The Luck of the (2012 French Open) Draw

Without a single player setting foot on a match court, many players have already seen their chances of winning the French Open change quite a bit.

A Grand Slam draw can give, and it can take away.  Novak Djokovic is set to player Roger Federer in the semifinals (again), while Rafael Nadal won’t have to play either until the final.  Potito Starace will have to beat Novak Djokovic in order to reach the second round, while many of his unseeded fellow players have only to defeat a qualifier.  Life isn’t fair.

At every stage of the draw, there are winners and losers.  As I did last year, we can quantify the impact of the draw by comparing each player’s probability of reaching each round before and after the draw was set.  For instance, before the draw was set, Starace had a 66% chance of facing another unseeded player and a decent chance of reaching the second or third round.  Now that the draw was set, he might as well book his flight home.

To measure the impact, I used expected prize money, which wraps up in one number the probability that a player reaches each round.  For instance, Roger Federer was expected to win 329,000 euros before the draw was set; even with the unfortunate semifinal pairing, he’s still on track for roughly 329,000 euros.  Nadal saw a 3% improvement in expected prize money, largely because Fed and Djok are elsewhere, while Djokovic’s number stayed the same.  Yes, Fed in the semis is a rough draw, but Novak gets the benefit of a relatively easy path to the semis, with men like Jurgen Melzer and Fernando Verdasco standing in his way.

The Winners

Of the seeded players, the biggest winner of the draw was John Isner.  (This is a case where life might be fair–this is the guy who drew Nadal in last year’s first round.)  Isner’s expected prize money increased from 71,400 to 92,200, nearly a 30% jump.  Until he faces David Ferrer in the round of 16, there’s little standing in his way–and even Ferrer pales in comparison to some of the other top eight players who Isner could have drawn.

The other big winner is Richard Gasquet, whose expected prize money increased from 102,600 to 125,700.  While he is seeded outside of the top 16, his probable third-round opponent is the #16 seed Alexander Dolgopolov.  Numerically, anyway, you can’t get any luckier than that.

Taking into account the entire draw, no one got luckier than Alex Bogomolov Jr, whose expected takings rose from 26,600 to 36,000.  Bogie isn’t expected to get far, but he’ll face Arnaud Clement, then probably Radek Stepanek and Feliciano Lopez.  As Starace can tell you, it could be much worse.

The Losers

It’s a bad year for Italians at the French.  Among the top four worst draws–all players who lost about one-quarter of their expected prize money this morning–not only Starace but also Simone Bolelli are included.  After all, Bolelli drew Nadal!

The toughest luck among seeds fell to Viktor Troicki (loser of 26% of his expected prize money) and Gilles Simon (loser of 18%).  Both players are in Djokovic’s quarter, putting an effective end to any title hopes they may have … if they even make it that far.  Troicki drew one of the toughest clay-courters from the unseeded pool, Thomaz Bellucci, and if he gets to the second round, would play Adrian Mannarino or Fabio Fognini.  After that? Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

In actuality, Simon might have the toughest road.  His possible second-rounder is Brian Baker, the man who has taken Nice by storm.  My rankings don’t give Baker much credit yet–after all, he only has a recent few pro matches under his belt under Nice goes on the books–so it’s likely that he is more dangerous than my numbers give him credit for.  Simon’s already unfortunate French Open draw is worse than it looks.