Rafael Nadal

Until the day he is fairly beaten, Rafael Nadal will remain the odds-on favorite to win the French Open (Photo by Stephanie Myles/OpenCourt.ca)

  • Rafael Nadal is seeking his 13th French Open title, as the tournament starts in two weeks
  • Rescheduled from June because of the coronavirus, the tournament will feature radically different weather conditions this year
  • Can new US Open champion Dominic Thiem finally dethrone the king this year? Read on to find out

You bet against Rafael Nadal at the French Open at your peril.

He was 18 when he first played it in 2005. And he won it.

In 15 trips, Nadal’s record is 93-2.  He has dropped just one set in the last two finals combined, both against Dominic Thiem.

Early French Open Men’s Singles Odds

Ranking (9/14) Player Odds at DraftKings
2 Rafael Nadal (ESP) -143
1 Novak Djokovic (SRB) +250
3 Dominic Thiem (AUT) +300
6 Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) +1400
7 Alexander Zverev (GER) +2000
5 Daniil Medvedev (RUS) +3300
17 Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) +3300
26 Borna Coric (CRO) +5000
21 Cristian Garin (CHI) +5000
9 Gaël Monfils (FRA) +5000
12 Andrey Rublev (RUS) +7500
34 Casper Ruud (NOR) +7500
20 Félix Auger-Aliassime (CAN) +10000
40 Marin Cilic (CRO) +10000
22 Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) +10000
16 Karen Khachanov (RUS) +10000
19 Milos Raonic (CAN) +10000
10 Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) +15000
13 Fabio Fognini (ITA) +15000
14 Denis Shapovalov (CAN) +15000

A Different Kind of Clay-Court Season

Is there a logical reason to bet against Nadal this year?

Well, it’s … complicated.

In a typical year, the Mallorcan rolls through a heavy clay-court scheduled leading up Paris.

But because of the pandemic, this is no ordinary year.

When Nadal steps on court at the Italian Open in Rome on Wednesday against US Open semifinalist Pablo Carreño Busta, he won’t have played a competitive match since he won the ATP 500 in Acapulco in February.

It’s a long break of the type Nadal has endured when he’s been injured. But this is different.

No US Open for the 2019 Champion

Nadal, who was the defending champion, decided not to make the trip to New York.

There were many reasons. But the man who is always aware of the numbers knew that under the temporary ranking system, he could keep the 2,000 points he earned a year ago whether he played, didn’t play or lost early.

He’s putting all of his 2020 eggs in the Roland Garros basket. And, at this stage of his career, why not?

In the meantime, cases are surging in Paris. Which will mean more deviation from his routine when he arrives.

The Same – and Yet Completely Different

Paris in early fall is a world away from Paris in the bloom of early June.

For one thing, the average daytime temperatures are 10 degrees cooler – an average of just 61F October.

Despite the reputation Nadal has of excelling on a slow, muddy track, he actually prefers quick, fast, dry, sunny conditions.

There are five fewer hours of daylight in October and three fewer hours of sunshine.

In June, on a clear night, they can play until 9:30 pm. In October, they’ll be lucky to play after 7 pm. without the lights.

Oh Yes, There are Lights!

Another thing: Court Philippe Chatrier will now have a roof.  And there will be play under the lights.

Nadal won’t be allowed to stay at his regular hotel. Instead, he must bunk at a designated, “safe” hotel.

Will Nadal, who likes consistency, still thrive in a place that will throw all his routines out the window?

The Kings (and Pawns) of Clay

Player No. of French Opens Avg. pts per French Open Career Clay Winning %
Rafael Nadal (ESP) 15 1,642 91.3%
Novak Djokovic (SRB) 15 718 79.9%
Dominic Thiem (AUT) 6 655 74.3%
Stan Wawrinka (SUI) 15 368 66.3%
Gaël Monfils (FRA) 13 233 61.2%
Alexander Zverev (GER) 4 205 69.8%
Milos Raonic (CAN) 6 152 62.7%
Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) 3 128 67.4%
Borna Coric (CRO) 4 81 58.1%
Daniil Medvedev (RUS) 3 10 42.6%

(Champion earns 2,000 points; a quarterfinal 360 and a fourth round, 180. Clay-court percentages from Tennis Abstract).

If Not Nadal, Who Else?

That’s the rub. There still is simply no one who can touch him on that surface, in that place. And there are only two others worth mentioning.

(Pro tip: don’t waste a dime on Daniil Medvedev. Despite his accomplishments, he has lost in the first round in Paris all three times he’s played).

Djokovic has only won the French Open once. He defeated Andy Murray in the 2016 final.

Running into Nadal seven times (and is 1-6 against him) had much to do with that. The last time they met there was in 2015. And Djokovic won.

A year ago, Djokovic lost to Dominic Thiem in five sets in the semifinals.

If Thiem recovers well from winning his maiden Slam title in New York Sunday, the pressure will be off and he’ll be hungry for more.

As the No. 3 seed, will he be in Djokovic’s half, or Nadal’s half? You’d rather try to take Nadal down in the semis, rather than the final.

But until Nadal is beaten in Paris, he’s always the pick. It might take more than 127 other players to take him down there – still.

Pick: Nadal (-147)

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