ATP Finalists in Qualifying Draws

Earlier this week, twitterer Double_Faute noted that 13 former ATP finalists were among the 128 men in the Australian Open qualifying draw.  Since the term “finalist” evokes names like James Blake and Tommy Haas, that sounds like quite the minefield for other qualifiers to navigate.

As it turns out, though, 13 is exactly what we should expect.  Since 2007, the average qualifying draw at a Grand Slam event has included 13.4 former finalists.  Of course, Blake and Haas aren’t typical.  The usual finalist-turned-qualifier is more likely to have a record like that of Jerome Haehnel or Wayne Odesnik.

If you missed Odesnik’s crazy week at the 2009 US Clay Courts, I don’t blame you.  The discovery here isn’t that qualifying draws are so strong, its that so many players have reached an ATP final at some point along the way.  The top four may have a stranglehold on the game’s highest honors, but like spots in the rest of the top ten, finalists at ATP berths seem awfully easy to come by.

Some records

There were plenty of former champions (or finalists, anyway) who hit hard times in the spring and summer of 2007.  The ’07 Wimbledon qualifying draw featured 19 former ATP finalists, while qualies at Roland Garros included 23.  To give you a flavor of what that meant for the week of qualifying matches, here’s the complete list of former finalists in that draw:

Davide Sanguinetti, Albert Portas, Bohdan Ulihrach, Adrian Voinea, Ivo Minar, Gilles Muller, Ricardo Mello, Rainer Schuettler, Santiago Ventura, Ramon Delgado, Alex Calatrava, Andrei Pavel, Wesley Moodie, Harel Levy, Wayne Arthurs, Fernando Vicente, Christophe Rochus, Younes El Aynaoui, Jerome Haehnel, Mariano Zabaleta, Michel Kratochvil, George Bastl, Kenneth Carlsen

Yep, I had forgotten about most of those guys, too.

Of the last 24 slams–my records of qualie draws only go back to 2007–every one has had at least 7 former finalists in qualifying.  All but five have had at least 10.  The large numbers in 2007 may have been due in part to the wider array of ATP events in 1998 and before, but by 1999, the number of ATP events had dwindled to 71, just six more than in 2012.  So the effect is likely minimal, and we might find more former finalists in slam qualifying draws if we were able to look another 10 years back.

Anyway, in the time span we do have to work with, the number of former finalists in slam qualie draws isn’t going down.  Last year, those draws at Wimbledon and the French both had 16 former finalists.

The next wave

A question that qualifying-watchers might find more interesting is, how many men in these draws go on to reach ATP finals?  We’d all like to catch the next del Potro or Raonic on court 14, so how many future finalists are there?

The 2007 French continues to impress and amaze, with 22 men in the qualifying draw who went on to play in an ATP final.  There were certainly some guys worth watching that week in Paris:

Horacio Zeballos, Sergiy Stakhovsky, Pablo Andujar, Jeremy Chardy, Robin Haase, Lukasz Kubot, Mischa Zverev, Rajeev Ram, Michael Berrer, Martin Klizan, Frederico Gil, Frank Dancevic, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Lukas Lacko, Viktor Troicki, Marcel Granollers, Dudi Sela, Wayne Odesnik, Fabio Fognini, Raemon Sluiter, Marin Cilic, Santiago Giraldo

(Yes, Zverev reached a final–after qualifying for the Metz event in 2010.  This post has taken an unusually long time to research and write because of the number of times I’ve felt the need to check.  I’m looking at you, Federico Gil.)

The 2007 Australian Open qualifying draw also featured 22 future finalists, and US Open qualies that year included 21.  Of course, many of those names overlap.

Here’s where the six years of data holds us back–I have no idea whether 22 is a historically high number.  Perhaps it’s typical once players’ careers have run their course.  Glancing at the full list of the 2007 Roland Garros qualifying draw, it does appear that we’ve seen all the finalists we’ll see, but of course the same doesn’t apply to qualies from 2009 or 2010.

Remarkably, though, we’ve already had two finalists from the 2012 US Open qualifying draw: Grega Zemlja and Roberto Bautista Agut.

Keep all of this in mind when you next watch a qualifying match.  The tennis might be messy and the players you’re watching may never be famous, but in a few years, you may see them again in the finals of your neighborhood ATP 250.