TENNIS analyst Gavin Mair (@gavinnightmair) returns to highlight his favourite fancies from the women's side of the French Open.
French Open | 27th September – 11th October 2020 | Amazon Prime
2018 Roland Garros champion Simona Halep leads the betting market by some considerable distance for this year’s event. The Romanian is statistically the best clay court player in the world and is in strong form having won the last three events that she entered, including two on her beloved clay following the COVID hiatus.
In nine of the past 10 years the French Open has been won by a ball striker such as Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Ostapenko or current champion Ash Barty. Only when Halep won in 2018 has the trophy been lifted by what could be considered a ball moving, counter-puncher type player.
The tournament that is usually played in summer will now take place in Autumn and the greatest clay court player of all-time Rafa Nadal has complained about the heaviness of the playing conditions. At a skinny 5/2 to win a tournament packed full of the most talented collection of players since the resumption of play I don’t believe that value is on the side of Halep, who will have to work harder than those with more obvious firepower for the win.
The draw has been kind to Halep who likely won’t face any reasonable competition until a potential meeting with Marketa Vondrousova in the Round of 16. 2019 French Open runner-up Vondrousova showed signs of form in Rome two weeks ago when she made the semi-final, and has beaten Halep on both occasions that they have met.
The Czech is 33/1 to win Roland Garros this year, but she is a moody personality and I can easily see her coming unstuck at an unexpected moment.
Beyond Halep and Vondrousova it is difficult to make a case for an outsider to emerge from the first quarter. Jo Konta had a great year on clay in 2019 but the fundamentals of her game make a repeat performance highly unlikely. Her first round opponent is wonderkid Coco Gauff, who is a former winner of the junior event and who is more than capable of dropping Konta down the world rankings with a first round victory.
Fifth seed Kiki Bertens retired injured in Strasbourg last week, and didn’t look in great form. Seven days ago she was third in the outright markets but has significantly – and rightly – dropped down the list of frontrunners.
Serena Williams heads the field in the second quarter. The legendary American is making an admirable effort at rewriting the history books as she searches for the Grand Slam title record set by Australian Margaret Court in the 60s and 70s.
Sadly for Williams, she is a fading force and I doubt that she will be able to add to her major title collection, although most fair minded observers wouldn’t deny her the status that she desires whether she obtains further accolades or not.
The French Open has never been the happiest of hunting ground for Serena with only three successful campaigns in Paris over the course of her career. With her movement substantially reduced from her heyday the bookies third favourite won’t be winning this year either.
Elina Svitolina is the highest seeded player in this quarter but I don’t think she is a good enough tennis player to win a Grand Slam. Although the Ukrainian is an athletic and consistent baseliner – that shines brightly on the main statistical indicators – her route to victory relies on her opponent missing their targets, which is effective until she runs into a player that carries a strong enough arsenal.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Svitolina survive until deep into the tournament, but I think a bumpy ride is certain.
One player I have been very impressed with since the tour resumed is Estonian Anett Kontaveit, who made the final in Palermo and has been competitive in every other event that she played. Kontaveit hits a heavy ball with plenty of topspin applied to it and has every chance of hitting her way through the field.
I don’t see Kontaveit as an eventual winner of this event as she has a mental block at the deep end of tournaments. However, at 14/1 with Paddy Power to win the second quarter Kontaveit could be seen as a value option to reach the semi-final.
I believe Quarter 3 holds the best alternatives to a Halep victory. Unfortunately, the three players I was hoping to find spread throughout the draw have all landed near each other and will play something of a shoot-out to make the semi-final.
Garbine Muguruza (7/1), Elena Rybakina (25/1) and Aryna Sabalenka (50/1) have all shown form on the clay in recent weeks.
Muguruza is the shortest price of the three due to a strong historic track record on clay, which includes a previous title run in Paris. In Rome two weeks ago she lost a narrow battle to Simona Halep, which could easily have ended in the opposite outcome.
Prior to the global quarantine Elena Rybakina was flying on a path towards the top end of the sport. When the tour restarted I was looking forward to watch her pick up where she left off but, she struggled to assert her naturally huge game in the first few tournaments including an early loss at the US Open. In the following few weeks Rybakina has had enough time on court to play herself into form and now looks similar to her pre-lockdown level.
Of the three Aryna Sabalenka falls into the dark horse category as she is the player that has demonstrated the least long term results on the surface. The Belarusian possesses the most powerful game on tour but blows hot and cold. When she is in one of her better moments the sky is the limit for her.
In an interview during the off-season Sabalenka said that she was targeting success at the French Open, and last week in Strasbourg she showed that she has the potential to be effective on clay.
I recommend a unit on each player and hopefully you should find yourself on the side of value at the latter end of the tournament.
I believe Quarter 4 is the weakest section of the draw and I would be surprised if a champion emerged from here. Karolina Pliskova is the highest seed but retired hurt in the final of Rome a week ago. It would surprise me if she is firing on all cylinders given that she tweeted she will do everything to ‘Start’ the tournament as opposed to win it.
The betting favourite to win the quarter is Petra Martic, who knows her way around a clay court but I don’t consider her the complete package mentally and thus don’t trust her to justify her 5/1 price even if on paper she is a deserving favourite to do that.
After the two quarter favourites stand an array of either out of form or unhappy clay players. Petra Kvitova isn’t going to relish the heavy and potentially humid conditions; Madison Keys hasn’t played on clay in 12 months and retired hurt in New York; Angelique Kerber lost heavily on her last outing in Rome; and Sloane Stephens looks disinterested to be a professional tennis player at the moment.
The door is potentially ajar for a lower profile player to make a run, although on the limited form guide available it is like picking a needle in a haystack.