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2018 French Open Preview: Is Rafael Nadal An Absolute Lock?


It’s not so remarkable that a Roland Garros favorite has been given short odds to win the 2018 French Open. What’s crazy is that there’s no one remotely close to Rafael Nadal on the betting board.

Currently ranked #1 in the world, Nadal has claimed the clay surfaces of Paris as a 2nd home. His record at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open includes 6 combined titles. But he has won a record 10 French Open championships.

In view of his past success, Nadal’s (-300) futures line for the tournament may seem almost conservative on the part of odds-makers. A glance at the entire board reveals a field that could beat itself up trying to get into the semifinals.


As for the women’s singles competition, as usual, the top star is making headlines off the court. Serena Williams has chosen to play in the 2018 French Open but will not be seeded due to recent maternity. Tennis editorial writers have jumped to her defense, saying the tournament should seed her based on her trio of Roland Garros titles.

Roger Federer made a splash this week by calling Serena the greatest tennis player of all time. Perhaps if El Nino wins another 4 or 5 French Opens before retiring, Federer will at least be able to admit she has a rival for best clay court player ever.

Favorites For Each Bracket

I’ll take a brief look at the favorites and upstarts in each singles bracket. Read ahead for recommended betting picks on the boys and girls in Paris.

Rafael Nadal (-300 odds-to-win at MyBookie)

Nadal is a strange animal for gamblers to consider. He’s undoubtedly one of the greats. His record at the French Open towers above results at other Grand Slam events though. That doesn’t diminish Nadal as a player. It does mean that match results from any non-clay tournaments should simply be thrown out when analyzing his form.

Unless Nadal breaks his leg or quits tennis in the middle of a non-clay surface tournament, in which case Vegas should pay attention. Otherwise he can lose on a hard surface or on grass without any effect on the ongoing intimidation factor in Paris. 10 titles at age 31?

It’s a wonder anyone can stop shaking long enough to send a serve in Nadal’s direction.

El Nino won the 2017 French Open final in straight sets over Stan Wawrinka. His status as a prohibitive favorite can’t be in question. However, there are a couple of factors preventing the men’s singles odds from getting even more extreme in ’18.

Spain’s Raging Bull

Nadal suffered a hip injury early in 2018 and was forced to withdraw from several tournaments, including the Mexican Open, the Indian Wells Masters and the Miami Open. Any concerns about his form were squashed as the 31 year old returned to star in the Davis Cup before winning the Monte Carlo Masters in April to cement his World #1 ranking.

Nothing is perfect. Shortly after winning a record 50th sets in a row on clay courts, Nadal lost to Dominic Thiem in the Mutua Madrid Open quarterfinals. There was nothing about the loss to suggest any particular weakness – it was just an off day.

Off days don’t come too often for El Nino, who is acknowledged to have the best spinning forehand in the game of tennis.

Who can potentially challenge the Spaniard’s bid for an 11th title?

Alexander Zverev (+580)

Alexander ZverevZverev’s futures line has been shrinking shorter as fans realize just what a threat the 21 year old could be in Paris. His clay court exploits include a win at the Madrid Open this season. The #4 ranked German with the dangerous backhand lost out early in Paris last season. But he wasn’t old enough to take a legal drink in America then, prompting some handicappers to give him better chances this year.

Dominic Thiem (+650)

Dominic ThiemLGS handicappers do not have insider knowledge on the placing of bets at our favorite sportsbooks. But if I could get a gander at the statistics, I bet (excuse the pun) there are a lot of high-roller futures wagers coming down the pike for Dominic Thiem.

Why? Because his recent record against Nadal is unmatched. At least on clay. Thiem whipped Nadal at last year’s Rome Masters before this season’s triumph in Madrid. Beating the Raging Bull on his home turf (or clay) is nearly impossible at this point, but the 24-year-old Austrian pulled it off with excellent defense and a heavy forehand.

Thiem is currently locked into a suspended quarterfinal match against unheralded Guillermo García-López at the Lyon Open. His quarter-draw includes Zverev, lengthening odds for each as only 1 of the 2 players can reach the semifinals.

Novak Djokovic (+800)

Novak DjokovicAs the late Lemmy of Motorhead sang, don’t forget The Joker.

The 12-time Grand Slam winner from Serbia has had a difficult time returning from an elbow injury. His May 19th clash with Nadal at the Italian Open was encouraging. Djokovic lost, but subdued any concerns that he wouldn’t be able to win a game against El Nino.

Djokovic continued his comeback with a semifinal appearance at the Rome Masters, and currently holds a 26-25 lifetime record against Nadal.

I’ll offer some betting advice and a pick for the men’s side at bottom of page. Meanwhile, here’s a look at the contenders in the women’s bracket.

Will Unseeded Serena Williams Prevail in Paris?

Serena Williams is sitting at 10-to-1 odds to win the French Open, possibly the shortest betting line ever for an unseeded competitor.

Fans of Momma Smash are angry that Roland Garros officials haven’t coughed up a “legacy” seed. Her record in Paris – 3 titles and a whole lot of contending – would seem to warrant a decent seed no matter what the circumstances.

But she’s been more of a celebrity than a tennis pro in recent days. While others were slugging it out on tour, Williams was partying at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Mika’s favorite surface is clay, but her playing style takes a lot of energy. Baseline play and aggressive but conservative forehands can lead to long sets and longer matches. That could be a killer for a part-time professional in a Grand Slam event. Serena has won 2 matches and lost 2 matches in her limited appearances this season. It doesn’t inspire confidence in a 10/1 futures bet.

Simona Halep (+450)

Simona HalepFirst, the good. Halep is the #1 ranked women’s player in the world. She’s the odds-on favorite for Roland Garros and is entering her prime at age 26. Halep was runner-up at the Australian Open earlier this year and has an excellent spinning forehand from the baseline in addition to world-class scrambling skills with which to prevail on long, ragged points.

The bad? Halep has never won a Grand Slam event. She has lost all 3 Grand Slam finals she has played in, most recently to Caroline Wozniacki down under in 2018. As much as I might criticize handicappers for acting like historians instead of analysts, a trio of disappointments is more than a hiccup. It’s a trend.

Elina Svitolina (+550)

Elina SvitolinaSvitolina has also never won a Grand Slam title. But she’s only 23 years old. Based on her dynamite season to date, many are calling her the real favorite in Paris despite Halep being ahead on the betting board.

The Ukrainian has won 3 titles in 2018 including the Brisbane International and repeat titles in Dubai and Rome. There is nothing all that unique about Elina’s game, built around clobbering forehands and terrific speed on the baseline. But that’s modern tennis – one might as well say Dustin Johnson’s golf game is unremarkable because he hits long high drives followed by short wedges.

Caroline Wozniacki, Garbine Muguruza, Angelique Kerber

It is very possible that all 3 of these ladies will still be playing after the field is thinned to 16. Yet despite the tasty odds, each has issues that make a futures bet a risky proposition.

Wozniacki has impressed since returning from a knee injury late in 2016, winning her first Grand Slam tournament via beating Halep earlier this season. But she’s been wildly inconsistent in big matches, losing preliminary matches to names like Petra Kvitova and Anett Kontaveit.

Muguruza and Kerber are also interesting picks. Muguruza has struggled against low-level competition at times in ’18 and retired from the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix with a back injury. But she won the French Open in 2016 with a terrific win over Serena. Kerber has threatened to revolutionize the sport with awesome defensive prowess and a quirky style that befuddles opponents. But her clay season has been up and down, and in Rome, she lost to Svitolina for a 6th straight time.

2018 French Open: Futures Picks and Final Thoughts

A wager on Nadal isn’t the worst idea despite crazy odds of (-300) in a gigantic field. His recent 50-set winning streak on clay is a confidence-lifter for both El Nino and those gambling on him. But there always seems to be a surprise or 2 in store at a Grand Slam.

If your sportsbook offers a “Nadal/Field” prop bet with big-payoff odds on anyone else winning the French Open, consider a wager on the field. If not, try a small wager on Dominic Thiem. He’s the lone healthy and well-rounded tennis star who knows how to defeat Nadal on clay.

Svitolina is my pick on the women’s side. Serena Williams is mispriced at (+1000) as the celebrity’s real chance to win is somewhere around 25-to-1. Williams is getting shorter odds thanks to her name-brand recognition and emotional appeal to bettors, similar to how Tiger Woods is being priced at major golf championships. Svitolina’s odds are too long if nothing else.

The Ukrainian is red hot and could be about to get hotter by winning her 4th title of a young season.