Rafael Nadal will bid to win his 12th French Open title when the world’s top tennis stars decamp to Roland Garros for the second Grand Slam event of the year.
Nadal has traditionally dominated on the clay courts and he is understandably the favourite to do so again, having lifted the trophy in each of the last three years.
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Perhaps most pertinently, Nadal has won the French Open every time he has reached the final, so once he gets going, he is virtually impossible to stop in this event.
But that said, there is hope for the rest of the players entering the 2019 French Open due to the fact Nadal had been oddly vulnerable on his favourite surface so far this year. He suffered shock exits in events located in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, failing to reach the final in any of them despite these being tournaments he usually wins quite easily.
However, in demolishing Novak Djokovic in the Rome Masters final earlier in the month, there were clear signs from Nadal that it could be business as usual for him in Paris.
Novak Djokovic is likely the main man standing in Nadal’s way, with the Serbian superstar seeking to add to the Australian Open crown he took by beating the Spaniard at the start of the year.
It will also be fascinating to see how Roger Federer gets on making his long-awaited return to Roland Garros, while Dominic Thiem is among the younger contingent hoping to master the clay courts in the French capital.
It should be a great two weeks of action, but where is the best value to be found in the betting?
Rafael Nadal the Man to Beat
There is no doubt Rafael Nadal is expected to win the tournament again and, to be frank, it would be quite a shock were he not to do so despite those patchy results on clay in 2019 so far.
Put simply, there has just never been a clay court player as dominant as Nadal and the vast majority of entrants will not be able to cope with him as long as he is anywhere near fully fit.
There are no indications Nadal will not be operating at 100 per cent at Roland Garros, so it is hard to predict a scenario that does not end with him lifting the trophy for a 12th time.
But it is worth pointing out that 11/10 is still a remarkably short price, even for Nadal to win the French Open. Those odds are low enough that a lack of potential profit could put some off. Betting against Nadal on clay is rarely a good idea, but could it pay off this year?
Novak Djokovic on a French Open Mission
If there is anyone who can unseat Nadal, surely it is Novak Djokovic, who is available at odds of 13/5 (update: now 5/2).
Djokovic was crowned champion at Roland Garros in 2016, when he finally completed a career Grand Slam of all four major tournaments. This came after reaching the final four times in seven years, showing it took a long time to show anything close to his best tennis on the clay courts of Paris.
Victory in the final of the Madrid Masters indicated his shock quarter-final exit in Monte-Carlo, his previous event, was nothing short of an aberration. Djokovic is absolutely a contender. Even Djokovic, though, accepts it is Nadal who is the clear favourite to win the tournament. “Nadal [is the] number one favourite, without a doubt, then everyone else,” Djokovic said.
But an extra incentive is provided by the race to be the world’s number one at the end of the year, with Nadal defending maximum points at Roland Garros thanks to last year’s victory.
Could It Be Thiem’s Year?
Dominic Thiem has long been considered a talent great enough to win a major tournament, but consistency has always been the big problem standing in the Austrian’s way.
There are signs he is finally getting that monkey off his back, though, with Thiem shocking Nadal in Barcelona before going on to win the competition. He then outclassed Federer in Madrid only to lose to Djokovic in straight sets, although a poor defeat early in Rome showed there are still reasons to be wary of backing him.
Odds of 6/1 (update: now 13/2) do tempt, however, with Thiem having got through to the final a year ago only to lose to Nadal. The chance to get revenge for that defeat could drive him on to be even better in 2019.
“Of course, I will try everything to win that tournament and maybe beat him there, but it’s very tough,” said Thiem of his Roland Garros hopes. “I was pretty far from that until now but it’s time to improve. But also, I’m a better player than last year so that’s what I’m counting on the most.”
Tsitsipas the Best of the Rest
It says a lot about highly rated Stefanos Tsitsipas is that his price of 20/1 (update: now 18/1) to win the French Open is just a touch lower than the 22/1 widely available on Federer to come out on top in Paris.
The Greek was a semi-finalist in Rome only to be beaten by Nadal, while he got to the Madrid Masters before losing to Djokovic. He has to be thought of as a major threat to both men.
Experience is where Tsitsipas is perhaps lacking, but he seems certain to win major tournaments sooner rather than later. Why not this year? He has a great chance to go very far.
French Open Picks and Best Bets
Tipping the French Open is near impossible due to Nadal being so far clear of the pack on clay most years, but for once the aura surrounding him at this time of the year is not so strong.
Defeats in Madrid and Barcelona, both coming in his homeland, indicated the Spaniard is no longer unbeatable, though there is every chance he gets back to his imperious best in Paris.
At 11/10 it is hard to argue there is a lot of value in backing Nadal, while Djokovic’s price of 13/5 is also too short to be considered despite him being the most likely to unseat the champion.
Thiem’s 6/1 is a tempter but instead the 20/1 on Tsitsipas looks by far the best value on offer. He has a terrific opportunity to get through to at least the semi-finals, so an each way wager could prove to give backers a fantastic run for their money.
At even larger odds, Alexander Zverev is too talented to be the sixth favourite at 33/1 (update: now 28/1) but it reflects the fact he is having quite a bad year, while 2017 runner-up Stan Wawrinka, who won the tournament back in 2015, is a long-shot chance at 66/1.