A new Grand Slam semifinalist, again

Published by Leigh Rogers

THAT WINNING FEELING: Jelena Ostapenko reacts to reaching her first Grand Slam semifinal at Roland Garros 2017; Getty Images

Who would have picked world No.47 Jelena Ostapenko and world No.31 Timea Bacsinszky to be playing off in a French Open semifinal tonight?

Sure, it seems like an unlikely match-up, but the truth is the women’s game is incredibly unpredictable right now (and that’s not just because of the absence of 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams either).

Remarkably, the French Open marks the 16th consecutive Grand Slam where at least one of the women’s singles semifinalist is making her debut at that stage.

That’s four years of surprise results and major breakthroughs. A women’s game in transition? Perhaps… or is unpredictability the new order?

During that time, 33 different women have advanced to a Grand Slam semifinal and as Ostapenko celebrates her 20th birthday today, she becomes the 18th different woman to reach a first Grand Slam semifinal since the surprising run of Belgian Kirsten Flipkens at Wimbledon in 2013.

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Serena Williams is the only player to have made five or more semifinals during the past four years (with 11 final four appearances netting seven titles). The next best performers are Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska with four each. Maria Sharapova has made three, while Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova have one apiece.

Unexpected semifinalists in this period have included: a No.83-ranked Flavia Pennetta at the 2013 US Open, a No.35-ranked 19-year-old Madison Keys at Australian Open 2015, China’s Shuai Peng at the US Open in 2014 as the world No.39, Italian veteran Roberta Vinci in New York in 2015 when she was ranked No.43, and last year at Roland Garros when No.58-ranked Kiki Bertens advanced to the final four.

Let’s not forget that only a few months ago then-world No.35 CoCo Vandeweghe made the Australian Open semifinals, as did No.79-ranked 34-year-old Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who surprised the tennis world, and herself, with her best performance since reaching the same stage as a teenager at Wimbledon 1999.

The lack of predictability is clear when comparing the semifinal line-ups from the past 16 Grand Slam events (italics = champion, bold = first-time Grand Slam semifinalist):

Tournament Semifinalists
Wimbledon 2013 Sabine Lisicki Agnieszka Radwanska Marion Bartoli Kirsten Flipkens
US Open 2013 Serena Williams Li Na Flavia Pennetta  Victoria Azarenka
Australian Open 2014 Eugenie Bouchard Li Na  Dominika Cibulkova Agnieszka Radwanska
French Open 2014 Maria Sharapova Eugenie Bouchard Simona Halep  Andrea Petkovic 
Wimbledon 2014 Eugenie Bouchard Simona Halep Lucie Safarova  Petra Kvitova 
US Open 2014 Serena Williams Ekaterina Makarova Shuai Peng Caroline Wozniacki
Australian Open 2015 Serena Williams Madison Keys  Ekaterina Makarova Maria Sharapova
French Open 2015 Serena Williams Timea Bacsinszky Ana Ivanovic Lucie Safarova
Wimbledon 2015 Serena Williams Maria Sharapova Garbine Muguruza  Agnieszka Radwanska
US Open 2015 Serena Williams Roberta Vinci Flavia Pennetta Simona Halep
Australian Open 2016 Serena Williams Agnieszka Radwanska Angelique Kerber  Johanna Konta 
French Open 2016 Serena Williams Kiki Bertens Garbine Muguruza Samantha Stosur
Wimbledon 2016 Serena Williams Elena Vesnina Angelique Kerber Venus Williams
US Open 2016 Serena Williams Karolina Pliskova Caroline Wozniacki Angelique Kerber 
Australian Open 2017 CoCo Vandeweghe Venus Williams Mirjana Lucic-Baroni Serena Williams 
French Open 2017 Jelena Ostapenko Timea Bacsinszky Simona Halep Karolina Pliskova

How does that compare to the men’s tour?

The difference is pronounced:

Tournament Semifinalists
Wimbledon 2013 Novak Djokovic Juan Martin del Potro Jerzy Janowicz  Andy Murray 
US Open 2013 Novak Djokovic Stan Wawrinka  Richard Gasquet Rafael Nadal 
Australian Open 2014 Rafael Nadal Roger Federer Tomas Berdych Stan Wawrinka 
French Open 2014 Rafael Nadal Andy Murray Ernests Gulbis  Novak Djokovic
Wimbledon 2014 Novak Djokovic Grigor Dimitrov Roger Federer Milos Raonic
US Open 2014 Novak Djokovic Kei Nishikori Marin Cilic Roger Federer
Australian Open 2015 Novak Djokovic Stan Wawrinka  Tomas Berdych Andy Murray
French Open 2015 Novak Djokovic Andy Murray Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Stan Wawrinka 
Wimbledon 2015 Novak Djokovic Richard Gasquet Andy Murray Roger Federer
US Open 2015 Novak Djokovic Marin Cilic Stan Wawrinka Roger Federer
Australian Open 2016 Novak Djokovic Roger Federer Milos Raonic Andy Murray
French Open 2016 Novak Djokovic Dominic Thiem  Stan Wawrinka Andy Murray
Wimbledon 2016 Milos Raonic Roger Federer Tomas Berdych Andy Murray 
US Open 2016 Novak Djokovic Gael Monfils Stan Wawrinka Kei Nishikori
Australian Open 2017 Roger Federer Stan Wawrinka Rafael Nadal Grigor Dimitrov
French Open 2017 Andy Murray Stan Wawrinka Rafael Nadal Dominic Thiem

Unsurprisingly there are five names that have dominated this period in the men’s game, led by Novak Djokovic with 12 semifinal appearances (winning six titles). Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka have made nine, just ahead of Roger Federer with eight. Rafael Nadal has featured in five.

Only seven men have made a Grand Slam semifinal breakthrough during this time and perhaps most tellingly, Dominic Thiem is the only one to do so in the past 10 events.

As for surprise semifinalists? Only two players really fit into this category, and even then they were seeded at the events. They are: Pole Jerzy Janowicz, who was ranked No.22 when he reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 2013, and Latvian Ernests Gulbis who made the final four at Roland Garros in 2014 as the world No.17.

Another telling statistic is that during the past four years there has been 18 women make only one semifinal, compared to five men.

In the past 16 Grand Slam events… Men Women
Players to reach a Grand Slam semifinal 17 33
Players reaching first Grand Slam semifinal 7 18
Players reaching five or more semifinals 5 1
Players reaching only one semifinal 5 18

The numbers don’t lie – the women’s game is clearly much more unpredictable than the men’s right now.

Oh, and the potentially bad news for Ostapenko as she enjoys her Grand Slam breakthrough? Only five of the first-time semifinalists (including both men and women) in this period reached a final at that event, and none won the title.

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