French Open Men’s Final Preview6 min read
After an 11/1 winner in the women’s final, Andy Schooler picks out his best bets for Sunday’s French Open men’s singles decider between Dominic Thiem and Rafael Nadal.
Dominic Thiem v Rafael Nadal
French Open final
Roland Garros, Paris, France (outdoor clay)
Beating Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros is probably the toughest task in tennis and that’s the challenge Dominic Thiem faces on Sunday.
Only two players have ever achieved the feat and so it’s no surprise to see the 11-time champion a red-hot favourite for another crown at 1/5.
However, only Novak Djokovic has beaten Nadal more times on clay than Thiem – the Austrian is 4-7 against the Spaniard on this surface – so there’s certainly hope for anyone prepared to back the underdog at 7/2.
Still, none of those wins has come in a best-of-five-sets match, while their three meetings at this venue have seen Nadal win each in straight sets. Thiem has never won more than four games in a set.
The most recent of those matches was last year’s final and the fact that Thiem has now experienced such a contest is surely an advantage compared with 12 months ago. Since then he’s continued his improvement and a first Masters 1000 tournament win in Indian Wells earlier this year will also have raised belief levels which clearly will be required here.
What hasn’t helped Thiem, however, is the Paris weather of the past few days. Delays have meant he’s played considerable amounts of tennis on each of the three days leading into this match, finishing an epic semi-final against Djokovic less than 24 hours before the scheduled start of the final (1400 BST).
As well as physically demanding, Thiem’s past few days have also been mentally taxing given the stop-start nature of play and the fact that his match with Djokovic saw many momentum swings.
If he’s to cause the upset he’ll surely need to do so in fairly quick fashion – you’d have to fancy Nadal in a fifth set. Thiem is 14/1 to win in straight sets (as he did in the best-of-three Barcelona final in April) and 10/1 to win 3-1.
He certainly caused Djokovic all sorts of problems and has clearly repeated the trick at times against Nadal. Yet I can’t see it happening here given Nadal arrives in almost tip-top shape – he dismissed Roger Federer in straight sets on Friday and has lost just one set all tournament.
What I can see is Thiem going for it from the off, using his power to take the game to Nadal, trying to force errors from his renowned defensive game.
He surely has to win the first set and backing him to do so at 19/10 has merit.
It’s happened in three of their last four meetings, two of which has come on clay. There was also last year’s US Open quarter-final in which Thiem hit the cover off the ball in the first set, winning it 6-0.
The one of the four that didn’t go his way was last year’s final here but even then there was nothing between the players until Thiem threw in a bit of shocker in the 10th game to lose serve and the set.
That looks a source of potential value but regardless of whether it happens or not, I’d still expect Nadal to prevail in his home from home.
Backing the Spaniard giving up 5.5 games on the game handicap looks a decent way of getting more than 1/5 about the Nadal win.
His margins of victory in the pair’s previous Roland Garros meetings have been 9, 11 and 11, and while Thiem may well pose a greater threat this time, it’s also not hard to envisage Nadal ripping into him at some stage – probably late on given Thiem’s levels of fatigue.
Nadal has won a set 6-1 in four of his six rounds here so far, while Thiem’s struggles to live with him in Paris have already been highlighted.
It is that potential for Thiem to fade which means I’m happy to put up both of the following bets, rather than simply one.
Nadal (-5.5) to win the game handicap –
Thiem to win the 1st set –