PARIS — Madison Keys confirmed what most here know: the talk of the French Open has been the men’s draw. Not who can win, but simply who can play.
“We were all freaking out,” Keys said. “We were thinking, ‘When was the last time this happened? And when do you start running out of people who can go in the draw?’”
Eight men have withdrawn from the main draw of the French Open since the qualifying rounds began, more than twice the number at any of the previous 30 Grand Slam events. That left eight spots in the draw to be filled by players who had lost in the qualifying rounds but stuck around the site.
To answer Keys’s first question: 1982 was the last time there were eight men’s lucky losers at a Grand Slam, which also came at the French Open. (The record of 50, after a major player boycott of Wimbledon in 1973, is unlikely to be broken.)
The answer to her second question? Less than three hours after play began.
When Nick Kyrgios became on Sunday the eighth man to withdraw, citing a persistent elbow injury, his line of the draw was left blank. Only one player, 182nd-ranked Mohamed Safwat, had signed in to be a lucky loser that day, and he had already been used as the seventh alternate when Viktor Troicki withdrew just before play began.
Any player who had lost in any of the three rounds of qualifying — and who had not entered the main draw of another tournament this week — would have been able to sign up and would immediately be placed in the draw, securing at least an additional 20,000 euros ($23,300) in prize money. There were 83 eligible players, but none had signed in at the referee’s desk before the 10:30 a.m. deadline on Sunday.
While most of those players had left town, many others were nearby, and simply unsuspecting of the opportunity. Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia stayed in Paris after losing in the second round of qualifying and planned to practice near Roland Garros on Sunday. As a second-round loser in qualifying, he did not realize he was in contention to be an alternate.
“I had no idea how the rule works, so it’s probably my bad,” Kokkinakis said Monday. “I messaged the tour manager yesterday saying, ‘Would I have gotten in? And he said, ‘Yes.’”
Kokkinakis replied with a curse word.
Lucky losers have been a focus in tennis this year, when a new rule was implemented that offered injured players 50 percent of the first-round prize money at Grand Slam tournaments if they withdraw before their first match. Its purpose was to discourage players with pre-existing injuries from abandoning first-round matches.
The rule, which is being used on a trial basis, took effect at the Australian Open, where only two men and two women entered as lucky losers. That number has stayed the same for the women at Roland Garros, but quadrupled for the men, with another full day of first-round matches yet to begin.
The sixth and seventh lucky losers in Paris had daunting opponents: No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal and No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov. But the eighth spot offered a chance to face 206th-ranked Bernard Tomic, a qualifier who is at his least comfortable on clay.
The name of Tomic’s opponent in a match scheduled for Monday morning stayed blank overnight. The open spot would go to the highest-ranked player who lost in the final round of qualifying and signed in before the deadline on Monday morning.
Prajnesh Gunneswaran of India, ranked 183rd, should have been in pole position. But still four spots down in the order on Friday when qualifying ended, Gunneswaran decided he should enter a Challenger tournament in Vicenza, Italy, instead, rather than hang around Paris on the slim hope that four additional players would pull out.
“I asked around, and they said that it was almost impossible that I get in, and I’d have to sacrifice a tournament to sit around on the off-chance I get in,” Gunneswaran said by phone from Italy.
Gunneswaran has never played in the main draw of a Grand Slam event, but convinced himself that moving on to the next tournament was the mature thing to do.
“If I’d gone with my emotions, I probably would have stayed,” he said. “But I let my logic dictate, which is why I left.”
Gunneswaran lost in the first round in Vicenza on Monday, pocketing just 660 euros, or $769, in prize money.
His gamble left the ninth player in the order, 190th-ranked Marco Trungelliti, with a clear road to get back into the tournament.
Having returned to his home in Barcelona, where his family was visiting him from Argentina, Trungelliti did not realize there was any chance of playing the French Open until his coach noticed that seven lucky losers had already gotten in.
When news came of an eighth opportunity, he told everyone to pack up: they were taking the car they had rented for their family vacation around Spain to Paris, 650 miles north.
“My grandma was in the shower,” Trungelliti recalled Monday, smiling before the most crowded news conference of the tournament so far. “And I told her, ‘O.K., we go to Paris!’”
Within half an hour, the family had piled in the car. With his mother and 88-year-old grandmother in the back seat, Trungelliti shared driving duties with his brother, Andre. He said that since Argentine cities are spread out, they were used to long trips, and listened to a mix of Argentine folk music and electronica to pass the time.
The decision to drive paid off. Had Trungelliti relied on air travel, he probably would have been stranded by one of the three Barcelona-to-Paris flights that were canceled Sunday night. French trains were plagued by strikes.
Leaving Barcelona around 1 p.m., the family arrived in Paris close to midnight. After getting about five hours of sleep, Trungelliti came to the tournament, signed in well before the deadline. As word had gotten out about the opportunity available, 12 other players signed up as alternates.
Trungelliti was placed in the draw and went to Court 9 at 11 a.m. to face Tomic, who was five minutes late arriving.
Trungelliti won, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, earning 79,000 euros, or $92,000, with the victory, roughly tripling his earnings for the year.
Ernests Gulbis, another qualifier who won his first-round match Monday, said he totally understood why someone would drive long distances for a second chance as a lucky loser.
“Of course, it’s such a great bonus,” Gulbis said. “You have nothing to lose then. And to play in main draw of a Grand Slam, you don’t just drive — you crawl here.”
Christopher Clarey contributed reporting.