OUR tennis expert Mark Stinchcombe (@markstinchcombe) returns with his best bets from the women's French Open.
French Open | Women's Outright | 22nd May – 5th June
Serena Williams enters Roland Garros as reigning champion and 5/2 favourite backed up by her tournament win in Rome last week. She didn't drop a set en-route to victory and it now means she's 70-4 on clay since returning from injury
in 2011 picking up titles here in Paris twice, Rome three times, Madrid, Charleston both twice, as well as Bastad – very impressive. To put that into a bit more context, it means of the 14 clay tournaments in this period she's entered and not withdrawn from, 10 of them she's gone onto win.
Last year her cumulative odds when beating the likes of Lucie Safarova, Timea Bacsinszky, Sara Errani, Sloane Stephens and Victoria Azarenka were 21/10 and in 2013 as champion they were just 1/3 when defeating players such as Maria Sharapova, Errani, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Roberta Vinci and Sorana Cirstea.
It means odds of 5/2 look to hold some value with it likely the only player capable of beating Serena is Serena herself. This is encapsulated in her run since her shock defeat to Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open final as a 1/8 fav where she hit 46 unforced errors.
She made the final of Indian Wells where she struck 33 UE's in a 6-4 6-4 defeat to Viktoria Azarenka before a 4th round loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova in Miami with 55 unforced errors. However, her success in Rome should stand her in good stead having previously won the French Open two of the three times she's been successful in the Italian capital.
Simona Halep is the 6/1 second favourite and that looks short. She was a finalist in 2014 but in her six other appearances she's failed to make it past round two.
She only lost 17-18-17 matches in each of the last three years but she's already lost 10 this year with just one title in Madrid before losing in round one of Rome. And that means it's no fewer than five 1st round exits this year including her other clay tournament in Stuttgart as well as the Australian Open.
Viktoria Azarenka (15/2) has had an awesome year on the hard courts winning 22 of her 23 matches picking up titles in Miami, Indian Wells and Brisbane. But she picked up a back injury that forced her to withdraw in Madrid and then suffered a shock 6-3 6-2 loss to Irina Begu in her only match in Rome where she appeared to still be feeling the effects, raising question marks over her fitness.
Vika's never been too at home on clay with just one title to her name back in 2011. In Paris it's just one semi-final in nine visits and a more accustomed clay-courter may take advantage of her.
Garbine Muguruza (10/1) is another who goes off on the short side after her exploits in making the Wimbledon final last year and beating Serena here in 2014.
Back-to-back quarter-finalist at Roland Garros, she's made just one semi- final this year and lost as a 2/5, 2/9 and 1/2 favourite in her clay tournaments. Only reaching one quarter-final on the hard courts means she's lost as a heavy- odds-on favourite eight times already.
Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber (20/1) followed up her maiden slam by losing as a 1/7 favourite in Doha citing tiredness after just one set despite not playing in a month.
Three weeks later it was another exit at the 1st stage in Indian Wells at 1/4. She followed this up by making the semi's of Charleston and winning her home tournament Stuttgart on the clay but there was a familiar pattern to her post-Australia with exits at the 1st stages of both Madrid and Rome at odds of 1/5 and 1/3 respectively. Her French Open reads very disappointingly with just one quarter-final appearance in nine years.
Petra Kvitova (28/1) is just 11-11 for the year, although her clay defeats have been to Madison Keys, Daria Gavrilova and the aforementioned Kerber. However, she's another I've no interest in here, progressing past the 4th round just once.
Last year's semi-finalist Timea Bacsinszky (40/1) is not quite the 400/1 she was last year (you can't eat value, Mark) but she's managed to re-find some of that form after tailing off between then and now. She won on the clay of Rabat and it was respectable defeats to Muguruza and Halep in Rome and Madrid respectively meaning the 40/1 is probably not far wrong.
Madison Keys (45/1) and Sloane Stephens (50/1) are two American youngsters threatening to take off but a lack of consistency and probably experience seemingly continues to let them both down in slams.
Since their shock defeats in Australia both have done well. Keys made it to the final of Rome beating Muguruza and Kvitova along the way but suffered early defeats in Madrid at 1/4 and Charleston at 2/7. She's yet to negotiate the 3rd round here so another year of progression looks the target.
Sloane won titles in Acapulco and on the clay of Charleston but lost at the 1st stages of Miami and Indian Wells as well also early shock defeats in Strasbourg and Madrid at odds of 4/11 and 1/6 respectively.
It's four 4th round defeats in a row here, although against Serena Williams, Halep, Sharapova and Stosur (the Aussie made went on to make the semi's), so she could be a lively outsider but she's difficult to trust.
One woman who I'm happy to chance at a similar price is last years runner-up Lucie Safarova. Unfortunately at the end of last year she suffered a horrible viral infection which hospitalised her and then after coming back onto the tour in February lost her first five matches as she made her way back to fitness.
However, that looked like great match practice as she followed that up by winning on the clay of Prague beating Stosur and Pliskova along the way. Things were looking good when a straight sets win over Coco Vandeweghe came in the 1st round of Madrid to show no signs of fatigue from the week before, but then she suffered food poisoning! Talk about bad luck.
Judging by her Twitter it kept her in bed for a few days so not surprising she exited Rome in the 2nd round. However, at 50/1 in the opposite half to Serena, it looks too big and I'll be playing her minimum stakes each-way.
It's quite telling that the number two player in the world is the 12th favourite but that's the case for Agnieszka Radwanska and that tells you all you need to know that her game isn't well suited to the clay. One quarter-final appearance in nine years is her record including a defeat in the 1st round as a 1/16 shot last year.
She won two matches in Stuttgart this year to make the semi's but then lost in straights at 4/11 before an opening round defeat in Madrid when 2/5.
Australian Open semi-finalist Johanna Konta has had a fantastic year but her game doesn't translate as well to clay and has suffered early defeats when priced 2/7, 4/6 and 4/9 on the dirt so far this year.
One price in the quarter betting that has caught my eye is Sara Errani in the 4th section at 22/1. The Italian is very much at home in Paris making the quarters, quarters, semi and final the last four years beating the likes of Petkovic, Jankovic, Keys, Radwanska, Suarez-Navarro, Stosur, Kerber, Kuznetsova and Ivanovic.
So being in the same section as Halep, Radwanska, Safarova, Stephens and Stosur (who's nursing a wrist injury) shouldn't phase her. She hasn't had the best of clay court swings so far but in 2012 she lost in the 2nd round of both Rome and Madrid and still made the final. With this section looking wide open and her being as short as 7/1, 22/1 looks value to me.