Roland Garros 2021: Men's singles forecast and predictions

Rafael Nadal is favored to win his 14th title at Roland Garros
Rafael Nadal is favored to win his 14th title at Roland Garros
Iman Guha

Following a wet and chilly stint in September last year due to the outbreak of COVID-19, Roland Garros returns to its original window in 2021. And the seven-month interval has given the tournament a different feel than usual.

Under normal circumstances, two consecutive editions of any Gand Slam are separated by three other Majors. But the upcoming and previous editions of the French Open have had only one Slam between them - the 2021 Australian Open.

How much influence will the smaller interval have on the tournament? From one perspective, a player is more likely to retain his form through eight months than that through 12 months. However, seasonal differences within a year should also be accounted for.

Performances separated exactly by a year are likely to be more correlated with each other than those separated by eight months, especially on clay. But that is still speculation, and the coming fortnight in the Parisian summer should give us some answers.

Speaking of summer, a certain man from Mallorca has been known to be a famed reaper of sunny conditions. But he wasn't too shabby in the cold or under the roof in 2020 either; Rafael Nadal won Roland Garros for the 13th time last year, and that too without dropping a set.

Would anyone bet against Nadal winning a record 21st Grand Slam title this time around?

Before going into the men's singles forecast, generated using raw data from Tennis Abstract, let's take a look at the Elo ratings of the players who are missing from the original list.

Elo ratings of missing players

An explanation of how Elo ratings are used to generate win probabilities, and how in-match performances can be used to estimate Elo, can be seen here.

For players missing from the original list on Tennis Abstract (dated 24 May), we have used two or more of their most recent matches to estimate their Elo scores. To that end, we have taken the help of the following considerations:

  1. The player whose Elo rating is to be estimated through match / tournament performance, is assumed to be at 1500 Elo at the start of the first match being used to calculate his Match Elo. His post-match calculated Elo is used as his starting Elo for the next match, and so on in an iterative procedure.
  2. The opponent he has faced then is assumed to be at the same Elo rating as he is presently, i.e. on 24 May 2021.
  3. The player's starting Elo for Roland Garros is given by the average of the computed Match Elo scores that have been used in the process.

We thus arrive at the following Elo ratings for the missing players:

  1. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: 1210 (through matches vs Egor Gerasimov at Barcelona and Tommy Paul at Lyon)
  2. Roger Federer: 1641 (through matches vs Dan Evans and Nikoloz Basilashvili at Doha, and Pablo Andujar at Geneva)
  3. Gael Monfils: 1628 (through matches vs Lorenzo Sonego at Rome, Thiago Seyboth Wild and Yoshihito Nishioka at Lyon, and Roberto Carballes Baena at Belgrade-2)
  4. Yen-Hsun Lu: 1240 (through matches vs Sam Querrey and Daniil Medvedev at Miami)
  5. Arthur Cazaux: 1486 (through matches vs Adrian Mannarino and Pablo Cuevas at Geneva)

Quarter-wise forecast for Roland Garros 2021

1st Quarter

Roland Garros Main Draw: 1st Quarter
Roland Garros Main Draw: 1st Quarter

With an Elo rating of 2054, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is the man to beat from the first quarter of the draw. In fact, if the ratings are anything to go by, he is a 50.30% favorite to reach the semifinals from this section of the draw.

That means Djokovic is more favored to reach the final four than the 31 other players from the first quarter combined. The statement sounds even more sensational when you consider that Roger Federer is among those 31 other men.

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic

With so few matches under his belt, it is almost impossible to predict the level at which Federer will play. Though he is seeded eighth, the Swiss' Elo rating is estimated to be 1641 - which is only 18th-best in the lot of 32.

The favorites from the first quarter (median Elo: 1656) to reach the semis are:

  1. (1) Novak Djokovic: 50.30%
  2. (9) Matteo Berrettini: 19.74%
  3. Marin Cilic: 4.29%
  4. (13) David Goffin: 3.77%

Author's predicted quarterfinal: Novak Djokovic def. Roger Federer

2nd Quarter

Rolan Garros Main Draw: 2nd Quarter
Rolan Garros Main Draw: 2nd Quarter

Rafael Nadal headlines the second quarter of the draw with an Elo rating of 2101. Unsurprisingly, the King of Clay is the highest rated player in the draw, and a 46.66% favorite to reach the semifinals.

That number is a tad lower than Djokovic's. But that is only because Nadal is in a slightly more difficult section of the draw, and not because he's at a lower level himself.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal

The 34-year-old's quarterfinal opponent is a toss-up. Andrey Rublev is the favorite to face him in the quarterfinals, followed by Diego Schwartzman. But if recent form and head-to-head matchups are anything to go by, it might be Aslan Karatsev who takes on Nadal for a spot in the final four.

The favorites from the second quarter (median Elo: 1702) to reach the semis are:

  1. (3) Rafael Nadal: 46.66%
  2. (7) Andrey Rublev: 15.51%
  3. (10) Diego Schwartzman: 8.49%
  4. (18) Jannik Sinner: 6.23%

Author's predicted quarterfinal: Rafael Nadal def. Aslan Karatsev

3rd Quarter

Roland Garros Main Draw: 3rd Quarter
Roland Garros Main Draw: 3rd Quarter

While two-time Roland Garros runner-up Dominic Thiem is the highest seed from the third quarter, Alexander Zverev is the favorite. Rated 2018, the German is 36.43% favored to reach the semifinals.

That is the lowest number registered by a favorite from a quarter, but it is still hugely impressive given that Zverev has never won a Grand Slam - or even gone beyond the quarters at Roland Garros.

Alexander Zverev
Alexander Zverev

The reigning Madrid Open champion has an infamous habit of dragging out initial matches at Majors and wearing himself out. However, it is difficult to see anybody challenging him before the quarterfinals this year in Paris.

As for Dominic Thiem, his recent form is certainly a cause for concern. The Austrian remains the favorite to meet Zverev in the quarters, but Casper Ruud's recent results could be an indication of a shake-up.

The favorites from the third quarter (median Elo: 1678) to reach the semis are:

  1. (6) Alexander Zverev: 36.43%
  2. (4) Dominic Thiem: 21.88%
  3. (15) Casper Ruud: 14.51%
  4. Kei Nishikori: 4.63%

Author's predicted quarterfinal: Alexander Zverev def. Casper Ruud

4th Quarter

Roland Garros Main Draw: 4th Quarter
Roland Garros Main Draw: 4th Quarter

There's little doubt over the legitimacy of Daniil Medvedev's world ranking, but there is also very little reason to trust his capabilities on clay. Understandably, it is Stefanos Tsitsipas who leads the lower-most section of the draw, with an Elo rating of 2047. The Greek is a 40.40% faourite to make the final four.

Stefanos Tsitsipas
Stefanos Tsitsipas

Tsitsipas won the Monte Carlo Masters earlier this year, for the first Masters 1000 title of his career. He then nearly beat Rafael Nadal at Barcelona and Novak Djokovic at Rome, before lifting the title at Lyon.

Unless the 22-year-old makes a mess of the draw, losing before the semifinals sounds quite improbable. Cristian Garin might be the only realistic challenge in Tsitsipas' path.

The favorites from the fourth quarter (median Elo: 1678) to reach the semis are:

  1. (5) Stefanos Tsitsipas: 40.40%
  2. (12) Pablo Carreno Busta: 13.01%
  3. (22) Cristian Garin: 9.64%
  4. (2) Daniil Medvedev: 9.01%

Author's predicted quarterfinal: Stefanos Tsitsipas def. Cristian Garin

Roland Garros 2021 semifinals and final forecast

From the top half, the most likely Roland Garros finalists are:

  1. (3) Rafael Nadal: 32.35%
  2. (1) Novak Djokovic: 30.06%
  3. (9) Matteo Berrettini: 8.83%
  4. (7) Andrey Rublev: 8.04%

Author's predicted semifinal: Novak Djokovic def. Rafael Nadal

From the bottom half, the most likely Roland Garros finalists are:

  1. (5) Stefanos Tsitsipas: 26.02%
  2. (6) Alexander Zverev: 23.27%
  3. (4) Dominic Thiem: 13.24%
  4. (15) Casper Ruud: 7.56%

Author's predicted semifinal: Stefanos Tsitsipas def. Alexander Zverev

The most likely champions for Roland Garros 2021 are:

  1. (3) Rafael Nadal: 22.18%
  2. (1) Novak Djokovic: 18.89%
  3. (5) Stefanos Tsitsipas: 14.50%
  4. (6) Alexander Zverev: 12.09%
  5. (4) Dominic Thiem: 6.39%
  6. (9) Matteo Berrettini: 4.16%
  7. (7) Andrey Rublev: 4.02%
  8. (15) Casper Ruud: 3.00%

Author's predicted final: Novak Djokovic def. Stefanos Tsitsipas

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Edited by Musab Abid
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