The second tennis major of the year is almost upon us, the French Open from the legendary Roland Garros, so let’s take a look at the main contenders and some dark horses on the men’s side of the draw:
Novak Djokovic (5/6)
For a player that has claimed eleven Grand Slam titles in his career, it remains an absolute mystery as to why Novak Djokovic has never lifted the French Open trophy. It would be easy to say that clay isn’t his favourite surface, but that detracts from the fact that he has won four of the last clay court tournaments he has entered.
Perhaps something more sinister is afoot, but can we ever accuse one of the greatest sportsmen that has ever lived of psychological weakness? Maybe not, but what we can say is that we’re happy to oppose the hopes of an odds-on player with the bookmakers that has failed in each of his last eleven attempts at winning the title at Roland Garros.
Djokovic will take to the court in fine form having won the Madrid Masters trophy before losing in the final of the Rome Masters to Andy Murray. The Serb has beaten many of his key competitors in the past fortnight alone on clay – the likes of Murray, Rafa Nadal, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic have all been defeated – so confidence must be high in the Novak camp.
But there are still clay court anomalies to worry about. In the past month or so he has been dumped out of the Monte Carlo Masters by world number 59 Jiri Vesely, beaten by Murray in a tour event final and lost a set 0-6 to Thomaz Bellucci. The vulnerabilities are still there, so can we back Novak at an odds-on price? It would be a brave punter that does.
Andy Murray (5/1)
The improvement in Andy Murray’s clay court game in the past year has been astounding, and whether that is a natural progression or a conscious effort the Scot will surely reap the benefits in France.
There’s plenty to like about Murray’s chances at Roland Garros. He is a two-time major winner – no concerns about bottle here – who will be in the opposite side of the draw to Djokovic as the number two seed. And then there’s the form: in his last three clay court tournaments he’s gone semi final-final-winner, which shows a nice progression.
Like Djokovic, the Scot has never shown his best form in the French Open, but an improvement on the clay – and that added bonus of becoming a father, which can do wonderful things to a sportsman – suggests that Murray’s chances this year are as good as ever.
Rafa Nadal (5/1)
The ‘King of Clay’ has been dethroned quite spectacularly in recent years, but there are signs that Nadal – while not quite the player he once was – is still capable of going deep in France.
He wouldn’t be high on the list of contenders at other Slams, but would you bet against him here given that he is a nine-time French Open winner and even reached the quarters here last year despite being in the worst form of his career?
The Spaniard has entered six clay court tournaments in 2016 thus far, with a form string that reads SF-SF-W-W-SF-QF, and those last two defeats have come at the hands of Djokovic and Murray. We would argue that Nadal is the third best clay court player on the planet right now; and that gives him plenty of hope here.
Stan Wawrinka (17/1)
The defending champion is still something of a curate’s egg, hence his price here, but if Stan can recapture his best form he could well go a long way in this tournament if the draw is kind to him.
The Swiss ace is so hard to read, though. He’s reached two Grand Slam finals, winning them both, and yet in a career dating back to 2005 he has just three other semi-final appearances in majors to his name. And here’s a player with just two clay court titles to his name since the spring of 2013.
Wawrinka is what we might term an ‘uneasy’ back; somebody we like the price of but who we cannot trust to get the job done.
Kei Nishikori (25/1)
A former Grand Slam finalist who is really coming into his own on clay? Nishikori has to be worth a second look at this price.
The Japanese sensation reached the quarters at Roland Garros last year before going down in a five set thriller to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and since then he has established himself as one of the finest players on the planet.
Nishikori has gone F-SF-SF in his last three clay court tournaments, reached the final of two other tour events and taken Murray to five sets in the Davis Cup semi-final. If the draw is kind, we’d expect a quarter-final appearance at the very least here.
Dominic Thiem (40/1)
There are three up-and-coming stars to watch here: Thiem, Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic. Kyrgios has a terrible temperament that may sadly stop him from achieving his potential in the game, while Raonic is just too injury prone to be taken seriously at a two-week long grind of a Grand Slam.
So that leaves Thiem out on his own, and this could well be the tournament on which he stamps his authority on the big stage.
Sure, a best Grand Slam effort of a fourth round appearance at the US Open in 2014 is hardly anything to write home about, but this is a guy who in 2016 alone has beaten Roger Federer on clay, reached the final of the ATP Munich event (again on clay) and clinched two tour titles in Acapulco and Buenos Aires.
If anyone could break through the crowd and ‘do a Krajicek’, it’s Thiem.
See also: French Open (Women’s) Betting Tips