The French Open Men’s Singles tournament starts in Paris on May 30. A few days in advance of the tournament, Dan Weston gives the lowdown on what to expect from Roland-Garros.
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French Open 2021: Nadal dominance
Before we even discuss the contenders for Roland-Garros glory, we must delve into the history books to illustrate quite how difficult it will be for any player to get the better of Rafael Nadal in Paris. Including his debut title in 2005, Nadal has won 13 of the 16 tournaments, with only Roger Federer (2009), Stan Wawrinka (2015), and Novak Djokovic (2016) lifting the trophy during that time period.
Only Novak Djokovic (2015) has beaten Nadal here in the last decade, and we have to go back to Robin Soderling’s four-set win in 2009 to find the next loss for Nadal at the French Open.
French Open 2021 Men’s singles: Who are the favourites?
Given the above, it’s probably not going to be a surprise to many readers to see that Nadal is the 1.952* favourite in our outright market (Nadal must start for this, and all other prices in this article, to be valid).
Numbers-wise, there is quite a big gap between the top three in the market and the remainder of the field.
Nadal has won two clay events this spring, getting the better of Tsitsipas in the final of the Barcelona Open and Djokovic in the final of the Italian Open in Rome - the two closest challengers in the outright market. However, the Spaniard did lose to Andrey Rublev in the quarter-final of the Monte Carlo Masters and Alexander Zverev in the quarter-final of the Madrid Open.
As for Djokovic, he hasn’t won a single warm-up event so far at the time of writing, losing to Dan Evans in a shock defeat in the round of 16 of the Monte Carlo Masters, Aslan Karatsev in the semi-final of the Serbia Open, and Nadal in that Italian Open final.
It is also understandable that Tsitsipas is also respected by the market. He’s 16-3 on clay this year, notably winning the Monte Carlo Masters and the Lyon Open last week. His losses have come against elite players like Nadal and Djokovic, plus the talented young Norwegian player, Casper Ruud. There have been doubts noted about Tsitsipas’ return to the game in recent years, but he has improved his numbers in this regard since the tour resumed last summer and is a legitimate challenger for the title.
French Open 2021 Men’s singles: Who are the outsiders?
Dominic Thiem isn’t far off the price of Djokovic and Tsitsipas but the Austrian’s price is arguably based on previous years’ achievements and reputation, as opposed to what he’s achieved in 2021. Thiem has also been struggling with a knee injury, so it will be fascinating to see how he progresses in Paris - the draw could well be vital for him.
Expectations are low for notable players including world number two Daniil Medvedev and tennis legend Roger Federer.
Given the implied odds in the outright market, the title winner is very likely to come from the quartet listed above at single-digit pricing. It would therefore be a shock if another player won the title. Alexander Zverev (12.340*), Andrey Rublev (26.960*), and Matteo Berrettini (30.900*) all have quite similar combined service/return points won percentages on clay in the last 12 months (all just below 107%) and they look the most likely options of the third tier of players to make the latter stages.
Unfortunately, this means that expectations are low for world number two Daniil Medvedev and tennis legend Roger Federer. Both are priced at 52.880*, and expectations are low on the duo for varying reasons. Medvedev has a poor record on clay compared to other surfaces, while Federer has played just three matches (losing two) since the 2020 Australian Open almost a year and a half ago.
They’re similarly priced to Jannik Sinner (37.320*) and Aslan Karatsev (32.120*), and it appears reasonable to suggest that winning this tournament might be a step too far for these two players as well. Sinner has the worst service points won percentage on clay out of the top 10 in the market, while Karatsev is second-worst on return and while the Russian has performed well this year in terms of results, he’s arguably over-performed expectations based on service/return points won percentages.
However, the main story - as always in Paris - is Rafael Nadal. Will any player be able to challenge the Spaniard this year? He won last year’s tournament without dropping a set, so it will be fascinating to see if he is untroubled by the opposition again in 2021.
You can also check out Dan’s preview of the Women’s singles tournament at this year’s French Open.