Andy Schooler assesses the French Open men’s semi-finals and takes a look at the latest situation in the outright market.
Tsitsipas to win 3-1
Alex Zverev v Stefanos Tsitsipas
Tsitsipas, the man the bookies expected to make the final on this side of the draw, now stands one win from underlining that faith.
It would be his first Grand Slam final so that’s a hurdle to overcome – Zverev won a Grand Slam semi at last year’s US Open – but there’s not a great deal else to suggest the Greek won’t progress.
The layers certainly expect him to – he’s 2/5 to win – and while it’s fair to say I’m not interested in that, I do think Tsitsipas will emerge victorious.
He leads the pair’s head-to-head 5-2, including their only previous match on clay, and is simply the better player on this surface.
Tsitsipas dealt pretty comfortably with world number two Daniil Medvedev in the previous round, staying mentally strong at the times when pressure was applied.
Zverev has also been pretty impressive en route to this stage but he’s not really faced top-class opposition yet – and his record when he does leaves a lot to be desired.
He’s yet to beat a top-10 player in the Slams, going 0-9 in such matches, and that is also a mental barrier.
While his serve, when on, is a huge weapon, too often things go wobbly. Look out for the double faults.
I question whether he’ll be able to sustain his top level for three sets against a player of Tsitsipas’ quality, although he may well be able to grab at least one set in this one – he’s managed to do so in six of those nine defeats to top-10ers.
With a nod to that stat, a 3-1 Tsitsipas win at 13/5 is the suggestion here.
Under 9.5 games in first set
Novak Djokovic v Rafael Nadal
It’s meeting number 58 for these two – the most-played men’s match of tennis’ Open Era – while this will also be a record-equalling 17th Grand Slam match between the pair.
Djokovic holds a narrow 29-28 lead overall but on clay it’s 19-7 to Nadal and here at Roland Garros he’s up 7-1.
Some will suggest matches played more than 10 years ago offer little relevance here and they’d have a point but look more recently and you’ll see Nadal has not lost to Djokovic on clay since 2016.
He beat him only a few weeks ago on this surface in the Rome Masters final and last year at this venue he destroyed the Serb in the final, losing only seven games.
With the 2020 edition being held in the autumn, it was widely felt the heavier, slower conditions would aid Djokovic but the theory was torn to shreds.
It’s played much faster this year with Daniil Medvedev saying it was like playing on a hardcourt.
Djokovic may well will look to adopt that mindset as he holds a very strong record against Nadal on that surface.
But for all such comparisons, the fact is this is still clay and Nadal has looked strong so far. On the couple of occasions he has looked slightly vulnerable (early v Jannik Sinner and mid-match v Diego Schwartzman) he’s responded in champion style.
The hotter conditions allow him to use his tremendous top spin to full effect and on this surface he’s been able to deny Djokovic the opportunities he creates against other players.
The stats in their clay matches since that last Djokovic win in 2016 make good reading for Nadal – he’s held serve 88% of the time and broken in 39% of Djokovic’s service games.
A combined figure of 127 on that metric is huge, particularly against a world number one, and unless Djokovic is able to really bring some effective new tactic to the table, Nadal has to be considered the likely winner.
He’s just 1/3 to win the contest though and it’s possible to argue Djokovic is overpriced at 12/5 – two of their last three matches on clay have gone to a deciding set.
However, I’ll head into the sub-markets for a best bet with under 9.5 games in the first set looking tempting at 10/11.
There have been a lot of one-sided sets between the duo during that five-match winning streak of Nadal’s, including two opening-set ‘bagels’ for the Spaniard in their last three meetings.
Overall, eight of 13 sets in that run have seen under 9.5 games, while even when you throw in the matches on other surfaces since Djokovic’s 2016 Rome win, the figure is still a good-looking 14 of 23.
Tsitsipas to win the title
French Open Outright
Following a strong run on the clay before arriving in Paris, I championed the chances of Tsitsipas in my pre-draw preview.
He held match point against Nadal in Barcelona before losing and should the pair meet in the final, the Spaniard will know he’s in for a test.
Beating Nadal is best-of-five on clay is a huge task – only two men have managed it before – but Tsitsipas looks to be at his peak right now and buoyed by that performance, not to mention a similar battle against Djokovic in Rome, I’d at least give the Greek a chance.
He’s been very solid in Paris and done everything asked of him so far.
Of course, Nadal looks the most likely winner. He’s done he usual thing of suggesting slight vulnerability in the warm-up events only to dial in upon arrival at Roland Garros. A record of 105-2 at this tournament is simply staggering.
In that context, 8/15 abut him adding two more wins to the tally looks big but it’s hardly mouth-watering.
He’s got the harder semi-final, one which could easily last a very long time and take a lot out of a player who has just celebrated his 35th birthday.
So, for me, in terms of price, Tsitsipas looks the value at 4/1 to anyone getting involved at this point.