2018 French Open – Men’s Singles Preview

French Open – Men’s Winner

May 28 – June 10

For a while the French Open was the most likely of the Grand Slams to see a lower ranked champion and between 1993 and 2004 only two of the 12 titles were won by top-four seeds. That can be put down to a decade where clay-court specialists dominated at Roland Garros as only three other top-four seeds even made the final.

That all changed with the arrival of the greatest clay-courter of all time, Rafael Nadal, and the dominant periods of Roger Federer and then Novak Djokovic. That has resulted in 23 of the 26 finalists since 2005 being seeded in the top five, including six finals between the top two seeds in the last 12 years, and this year Nadal will be looking for an incredible 11th title here.

However, while Nadal comes in as an overwhelming favourite the Big Four are no longer a thing, certainly when it comes to this surface, as Federer has once again taken the spring off, while Novak Djokovic looks a pale imitation of the player who dominated the game in 2016 and Andy Murray is injured. With Stan Wawrinka struggling to win a match since his return from injury the youngsters Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev should be challenging Nadal for the title.


Quarter One

Rafael Nadal should dominate the top half of the draw and in the absence of Federer and Murray, plus with Djokovic and Wawrinka struggling to regain their best form, it’s arguable that Nadal has never been a bigger favourite. That certainly looked the case when he broke the single surface record for most consecutive sets won on tour earlier this month. However, that streak was ended when Dominic Thiem beat him in straight sets in Madrid before Alexander Zverev pushed him all the way in Rome, so it’s not a guarantee that this fortnight ends in an 11th French Open.

There shouldn’t be any dangers in the early rounds though and with Kevin Anderson seeded to meet Nadal in the quarter-finals it looks like only an injury will stop the Spaniard making the semis. In fact, with Anderson retiring injured in Rome and this being his worst surface it would be a surprise if the big serving South African made the second week. Instead the winner of the Aljaz Bedene and Pablo Cuevas first round should have a great chance of coming through this section and could even make the quarters, with none of the seeds showing any particularly strong form. We like the look of ex-Brit Bedene in that match and with decent results on clay since the start of last year he’s worth a small buy to make the second week.

Of course neither of those players would have much of a chance against Nadal, who might have a greater challenge against Richard Gasquet or Denis Shapovalov prior to that stage, but those two opponents are at opposite ends of their careers and Gasquet hasn’t won a set of Rafa for almost 10 years while the young Canadian was comprehensively outplayed by the master in Rome.


Quarter Two

Marin Cilic tops the seeds in the second quarter but since reaching the final at the Australian Open in January he’s failed to record any notable wins. Nevertheless, he reached the semis in Rome and quarters in Monte Carlo but last year’s run to the quarter-finals here was the first time he’d reached that stage at Roland Garros. He’s landed a decent draw though, and should reach the Last 16 before he’s really tested.

There, Cilic would most likely face either Fabio Fognini or Kyle Edmund. The mercurial Fognini has two ATP titles on clay in the last 12 months and beat Thiem in Rome before taking a set off Nadal. Edmund, though, has the game to match him and recorded impressive wins over Djokovic and Goffin in Madrid while he showed his full potential in making the semis at the Australian Open. However, our preference would just be for the Italian, who looks to have added a level of consistency to his game since getting married, having a child and turning 30.

Both of those players would have very good chances against Cilic and it is more the Croat’s greater consistency and easier path that make him the favourite. However, whoever comes through that fourth round would be the favourite in the quarter-final as the other half of this section is far weaker.

John Isner, Tomas Berdych, Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Juan Martin Del Potro are the seeds here. Isner has had an excellent year, winning the Miami title, but hasn’t been past the Last 16 of a Slam since 2011 and has lost early in three of his four warm-up events on clay. Berdych, meanwhile, lost his opening matches at all three clay Masters tournaments and Ramos-Vinolas has lost before his seeding in 10 of his last 11 events. Del Potro is the exception as he’s enjoyed some great form but he’s a major doubt to even participate due to a groin injury.


Quarter Three

David Goffin and Pablo Carreno-Busta are seeded to meet in the Last 16 at the top of the third quarter and both look to have great draws to reach that point. The Spaniard has reached the semis of three of his last five events and was a quarter-finalist here a year ago. Goffin, meanwhile, reached the quarters in Rome and Monte Carlo, and the semis in Barcelona, with his three defeats in these events all coming to top-five ranked players. The other couple of seeds in this section are Gael Monfils and Nick Kyrgios but they’ve got just one win between them in the last two months and are prime candidates for early exits.

However, the opposite part of the quarter looks the most interesting section of the whole draw. Grigor Dimitrov is the fourth seed but Novak Djokovic is the obvious favourite. The Bulgarian has lost his last three matches, though his semi-final run in Monte Carlo is a better sign, as form there usually transfers well to Paris. However, it’s still six early exits in his last seven events and on that basis he’s one to avoid. Djokovic, meanwhile, looks to be improving at every event and his potential level is easily enough to make the final. The main question mark is around his ability to play back to back five-set tennis without his body breaking down as it clearly did in his Australian Open exit. He’s certainly not been helped by such a tough draw but we still fancy him to come through and make the semis.


Quarter Four

Alexander Zverev has reached his highest seeding at a Slam but the big concern is his record at the majors of never reaching a quarter-final. However, he’s reached the final of five consecutive tournaments – four of which were Masters events. It’s a brilliant run he’s on and he’s also been handed the draw to make the most of it. Lucas Pouille is scheduled to meet him in the Last 16 but has lost four of his last five matches and has never been past the third round here.

A quarter-final with Dominic Thiem is where things will get tough for the German. Thiem is likely to face a tricky second round with Stefano Tsitsipas, who reached the final on the clay of Barcelona, and beat Thiem on route to that final. Kei Nishikori, if he can stay fit, is another very tough potential opponent for the Austrian before he can get to Zverev.

Nevertheless, Zverev outplayed Thiem in the Madrid final and it all looks set up for him to make his breakthrough.


Conclusions

While there look to be plenty of potential surprises amongst the lower seeds, many of whom are struggling for form or not comfortable on clay, there really should be no worries for Nadal.

He’s simply too good on this surface and the only question is if he can win the tournament without dropping a set. However, amongst those other surprises we like the look of Fabio Fognini to reach the semis in the top-half. Meanwhile, in the bottom, Djokovic looks ready to remind viewers of his gifts but his route to the semis is a tough one and if he gets there his fitness issues could well catch up with him so we’re not 100% convinced. Instead, look for Zverev to show just how good he can become by reaching a first major final.

Although he’s yet to perform to his best ability at a Grand Slam the German has gone from strength to strength over the last 12 months as he’s reached nine ATP finals since the start of May 2017, including five at Masters level. Eventually that level of performance and consistency has to carry over to the majors.

 


Betting Strategy

 BACK – Rafael Nadal to Win the French Open at 1.43 for 5 units

BACK – Alexander Zverev to reach the Final – betting advice: Roll up one unit on Zverev each match till the final for 1 unit

BACK – Fabio Fognini to Win 2nd Quarter – betting advice: Roll up one unit on Fognini each match till the semis for 1 unit


Related Articles

An Introduction to Tennis Modelling

In this first article of a series from Martin Ingram, he gives an overview of the different approaches commonly ...

Points Based Tennis Models

In the last article, I wrote about Elo Modelling, which was found to be the best-performing published model for ...

Tennis Predictions Model

The Data Scientist’s Tennis Predictions Model identifies trading & betting opportunities throughout ATP & WTA tournaments around the world.  ...