We’re back at Roland Garros for the 2021 French Open and Sean Calvert returns to run the rule over some possible round one upsets in the men’s singles.
Last year’s French Open provided significantly more underdog winners than we usually see at Roland Garros and I wonder if that was a one-off because of the time of year it was played (September into October), the damp conditions and the limited match practice beforehand due to the global pandemic?
I suppose we’ll have to wait and see, but those 2020 figures were a world away from the norm: 39 underdog winners, compared to 20, 23, 24 and 25 the previous four years and 22 of those underdog winners came in round one of the 2020 tournament.
So, there were more wins for players priced up as betting underdog in round one of the 2020 French Open than in the entirety of the 2016 tournament.
There were just 11 underdog winners in round one of the 2019 event and the average over the last eight editions of the French Open men’s singles is 22%.
If you’d backed every player priced up as underdog in the men’s singles in the last five years for just a £10 stake you’d find yourself very nearly £2,000 down.
Indeed, even in 2020 when there were way more dog winners than usual, you’d still have made a loss (albeit a tiny loss) so that goes some way to explain my yearly reluctance to get too involved in this tournament and I’d rather save my betting token for the grass swing to come.
Those that look to offer some sort of potential value in their odds in round one this year include: Jeremy Chardy, James Duckworth, Ricardas Berankis, Pablo Andujar, Arthur Rinderknech, Soonwoo Kwon, Jiri Vesely, Jan-Lennard Struff, Mikhail Kukushkin, Denis Istomin and Max Marterer.
Karen Khachanov and Jiri Vesely clashed here at the French Open only last October and it was a tight one, with the Russian coming out a four-set winner in a match that featured three tie break sets.
Khachanov was priced up as a 1.33 chance that day and now he’s a shade shorter to beat the same opponent after a poor run of form that’s seen him fail to make a final since Paris 2018 and only two semi finals since Beijing in 2019.
He’s also lost all three matches this clay swing that he’s played against left-handers (Cam Norrie twice and Federico Delbonis) and in all he’s lost nine of his last 12 on clay against lefties (only one of those was against Nadal).
In his last 10 matches on clay against lefties Khachanov’s hold/break total is just 97 and Vesely is worth risking at 4.10 (Unibet).
Vesely is certainly hit and miss, but he usually shows up for majors and he should have done better in Parma last week when he led Tommy Paul (who went on to make the semis) by a set and 4-0 and blew it.
Talking of hit and miss, Jan-Lennard Struff disappointed last week against Paul in Parma, but he has a habit of starting very well indeed against top-10 opposition and he could well do so again when he takes on Andrey Rublev.
In his last nine matches against top-10 opponents, Struff’s won the opening set six times, lost a tie break (to Djokovic) once and lost the other two (to Djokovic).
The set one to Struff at 4.33 appeals here (as does the 5.25 about Struff winning set one and going on to lose), with Andrey Rublev having started nervously here last autumn, having to come from two sets down to beat Sam Querrey in his opening match.
Another player that tends to start well is Mikhail Kukushkin, who often plays better at the French Open than at the rest of the clay events, where he shows only limited interest in conditions that don’t suit his game.
He beat Fabio Fognini in round one last season and was two sets up on Martin Klizan in 2019 and he took Albert Ramos to a set one tie break in set one of round one in 2018, so he usually starts with good intent.
He faces the inconsistent Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in round one and he’s hardly one to trust at odds like 1.03 given his lack of consistency.
He’ll probably win this, but he has no sort of record yet at Roland Garros, having lost in straight sets to clay-averse Aussie Jordan Thompson in 2019 and he also struggled badly early on against Harold Mayot in round one last season.
Set one to Kukushkin in this match is a tempting 7.50 with William Hill.
It’s always a major risk putting your faith in Jeremy Chardy, but I’d expect a performance from him here in the role of plucky underdog against Stefanos Tsitsipas, with all the pressure on the Greek.
Chardy has won his opening set in round one eight times in his last 12 French Opens and 7-1 (Bet 365) is a fair price about him starting well again and winning set one.
If he serves his best the overs is also an option here, with the last 10 sets that this pair have contested (admittedly on hard courts) having gone past 10 games eight times (six of them went to 12 or 13 games).
Ricardas Berankis is no great shakes on clay, but neither is Ugo Humbert, with the latter having won only one of his six matches on the dirt this swing and he was dumped out of Roland Garros by Marc Polmans as a 1.24 chance.
Berankis has had some unlucky draws at the French Open (Djokovic, Goffin, Zverev) and I wouldn’t be surprised if he were able to take advantage of Humbert’s nerves and clay court limitations.
Two more players who don’t always enjoy the clay are Kevin Anderson and Soonwoo Kwon and I wonder if Anderson is fit for five sets on the dirt against a capable enough opponent in Kwon.
Anderson withdrew from every tournament he entered after retiring injured in Estoril (adductor) and Kwon has played some decent stuff on the clay this swing in patches.
I wouldn’t be backing a player with Anderson’s recent fitness record at a price like 1.40 in this one.
Roger Federer is another fitness doubt and he’s 1.13 against Denis Istomin, who himself has struggled with injuries in recent times.
Istomin hasn’t played at main level since Delray Beach 2020 and he’s done little at Challenger level this year either, but he’s qualified nicely here and maybe he’s getting back to better fitness.
Federer’s fitness over five sets on clay has to be questioned and he’s this short largely due to the 7-0 career head-to-head and Istomin’s lack of form.
One player who’s lack of form is rather alarming is Salvatore Caruso and he’s as short as 1.17 in places to beat James Duckworth.
Caruso has lost 10 of his last 13 matches, with the only wins coming against players ranked between 162 and 388 in the world rankings and he hasn’t won a set in his last five matches.
He should see this match against Duckworth, who’s 2-6 win/loss at main level on clay, as a good opportunity to get back on track, but his confidence looks shot right now and an upset couldn’t be ruled out.
Neither could it totally be ruled out in the case of Dominic Thiem, who’s also struggling with confidence and was comfortably beaten by Cam Norrie last week in Lyon.
He’ll probably beat veteran Spaniard Pablo Andujar, but it might not be easy and there’s a chance that Thiem may start nervously given his recent struggles and 4.50 about Andujar winning set one is reasonable as is the over games.
Arthur Rinderknech has the power to hit through most conditions and he has a live chance against the inconsistent Marin Cilic, but I wonder if that price is quite big enough on the Frenchman?
Finally, Filip Krajinovic has been struggling lately, withdrawing from Geneva and Belgrade and losing to Yoshihito Nishioka in Madrid in a run of four losses from his last five matches.
With that sort of form and injury/illness concerns, too, Max Marterer should fancy his chances after qualifying handily this week and he might see this as an opportunity to get his career back on track after a poor couple of seasons.
So, plenty of options, but I’ll just take four that represent a hint of value.
0.5 points win Kukushkin to win set one at 7.50 (William Hill)
0.5 points win Struff to win set one at 4.33 (Bet 365)
0.5 points win Vesely to beat Khachanov at 4.10 (Unibet)
0.5 points win Kwon to beat Anderson at 3.0 (Bet 365)