The second major of the season gets underway on Sunday at Roland Garros, with the world’s elite tennis players heading to the French Open 2021, and Sean Calvert returns to assess the outright betting market for the men’s singles.
We’re back at Roland Garros for the clay major and the most eagerly anticipated men’s draw in years has been made, pitting number three seed Rafael Nadal against world number one Novak Djokovic.
Before we get into that a quick recap on last week’s play and our bets on the ATP Tour in Parma and Belgrade.
I said last week that it looked a week to be a little frugal with our bets ahead of the French Open and I think that was the right move, with (at the time of writing) Djokovic looking highly likely to win Belgrade (1.03 ahead of the final).
In Parma, Benoit Paire looked decent early on against Jaume Munar, but once he’d let the first set slip away he didn’t fancy it and promptly retired.
That was why I just went half a point on that one, with obvious concerns about Paire’s attitude, but had he won that opening set against Munar it may well have been a different story.
Jan-Lennard Struff didn’t play well in Parma, losing in the quarter finals to Tommy Paul and that tournament may well be won by Marco Cecchinato or Seb Korda – neither of whom I saw any great outright value in.
Conditions and trends
It’s Paris in the springtime, so anything’s possible as far as weather is concerned at the French Open, with the forecast currently suggesting that the first three days should be nice and sunny, but rain/showers are expected for the rest of week one.
It doesn’t look too bad though and it might be even be playable as the rain doesn’t appear that it will be heavy or prolonged and week two is at the moment expected to be more or less rain-free.
It was on the damp side the last time they played here in September/October 2020 when they used the Wilson balls for the first time, which resulted in just 73% holds of serve and a huge increase in underdog winners (30% compared to the usual average of around 20%).
The current situation regarding fans is, as ever with the French Open, complicated.
At the moment, from May 30 to June 8, 5,388 spectators will be allowed on site each day, split across six different zones and then on June 9 some restrictions are being lifted, which means that Chatrier and Lenglen courts will have 5,000 fans for the quarters, semis and final.
New this year at the French Open are night sessions, the arrangement of which, as ever with Roland Garros, leaves something to be desired: nine of the 10 scheduled night sessions will be closed to fans because of the local curfew time of 9pm, leaving only one night session (the first men’s quarter final on June 9) open to fans when the curfew time gets pushed back to 11pm.
In terms of outright winners and finalists, there’s been nothing for value punters to get excited about for years at the French Open, with only Stan Wawrinka’s 2015 title (and I suppose Djokovic’s 2016 success, too) breaking the monotony of Rafael Nadal winning the title at around even money.
Qualifiers don’t fare well here, as you’d expect at a major, with Marcelo Filippini in 1999 the last male qualifier to make the quarter finals.
French Open 2021 Men’s Singles draw overview
So, the draw that Djokovic and Nadal fans didn’t want did indeed happen, with the superstar duo paired together in the top half, meaning a likely semi final clash between the two market leaders.
Djokovic in particular must be – or should be – pretty happy with his quarter in which his biggest threat might come from Matteo Berrettini, while Nadal has the likes of Jannik Sinner, Diego Schwartzman, Andrey Rublev and big hitters Aslan Karatsev and Nikoloz Basilashvili in his quarter.
The one that I talked about in my pre-draw video preview was Alexander Zverev, who I had an interest in at 20-1 and the German, having avoided Nadal and Djokovic by being placed in the bottom half of the draw is now a 12-1 chance.
That’s still double the price of the bookies’ favourite to win the bottom half though, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and while both look too short now I still think there’s a good chance that Zverev could make the final this fortnight.
Most UK firms are doing the usual half the odds a place, but a couple of layers – named and shamed as Betfair/Paddy Power – are trying to squeeze punters with 1/3 the odds, but at the same prices as the others, so be aware of that before having a bet.
I’ll be brief about Q1, as it’s hard to see anyone in it beating Djokovic, assuming the Serb is fit for duty, which hasn’t always been the case in majors over the years.
An opener against Tennys Sandgren and then a route to the last eight that will probably be Pablo Cuevas, then one of Caruso, Duckworth, Berankis or Humbert, followed by at worst David Goffin or Lorenzo Musetti or Marco Cecchinato doesn’t seem that testing.
Cecchinato did beat Djokovic here in the quarters in 2018 but it’s hard to see that happening again, while Goffin is in wretched form and Musetti doesn’t have the stamina yet for going deep in majors.
Surely clay-averse Alex De Minaur and Ugo Humbert won’t threaten, so it could be down to Berrettini to pose a problem or two with his big hitting in a potential quarter final clash.
Berrettini was the other one I mentioned pre-draw and his price has now gone out due to being drawn with Djokovic and Nadal, but he looks the only one capable of possibly beating Djokovic in this quarter on a good day.
Felix Auger-Aliassime is a possibility as well, but I’m still to be convinced about him on clay and in major tournaments, while Roger Federer is probably only here because he thinks it’ll be his last time playing at Roland Garros and week two would be some achievement for the Swiss veteran after so long out after knee surgery.
As I mentioned above, Rafael Nadal has a tricky-looking quarter and his route to yet another French Open semi final could be: Alexei Popyrin, Richard Gasquet, Lorenzo Sonego, Jannik Sinner, and one of Diego Schwartzman, Andrey Rublev or maybe Aslan Karatsev.
That looks tougher than Djokovic’s likely route, but are any of these guys going to take three sets off Nadal at Roland Garros?
Aside from Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic’s wins over Nadal here – the only two occasions that the Spaniard has lost in a 100-2 win/loss record – only Djokovic and John Isner have taken two sets off Nadal at the French Open.
Someone like a Rublev or Karatsev or Schwartzman might take one, maybe even two on a good day, but three?
It seems unlikely, even though Nadal hasn’t been at his best by any means this clay swing.
Schwartzman has been in terrible form lately, while Rublev has faded away after a very bright start to the year and it would probably need a peak Rublev to show up in top form and we really haven’t seen much from the Russian at majors to suggest that’s likely.
Rublev’s been disappointing against the elite players and generally at majors and while it’s a possibility that he could overcome that this fortnight and repeat his win over Nadal at Monte-Carlo, I’m not convinced that he has the belief in himself to win this tournament.
In any case, Rublev could only meet Nadal in the quarter finals and by then it would probably be the case that Nadal has played himself into the tournament and be in fair touch.
With that in mind, Sinner might have the best chance of beating Nadal early on and he showed in Rome that he can trouble Rafa, but winning three sets at Roland Garros? I’m not sure about that just yet for Sinner.
The one that could go well is Karatsev, who has the power to beat both Rublev and Schwartzman, but I just feel that Nadal in a Roland Garros quarter final may be too big an ask on the clay.
I’m pretty happy as an Alexander Zverev backer at 20-1 with the German’s draw, with Casper Ruud, Dominic Thiem, Fabio Fognini, Kei Nishikori and Roberto Bautista Agut the likely threats to Zverev in Q3.
Ruud’s fitness – or more specifically his ongoing wrist issue – would prevent me from backing him as short as 50-1 to win it and his stated goal for this year’s French Open was “hoping to make the second week.”
If his wrist holds up Ruud has every chance, but equally he might get ambushed by an inspired Benoit Paire in round one as unlikely as that seems at the moment.
Thiem’s form has been so poor compared with previous clay swings that the US Open champion is an 11-1 shot, which is double the price he was back in September for the 2020 French Open.
He may be able to play his way into the tournament like he did in New York, but he doesn’t seem anything like his old self at the moment and I couldn’t back him even at 11-1.
Fognini is a possibility at 400-1 in what will probably be his last genuine shot at making a Roland Garros final at the age of 34, but we’ve seen little from him this clay swing to make us have much confidence that he still has the desire.
Perhaps someone like a Federico Delbonis or Marton Fucsovics could surprise in Thiem and Ruud’s mini-section or even Alejandro Davidovich Fokina or Hubert Hurkacz.
It’s hard to see Dan Evans or the out of form Karen Khachanov figuring too strongly, while Roberto Bautista Agut has never bettered the last-16 at Roland Garros and surely needs it quicker.
If Kei Nishikori is for for duty (never a given) then he’s shown some spark lately and he could prove to be interesting to maybe win the quarter if you’re taking on Zverev, but I’d struggle to trust his brittle body to take him any further in the tournament.
I’m very tempted to take on Stefanos Tsitsipas here, with the Greek seemingly a certainty to make the semi finals according to the bookmakers, who’ve made him as short as 5-1 to win the whole thing.
As good as he’s been this clay swing that price is too short (he was 40-1 to win it in 2020) even in a quarter that on the face of it doesn’t look too tricky.
It rarely turns out like that in reality though and those that could potentially derail the Greek before the quarters including Jeremy Chardy first up, Seb Korda next up, John Isner in round three or Pablo Carreno Busta in round four.
Chardy could be anything in round one, but if he’s on a go day, which he might be at his home major, that could be very interesting indeed.
The Frenchman has been typically inconsistent this year, but he was very good in February and March and he still has the ability to beat good players if he’s feeling it on any given day.
His last three appearances here have all resulted in typically Chardy-esque five set losses and the one before that was a five set win over Tomas Berdych as underdog, so I wouldn’t make Tsitsipas long odds-on to win that one easily.
Seb Korda played well at the French back in September and he’s maybe coming into form at the right time in Parma at the moment, so he may fancy his chances too, with Tsitsipas not the strongest when it comes to handling pressure and expectation.
When Djokovic and Nadal skipped Miami he was one of the four expected to step up and win it, but he failed, admitting: “I was very stressed these two weeks. Especially this week, I was feeling very stressed. I felt like it was my opportunity.”
He might well banish those memories and make a maiden major final this fortnight, but he’s not for me at this price and instead I like Carreno Busta to win this quarter at a better price of 11-1 (Sky Bet).
PCB made the quarters here back in October and he’s been playing well this clay swing, winning his comeback event in Marbella and only very narrowly losing to Ruud in Monte-Carlo before making the semis in Barcelona (lost to Nadal).
The he struggled with a back issue that saw struggle in Madrid and skip Rome, but if he’s fit and ready he’ll be a danger and his mini-section looks pretty kind up against Milos Raonic, who hasn’t played since the end of March.
Another possibility in this part of the draw is Cristian Garin, who’s been drawn with the ‘forgotten man’ Daniil Medvedev in the bottom part of Q4.
Medvedev’s hatred for clay has meant that he’s surely the least favoured number two seed at a major in recent memory and Garin, along with maybe Jaume Munar, look the ones most likely to make the last-16 at the expense of Medvedev.
Garin has been up and down this clay season and Munar is a little lightweight for my liking against the bigger hitters, but this draw could open up, with Grigor Dimitrov rarely a threat at Roland Garros and Medvedev overlooked.
As ever, it’s difficult to oppose Nadal at this tournament in these conditions, so instead I’ll take on Tsitsipas (and Medvedev), who looks too short in Q4, but it’ll just be small stakes this week, with the grass swing starting next week.
1 point win Carreno Busta to win Q4 at 11-1 (Sky Bet)
0.5 points each-way Carreno Busta at 150-1 (Betfred)
0.5 points each-way Garin at 150-1 (generally)