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French Trio vs. Big 3 In RICOH ATP MatchFacts

Clay-Court Numbers

Tsonga© AFP/Getty ImagesJo-Wilfried Tsonga was the last Frenchman to reach a Grand Slam final in 2008.

France is a nation full of tennis tradition, yet it hasn’t produced a men’s singles Grand Slam singles champion since Yannick Noah completed a charismatic run to win the 1983 Roland Garros title on home soil. The top three ranked Frenchmen competing at this year’s tournament all have designs on a run to the second week, but is a shot at the title a realistic goal?

During the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga candidly stated, “Let's be clear, there is no chance that a French [player] can win Roland Garros. There is no inevitability in my comments. It's just an observation. Not [being] able to win a Masters 1000 clay [event], then a Grand Slam seems impossible.”

Analysing the RICOH ATP MatchFacts for World No. 5 Tsonga, No. 12 Gilles Simon and No. 20 Richard Gasquet on clay this season, we compare the group to the trio it will most likely have to dethrone to end France's major title drought: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. The Big 3 have won the past nine major championships, dating back to the 2010 Australian Open.

Of the three French players, Tsonga is most likely to lift the trophy according to former player and Tennis Channel analyst Justin Gimelstob. “Tsonga has the best chance of winning Roland Garros because he has the biggest weapons and has the most wins versus the top players in big events, in addition to the experience and confidence of already reaching a Grand Slam final.”

Looking at the service categories on clay in 2012, Mutua Madrid Open champion Federer leads all six in service games won (91%), first serve points won (80%) and break points saved (76%). Nadal is the leader in second serve points won at 57%. Simon is at the bottom in service games won (76%) and first serve points won (69%). It’s noteworthy to call out that Djokovic ranks last among the sextet in break points saved (56%), 16 per cent lower than what he registered in 2011.

RankPlayer Service Games Won On Clay
1. Roger Federer 91%
2. Rafael Nadal 88%
3. Richard Gasquet 84%
4. Novak Djokovic 81%
5. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 79%
6. Gilles Simon 76%

RankPlayer Break Points Saved On Clay
1. Roger Federer 76%
2. Rafael Nadal 74%
3. Richard Gasquet 69%
4. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 63%
5. Gilles Simon 60%
6. Novak Djokovic 56%

Simon compensates for his service numbers with his counterpunching return game. The Nice native, who reached the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters semi-finals in April, has won 34 per cent of his return games and 36 per cent of his first serve return points won, ranking him second in this group. Nadal leads all Top 200 players in both categories respectively. World No. 2 Nadal is also first among the six in break points converted (49%) and second serve return points won (58%). Djokovic is in the back of the pack in break points won with a 38 per cent success rate (8% decrease over 2011), while Gasquet trails the rest in service games won at 24 per cent.

Of Simon’s dexterity on return, Gimelstob believes, “Simon is one of the best returners in the world for a variety of reasons. He has excellent balance and footwork, compact strokes, exceptional timing, and he absorbs pace and redirects the ball very well. He also has very long arms and anticipates and reads his opponents serve very well.”

RankPlayer Return Games Won On Clay
1. Rafael Nadal 45%
2. Gilles Simon 34%
3. Novak Djokovic 30%
4. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 27%
5. Roger Federer 25%
6. Richard Gasquet 24%

RankPlayer Break Points Converted On Clay
1. Rafael Nadal 49%
2. Roger Federer 46%
2. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 46%
4. Gilles Simon 41%
4. Richard Gasquet 41%
6. Novak Djokovic 38%

While it’s a tall order for Tsonga, Simon or Gasquet to finish in the winners’ circle, each have made runs before in Grand Slam and ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events.

Tsonga’s best results have come on hard courts, reaching the 2008 Australian Open final (l. to Djokovic) and winning the BNP Paribas Masters in Bercy that year (d. Nalbandian). In addition to his final four run in Monte-Carlo this year, Simon finished runner-up at the Masters 1000 event in Madrid when it was played on indoor-hard in 2008, and was a quarter-finalist at the 2009 Australian Open. Gasquet has been the most effective on clay, reaching the 2005 Hamburg Masters 1000 final and two additional semi-finals. His best major result was a semi-final showing at Wimbledon in 2007.

*Note: World No. 14 Gael Monfils withdrew prior to the tournament with a right knee injury. Monfils advanced to the 2008 Roland Garros semi-finals, and is also twice a quarter-finalist, including in 2011. Additionally, he is a two-time Bercy runner-up and a former Rome semi-finalist.

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