French Open 2018 Preview: Can Anybody Stop Nadal from Claiming a Seventeenth Major?

Tennis Clay Court
Credit: Pixabay

There can’t have been many times in the past decade – not even during Novak Djokovic’s reign of terror – where a defencing champion has gone off as a 2/5 favourite in a Grand Slam event.

But that’s exactly the pickle facing punters at this year’s French Open, with Rafa Nadal a red hot favourite to claim an eleventh title on the clay at Roland Garros and seventeenth major trophy in an astonishing career of skill and longevity.

There are numerous caveats built into the price, of course. Neither Roger Federer, by choice, nor Andy Murray, through injury, are here, while nagging doubts about the form of Djokovic since he returned from surgery hardly bolster his claims.

Given Nadal’s recent form, and the fact he returned to the grand slam winner’s circle not once but twice in 2017, suggests the Spaniard is rather tough to oppose in Paris.

Bow Down to the King of Clay

Given all of his injury problems through the years, it is testament to Nadal’s powers of determination that he is even able to compete in the ultra-physical world of clay court tennis, let alone reign supreme.

The hips, knees and ankles are given a frightful work out at Roland Garros, with every drop shot chased down eliciting moans of exhaustion….especially in gruelling five-set encounters.

But Nadal makes the surface work for him, and after galloping to this title 12 months ago he will be confident of a repeat performance. He wasn’t even taken to a tiebreak last year, let alone drop a set, and his recent form is a compelling argument that those odds of 2/5 are actually fair and reflective of his chances.

Nadal won the recent Rome Masters, although it wasn’t his most convincing tournament victory. He was pushed hard by Fabio Fognini in the quarters after dropping the first set, and Alex Zverev dished out a 6-1 drubbing in the second set of the final.

His 46-match unbeaten run on the clay was ended at the hands of Dominic Thiem, who took him out in the last eight of the Madrid Masters.

But really, it takes a brave punter to wager against the Spaniard adding yet another trophy to his cabinet at the French.

Who can stop him? Thiem, at 14/1, will attract interest, but surely the best ‘investment’ – assuming that Nadal wins – is an each way flutter on Zverev.

The German is supremely talented, and he has already picked up a pair of ATP titles on clay this year in Madrid and Germany. He reached the final in Rome, taking a set off Nadal, and as such he has to be considered the smart alternative to the Spaniard at the 10/1 mark.

No Nappy Factor Joy for Serena

Petra Kvitova
Credit: Pavel Lebeda / Czech Sports Wikimedia Commons

Typically in sports betting circles, you will hear reference to the term ‘nappy factor’.

It is often used in golf parlance, and refers to a new parent turning in a series of quality performances; presumably because of the renewed sense of focus and perspective that parenthood brings.

It’s a theory that hasn’t quite rung true for Serena Williams, who became a mum in 2017. Her return to the sport has been low key, to say the least, and she is yet to play a single match on clay this term. With just three of her 23 grand slam titles coming at Roland Garros, she can be removed from punters’ enquiries.

Jelena Ostapenko was the surprise champion here 12 months ago. The unseeded Latvian had never won a senior-level singles title before, let alone a major, and so we can chalk up her victory as a huge shock result.

It was the Romanian, Simona Halep, who tasted defeat in that final, and you do wonder about her temperament on the big stage. She reached a third grand slam final at the Australian Open at the turn of the year, and once again suffered defeat; as a 6/1 favourite for this title with the bookmakers, can we really trust her with our hard earned cash?

Could this be Karolina Pliskova’s time? Perhaps, and she has two WTA clay court titles to her name this term. But you sense here game is better suited to the hard courts, and a rather feisty temperament may just prevent her from achieving her potential in the majors.

Elina Svitolina is being touted by the bookies as a 13/2 second favourite, but she has never gone past the quarter-finals of a grand slam event.

It really is a conundrum for punters, and we’ll offer two candidates for your money: Petra Kvitova (14/1) and Caroline Garcia (33/1).

There is no substitute ahead of a major than confidence, and confidence comes from winning matches. Kvitova, the excellent Czech whose career has been hampered by the shocking turn of events where she was stabbed in the hand trying to fight off a burglar, has won titles in Prague and Madrid, and so she is ready to get back to her best on the major stage. The fact she is a two-time winner at Wimbledon confirms she has the mental strength to succeed in grand slam finals.

Garcia’s price is about right for a player who has ever shown her best in majors, but let’s not write off somebody who won twice on tour in 2017.

The French fancy will get plenty of home support, and she’s in good nick too: reaching the semi-finals in Stuttgart and Madrid and losing out to Halep in the last eight in Rome.

If Ostapenko’s victory 12 months ago proves anything, it’s that we can expect the unexpected in the women’s draw at Roland Garros.