WE'RE not having much luck early on in Paris, with Fernando Verdasco falling over on day one and Roberto Carballes Baena failing on the set handicap by a single point against Benoit Paire on Monday.
Karen Khachanov won in straight sets against Andreas Haider-Maurer, but was wasteful on some of his break points, and failed to cover the handicap by a couple of games.
Roberto Bautista Agut was injured against Denis Istomin and struggled to a five set win, while John Isner recorded a very rare opening set of fewer than 10 games – only the third time in 39 matches. Of course set two went to a tie break.
Typically, Jaume Munar and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez won of the underdogs I gave chances to, but concluded they were too short in price.
We also managed to lose another outright from 1.04 in-play when Anastasija Sevastova was beaten from a set up by Mariana Duque-Marino, so that quarter winner bet is down, but it was the wrong price at 40-1 for sure.
It’s been a typically tough start for value seekers, with only five underdog winners in completed matches from 35 (at the time of writing), so around 14%, which is even lower than normal, but it’s still early days.
We’re still 20 points up on the season, but this clay swing is usually a case of damage limitation, so it’ll be a more circumspect approach on day three in Paris.
The tournament got lucky with the weather on Monday, with the rain in the Paris area missing Roland Garros until the evening, and Tuesday is set to be cloudy until the late afternoon when showers are possible
We’ve got a few matches to finish off and 20 new ones starting and hopefully completing on Tuesday, starting at 10:00 UK time (11:00 local).
Leonardo Mayer vs Julien Benneteau
This will probably be Benny’s last singles match at the French Open given his record here over the years and stats on clay, both generally and lately.
The slower surfaces have rarely suited Benny’s game over the years and in his last 10 matches on clay at main level (1-9 win/loss) he’s managed to hold serve 71% of the time and broken at 15.1% for a less than average total of 86.1.
Even in years gone by the clay of Paris was rarely a good surface for Benny, who’s 15-14 here and he hasn’t won a match at this tournament since 2013.
Only once in his career here has Benny won a completed match in straight sets and that came against Dmitry Tursunov, who was largely poor on clay, back in 2012.
Every win here was a battle for him and while it’s possible that he could nick a set against Mayer, whose level can fluctuate rather as his concentration wanders, it surely won’t be enough for a Benny victory.
This pair clashed here back in 2010 when Mayer was a slight favourite and the Argentine won in four sets, while Mayer has won four of their five career clashes, beating Benny on hard and grass as well as clay.
Mayer has had some tough draws here down the years, losing to Rafa Nadal, Marin Cilic (twice), Robin Soderling (then five in the world) and Nico Almagro (then ranked 13), so his hold/break total here is a rather average 99.2.
On clay at main level in his last 12 months Mayer’s hold/break mark is a healthy 103.8 and that’s based on 20 matches (12-8 win/loss).
That sort of level should be too good for Benny, who’s lost 14 of his last 15 matches on clay versus top-50 ranked opposition, and Mayer -1.5 sets looks the bet here at 1.65.
Yuki Bhambri has played 12 matches at all levels on clay his entire career and zero at main level since 2015, but his opponent is Ruben Bemelmans, who likes a quicker surface and is 1-4 on clay at main level lifetime.
At least the Belgian has played eight matches on clay this swing and perhaps should be slight favourite, but that one looks a pick ‘em.
When the draw was made I was thinking that the 2-1 on John Millman against Denis Shapovalov could be worth taking, but Millman withdrew from Lyon with a hip injury and doesn’t seem like he’ll be fully fit.
Jack Sock has lost four of his last nine as a sub-1.40 favourite in the last 12 months and given how poor his attitude has been in 2018 so far he’s a risky bet at 1.26 today, but I’ve not got much faith in Jurgen Zopp.
The injury-prone Estonian lost heavily to Denis Kudla in qualies though and gets in as lucky loser, so perhaps Sock will get way with it this time, but I certainly wouldn’t bet on it at that price.
Sergiy Stakhovsky vs Feli Lopez
Talking of lucky losers, Stakhovsky gets in too, after losing to Ilya Ivashka in qualies, but he has beaten Lopez in their last two meetings, although both were on indoor hard.
Two guys that aren’t suited to the slow conditions here this one is scheduled last on at probably no earlier than around 16:00 local time when the showers are expected and this could be heavy going for Lopez.
There’s very little between these two on their hold/break numbers in their careers at the French Open, with Lopez on 94.3 (78.7% holds/15.6% breaks) and Stakho on 95.0 (76.7% holds/18.3% breaks).
Both have losing records in Paris (11-15 Lopez and 6-8 Stakhovsky) but the thing with Stakho is that tends to play better in the main draw of majors than on the main tour and rarely does he get beaten easily.
In his last 17 main draw matches at Grand Slams only twice has he failed to take at least one set – both times at the US Open when he was beaten by Marin Cilic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
With all due respect to the 36-year-old Lopez he’s not in that category these days (if he ever was) and over 3.5 sets would have been successful in 12 of those last 17 Grand Slam matches of Stakho’s.
Over 36.5 games would have won in 11 of them and with Lopez regularly going to the tie break here in paris (12 of his last 17 matches here have featured one) the overs looks the call.
If ever there was a battle of the least worst it’s the one between Mischa Zverev and Florian Mayer, with Zverev 0-6 here and Mayer 3-10 and set to retire in a few months’ time.
Zverev should win it, but at 1.40 I think I’ll pass.
Talking of poor clay courters, that brings me on to Dudi Sela, who’s rarely been a fan of the red dirt, with the high bouncing surface not one to favour the diminutive Israeli, but should he be as big as 4.50 to beat Elias Ymer?
Both men are 2-8 in their last 10 main level clay matches, with very similar hold/break totals of 85.3 and 86.8 respectively, and Ymer has never won a main draw match.
The Swede should certainly be favourite and he’ll probably win it, but the over games is tempting here, as Sela usually battles in majors and he’s had some rough draws in Paris, including Federer, Tsonga, Berdych, Cilic and Melzer.
Some of Sela’s efforts in certain events are questionable to say the least, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was closer than the odds suggest, even with Sela not bothering to play any warm-up events.
Continuing on the theme of clay-avoiders, Vasek Pospisil hasn’t won on the dirt at main level since Davis Cup in 2011 against then-number-384 Julio Cesar Campozano
Indeed, that’s his only win at main level on clay in his 18 tries, and on paper the Canadian is likely to struggle against Geneva winner Marton Fucsovics, but we saw what happened to Geneva runner-up Peter Gojowczyk on Monday, so maybe there’s a glimmer for Pospisil there based on fitness.
Fabio Fognini vs Pablo Andujar
This one looks a better fitness-based wager though, with Fognini complaining if several injury issues in Rome and then, bizarrely, playing Geneva, where he ended up having his foot strapped up in the semi final.
Fognini has had an up and down time of it at the French Open, losing in straight sets to both Marcel Granollers and Benoit Paire here in the last few years, while last year he went five sets with Frances Tiafoe in what was Tiafoe’s fifth ever main level match on clay.
The Italian has had a decent record over the years against Andujar, but it was the Spaniard that won their most recent clash, which was on the clay of Barcelona, before Andujar’s long spell out injured.
The comeback has been in and out, as can be expected, with titles in Alicante at Challenger level and in Marrakech at main level, combined with some losses recently, but he should be the fresher player here.
Sometimes that’s enough on the clay and if we’re going purely on the main level clay hold/break stats over the past 12 months there’s cause for optimism for Andujar, who’s on a total of 109.9 in his 12 matches (7-5 win/loss).
Fognini’s on 105.5 from his 31 matches (22-9) and is similar to that over the course of his French Open career, where his total is 105.0 (74.6% holds/30.4% breaks).
The concern with backing Andujar to win (apart from the lack of underdog winners at this tournament) is his fitness over five sets, which hasn’t been tested since his comeback.
Andujar’s last match over the best of five sets was in January 2016 at the Australian Open, while his last one that went to a fifth set was at Wimbledon 2015.
Fognini’s fitness is probably more questionable right now though and I like the +1.5 sets on Andujar here at 2.33.
Another possible fitness-based bet would be to take on Steve Johnson, who had a tough week in Geneva last week, and may be a little below par, but it’s hard to have too much confidence in Adrian Mannarino.
The Frenchman is 1-9 in his last 10 main level matches on clay, with an 87.0 hold/break mark (64.5% holds/22.5% breaks) and he’s no better at the French Open, where he’s 2-9 and 72.5 hold/break (60.8% holds/21.7% breaks), so I think I’ll skip that one.
Evgeny Donskoy is one of the very few players around that has a worse break of serve percentage on clay than Isner at just 5.1% over Donskoy’s last 10 matches on clay, yet he has beaten Jan-Lennard Struff three times – and once here at the French Open.
That match featured two breakers and looking at Donskoy’s return stats that’s probably his best chance of grabbing the win. Donskoy to win set one on a breaker is a tempting 10-1 chance.
Elsewhere, Marin Cilic faces what appears to be a fairly comfortable opening assignment against James Duckworth, who’s only played four matches since the end of 2016, and not on clay since the 2015 French Open.
I’d expect Kyle Edmund to have too much game for Alex De Minaur on clay, as he did when they met in Estoril, while Pablo Cuevas is only a tentative choice against Aljaz Bedene given the poor level (by his standards) of Cuevas this season.
Juan Martin Del Potro was last seen quitting Rome with an injured groin, so he’s hardly the most solid of odds-on shots on Wednesday against another Frenchman probably playing for the last time here in Nicolas Mahut.