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How the 2024 French Open separated Top 10 Tennis Players and closed the Gap between Others plus lessons for the 2024 Olympics

As the red clay settles and the noise becomes that little bit quieter, the grass beckons for those who have had time for their losses to settle and tackle a new surface with renewed hope of a better performance. Yet the tide is still high for the Champions of the 2024 French Open as their new silverware finds a new place to call home. For whilst there are only two who left triumphant with these titles, there are many more who should indeed be proud of their accomplishments to performances that really should signal a highlight of their 2024 season.

The Champions are known and yet there were some surprises. Recall that anomalies do exist and this Roland Garros was no exception. Sure, there have been much greater anomalies but the ones this French Open were not as shocking as perhaps some may have had you believe. Andreeva had been progressing and if Grand Slam statistics were to be gauged, this was almost expected – a Round of 16 in contrast to a semi-final but then again, the nerves to the health of her opponents simply can’t be collated and they’re akin to environmental factors that happen to the best.

Of course, Sabalenka was favoured to progress to the Finals to have a third straight showdown against Swiatek and to really battle it out for their next respective Grand Slam title. But again, the data favoured Swiatek almost all season as Sabalenka’s performance only started to ‘track’ come Madrid and Rome. Swiatek on the other hand had started to track essentially after her earlier exit at the Australian Open. Sabalenka did progress further at the French in contrast to Swiatek at the Australian Open but what happened between is where it gets quite juicy.

Zheng was a first time Finalist at the start of the season and was somewhat of a surprise. Then again, she was coming off a maiden Quarter-Final at the US Open. Still, this was a rapid-fire climb and as anticipated by the data, Zheng’s performance has been lacklustre since this performance peak due to the data capturing key setbacks and essentially the downside of these rapid-fire results. In contrast, Paolini reached the Round of 16 of the Australian Open and continued to progress throughout the season – that is, until the French Open. With a ranking that continued to progress to a high of 13 and now a barrier breaker after her Finalist result, a Quarter-Final would have been anticipated by Paolini if her season had not been spurred with such impressive results. Nonetheless, this still remains an anomaly but not as much as Andreeva’s peak performance

And then there was Gauff who went under the radar all season long given that Swiatek to Collins were capturing the limelight. But what many forgot to note is that Gauff in fact consistently was showing up late in these events and at the Semi-Final stage quite frequently. It would not have been surprising if Gauff did in fact take out Swiatek but then again, Swiatek at Roland Garros has steadily become a formidable force.

Whilst there is so much more to discuss and dissect, these four players on the WTA tour represent key expectations per the data – the anticipated calibre of play of a Top 10 player at 50%, 25% the anomaly in Andreeva, and 25% the player who simply had been playing akin to the Top 10 throughout the season. 

Which brings us to a key point raised in the Top 10 on both the WTA and ATP tours – only 50% of players inside the Top 10 had been living up to their ranking expectation all season. Yes, it has been said time and time again that 50% of the current Top 10 were not performing at the level of a Top 10 player. As such, players ranked outside the Top 10 but inside the Top 20 had greater scope to become a barrier breaker this season. Zheng after her Finalist result — but her performance has not been aligned with a Top 10 baseline; Collins becoming a barrier breaker shortly before the French started with a Top 10 baseline and Ostapenko earlier this season became a barrier breaker after having a super start to the season before reaching a performance plateau and now is hovering outside the Top 10. Paolini then by all accounts was anticipated to become a barrier breaker this season, but perhaps not as soon as now. Either way, her performance and results this reason are better than 50% of the Top 10 prior to the French Open.

And that’s an important point to note – these insights are prior to the French Open and the new rankings released this week.

When it comes to the men there aren’t as many anomalies to note and/or discuss but rather the level of consistency of some of these Top 10 players that simply has fluctuated between the Australian Open to the commencement of the French Open that weakened the respective data to what was potentially to come. The Top 3 players – Djokovic, Sinner and Alcaraz all had question marks around their overall performance. Djokovic was without a title – the longest he’s been in quite some time at this stage of the season. Alcaraz had an ailment he was resting in the lead up and Sinner also had an ailment but wasn’t away for as much time. Out of these 3 players, Sinner was the player with the best results to date this season. And that’s the catch – this season, not last or the one before that. Sinner was favoured to claim his second Grand Slam and second this season if he was able to maintain his level of play. But then again, Alcaraz had been idling at his side and simply was able to capitalise with more rest under his belt.

Djokovic is in fact the anomaly this Grand Slam due to his withdrawal but also that he was able to reach the Quarter-Finals and back up some lengthy match wins with another. Some may say Zverev was the anomaly but I’ll disagree. Zverev has consistently been inside the Top 5 when Federer, Nadal and Djokovic were at their respective peaks and/or still Top 10 players respectively. Zverev was ahead of Tsitsipas and slightly behind Thiem. Then Tsitsipas peaked and Zverev fell behind, same with Medvedev then Rublev came along. But Zverev was always there. Sure, Hurkacz and Dimitrov have since come to the party, but Zverev has been showing up. Medvedev was anticipated to go further, but then again, De Minaur was projected to reach the Quarter-Final stage and only one could walk away with the win. Similar to Medvedev, Zverev just shows up and keeps his level of play in tact. Unfortunately, Alcaraz came along and crashed that limelight and then Sinner, too, with these two newcomers now leading the charge – 1 and 2 respectively post Roland Garros. But Zverev is still holding strong and arguably it really came down to the mentally stronger opponent and the player with that added bit of flair in their game which really handed Alcaraz his third Grand Slam – a huge accomplishment.

No, this wasn’t necessarily anticipated due to Alcaraz’s current season. But going off Grand Slam metrics over the past 24-36 months, this was by all accounts expected. The truth is in the data.

In respect to the ATP tour rankings, the Top 10 has strengthened and yet also, all players inside the Quarter-Finals were Top 10 players if assuming De Minaur was Top 10 (already this season, however was seeded 11 during the Open). This was not the same for the WTA tour with 3 external Top 10 players – Paolini, perhaps similar to De Minaur, but then also Gracheva and Andreeva. Indeed, the WTA had more earlier upsets than the ATP with the likes of Collins and Keys running on highs and falling early. On the men’s it was Rubelv – seeded 6, who fell earlier than anticipate whilst seeds 6, 7, 9 and 10 – Sakkari, Zheng, Ostapenko and Kasatkina fell prior to or at the third round stage like Rublev.

There’s a lot to dissect at the Grand Slam level but also results that were anticipated to those that weren’t and the anomalies and how they factor into the performance spectrum. A lot of this can be reviewed on Beyond Top 10 Tennis and Episodes 88 to 96 that were Special Editions exclusively for the 2024 French Open. 

But this isn’t the end of the clay season as Paris 2024 is just around the corner. It’s an incredible mix for the players – some with a second chance for redemption, others to add that Gold to their illustrious career, and others to cement their place in the history books at an early age. Whilst it’s too soon to share insights on who’s favoured to conquer and who’s not in the running to what the data really says, I’m going to keep quiet until after Wimbledon to better gauge how much time a player may have to prepare to how they’re tracking over this 6 to 8 week period to more finely tune the collective analysis and better explain why ‘this’ player is set, or why ‘another’ player is not primed for a podium finish. But then again, crazy things often happen at the Olympics and rarely do Top 10 players secure Gold, Silver and Bronze. And there’s an irony in that, too. One thing is for sure, and that is the Olympics favour the anomaly as the pressure really takes a hold of the favoured and often it becomes all too much whilst the underdog quietly makes their way through to land on the podium. But if you’ve also been following Beyond Top 10 Tennis and read my latest release “How to Develop a Top 10 Tennis Ranking” then you also know the key behind Olympic success and how the 2024 Wimbledon Champions are more likely to not be the defending Champions this season.

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