The French Open men’s semifinals get underway Friday and many fans are expecting the same thing–Rafael Nadal will extend his winning streak on clay against Novak Djokovic to six matches.
On the other side of the draw, however, two NextGen players are set to do battle and some may not feel so assured in making a prediction. Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev sit aside each other at #5 and #6 in the world rankings, respectively, and it’s Tsitsipas that’s fighting for his debut Slam final. The two players also each won one of the three clay Masters tournaments earlier this season. At first glance, many would expect the odds of the match to be around 50/50.
There are, however, a multitude of reasons why Tsitsipas should be considered the heavy favourite against Zverev.
Clay court record before the French Open
Comparing the clay court seasons of the two players prior to Roland Garros is quite telling.
- Tsitsipas’s clay record in 2021: 16 wins, 3 losses, two titles in Lyon and Monte Carlo (84% win rate).
- Zverev’s clay record in 2021: 9 wins, 3 losses, one title in Madrid (75% win rate).
The two players had both lost three matches on clay but Tsitsipas had notched seven more wins.
Unconvinced as Zverev has played one less tournament than Tsitsipas? Whilst Zverev’s victory in Madrid was an impressive feat, the tournament’s altitude makes the conditions similar to that of a hard court. It is therefore not particularly reflective of Zverev’s abilities on a slow clay court, similar to the conditions at the French Open.
If we look at Zverev’s results outside of Madrid, in more traditional clay court conditions, his record would have been 4-3 going into the French, equivalent to a 57% win rate.
Rankings of French Open Opponents
Form prior to a Slam doesn’t really matter so long as the players can perform well in the tournament, right?
Excluding a first-round blip from Zverev, both players have swept through their matches fairly unscathed. In terms of ranking, however, the quality of opponent has greatly differed.
- Tsitsipas’s French Open opponent rankings:
- 1st Round – Jeremy Chardy, #60
- 2nd Round – Pedro Martinez, #103
- 3rd Round – John Isner, #34
- 4th Round – Pablo Carreno Busta, #12
- Quarterfinal – Daniil Medvedev, #2
- Zverev’s French Open opponent rankings:
- 1st Round – Oscar Otte, #152
- 2nd Round – Roman Safiullin, #182
- 3rd Round – Laslo Djere, #55
- 4th Round – Kei Nishikori, #49
- Quarterfinal – Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, #46
Ranking may not be completely reflective of the quality of the opponent but there is such a large disparity in the routes of the two players, it is at least worth mentioning.
This equates to the average ranking of Tsitsipas’s opponents being #42 whilst Zverev’s was #97.
Record against Top 10 Players in Best of Five sets
You could argue the route of each player is inconsequential so long as they can step up their form against the best in the world, right?
Though Zverev has reached a Grand Slam final and Tsitsipas has not, their respective records against the best players in the world over best of five sets suggests Tsitsipas is slightly better equipped for the occasion than Zverev.
- Tsitsipas’s record against top 10 in a Bo5 sets match: 2 wins, 5 losses (29% win rate).
- Zverev’s record against top 10 in a Bo5 sets match: 0 wins, 11 losses (0% win rate).
Tsitsipas has won huge matches against Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open. Tsitsipas two losses at the French Open against top 10 players were against Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic – he took Thiem to four sets in his second year on tour and he took Djokovic to a deciding set in an enthralling match at last year’s French Open.
On the other hand, Zverev hasn’t won a single match against a top 10 player in a best of five sets format. His two losses to top 10 opponents at the French Open also came to both Thiem and Djokovic – both losses were within the last three years and both ended in a straight sets defeat.
Head to head
Finally, it may not be the most important factor but it is still wise to take their head to head into account.
The two players have played five times:
- Tsitsipas: 5 wins, 71% win rate.
- Zverev: 2 wins, 29% win rate.
Why isn’t the head to head the most important factor in this case? Not only have the two players never played at a Grand Slam, they have only met on clay once – Tsitsipas was victorious in Madrid on that occasion.
Bottom line? They have never met in a match with similar conditions or a similar format to the French Open.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to know Tsitsipas has been comfortable in his match-up against Zverev in the past.
Is Tsitsipas the Heavy Favourite?
The beauty of tennis is that there are absolutely no certainties. Stranger things have happened throughout the annuls of tennis history and stranger things are yet to come.
If you were a betting man or woman, however, the smart money is on Stefanos Tsitsipas playing one more match come Sunday.
Either way, the match should be a cracker. You can catch the pair’s match on Friday.
Main Photo from Getty.