Yesterday in the Delray Beach semifinals, Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Ernests Gulbis upset the top two seeds, John Isner and Tommy Haas. Both are ranked outside the top 100, meaning that the final in Florida will be contested by two players who started the event far outside of contention.
As with most “gee whiz”-type tennis events, it’s not the first time. In fact, there have been at least 59 ATP events since the inception of the ranking system in which both finalists were outside the top 100. (I don’t have ranking data for 1982, so there may be more.)
However, this is the first such final since 2007, when the Houston final was contested between Ivo Karlovic and Mariano Zabaleta. As you’ll see in the overall list, these finalists skew toward the Gulbis’s more than the Roger-Vasselins–while such players might have gone through injury or slumps, they often reached a much higher level at some other time.
Newport has been the most common scene of these sorts of finals. Eight times in the event’s history has the final been played between two men outside of the top 100. In fact, four of the last nine such finals have been at Newport.
Finally, these finals have become progressively rarer as the number of events on the ATP calendar shrinks and more top players compete in a higher percentage of ATP events. (Even Delray Beach, this week notwithstanding.) There were (at least) 25 finals like this in the 1980s, 17 in the 1990s, 10 in the 2000s, and so far just one in the 2010s.