The second grand slam of the tennis season is upon us, and this time, we get to see how the players fair on the clay courts of Roland Garros (May 22nd – June 11th). A few storylines have developed since the Australian Open in January: Maria Sharapova is back from suspension; Serena Williams is pregnant and won’t be competing; Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have continued to underperform; and Roger Federer has a commanding lead on Father Time, taking the first two sets at love.
Heading to the clay courts of France, however, all eyes are on one man: Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard is in the midst of a career resurgence — not unlike Federer — and is now hoping to add to his record nine French Open titles.
Will Rafa mold another clay masterpiece? Will Maria create widespread meldonium … I mean pandemonium … in Paris?
Rafael Nadal: 5/4
There’s a reason they call Nadal the “King of the Clay”: he has a record nine French Open titles, three more than Bjorn Bog. Why is he so good on clay? His style of play is perfectly suited to the slower surface. He puts a massive amount of top-spin on his consistent groundstrokes, extending rallies and generating unforced errors from bigger hitters. He also moves as well as anyone on clay (when he’s healthy), having trained on the surface from the very outset of his tennis career.
Nadal hasn’t won the French Open, or any other grand slam for that matter, since 2014, largely thanks to injury struggles. Last year, he appeared to be back to his old self, physically, but he couldn’t push past his competitors (mainly Federer) to get the big wins. Federer has owned Nadal in 2017, as well, going 3-0 this season. But those matches all came on hardcourts and Nadal owns a 13-2 record against Fed on clay.
Heading back to the place where he’s been so dominant, a reinvigorated Nadal is a deserving favorite.
Andy Murray: 7/2
When will we see another grand slam victory from the world number one? If history is any indication, it won’t be at the 2017 French Open. Murray has a good record on clay, on the whole, but has never won a French Open title. His runner-up finish to Novak Djokovic at last year’s event was his first appearance in the finals.
Murray has underperformed in 2017, sporting a 15-5 record to date and picking up just one title (Dubai) in six tournaments. That’s a nice mid-season resume for a mid-level player. It’s not up to snuff for the top-ranked man in the world. If he wants to keep his world number one ranking, he has to win another major, soon. He’s well ahead of Djokovic and Federer at the moment, but has a lot of points to defend over the rest of the year.
Novak Djokovic: 11/2
What are the arguments in favor of Djokovic? He’s the defending champ and, from 2015 Wimbledon to the 2016 French Open, he won four straight grand slams. What are the arguments against? Everything that’s happened since then. He lost in the third round of 2016 Wimbledon and fell to Stan Wawrinka in the 2016 U.S. Open final. Then, at this year’s Australian Open, he was ousted in the second round by a wild card. He’s seen similar results on the ATP tour this year, winning just one of his five tournaments to date (Qatar Open). His next-best finish is the quarterfinals (Mexican Open; Monte-Carlo Masters).
Last year’s victory was Djokovic’s first at Roland Garros, and while he’s still ranked number two, I wouldn’t wager too much on the Serb just yet.
Roger Federer: 15/2
Roger Federer has had a fantastic year. Not only did he win his first grand slam in five years (Australian Open), he’s a sterling 19-1 with two more titles (Indian Wells; Miami Open). His resurgence has tennis fans and media around the world drinking the Federer kool-aid. He even attended the Met Gala, fashion’s biggest night, earlier this month.
But back to tennis. Federer has longer odds than the top three because he hasn’t been great on clay over his career, only winning once at Roland Garros back in 2009. But if he comes out swinging with the same tenacity as he’s shown this season, he’ll definitely be a contender. And hey, how great would another Federer/Nadal final be?
Stan Wawrinka: 15/1
The 32 year-old Swiss has a 2015 French Open title under his belt, and goes into this year’s tournament as one of the favorites, despite not winning a tournament since securing last year’s U.S Open title. His 2017 has been highlighted by a semifinal appearance at the Australian Open, and a finals loss at Indian Wells.
Wawrinka has proved he has the ability to win this event, and if he can get his legs moving, he’s decent value at 15/1.
Photo credit: MarioGalli01 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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