Statistics to discount and the importance of fitness
At Roland Garros last year, the men's event had 77.3% service holds, which was slightly above the 75.9% ATP hard court average. In 2012 holds were 75.5%, so it's difficult to infer that the courts are either fast or slow, and these stats should not have a significant bearing in betting decisions this year.
As we pointed out in the Australian Open preview, it's worth taking some time to ensure readers are aware that Grand Slam matches are played over the best of five sets, with the finalists needing to play seven matches in a fortnight. The consequence of this is that fitness is an even more crucial facet of success for players in Grand Slam events, and getting through the early matches without playing long, five set matches is critical.
Fitness is an even more crucial facet of success for players in Grand Slam events.
Whilst favourites tend to be dominant in Grand Slams, there has been no more dominant favourite historically than Rafael Nadal currently priced at 1.617* – at the French Open. The Spaniard has won eight of the last nine tournaments, only failing to do so in 2009 when he lost to Robin Soderling, priced 1.033.
Not only this, he has a truly incredible 59-1 venue record and also has a 48-2 record in his last 50 matches on clay. These are stats that mean he should be very hard to beat as usual this year, although injury concerns stemming from the Australian Open mean that it might be worthwhile assessing him in some warm-up events prior to backing him.
Nadal's victims in the final have all comprised of top five seeds except Mariano Puerta in 2005. After beating Nadal in 2009, Soderling got to the final as 23rd seed, losing to Roger Federer in straight sets. Just Soderling, Puerta and Gaston Gaudio (in 2004) have got to the final without being seeded in the top 5; so 17 out of the 20 finalists in the last ten years have been seeded in the top five.
The statistics in the table below illustrates Nadal's dominance on clay in the past 12 months.
|Player||Rank||12 Month Clay W-L Record||12 Month Clay Service Hold %||12 Month Clay Break Opponent %||Combined %|
We can see from the above table that Nadal's combined service hold and break opponent percentage is 8.4% above both Novak Djokovic 3.590* and David Ferrer 37.030*, who are equal second, and is in excess of 12% above the next best player, Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka 31.370*.
Djokovic, Ferrer & Wawrinka
It's worth noting that Djokovic's stats may be a little unflattering on the Serb as he struggled with injury throughout the clay season last year, but he did beat Nadal on clay in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters before losing in consecutive weeks to Grigor Dimitrov and Tomas Berdych.
He lost in a 5-set epic to Nadal in the semi-final of last year's French Open, but with these two players ranked in the top two this time, any potential meeting will be in the final. However, history is not on Djokovic's side with just one final in his career here (a 4-set defeat to Nadal in 2012).
Ferrer has a strong win-loss record on his favoured clay surface and is available at a much bigger price than Djokovic however that is due to several reasons. Firstly, he has a very poor 22-7 head to head deficit (17-1 on clay) against Nadal, who he would almost certainly have to beat at some point to win the tournament, and a very poor 20-37 record on clay against top ten opponents - he tends to have issues against his higher ranked peers.
Can Stanislas Wawrinka recreate his Australian Open magic and win a second consecutive Grand Slam? Interestingly, stats support clay being his best surface and he is definitely a threat to any player on his day. Having stopped the rot of 26 consecutive set losses against Nadal, perhaps the newly crowned Swiss number one can cause him difficulties again.
The table above also shows there are several players - Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – who aren't quite at the level of the players above, but are better than the rest in the top ten.
Can Federer or Tsonga cause an upset?
Federer 31.500* has a superb record at Roland Garros, winning 58 and losing 13 in his career. Despite clay not being his favourite surface, he has made the final five times in the last eight years and has to be respected on that basis. However, he suffered some ignominious defeats last season on the dirt, losing to Kei Nishikori, Daniel Brands and Federico Delbonis all when priced under 1.27, and his general decline should be a worry.
Tsonga is available at 56.360* with very similar stats to Federer. However, the Frenchman probably hasn't been at his best since an injury lay-off and, as with Ferrer, tends to struggle to get wins against top ranked players on clay, with a 3-9 record against top ten players on the surface.
Murray & Del Potro
Andy Murray - third favourite at 23.200* - does not have the best clay record and with his back perhaps not at its best in the Australian Open, this will not help his movement on clay either. Clearly the above sample is small on the Scotsman having missed the event last season with back problems but overall he doesn't have the best record on clay with a 60-41 career record, and against top 10 players on the surface he is another that has struggled - winning just one (against Nikolay Davydenko in 2009) match out of 12 in his career.
The final player to consider is Juan Martin Del Potro who is the 28.740* fourth favourite. The Argentinian's fairly limited return game shows some improvement on the surface, but similarly to Murray, he didn't play much on clay last season.
His record over the last two years is reasonable though, winning 16 and losing five on the surface, holding 83.1% and breaking 29.7%, so he clearly does deserve respect if he performs well in warm-up events.
It is very difficult to see a finalist coming from a player not discussed, with statistics and historical trends significantly counting against lower ranked players. Only Tomas Berdych 72.940* – (who also has an awful career record against Nadal) is priced under the 166.86* price on Nicolas Almagro, who is, at the time of writing, about to make his comeback from a shoulder injury which has kept him out for three months at Vina Del Mar.
As always, it is worth stressing that betting in Grand Slams is a very different proposition to the normal 3 set ATP matches. It's vital that bettors do their research and make the necessary adjustments if they are to profit in the French Open.