Tennis - French Open Preview

Before I move on to this year’s French Open preview I’ll provide a quick rundown of last week’s ATP action at Geneva and Lyon. I came so close to another bonanza weekend of huge profits by nearly predicting both finalists at Geneva, with Gojowczyk (advised 40/1) and sixth seed Johnson (advised 25/1), but Johnson let us down losing his semi-final against Fucsovics from a set and a break up on Friday. Hungarian Fucsovics impressive 2018 form continued Saturday in the final, when he thrashed Gojowczyk 6-2 6-2 to land his first ATP Tour title. However, we still made a decent each way profit of nineteen points on Gojowczyk. At Lyon top-seed Thiem (advised 6/5) added to that profit after he recovered from playing two physically draining three set matches on Friday and from a set and a break down in the final on Saturday against veteran Simon, before storming back to win his tenth ATP Tour title 3-6 7-6 6-1.

The eagerly awaited second Grand Slam of the 2018 professional tennis season gets underway today and the elite of the ATP Tour will attempt to lift the coveted championship trophy in two weeks’ time. However, having checked the weather forecast for next week, high temperatures ranging between 22-30 degrees along with rain and thunderstorms are forecast for the period, mainly later in the afternoon, and with no roofs on the two show courts at Roland Garros still, there are likely to be delays and match suspensions. As is normally the case at Grand Slams, two of the top ten seeds often contend the finals and the French Open is no different. The men’s tournament has witnessed only one winner seeded outside the top four seeds over the last decade (Wawrinka 2015 seeded eight) and only one player reached the final seeded outside the top-five over the last decade (Soderling 2009 seeded 23).

Only four active players have won the French Open over the last decade and of course Nadal rises above the rest with seven titles during this period (ten in total between 2005 and 2017), he’s only ever lost twice at the tournament (Soderling 2009 and 2015 Djokovic) and twice in one hundred and four five set matches on the red dirt. The only other active players to win the title during this period were Federer in 2009 (does not play this year), Wawrinka 2015 (seeded twenty-three this year), Djokovic 2016 (seeded twenty this year) and given the record of players seeded above five at the French Open over the last decade it’s unlikely Wawrinka or Djokovic will be contending this year’s final, from a statistical perspective at least.

Looking at how the seeded players have performed from a historical statistical perspective and the top-seed has won three of the last ten titles (last Djokovic 2016), and they were a losing finalist three times during this period, which bodes well for Nadal winning again this year as he’s never lost a French Open final. The second seed has won four of the last ten titles (last Nadal 2012) and they were a losing finalist once during this period (Murray 2016), which bodes well for second seed Zverev’s chances this year, but it must be remembered that he’s failed to make the break through at Slam level yet.

After a blistering return to form on the red dirt during this seasons European Clay court season Nadal is now the clear odds on favourite to win an unprecedented eleventh French Open title and it’s hard to oppose him on current form and with a favourable draw. He also has the motivation of defending his title and the world number one ranking from arch rival Federer, who he overtook again to regain top-spot after winning the Rome Masters 1000 Series title. Only second seed Zverev has shown any significant form on the red dirt this season winning Munich, the Madrid Masters 1000 Series and he lost the final of the Rome Masters 1000 Series against Nadal, when he was a break up in the third set before a rain delay scuppered his chances of defending his title and winning a fourth Masters 1000 Series in total.

Third seed Cilic best result at the French Open was reaching the quarter finals last year and he hinted at the Rome Masters 1000 Series that he could be a potential challenger at this year’s French Open, after reaching the semi-finals at Rome, where he lost a close semi-final against Zverev 7-6 7-5. However, Cilic has landed in a tough Second Quarter of the top-half of the draw alongside the likes of fifth seed Del Potro, ninth seed Isner sixteenth seed Edmunds, eighteenth seed Fognini and of course Nadal, who he’s drawn to meet in the semi-finals and the best I can see him doing is winning the Second Quarter and reaching the semi-finals this year.

After a promising start to the 2018 European Clay court swing reaching the semi-finals at Monte Carlo and quarter finals at Barcelona, fourth seed Dimitrov’s form has tailed off since then, losing his opening matches at Madrid and Rome against Raonic (does not play 2018 French Open due to injury) and Nishikori respectively. Dimitrov’s record at the French Open so far has been poor and his best results were two third round appearances in 2013 and 2017. Fifth seed Del Potro’s best French Open result was reaching the semi-finals back in 2009 and he was on my radar as a potential bet for this year’s French Open but, after retiring injured at Rome recently with a groin injury and being drawn in the top-half of the draw with Nadal and Cilic, my confidence in him reaching the latter stages has reduced somewhat. This of course depends on the extent of his groin injury and I am going to wait to watch him play first before deciding on betting on him.

Sixth Seed Anderson’s best results at the French Open were three fourth round runs in 2013, 2014 and 2017 and as he’s drawn in Nadal’s quarter of the draw and the best result I see him achieving this year is reaching the quarter finals. Seventh seed Thiem has avoided Nadal and resides in the tough bottom half of the draw alongside second seed Zverev in the Fourth Quarter. His best results at the French Open were two semi-final appearances in 2016 and 2017 and his form on clay this year has been steady, but not spectacular. He’s won two ATP 250 titles at Buenos Aires and Lyon this week, reached the quarter finals at Monte Carlo (lost to Nadal), the quarter finals at Barcelona (lost to finalist and NextGen star Tsitsipas) and the final at the Madrid Masters 1000 Series (lost to Zverev). While some will argue winning the Lyon title is perfect preparation for the French Open, I personally think the opposite, as he had to contest three physically draining three set matches in two days, which included the quarter and semi-final on Friday and final on Saturday, which I think could start to catch up with him physically if he reaches the second week.

Eighth seed Goffin resides in the Third Quarter and bottom half of the draw, his best result at the French Open was a quarter final appearance in 2016 and he’s drawn to meet second seed Zverev in the semi-finals. Fourth seed Dimitrov, tenth seed Carreno-Busta, thirteenth seed Bautista Agut and twentieth seed Djokovic are all in his quarter of the draw as well, which looks like a tough challenge on paper, but his form has been the most consistent of this group during the European Clay swing, having reached the quarter finals at Monte Carlo (lost to Dimitrov), semi-finals at Barcelona (lost to Nadal) and quarter finals at Rome where he came close to beating Zverev when he went a break up in the deciding third set. Of the above group of players only Djokovic has produced any top-class results at the French Open, but as he still looks short of that level of form I think this could be the year Goffin emerges as a potential contender to reach his first Slam final.

Ninth seed Isner’s best results at the French Open were two fourth round appearances in 2014 and 2016. He has landed in the top half of the draw with Nadal, a tough Second Quarter alongside third seed Cilic and fifth seed Del Potro and I don’t see him bettering his previous results on this occasion. Tenth seed Carreno-Busta’s best result at the French Open was last year when he reached the quarter finals (withdrew injured against Nadal). He’s been in solid form again this year and played ok during the European clay court swing reaching the semi-finals at Barcelona (lost to Tsitsipas), semi-finals at Estoril (lost to Tiafoe) and quarter finals at Rome (lost to Cilic). He resides in a tough Third Quarter of the draw and is drawn to meet Goffin in the fourth round and comparing both payers clay court form and results this year I don’t see the Spaniard repeating last year’s quarter final appearance or better on this occasion.

Players who are ranked outside the top ten, but in the top twenty, who could potentially challenge for the title this year are Monte Carlo finalist Nishikori, who is seeded nineteen and Rome semi-finalist Djokovic who is seeded twenty. They both avoid Nadal in the bottom half of the draw and Nishikori is in the Fourth Quarter with second seed Zverev, seventh seed Thiem, fifteenth seed Pouille and 2015 winner and 2017 finalist Wawrinka, who is seeded twenty-three. Nishikori is potentially drawn to meet Thiem in the fourth round, and either Zverev, Pouille or Wawrinka in the semi-finals and apart from Nadal, he’s the only player to beat second seed Zverev on clay this year at the semi-final stage at Monte Carlo, which make him a lively outsider this fortnight.

Apart from reaching the Rome semi-finals, Djokovic’s form overall in 2018 has been disappointing and it’s clearly taking him time to regain his confidence and best form. He should have gained plenty of confidence at Rome where he gave Nadal a good match and with seemingly no injury problems at present he looks capable of reaching the quarter finals or possibly better. However, this all depends on his true physical and psychological state and he still looks vulnerable to losing against a talented outsider or proven top-ten player over the best of five sets in my view.

From a tournament betting perspective second seed Zverev (10/1) is worth taking a risk on as he’s been in such good form during this seasons European clay court swing, and while there’s the big matter of him not performing well at Slams so far during his career, this statistic is surely going to change for the better sooner rather than later. Third seed Cilic is worth backing to win the Second Quarter (10/3) given the doubts surrounding fifth seed Del Potro’s groin injury. Cilic has been a consistent performer at Slams over the last couple of seasons and his Rome form suggests he’s capable of bettering his quarter final run at the French Open last season on this occasion.

While past statistics relating to the performance of seeded players over the last decade suggest otherwise, eighth seed Goffin (50/1) and nineteenth seed Nishikori (50/1) are both worth considering for the tournament outright, as its possible Zverev and Djokovic will fail to perform at Slam level again. There have been more higher seeds bucking the trend at Slams and Masters 1000 Series in recent seasons due to the Big Five of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka experiencing extended injury lay-offs and with the emergence of the Next Generation stars, who have started to appear more and more at the latter stages of the big tournaments.

On current form and with a favourable draw eighth seed Goffin has the potential to reach a first Slam final and like Djokovic, Nishikori is a high seed masquerading as a top-five player due to injuries and extended lay-offs. He could easily buck the statistical trends this season and reach a second Slam final. Goffin and Nishikori’s recent clay form suggests they are capable of putting together good runs this fortnight, and even if they meet Djokovic and Zverev at the quarter final stage, there are encouraging signs both can upset the odds, as they both have winning form on clay against the two. Goffin beat Djokovic on clay at Monte Carlo last year and Nishikori defeated Zverev on clay at Monte Carlo this year.

From a first round match betting perspective there’s a few matches I like that will hopefully return a profit. On Sunday qualifier Klizan is worth opposing against Djere (23/15) as Djere leads the head-to-head 2-0, which were both on clay back in 2017 and 2015. As you may remember I like siding with Lucky Losers on occasion, as they can adopt a nothing to lose attitude having initially failed to qualify for the main draw and they have the added motivation of significant financial incentive, especially at Slams. I also think Berrettini is worth opposing against Lucky Loser Otte (11/8) Berrittini as there’s little between them in terms of ranking and overall form on clay.

On Monday/Tuesday and current form I think Ramos-Vinolas is worth opposing against Kukushkin (25/18) as Kukushkin won their only meeting on clay at Casablanca 2015 and he’s in decent form on clay having reached the quarter finals at Lyon where he just lost a final set tie break against eventual finalist Simon. There are two other Lucky Losers who I think could push their higher ranked opponents close.

Lucky Loser Zopp faces Lyon doubles winner Sock and with their only meeting on the ATP Tour at Winston Salem landing the Over Games line I think there’s some value in backing Over 34.5 Games at 22/23 for this encounter. I think veteran Lopez is worth opposing against fellow veteran and Lucky Loser Stakhovsky (14/5), as Stakhovsky won their last two matches on the ATP Tour back in 2012 & 2016 and he has the advantage of playing two competitive matches at the venue in qualifying.

As you may also remember I also like opposing players who won an ATP Tournament and then play a tournament the following in the first round, but on this occasion, I would only follow this advice if they play their first-round matches on Monday or Tuesday at the latest.

Lyon winner Thiem faces the talented Ivashka, who you may remember reached the semi-finals at Marseille from qualifying earlier this season. He continued that good form winning the Shenzen Challenger, he qualified for ATP Tour clay tournaments at Marrakech (lost first round against eventual winner Andujar), Monte Carlo Masters (lost to Fognini), Barcelona (lost to Simon) and of course he qualified this week. I’m not sure Ivashka is good enough to cause a major upset on this occasion, but I believe there’s value in backing Over 29.5 Games at Evens as Thiem won their only encounter in the Davis Cup 6-4 7-6 and if the young Belarusian can raise his game again he’s more than capable of keeping the score line close and even nicking a set if Thiem is at all jaded after winning Lyon on Saturday.

Finally, as Fuscovics won the Geneva title I think he’s worth opposing against the experienced Pospisil (19/5) as there’s a chance the Hungarian could be slightly less motivated to continue his excellent Geneva form next week, having boosted his career earnings significantly and if he over celebrated at the weekend.

Outright selections

Zverev (10/1 win not each way)

Nishikori (50/1)

Goffin (50/1)

Cilic to win the Second Quarter (3/1)

First round match betting selections

Djere ((23/15)

Otte (11/8)

Kukushkin (25/18)

Zopp vs. Sock Over 34.5 Games (22/23)

Stakhovsky (14/5)

Only if matches played Monday or Tuesday latest

Ivashka vs. Thiem Over 29.5 Games (Evens)

Pospisil (19/5)

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