|Gael Monfis||80/1||Paddy Power|
The second Grand Slam of the year, the French Open, is fast approaching with Rafael Nadal bidding for a record 12th title at Roland Garros.
The 'King of Clay' is always the first name to consider in tennis betting terms when competing in Paris, but he has been below his best so far this season. And with Australian Open champion and world number one Novak Djokovic also struggling for form, Dominic Thiem is the name on everyone’s lips at present.
Out of the four Grand Slam tournaments, the French Open is the only one played on clay. The slow, high bounce often leads to long rallies with the surface’s lack of pace favouring solid baseline hitters over more attacking players. Nadal won the first of his 11 titles in 2005 with only Roger Federer (2009), Stan Wawrinka (2015) and Djokovic (2016) interrupting the Spaniard’s dominance.
French Open Outright Betting Odds
Despite his travails, Nadal remains a short-priced jolly with Thiem the springer in the market after his excellent start to 2019. Last year’s beaten finalist was as big as 12/1 before winning in Miami and he is now as short as 4/1 with the best bookies following his Barcelona success. That price is unlikely to contract much further.
With Djokovic out to 5/2 with Paddy Power after his slump since the Australian Open, these three are the clear favourites with the out-of-sorts Alexander Zverev available at 20/1 with Ladbrokes.
There is not too much time for the likes of Djokovic and Zverev to emerge from the doldrums ahead of the tournament which runs from May 26th to June 9th. That said, five-set matches in the early rounds of a Slam could see them play their way into form.
Federer has not played on clay since recovering from a knee injury at the end of 2016, but he returns to the dirt in Madrid next week ahead of his first French Open since 2015. Even at a best-price 25/1 with Paddy Power, Betfair and BetVictor, he looks decidedly short.
French Open 2019 Recommended Bet
At this stage, it is hard to pick out much in the way of value for the French Open. But there is one player who is worth a punt at this stage, even though he does carry something of a health warning.
Gael Monfils made the semi-finals at Roland Garros all the way back in 2008 and reached the quarter-finals in 2009, 2011 and 2014. While he probably hasn’t maximised his potential, he has been unfortunate to bump into three all-time greats in Nadal, Djokovic and Federer in his career. Out of those four runs to the quarters or beyond, the first three were ended by Federer with Andy Murray putting him out in 2014.
The Frenchman’s career has been disrupted by injuries in recent years but has shown glimpses of his best this year. He won his first tournament in over a year in the ATP 500 event in Rotterdam, beating David Goffin and Daniil Medvedev before accounting for Wawrinka in the final.
‘La Monf’ then reached the quarter-finals at Indian Wells before pulling out minutes before his clash with Thiem citing an Achilles injury. He has been sidelined ever since but makes his return to action this week at Estoril where he is the third seed. Should he go far in Portugal, his outright price of 80/1 with William Hil would surely contract, while I don’t see him being pushed out significantly in the event of an early exit.
History of the French Open
Having been limited to members of French clubs from its inception in 1891, the French Championships became an international tournament in 1925. Three years later, having been held at different venues on a variety of surfaces, it moved to the clay of Roland Garros which was built for France’s first defence of the Davis Cup.
When professionals were embraced at the start of the Open Era in 1968, the event changed its name to the French Open. Bjorn Borg was the most successful player of the Open Era at Roland Garros with six victories before Rafael Nadal came along.
Last 5 French Open Men's Winners
|2018||Rafael Nadal||2/10||Dominic Thiem|
|2017||Rafael Nadal||1/5||Stan Wawrinka|
|2016||Novak Djokovic||1/4||Andy Murray|
|2015||Stan Wawrinka||5/1||Novak Djokovic|
|2014||Rafael Nadal||3/5||Novak Djokovic|
With 11 wins, the Spaniard is one of four former champions taking part this year. Roger Federer (2009) is a best-priced 25/1 with fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka (2015) a 50/1 shot with Paddy Power.
Novak Djokovic (2016) was the last man other than Nadal to lift the ‘Coupe des Mosquetaires’ and he is 5/2 with Betfair to regain the title.
Can Rafael Nadal Win the French Open Again?
This year has not gone to plan for Nadal with fitness and, unexpectedly, form deserting him at times.
Having gone down to Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open, a knee injury stopped him facing Roger Federer in the Indian Wells semi-finals. The Spaniard has long complained of the effects of playing on hard courts, and it was no surprise that he opted to skip Miami.
He made his 2019 clay-court debut in Monte Carlo where he had won 11 times previously. Normal service appeared to have been resumed until the semi-finals where he met old foe Fabio Fognini.
The Italian has given Nadal plenty of problems in the past, and he did so again as the King of Clay turned in what he described as “one of my worst matches on clay in 14 years”. Fognini won 6-4 6-2 before taking his first Masters title.
Nadal was out again quickly in Barcelona, another tournament he has won 11 times. The centre court was even renamed ‘Pista Rafael Nadal’ in 2017. But the Mallorca native again fell at the semi-final stage, this time to Miami champion Dominic Thiem.
Unlike in Monte Carlo, this was more of a case of Nadal facing an opponent at the top of his game rather than him being significantly below par. The Austrian now looks a more complete player than before, and his all-round gameplay was faultless on this occasion. Nadal was far from disgraced and said afterwards, “After this week my confidence is back. I really believe I made very good improvements to create a good base.”
The bookies remain fearful of Nadal with good reason. In 2017, he won the tournament without dropping a set, demolishing Stan Wawrinka 6-2 6-3 6-1 in the final. And last year, his only blemish was the opening set of his quarter-final with Diego Schwartzman. His opponent in the final was Thiem who had beaten him the previous month in the Madrid quarter-finals. There was to be no repeat as Nadal ran out a comfortable 6-4 6-3 6-2 victor.
His defeats in recent weeks mean he is no longer a shades of odds-on to claim a 12th French Open title. You can get 11/8 with Ladbrokes and Coral but, to me, this represents little value at present. If Nadal wins his next tournament, his price comes in to even money. If he doesn’t, he drifts slightly more. At these sort of odds, you can definitely wait until the week before the tournament as at least one firm might take him on.