The French Open heralds the end of the main European clay-court season and the beginning of the general British public paying attention to tennis in 2022.
The headline acts for the second Grand Slam of the year definitely come in the form of the new kids on the block. The WTA Tour has been dominated by the Pole, Iga Swiatek. The world #1 may have risen to the top of the rankings in March due to the shock retirement of Ashleigh Barty, but boy has she run with it. Swiatek comes into Roland-Garros on a 28 match winning streak, taking in titles in Qatar, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart, and Rome. The 2020 champion is the even money favourite on the exchange and it is difficult to pick a hole in her.
Remarkably, even that winning streak and unbelievable skill isn’t enough to make Swiatek the headline act in Paris. That slot has been the sole reserve of Rafael Nadal for almost two decades, but that is not the case coming into 2022. A new Spanish hope comes to town in the form of Carlos Alcaraz. The 19-year-old has won two Masters series titles already this year, including defeating Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev in consecutive days in Madrid on the clay. That is no mean feat and made the world sit up and take notice of this mesmerising talent.
The world’s most famous and lucrative clay-court tournament is about to commence. The length of the rallies, the skill of the groundstroke constructions and the timing of the drop shots are going to be entertaining millions of people for the next two weeks. And even better, we could make a few pounds along the way.
The French Open
The draw for the men’s tournament certainly creates a dilemma for a punter. The three favourites pre-draw all ended up in the top half, with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the same quarter. The fact that Nadal has struggled for fitness since Indian Wells in March has always meant that he was uneasy in the market but it was his recent defeat to Carlos Alcaraz, and moreover, his concerning Rome defeat to Denis Shapovalov, where the Spanish great looked really uncomfortable with his long term foot injury. To see him playing seven best-of-5 matches, including probably having to beat Djokovic, Alcaraz and then the final itself seems beyond the powers of even the greatest player in Roland-Garros history.
For most people it will come down to Djokovic or Alcaraz who they fancy to come out of the top half. Whoever does will undoubtedly be heavy favourite in the final, but the anticipation for an epic semifinal is palpable. Personally, there are enough question marks about Alcaraz at this time to separate them at the same price. Despite Djokovic’s lack of tennis (self-inflicted) in the opening quarter of the year, his title win in Rome last week showed that he is ready to defend his 2021 title.
When the pair met in Madrid, it took a third set tiebreak to separate them. This speaks so much to Alcaraz’s mental strength as most would’ve buckled in this situation against Djokovic. I am certainly not writing him off, the youngster has a great chance of winning, but at the same price you have to take a lot on faith. Alcaraz has not yet played a Grand Slam semi-final, let alone a final, and best-of-5 tennis really does require a slightly different skillset to best-of-3.
Obviously, having all the big hitters in the top half makes the bottom half of the draw ripe for a bet. The nature of tennis each way betting means that you often get ½ the odds for a finalist and often the draw can produce an opportunity to exploit this.
The smart money went on Stefanos Tsitsipas straight after the draw. The Greek is now ranked #1 in Tennis Abstract’s Clay ELO ratings that attempt to rate the players on different surfaces better than the world rankings. The money made sense but of course has reduced his price to the point now where he is no longer value.
Instead I am suggesting a player at five times the price. Yes, Casper Ruud has much to prove, especially at Grand Slam level. However, he came to prominence as a clay court specialist four or five seasons ago and has gradually improved his all-round game to be a threat in every tournament he competes in. Indeed, he was a five-time title winner last season and made his debut in the top 10 rankings and at the end of year ATP finals too. Amazingly, he has a better service hold record than any of the main contenders in 2022 (88.3%) which contributes to a game win percentage second only to Alcaraz in 2022. The only thing that was missing was good recent form but at the time of writing the Norwegian is in the semi-finals in Geneva. Add all of this to his clay pedigree and his draw and Casper Ruud rates as a good bet here.
Whilst the case for Iga Swiatek is obvious, there is no value in her price anymore. The Pole has only one Grand Slam to her name, which was Roland-Garros in 2020. Which means that she has lost in seven consecutive Slams. In Australia she was in prime position to make the final but blew the semifinal against Danielle Collins. To back an even money shot in a 128 player tournament you need to be certain, Swiatek should win this title, but she can’t be backed at this price.
The question is, where do you look from there? Simona Halep is probably the next best clay-courter out there but she was the best clay-courter for half-a-decade and only turned that into one Roland-Garros crown. On top of that, Halep finds herself on a collision course with Swiatek as early as round four after the draw.
Ons Jabeur is on terrific form and feels close to a breakthrough Grand Slam title. It if it were to happen it could be huge for Arabic tennis, and for womens’ sport in those countries. There’s a small chance that pressure could weigh on her in the latter stages but she is a clear 2nd best on form to Swiatek and has the good fortune of being on drawn in the opposite half. An each way play here pays 6/1 the place if Jabeur does emerge from the bottom half and that is a worthwhile investment.
My other selections also come from that bottom half as we look to avoid Swiatek. Cori Gauff is still a teenager but has been around for quite some time now since her breakthrough as a 15-year-old. Despite the fact that she has won a title Gauff hasn’t really been able to build on that early promise, but she has a good draw here. Her 2022 data is good but what surprised me is that her career clay court data is very good, if she can time the ball well this week then a deep run from an open quarter 4 is possible.
The final outright selection on the women’s side is a longshot but with plenty going for it. Jil Teichmann is a Swiss player who has that consistency but also experience of a big final when reaching the Cincinnati Open final last year. Her left-handed game elicits good reaction off the clay court in terms of spin and her form is good, reaching a recent semifinal in Madrid which was enough to see her now ranked inside the top 25 for the first time at 24. Seeded here at Roland-Garros she is another one who finds herself in Q4 alongside the likes of Muguruza who’s form is wretched and needs to be taken on.
Pablo Carreno Busta has been overpriced in the quarter betting for Q4. This is the most open quarter as second seed Daniil Medvedev has a losing career record on clay and is only just returning from injury as well. Carreno Busta has reached the semi-finals at the US Open twice and the quarterfinals here at Roland-Garros twice too. On this occasion, if he reaches the quarterfinals again, he is not going to be meeting one of the heavyweights to reach the semi-finals. He is rated just outside the top 10 on clay ELO ratings which should put him as one of the favourites for this quarter, 12/1 is a good price.
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How to watch The French Open
📅 When is The French Open? / Sunday, 22nd May 2022 from 11am
🏟 Where is The French Open? / Stade Roland Garros (Paris, France)
📺 What TV channel is The French Open on? / Eurosport