The rankings are always a very important factor to keep in mind as we approach every Grand Slam. They determine the seedings for the Slam draw, which can have a major impact in the course of the Slam. High seeds cannot meet certain other seeds until a certain point in the tournament (we’ll explain that fully below), so the higher the seed a player can get generally means an easier route to get deep in the tournament.
Every year, withing a month before Roland Garros, there are two Masters 1000 tournaments-Madrid and Rome. Aside from being prestigious events in their own rights and good tune-ups for the Slam (even though the Madrid surface plays closer to hard court than to the clay at Roland Garros), they are both also worth a lot of ranking points. This means that these two tournaments have a profound effect on where players will be seeded at the French Open.
Now, there are five important ranking cut-offs to determine the seeding. The top 2 seeds cannot meet until the final. There is no difference for purposes of the draw between the #1 seed and the #2 seed. Similarly, there is no difference between the #3 seed and the #4 seed. None of the top 4 can meet each other until the semifinals. None of the top 8 can meet until the quarters, the top 16 until the fourth round, and none of the 32 seeds can meet until the third round. The seeding is just determined by a player’s ranking after Rome is counted (the rankings from May 21).
The top 2 are pretty much set, though technically Federer can get to the #2 ranking. Novak Djokovic is guaranteed a top 2 seed and will be the #1 seed unless he does very poorly in both Madrid and Rome and Nadal wins both. Federer is over 1000 points behind Nadal, so for him to get a top 2 seed he would need to do very well in both tournaments (at least a final in each or a win and a semifinal) and would need 2 poor showings from Nadal. No one can catch Federer or Murray for the #4 spot, so the “Big 4″ are guaranteed to be the top 4 seeds. Murray is actually sitting out Madrid with a back injury, but he hopes to play Rome and should be fine for Roland Garros.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer, and Tomas Berdych should have the #5-7 seeds safely locked up. #8, though, is where things get interesting. Because a win at Madrid or Rome is worth 1000 points each, almost any player in the top 60 could technically get that #8 seed. Realistically, however, there are five players who can really challenge for the #8 spot and two more who could get it without too much insanity happening, though it’s very unlikely.
Janko Tipsarevic currently sits in the #8 spot. He has no points to defend in these two Masters 1000 events, so as long as he does as well or better than his competition he has the #8 seed locked up. Mardy Fish is very close to Tipsarevic and only loses 100 points in these two weeks, but he will definitely not play Madrid and will probably not play Rome as he is dealing with fatigue from an an undetermined ailment.
Next comes the most interesting candidate in this seeding race. John Isner sits less than 200 points behind Tipsarevic and defends 55 points these next two weeks. He has shown to have some talent on clay and the Madrid surface should suit him very well. If they both reach that far, he will meet Juan Martin Del Potro in the third round in Madrid. Del Potro is right in the thick of this race as well, less than 100 points behind Isner and with only 90 to defend at the two Masters (and because of his win in Estoril today will be ahead of Isner when the rankings update tomorrow). Gilles Simon is also close to these two and has only 90 points to defend. Simon will also have a good chance to help his own case as he can meet Tipsarevic in the third round of Madrid. Any one of these five could really get that #8 seed with one good run in one of these two tournaments.
The two long-shots, who are pretty far back but within range and have had success on clay in the past are Nicolas Almagro and Gael Monfils. These two would need to reach at least a final in one of these two tournaments to get the #8 spot though. Still, that’s not unimaginable, especially in Monfils’s case. Monfils is inconsistent a lot, but he can have huge spurts of top-level play.
Just keep in mind that top 16 and top 32 cut-off when you see the rankings in two weeks. Also, keep an eye on Andy Roddick’s ranking. He probably won’t play Madrid or Rome, even though he defends no points in either. However, he is sitting very close to the edge of that top 32. It is unlikely that he will fall out of the top 32 by the French Open, but it is possible. And regardless of Roddick’s poor career on clay, he is still not a player than anyone wants to meet in the first round of a Slam.