The Most Predictable Quarterfinals

This week in Paris, all eight quarterfinalists are among the top nine seeds, the most tightly packed final eight since the 2009 Canada Masters, which was the only Masters or Grand Slam event this century in which all of the top eight seeds reached the quarterfinals.

This quarterfinal lineup is a reminder that, even with the decline of Roger Federer and the temporary absence of Andy Murray, men’s tennis is a top-heavy game.  At the Masters and Grand Slam levels, there have been eight other events since 2000 where all eight quarterfinalists were drawn from the top fourteen seeds–and all eight have been in the last five years.  By contrast, there were only two events between 2000 and 2005 where each player in the final eight came from the top 25.

This year, the average Masters and Grand Slam event has featured 6.5 seeds in the quarterfinals.  That number has hovered between 6.5 and 7 since 2009.  From 2000 to 2009, however, it never topped 6.25.  In 2000 it was as low as 4.4; in 2003 the figure was 4.6.

The median seeds (or ATP rankings, for those players who were unseeded) tell a similar story.  This year, the median quarterfinalist rank at the average Masters or Slam was 7.8, indicating that typically, four of the final eight were seeded 7th or better.  That number didn’t fall below 9.0 between 2000 and 2009 and reached as high as 18.3 in 2003.

What triggered this research, though, wasn’t a desire to quantify the top-heaviness of the men’s game, but to look at whether certain tournaments lent themselves to this sort of late-round predictability.  Given this year’s lineup in Paris and the notable eight-for-eight showing four years ago in Canada, it seems a reasonable guess that, for whatever reason, these two events were particularly prone to a seed-laden final weekend.

They aren’t.  In fact, measured by the median quarterfinalist seeding since 2000, the Canada Masters event ranks as the least predictable among the current slate of Masters and Grand Slam events.  The defunct Hamburg Masters is the only event that compares.  Paris has not been so unpredictable, but it doesn’t rank in the top half of Slam and Masters events by this metric.  Despite the blue clay, the most predictable event has been the Madrid Masters in its years on clay.

Given that seedings are based on ATP rankings, which are in turn based on a season that is hard-court heavy, I’m surprised to find any clay events near the top of the list, even Roland Garros.  More in line with expectations are Monte Carlo, Rome, and most extreme of all, Hamburg.  Another surprise is Shanghai near the top of the list.  Conventional wisdom suggests that players don’t prioritize the Asian swing.

If there’s any rhyme or reason to why some of these tournaments are more likely to see predictable final eights, it is elusive.

Here is the full breakdown, sorted by median quarterfinalist seeding:

Event                 Surface  Yrs  SdQFs  AvgQF  MedQF  
Madrid Masters        Clay       5    6.6   13.1    6.7  
US Open               Hard      14    7.1   14.1    8.5  
Roland Garros         Clay      14    7.0   14.8    8.5  
Shanghai Masters      Hard       4    5.8   17.5    8.8  
Australian Open       Hard      14    6.7   14.6    9.8  
Madrid Masters        Hard       7    5.3   19.1   11.1  
Indian Wells Masters  Hard      14    6.1   20.1   11.3  
Miami Masters         Hard      14    6.8   17.1   11.5  
Paris Masters         Hard      14    5.9   16.9   11.8  
Cincinnati Masters    Hard      14    5.1   18.1   12.2  
Monte Carlo Masters   Clay      14    5.1   22.3   12.7  
Wimbledon             Grass     14    6.3   36.1   13.4  
Rome Masters          Clay      14    4.9   19.8   13.8  
Canada Masters        Hard      14    4.8   22.4   16.1  
Hamburg Masters       Clay       9    3.9   27.7   22.9