Andy Schooler says the value for the French Open men’s tournament lies with Novak Djokovic, while he’s also picked out a 200/1 each-way shot.


French Open
Roland Garros, Paris, France (outdoor clay)

The 2019 claycourt season began with a surprise – Fabio Fognini emerging as the big-priced winner of the Monte Carlo Masters.

However, it seems likely to end in largely expected fashion – Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic having claimed the two Masters titles on offer since in convincing fashion.

At least one of the pair has contested the French Open final in 13 of the last 14 years, with the title won by the duo in 12 of them.

Nadal, undoubtedly the greatest claycourter of all-time, has been responsible for a record 11 of those titles and justifiably starts favourite to claim a 12th this year.

In Rome last week, he was under pressure having suffered three successive semi-final defeats on clay. But he responded superbly in the Italian capital, smashing his way through numerous opponents, including – to some extent at least – Djokovic in the final.

Nadal won the first set 6-0 and the third 6-1. Victory saw his Roland Garros odds cut and they were moved in again following Thursday’s draw, one which saw him placed in the same half as Roger Federer but away from Dominic Thiem, the man who beat him in Barcelona last month.

However, what happened in the second set of that Rome final is of significance too. For an hour, Djokovic was at least Nadal’s equal and he managed to force a decider.

ROME, ITALY - MAY 19: Rafael Nadal of Spain shakes hands at the net after his three set victory against Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the men's final during day eight of the International BNL d'Italia at Foro Italico on May 19, 2019 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

While the Serb was doubtless disappointed with how the third set panned out, it was perhaps to be expected in the circumstances.

Djokovic had played past 1am on the Friday night as Juan Martin Del Potro forced him to play for three hours, while Djokovic was also involved in the evening semi-final on the Saturday, again needing three sets to defeat Diego Schwartzman.

While Djokovic can blame no-one but himself for losing sets and thus spending more time on court, it is also fair to say he was dealt a rough hand by the organisers’ scheduling. Certainly it was rougher than that of Nadal.

Essentially, I suspect things would have been closer were it not for such issues and that should certainly be considered ahead of this tournament.


Value with Djokovic

I’ve already stated I feel Nadal is a worthy favourite but with his price into 5/6 following the draw, there looks little juice left in it.

Djokovic, on the other hand, appears much more backable at 5/2.

It should be remembered that since Djokovic’s initial rise to world number one in 2011, he’s won seven of 15 claycourt matches against Nadal. He is also one of only two players to have defeated the Spaniard at Roland Garros.

Part of the reason for the wide gap between the pair’s odds is that Djokovic is seeded to meet fourth seed Thiem in the semi-finals.

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 11: Dominic Thiem of Austria celebrates a point against Novak Djokovic of Serbia during day eight of the Mutua Madrid Open at La Caja Magica on May 11, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The Austrian was last year’s runner-up but despite beating Nadal en route to the Barcelona, he’ll likely have expected more from the Masters events this spring.

Instead, he’s been beaten by Djokovic in Madrid and suffered shock losses to Dusan Lajovic and Fernando Verdasco in Monte Carlo and Rome respectively.

That is not the sort of form to be worrying the two leading contenders and so I’m finding it hard to look beyond the top two in the betting. I would not be at all surprised to see them contesting another final.

That said, both players have come into this tournament in the past in better form than they have now.


The outsiders

So if there is to be a surprise, who is capable of taking advantage?

Aforementioned Monte Carlo winner Fognini has the talent to upset the applecart and the Italian will have received a massive confidence boost from that Masters success.

But is he mentally strong enough for the two-week, best-of-five test? Probably not is the answer, while a tough draw doesn’t help his cause either – tricky first-week tests lie in store, before possible meetings with both Djokovic and Thiem before the final.

Juan Martin Del Potro is another who hasn’t had the best of luck in the draw. He played some excellent stuff against Djokovic in Rome – just his second tournament back from a long lay-off.

ROME, ITALY - MAY 17: Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina plays a backhand against Novak Djokovic of Serbia in their Men's singles quarter match during Day six of the International BNL d'Italia at Foro Italico on May 17, 2019 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)

However, given his physical condition surely isn’t tip-top right now, a tough opening week in the same half as Djokovic and Thiem isn’t what he needs and Nicolas Jarry and Felix Auger-Aliassime could well provide that.

Delpo is a former semi-finalist here but given his lack of match practice this season, I find it hard to see him going deep in a best-of-five format on clay – surely the ultimate physical test for a tennis player.


A bridge too far for the returning Roger?

Down in the other half, I remain to be truly convinced by Stefanos Tsitsipas on clay and he’s short enough for me at 20/1. It was certainly concerning to hear the Greek talk so much about fatigue following his Barcelona final defeat and his hectic schedule (this will be his 14th tournament of the season so far) may be catching up with him.

In the same quarter, it’s possible to make a case for Roger Federer, playing his first French Open in four years.

ROME, ITALY - MAY 16: Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates against Borna Coric of Croatia in their Men's Singles Round of 16 match against Casper Ruud of Norway during Day Five of the International BNL d'Italia at Foro Italico on May 16, 2019 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

He’s played very little on clay since 2015 but has been enthused enough to return this season and looked in decent enough nick in Madrid and Rome before withdrawing from the latter event with a leg injury.

Clearly that’s not a great sign, although I suspect he’d had enough match practice across the two weeks by then.

Federer will have his backers – few players write fairytales like he’s done in recent times – but winning here, 10 years after his first victory, looks a tall order.


Big price for big Berrettini

Were I backing the Swiss, I’d actually be a tad worried by a potential third-round meeting with Italy’s Matteo Berrettini.

Berrettini has been flying of late, winning in Budapest, finishing runner-up in Munich and then claiming his first top-five scalp in the shape of Alex Zverev in Rome (where he also beat Lucas Pouille).

The 6ft 5in star has a strong serve which he’s used to good effect in recent weeks, posting some good numbers.

He looks something of a dark horse in this Federer/Tsitsipas quarter and could be worth some small change to emulate compatriot Marco Cecchinato, who launched a stunning run to the last four 12 months ago.

Berrettini can be backed at 200/1 each way, although with Nadal also in this half of the draw it might be wise to wait for the quarter betting to go up and back him to win in quarter three.


Novak Djokovic to win

Matteo Berrettini Each Way

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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