The Most Lopsided ATP Semifinals

In the latest step of Rafael Nadal‘s minor league rehab assignment comeback, he’ll play Martin Alund tonight in the Sao Paulo semifinals.  Yes, the same Martin Alund who had never played a tour-level event before last week, has a career losing record in challengers, and only made the main draw as a lucky loser.

The jrank forecast gives Alund a 4.3% chance of beating Rafa tonight which, even having seen Nadal’s unconvincing win over Carlos Berlocq last night, seems a bit generous.

It also seems odd.  Even in lower-rung ATP events, players of Alund’s caliber (even a caliber or two above that) rarely reach the semis.  In San Jose this week, the lowest-ranked player in the semifinals is #22 Tommy Haas, assuring fans in California a very different level of play today.

As it turns out, hugely lopsided semifinals do occur now and then, and occasionally they even result in upsets.

Since the beginning of 2001, there have been about 1600 tour-level semifinals.  Using jrank, I estimated each player’s chances in those matches.  Nadal’s 95.7% probability of winning tonight doesn’t even rank in the top ten most lopsided semis.

Rafa has long been a stalwart of one-sided semifinals.  His dominance on clay is reflected in the numbers, and when he does play smaller events, he makes some opponents look woefully overmatched.  Of the 11 semifinals that were more lopsided than tonight’s showdown, Rafa was the favorite in four–including last week’s dismantling of Jeremy Chardy.  At the 2008 Barcelona event, Denis Gremelmayr had a mere 1.6% chance of triumphing over Rafa.  He won a single game.

(Chardy is rated quite a bit higher than Alund, but after last week’s loss to Horacio Zeballos, Nadal’s rating has fallen accordingly.  The jrank forecast for this week’s semifinal is thus almost identical to last week’s.)

Of course, there’s a big difference between a high probability and a certainty, and some of these lopsided matchups have generated surprises.  In Washington in 2007, the virtually unknown John Isner took out Gael Monfils, despite a mere 2.4% chance of victory.  The same year in Amersfoort, qualifier and eventual champion Steve Darcis defeated Mikhail Youzhny, overcoming a pre-match probability of only 6.1%.

Even Nadal has suffered in these situations.  The third-biggest ATP semifinal upset was Rafa’s 2010 Bangkok loss at the hands of Guillermo Garcia Lopez.

In all of those examples the underdog was a player of undeniable talent, while Alund has stumbled into his first ATP semifinal.  But as Nadal’s stumbles against Zeballos and Berlocq have shown us, it doesn’t matter so much who is across the net–the king of clay is far from his usual invincible self.

(After the break, find a list of the 63 most lopsided ATP semifinals since 2001. Asterisks denote upsets.)

Fave%     Year  Event             Surface  Winner                  Loser                   Score                 
98.5%     2006  St. Petersburg    Carpet   Mario Ancic             Ernests Gulbis          6-2 6-3               
98.4%     2004  Stockholm         Hard     Thomas Johansson        Michael Ryderstedt      6-3 6-2               
98.4%     2008  Barcelona         Clay     Rafael Nadal            Denis Gremelmayr        6-1 6-0               
98.0%     2009  Bastad            Clay     Robin Soderling         Andreas Vinciguerra     6-1 7-6(6)            
98.0%     2011  Barcelona         Clay     Rafael Nadal            Ivan Dodig              6-3 6-2               
97.6%  *  2007  Washington        Hard     John Isner              Gael Monfils            6-7(4) 7-6(1) 7-6(2)  
97.2%     2003  Costa Do Sauipe   Hard     Sjeng Schalken          Gaston Etlis            6-1 2-0 RET           
97.1%     2008  Estoril           Clay     Roger Federer           Denis Gremelmayr        2-6 7-5 6-1           
96.8%     2012  Basel             Hard     Roger Federer           Paul Henri Mathieu      7-5 6-4               
96.4%     2007  Stuttgart         Clay     Rafael Nadal            Feliciano Lopez         6-1 7-5               
96.3%     2013  Santiago          Clay     Rafael Nadal            Jeremy Chardy           6-2 6-2               
95.8%     2009  Johannesburg      Hard     Jo Wilfried Tsonga      Frederico Gil           6-3 6-4  
95.7%     2013  Sao Paulo         Clay     Rafael Nadal            Martin Alund            ?             
95.3%     2004  Gstaad            Clay     Roger Federer           Potito Starace          6-3 3-6 6-3           
95.3%     2009  Halle             Grass    Novak Djokovic          Olivier Rochus          7-6(7) 6-4            
95.0%     2010  Newport           Grass    Mardy Fish              Richard Bloomfield      7-6(5) 6-4            
93.9%  *  2007  Amersfoort        Clay     Steve Darcis            Mikhail Youzhny         4-6 6-0 7-5           
93.8%     2006  Estoril           Clay     David Nalbandian        Albert Portas           7-5 6-1               
93.7%     2001  Stuttgart         Clay     Guillermo Canas         Marc Lopez              6-2 6-2               
93.4%     2008  Wimbledon         Grass    Rafael Nadal            Rainer Schuettler       6-1 7-6(3) 6-4        
93.0%     2010  Shanghai Masters  Hard     Andy Murray             Juan Monaco             6-4 6-1               
92.9%     2010  Barcelona         Clay     Robin Soderling         Thiemo De Bakker        6-1 6-4               
92.7%     2006  Barcelona         Clay     Rafael Nadal            Nicolas Almagro         7-6(2) 6-3            
92.6%  *  2010  Bangkok           Hard     Guillermo Garcia Lopez  Rafael Nadal            2-6 7-6(3) 6-3        
92.5%     2012  Munich            Clay     Marin Cilic             Tommy Haas              6-3 6-4               
92.4%     2009  Basel             Hard     Roger Federer           Marco Chiudinelli       7-6(7) 6-3            
92.4%     2001  Shanghai          Hard     Michel Kratochvil       Kenneth Carlsen         6-2 6-4               
92.3%     2004  Buenos Aires      Clay     Guillermo Coria         Richard Gasquet         7-6(1) 6-1            
92.1%     2006  Zagreb            Carpet   Ivan Ljubicic           Novak Djokovic          6-7(6) 6-3 6-4        
92.1%     2006  Gstaad            Clay     Feliciano Lopez         Marin Cilic             7-6(2) 6-7(5) 6-3     
92.0%  *  2012  Nice              Clay     Brian Baker             Nikolay Davydenko       6-7(5) 6-4 6-2        
92.0%     2001  Chennai           Hard     Andrei Stoliarov        Tommy Robredo           4-6 6-3 6-4           
92.0%     2010  Madrid Masters    Clay     Rafael Nadal            Nicolas Almagro         4-6 6-2 6-2           
91.8%     2010  Nice              Clay     Fernando Verdasco       Leonardo Mayer          7-6(3) 7-5            
91.7%     2008  Metz              Hard     Paul Henri Mathieu      Adrian Mannarino        7-6(8) 7-6(1)         
91.7%     2003  Chennai           Hard     Paradorn Srichaphan     Jean Rene Lisnard       6-2 6-1               
91.7%     2003  Bucharest         Clay     Nicolas Massu           Razvan Sabau            6-1 6-4               
91.6%     2008  Beijing           Hard     Andy Roddick            Bjorn Phau              6-2 6-7(4) 6-1        
91.5%     2006  Tokyo             Hard     Roger Federer           Benjamin Becker         6-3 6-4               
91.4%     2003  Houston           Clay     Andy Roddick            Olivier Mutis           4-6 6-1 6-2           
91.4%     2011  Rome Masters      Clay     Rafael Nadal            Richard Gasquet         7-5 6-1               
91.4%     2010  Halle             Grass    Roger Federer           Philipp Petzschner      7-6(3) 6-4            
91.4%     2003  Sopot             Clay     Guillermo Coria         Luis Horna              6-2 6-2               
91.4%     2007  Hamburg Masters   Clay     Rafael Nadal            Lleyton Hewitt          2-6 6-3 7-5           
91.3%     2004  Umag              Clay     Guillermo Canas         Guillermo Garcia Lopez  6-2 6-2               
91.2%  *  2005  Sydney            Hard     Ivo Minar               Radek Stepanek          6-1 6-2               
91.1%     2010  Rome Masters      Clay     Rafael Nadal            Ernests Gulbis          6-4 3-6 6-4           
90.9%     2003  Valencia          Clay     Juan Carlos Ferrero     Flavio Saretta          7-6(3) 6-2            
90.8%  *  2010  Estoril           Clay     Albert Montanes         Roger Federer           6-2 7-6(5)            
90.8%     2011  Belgrade          Clay     Novak Djokovic          Janko Tipsarevic        W/O                   
90.8%     2005  Chennai           Hard     Carlos Moya             Guillermo Garcia Lopez  6-4 2-6 7-6(2)        
90.7%     2010  Roland Garros     Clay     Rafael Nadal            Jurgen Melzer           6-2 6-3 7-6(6)        
90.7%     2009  Barcelona         Clay     Rafael Nadal            Nikolay Davydenko       6-3 6-2               
90.6%     2002  Amersfoort        Clay     Juan Ignacio Chela      John Van Lottum         2-6 6-3 6-3           
90.4%     2009  Belgrade          Clay     Novak Djokovic          Andreas Seppi           4-6 6-1 6-2           
90.4%  *  2007  Bucharest         Clay     Victor Hanescu          Gael Monfils            6-2 6-3               
90.3%     2003  Houston           Clay     Andre Agassi            Jurgen Melzer           6-4 6-1               
90.3%     2008  Vina del Mar      Clay     Fernando Gonzalez       Pablo Cuevas            6-7(4) 7-6(6) 6-2     
90.2%     2011  Vienna            Hard     Jo Wilfried Tsonga      Daniel Brands           6-2 7-6(4)            
90.2%     2008  Warsaw            Clay     Nikolay Davydenko       Fabio Fognini           6-2 6-3               
90.2%     2012  Miami Masters     Hard     Novak Djokovic          Juan Monaco             6-0 7-6(5)            
90.0%     2011  Marseille         Hard     Robin Soderling         Dmitry Tursunov         7-5 6-1
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