THE French Open semi-finals are set for Friday in Paris, weather permitting, and Sean Calvert returns to give us his view on Novak Djokovic’s clash with Dominic Thiem.
It looks like if there is play on Friday it will be in very tough conditions, with rain, showers, and then very strong winds (40kph speeds) forecast once the rain clears up.
So, we could well see matches starting, stopping and being hampered by gale force winds, which makes betting on Friday’s matches tricky.
Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal
This first clash of these particular two titans on clay since 2013 and the first at the French Open for eight years looks a really intriguing one and surely Nadal has been put in a bit too short here at 1.12.
Federer has won their last five meetings, all on hard courts, and the question in this clay clash is whether Federer is able to still utilise the same or similar tactics on a slower surface?
Over the years Nadal has loved this match up on the clay, simply hammering the Federer backhand with his heavily top spun forehand all day long and keeping the Swiss stuck in his backhand corner.
That’s worked to the extent that it’s 13-2 to Nadal overall on clay, but with all of those matches played between six and 14 years ago they may not be that relevant today.
Federer and Ivan Ljubicic worked out that Fed had to take the ball much earlier on the backhand side and try and attack it, which sometimes leads to errors, but that’s been a price worth paying to get him out of Nadal’s pattern of attack.
Whether he can do that on a slow clay surface is questionable and there’s also the fact that this vast Chatrier court allows Nadal the space to defend that most other clay courts don’t.
The question Nadal must answer is whether or not at 33 years of age a long list of injuries behind him he’s still capable of the jaw-dropping defence that he’s become so famous for over the years.
It didn’t look like it in Madrid against an attacking single-hander that used an aggressive court position when Stefanos Tsitsipas took it to Nadal successfully and tore holes in the Spaniard’s defence, but that was at altitude over three sets.
Doing it over the best of five on Chatrier is a different mater, but I’m prepared to risk that Federer has at least one set in him here at these prices.
I’m not sure there’s much value in looking back at their previous meetings in too much detail, as this career series has evolved greatly over the years, but Federer has created a similar amount of break chances to Nadal (0.60 compared to 0.70) in their clay clashes.
By and large, Nadal’s get out of jail card has always been the swinging lefty serve high into Fed’s backhand in the ad court and then the easy put away, so it’s been tough for Fed to take those chances.
The Swiss needs to improve greatly on a weak performance on break points against Stan Wawrinka in the quarter finals, so we’ll see how he approaches the challenge of Nadal on clay this time.
I like the over 150 minutes here (Nadal took 133 to beat Londero in straight sets) or the 3-1 to Nadal at a bigger price of 3.65.
The day’s delay (at least) will surely help Federer to recover from a tough match against Wawrinka and I’d be surprised if this was as comfortable for Nadal as the odds imply.
Betting underdogs have gone 0-12 in the men’s French Open semi finals since 2011 and I’d expect that to continue here, but a cakewalk for Nadal seems unlikely.
Novak Djokovic vs Dominic Thiem
After Fed v Nadal it’s scheduled to be Djokovic taking on Thiem and we have to consider the gale force winds when thinking about this one, as it’s set to be played when the wind picks right up to 40kph-plus.
That makes it tougher to call and it might be worth siding with a long match here, as they may be on and off court due to the bad weather, leading to switches in momentum.
Those with long memories will recall Andy Murray coming out on top against Djokovic on a very windy day in New York a few years ago and I’m yet to be convinced that the Serb is as comfortable in the wind as Federer or Nadal.
In any case the price on Djokovic is a tad short at 1.50, considering he was a 1.88 chance only three weeks or so ago in Madrid, but of course that one was played at slight altitude and over the best of three sets.
And that Madrid clash is probably the only one in their career series that really has any bearing on Friday’s match, given that Djokovic was miles away from his best form and fitness in the two prior clashes that Thiem won on clay in 2017 and 2018.
The Austrian certainly had his chances in Madrid, leading both sets by a break, but making poor errors on each of three occasions he faced break points, yet converting only three of 10 he created.
Thiem went on to lose that one in two tie breaks and too often for his liking I’m sure he has failed to take enough of the chances he’s created when facing one of the ‘big four’ – on all surfaces as well as just clay.
Versus the group of Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic, Thiem has won only 30% of his break chances and 29% on clay only, which isn’t awful, but I feel he still needs to do better and remember he rather donated his serve away those three times against Djokovic in Madrid.
On form, I feel that Thiem is certainly close enough to Djokovic to mount a decent challenge in this semi final, but the weather makes it a tricky one to bet on.
The options that I’m leaning towards here are all based on a long match, with over 10.5 games a fair option in set one at 2.95 (all three of their last three opening sets on clay have gone to a breaker).
Given also that the pair have held serve 87% and 83.1% of the time on clay this past 12 months (and also this season alone) I’m happy to take a small chance on that wager.
I’d expect Djokovic to just be the calmer on the big points again, unless the wind plays havoc, and 3-1 to him is a fair option, as is the over 38.5 total games.
If the forecast is right anything’s possible in that sort of wind, so again, just a small wager is in order here.