Rublev had actually defeated Struff two weeks earlier at the Italian Open but Struff made his deepest Slam run before losing to No. 10 seed Diego Schwartzman in the fourth round. 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti pulled off an impressive straight set victory over No. 13 seed David Goffin (Goffin’s third consecutive first round Slam exit despite being seeded in all of them) in his Grand Slam debut. Musetti made an impressive run to the fourth round, even taking the first two tiebreak sets against Djokovic before losing the next two 6-1, 6-0, and retiring 4-0 in the third.
While not an upset per se, another big tournament shake-up came when Roger Federer pulled out before his fourth round match against No. 9 seed Matteo Berrettini due to his ongoing knee problem. Federer made it clear that his priority is his long term health and making a run at Wimbledon. While tennis fans sadly did not get to see the potential quarterfinal matchup against Djokovic, they will be awaiting Federer’s return later this month at his hallmark tournament.
Predicting the Rest of Roland Garros
The seemingly most traditional quarterfinal matchup based on seeding seems to be No. 2 Daniil Medvedev vs. No. 5 Tsitsipas. Even though Tsitsipas is 1-6 in his career against Medvedev and lost their last matchup at the Australian Open semis, Tsitsipas is the 73% favorite. The model has been low on Medvedev (of which it gave only an initial 22% chance to reach the quarters) due to his clay court struggles having never won a match at Roland Garros before this year. But perhaps Medvedev can continue to prove the math wrong as he has only dropped one set so far. He has the second lowest probability of winning (1.2%) among the remaining eight players despite being the second highest seed.
While based on seed differential Medvedev vs. Tsitsipas seems to be the most competitive, the tightest match based on probability is actually Djokovic vs. Berrettini. Tennis fans didn’t get the Djoker vs. Fed quarterfinal they were hoping for, but Berrettini might prove to be a tougher opponent as Djokovic has a 66% of winning (compared to 79% if he had played Fed). Berrettini is a solid clay court player having won the Serbia Open and made the finals at Madrid. Djokovic also might be fatigued from his recent five-set match with another Italian Musetti.
A rematch of last year's semifinal between Nadal and Schwartzman might also prove to be an interesting matchup. While Nadal is the heavy favorite with a 78% chance of winning, Schwartzman has not dropped a set so far (neither has Nadal who has won 35 consecutive sets at the French). Similar to the outset of the tournament, Rafa still has the highest probability (31%) to take home his 14th Roland Garros and surpass Federer for most all-time Slams. While Djokovic will probably face Nadal in the semis, he’ll be hoping that Schwartzman can pull off a huge upset as if Nadal loses, Djoker’s probability of winning would jump from 19.5% to 29%. Schwartzman is 1-10 in his career against Rafa but he did win in 2020 on clay at Rome so maybe he could capture some of that magic again.
With the highest initial odds of winning the tournament behind Djokovic and Nadal, Zverev (13.5%) has been living up those expectations. Despite a testy first round bout with fellow German qualifier Oscar Otte in which he came back from two sets down, Zverev has not dropped a set. He has benefited from an easier draw as his opponent has had an average ranking of 122 and he has never had less than a 75% chance to win in any of his matches. Zverev’s luck will continue as he faces the only unseeded and lowest ranked player remaining - No. 46 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of which he has a 76% chance of victory and reaching the semis. Zverev will be guaranteed a tougher match in the semis if he is to advance facing either Medvedev (72% chance) or Tsitsipas (49% chance).
While the man with the longest name in the draw - Alejandro Davidovich Fokina - is likely to be ousted by Zverev, he has had the most improbable run with an original 10% chance of making the quarters. The Spaniard has actually benefited from the other players pulling off upsets against his potential higher seeded opponents as Fokina has been the favorite in three out of his four matches, but still pulled off one five set upset against No. 15 seed Casper Ruud. Nevertheless, he has the lowest title odds of the field at 1.6%.
Heading into the final week of the French Open, many of the men still have a solid shot at the title from traditional favorites like Rafa or Novak to younger players like Tsitsipas, Zverev, or Medvedev looking to capture their first career Slam. One thing is guaranteed and that is that history will be made whether it is Rafa passing Federer, Novak getting #19, or a symbolic passing of the guard to a new generation.
David Arkow '24 is an economics major and member of the Harvard Varsity Men's Tennis Team. He also serves on the board of HSAC. If you have any questions about this article, you can reach out to him @ firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out his original preview of the men's draw where he predicted the whole field. and final weekend preview for the women's side of the draw.