With three ATP tour-level events on the slate this week, Benoit Paire considered his options and elected to play none of them. Instead, the world #23 is the top seed at the Brest Challenger, making him the highest ranked player to enter a challenger this year–by a wide margin.
Top-50 players may only enter challengers if they are given a wild card, and top-ten players may not enter them at all. Still, since 1990, a top-50 player has played a challenger just over 500 times, at a rate of about 20 per year. (Some of these players didn’t need a wild card, as entry is determined by ranking several weeks before the tournament, during which time rankings rise and fall.)
Many of the high-ranked wild cards fall into one of two categories: Players who lose early in Slams, Indian Wells, or Miami; and clay-court specialists seeking more matches on dirt. Paire’s decision this week–like the Frenchman himself–doesn’t follow one of these common patterns.
Anyway, here are the top-ranked players to contest challengers since 1990, along with their results. A result of “W” means that the player won the title, while any other result indicates the round in which the player lost.
Year Event Player Rank Result 2003 Braunschweig Rainer Schuettler 8 R16 1991 Johannesburg Petr Korda 9 SF 1994 Barcelona Alberto Berasategui 10 W 1994 Graz Alberto Berasategui 11 R16 2008 Sunrise Fernando Gonzalez 12 QF 2004 Luxembourg Joachim Johansson 12 W 2011 Prostejov Mikhail Youzhny 13 QF 2008 Prostejov Tomas Berdych 13 QF 2003 Prague Sjeng Schalken 13 W 2005 Zagreb Ivan Ljubicic 14 W 2004 Bratislava Dominik Hrbaty 14 F 2004 Prostejov Jiri Novak 14 QF 2003 Prostejov Jiri Novak 14 R32 2007 Dnepropetrovsk Guillermo Canas 15 SF 2002 Prostejov Jiri Novak 15 F 1998 Segovia Alberto Berasategui 15 QF 1997 Braunschweig Felix Mantilla 15 F 1997 Zagreb Alberto Berasategui 15 W
(Schuettler and Korda were outside the top ten a couple of weeks before their respective challengers.)
A look at this list suggests that Alberto Berasategui entered challengers as a top-fifty player more than anyone else. He’s close–with 12 such entries, he’s tied for second with Jordi Arrese. The player who dropped down a level the most times is Dominik Hrbaty, who played 17 challengers while ranked in the top 50. (The active leaders are Jarkko Nieminen with ten and Andreas Seppi with nine.)
Despite all those attempts, Hrbaty wasn’t particularly successful as a high-ranked challenger player. He won only 2 of those 17 events, reaching only one other final. Top-50 players aren’t guaranteed to win these titles, of course, but in general, they have outperformed Hrbaty, winning 18% of possible titles. Here are top-50 players’ results broken down by round:
Result Frequency Title 18.1% Loss in F 9.3% Loss in SF 11.3% Loss in QF 17.1% Loss in R16 22.0% Loss in R32 22.2%
Paire is a better player than this sample’s average ranking of 37. Combined with a favorable surface, he gets a much more optimistic forecast from my algorithm, with a slightly better than one-in-three chance of winning the title. With a futures title, an ATP trophy, and a pair of challenger triumphs already in the books this year, it seems fitting that Benoit would add another oddity to his wide-ranging season.