French Open: Muguruza can reign again at Roland Garros

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TENNIS analyst Gavin Mair (@gavinnightmair) shares his verdict on the women’s outright picture ahead of the 2017 French Open.

French Open | 28 May – 11 June 2017 | Eurosport

Has there ever been a more open Grand Slam? This year’s French Open is significant for the absence of the WTA tour’s leading lights.

Serena Williams won the first Grand Slam of the year whilst pregnant. Now that she is closer to her arrival date the American will not feature on a tennis court again in 2017.

Victoria Azarenka, who dominated hard court tournaments at the start of last season, is close to returning following the birth of her first child.

Maria Sharapova returned from a 15-month doping ban, and has not been able to accrue sufficient ranking points to feature in Paris.

In addition to those unable to attend, many of the leading players come into the year’s most important clay court tournament with major question marks against their names.

World number one Angelique Kerber saves her worst tennis for the clay, and besides that looks a shadow of the player that won two Grand Slams in 2016.

Petra Kvitova was stabbed by a knife-wielding attacker in her Prague apartment before the start of the season, and suffered injuries to the tendons in her racket playing hand. She is scheduled to play her first match of the season this week.

Potential world number one in waiting Karolina Pliskova has a similar clay aversion to Kerber. Her coach was recently quoted suggesting that her charge may as well make the effort to travel to Paris as Serena won’t be there… Hardly the most confident approach!

The two players producing the best results during the clay swing picked up injuries in the week leading up to the tournament.

Stuttgart champion Laura Siegemund had to be stretchered off court in Nurnberg due to a knee injury. She has since withdrawn from the tournament.

Simona Halep had been the outright favourite following victory in Madrid and another good run in Rome. She made the final there, but trod on her ankle and a scan has revealed ligament damage, which the Romanian assesses as providing her only a 50/50 chance of participating, never mind winning the tournament.

Somebody will have to leave Paris lifting the year’s second major.

It’s been a very profitable season so far for my WeLoveBetting previews. Using a statistical analysis and assessing the draw quarter-by-quarter where does the value lie?

Quarter 1

The first quarter is set to be highly competitive featuring several of the tour’s better clay courters.

Former champion Svetlana Kuznetsova is the bookie’s favourite to advance to the semi-finals at a best price 9/2. The Russian is an enigmatic player but the various performance metrics that I use show a player whose better days on this surface are behind her.

Kuznetsova made the semis in Madrid, so is capable, but flattered to deceive elsewhere during the other clay events. There are more consistent players available at bigger prices.

Kiki Bertens is on a hot streak having won this week in Nurnburg, making the semis in Rome and quarters in Madrid. She has also fine form in Paris, and intriguingly her performance numbers show a player that is improved from this time last year.

Her Round of 16 opponent is forecast to be Kuznetsova, in what has been a very even match up in their career meetings to date, and at almost double the price I’d prefer to be on the side of a player in better form and who carries greater potential.

At the top of the first quarter are a couple of seeds I’m keen to oppose in the form of Angelique Kerber and Sam Stosur. The former I have already touched upon, whilst the latter a champion in Strasbourg this week, has seen better days.

A player that is clearly on an upward trend and that made the Premier level final in Charleston at the start of the clay season is Jelena Ostapenko. The young Latvian has a volatile character, but looks a dangerous and nicely priced (14/1 Betfred) alternative to Stosur and Kerber to advance from the first quarter.

Quarter 2

Quarter 2 features the defending champion Garbine Muguruza, who has been written off by the majority of tennis commentators in the run up to this event.

Ever since winning the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen 12 months ago the form of Muguruza has been dire. Whilst that is true, it ignores the trend of first time Grand Slam winners struggling in the aftermath of that breakthrough win. During that spell, the Spaniard has also had plenty of irritating injuries to deal with.

For me, Muguruza is a female mirror of Stan Wawrinka in that she is a big time player that can find her best form for when it matters. There has been too much value placed on her apparent loss of form and it is overstated.

I have faith in Muguruza but it certainly won’t be easy. The early stages feature the soon to retire Francesca Schiavone, who has been very impressive during recent weeks and will punish any complacency from Garbine’s racquet.

The second round could feature Anett Kontaveit, fresh off from bageling the world number one a couple of weeks ago.

Beyond Muguruza there are some decent contenders in this section. Kristina Mladenovic has great recent results but conditions in both Stuttgart and Madrid enhance her game. It is a different set of conditions in Paris and given she showed fatigue in her first round Rome defeat it is a tough ask for the Frenchwoman to grind out seven consecutive clay wins.

Daria Gavrilova is another that is improving and carries a spark of personality that readies her for the big occasions. Gavrilova is at her best on clay but poor course form puts me off. It is not beyond the imagination to see her exploit the complacency of others.

Last year I fancied Timea Bacsinszky to go deep at this tournament and it looked good for her when she was heavily favoured to beat Kiki Bertens in the quarterfinal. Bacsinszky never turned up on that day and I have no confidence in her capitalising should an opportunity present itself this year.

Quarter 3

The in form Elina Svitolina is the girl to beat. She has a decent course record, and she is blossoming well as a player that continually makes gradual statistical gains. Following the injury issues of Simona Halep, Svitolina starts the French Open as the bookmakers favourite.

I am not sure I see her going all the way as she is vulnerable to bigger hitters. Players of her prototype are rarely successful at Grand Slams, but with the strongest performance numbers of any player in the draw I can understand why people fancy her.

It is terrible timing for Simona Halep to pick up an injury. Had it not been for that I probably would have backed her to win a debut Grand Slam this coming fortnight. The medical analysis of a 50/50 chance of starting the tournament sounds realistic and is enough to put me off.

This is a strong quarter and the player that wins it is going to have to earn it given a string of very decent prospects on paper.

Anastasija Sevastova is never fancied to find success but she continually outperforms her ranking in the bigger events, whilst Ana Konjuh is a player tipped to one day find major success and Madison Keys is brilliant on her day but lacking both match confidence and recent wins.

After flying through the qualies, and a win at Biel recently, Marketa Vondrousova has been backed into being the 10th favourite in the outright markets but I don’t think the hype is justified at this point and is as much a comment about how open the tournament is.

One youngster that I believe can take advantage of the uncertainty of the draw is the highly talented Daria Kasatkina, who won the Premier title in Charleston – the clearest sign yet that her potential is being realised.

Kasatkina retired last time out but it is thought to be precautionary, and I am willing to take the chance at what could be a big price (14/1 BetVictor) if she is primed to go deep.

Quarter 4

Of the four segments of the draw it is the final quarter that looks least strong.

All of the seeded players have serious downsides. Johanna Konta, Agnieszka Radwanska and Karolina Pliskova have never impressed on the clay and are vulnerable to almost anybody in the draw.

Coco Vandeweghe has been having her best season to date, but she is another that isn’t at her best on clay.

Of the seeds in this quarter it is worth trying Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to make the semis.

The Russian, who used to reside in Paris, has the best numbers of all those in this weak quarter and has lifted two titles in the past 8 weeks. At 8/1 (Betway) to win the quarter she looks a good value option.

Best Bets

French Open – Garbine Muguruza to win outright (12/1 Betfair)

French Open – Jelena Ostapenko to win quarter 1 (14/1 Betfred)

French Open – Kiki Bertens to win quarter 2 (7/1 Ladbrokes)

French Open – Daria Kasatkina to win quarter 3 (14/1 BetVictor)

French Open – Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to win quarter 4 (8/1 Betway)

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