French Open: Defending champion too big a price to ignore

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TENNIS boffin Mark Stinchombe (@MarkStinchcombe) analyses the men’s outright picture ahead of the 2017 French Open.

French Open | 28 May – 11 June 2017 | Eurosport

Rewind six months and Rafael Nadal was a 7/1 shot to win this year’s French Open having began his latest injury comeback.

Fast forward to today and you won’t find him any bigger than 10/11 (William Hill), such has been his return to form this year, particularly on the clay, having won in Madrid, Barcelona and Monte Carlo, as well making the final in Miami and of course the first grand slam of the year at the Australian Open back in January.

It’s a fairly drastic move in price in such a short space of time, and having comeback from another injury, but I think his odds are about right having held serve 88% and broken 42% on the clay the last 12 months, combined nearly 20% better than any other player.

Doubts over Rafa

However, for all his clay court dominance he’s still never won all of Rome, Madrid/Hamburg, Barcelona and Monte Carlo in the same season, mainly because this is the first year he’s played all four, and even he’s questioning whether it was a good idea.

After all, clay is the most draining of all the surfaces, with the slow pace of the courts meaning it’s harder to hit winners, and two weeks of seven best-of-five set matches may take toll on his body.

After all, he’s only actually 3-3 in finals this year, losing in Australia as a 3/4 favourite having been a break up in the final set against Roger Federer, then noticeably in straight sets to Roger in Miami and in Acapulco to Sam Querrey when 3/20.

He lost again in straights 6-4 6-3 to Dominic Thiem when 1.13 in the quarter-finals of Rome, someone else who’s also played an awful lot of tennis, and I just began to question him mentally in the big matches also.

Djokovic’s turbulent year

Novak Djokovic (4/1 Ladbrokes) is reigning champion but where to begin with him this year.

Defeat to Denis Istomin in round two of the Australian Open was a meteoric shock, followed by straight set defeats early on in Indian Wells and Acapulco both to Nick Kyrgios, before defeat to David Goffin in the quarters of Monte Carlo (someone who previously had only won one of 14 sets against him), despite being a break up in the final set.

In his bid for what he calls ‘shock therapy’ he sacked all his coaching staff. There looked like there might have been an instant impact making the final of Rome which included the 6-1 6-0 demolition of Dominic Thiem.

But in windy conditions he lost to wonderkid Alexander Zverev who deserved the victory, serving really well in particular.

Eight-time grand slam champion, including here in Paris in 1999, Andre Agassi is now onboard and it may provide the Serb with the fresh start and confidence he needs.

Murray’s rotten 2017

World number one Andy Murray (17/1 Unibet) has had an awful year. Also a massive upset in Australia losing in round four to Mischa Zverev, he lost in the opening round of Indian Wells, and after winning 18 of his 21 clay matches last year, he’s just 4-4 in 2017, making just one semi and last time out lost in straight sets in the opening round of Rome.

He’s suffered with shingles and an elbow injury, and now comes here with a virus. He’s just 10-18 (36%) v top 10 opponents on clay, and in the same quarter as Alexander Zverev, Kei Nishikori, Juan Martin del Potro and Pablo Cuevas, before a potential semi with Stan Warwinka, his chances look slim to land a maiden French Open.

Best of the rest

Dominic Thiem (18/1 Betfair) and the aforementioned Zverev (18/1 Boylesports) are the two young guns threatening to make a break through into the ‘big 5’. However, their prices look short at 18/1 and I’m concerned about both from a fatigue point of view.

Thiem lost 1 & 0 against Djokovic in Rome and is just 2-9 against Nadal, Novak and Warwinka over the last couple of years.

He’s in the same quarter as Djokovic against whom he’s taken just one set in 12 off and who his game just doesn’t match up well against.

Against Novak, it’s really tough for me to play, I mean, because he doesn’t give me any time,” said Thiem. “I don’t really like to play against him, because he has a game style which doesn’t fit me at all.”

Zverev meanwhile, has played 19 matches in the last month and was bagelled by Pablo Cuevas in Madrid, which looked a factor of all his playing time on court.

And as well as he played against Djokovic in winning Rome, the courts here aren’t going to favour his serve as they did there. He’s never been past the 3rd round of any slam and “Sascha’s” body may need time to mature a bit before he can cope with the rigours of best of five set matches.

Stan the man?

Three-time slam winner Stan Wawrinka (14/1 Paddy Power), 19-8, has had a poor year (though at the time of writing is due to play the final of Geneva albeit as number one seed), and failed to make it past round two of any of Rome, Madrid or Monte Carlo.

However, we know from experience he often saves his best for the big stage, having come into Roland Garros in 2015 in similarly poor form then shocking the tour to win, before backing that up by making the semi’s last year.

He’s made the quarters in 10 of his last 13 slams, though you would expect that from one of the ‘big 5’. He was under consideration but since being drawn in the opposite half to Nadal and Djokovic, his odds have contracted to 14/1 and there are still threats in Tsonga, Cilic, Kyrgios, Gasquet, Monfils, Ferrer and Fognini in his quarter.

The best bet

If we put Wawrinka into the ‘big 5’ of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, 49 of the last 51 slams have been won by these champions (96%), with only Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro, both at the US Open (2014 and 2009 respectively), bucking this trend.

With that in mind, and taking into account their prices, reigning champion Djokovic has to be the value at 4/1 (Ladbrokes).

Just 10/11 here last year and with looking almost back to his best in Rome, he looks the bet. Potential semi-finalist Nadal awaits, against whom he’s beaten in 11 of their last 13 meetings, including breaking the Spaniard’s Roland Garros spell in straight sets here in 2015, 7-5 6-3 6-1.

Best Bets

French Open 2017 – Novak Djokovic to win outright (4/1 Ladbrokes)

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Mark eats, sleeps and breathes football. As soon as he was old enough to bet he was figuring out ways to make his encyclopaedic knowledge of the beautiful game pay. With a degree in computer programming and three years industry experience trading for a major firm, Mark's meticulous approach leaves no stone unturned in the quest for winners. When not gambling, Mark enjoys playing football for his local side and following Liverpool around the country.

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