THE opening day of the French Open is not normally the best of betting days in the tournament and in an event where underdog winners are few and far between they’re even less prevalent on day one.
There were 13 winning favourites from 15 last year; four of five in 2016; 11 of 16 in 2015; 15 of 15 in 2014; and 14 of 15 in 2013.
That’s nine winning dogs from 66 matches on day one in the last five years, which equates to a measly 14% of underdog winners, and the tournament as a whole is an underdogs graveyard, with just 19% of betting underdogs winning in the last five years.
I’ve broken down the ratio of underdog winners by round for the last five years of the men’s singles at the French Open and below are my findings:
Round 1: 20%
Round 2: 16%
Round 3: 24%
Round 4: 15%
Quarter finals: 25%
Semi finals: 0%
It’s a great tournament if you’re backing short-priced favourites, but finding value its tough, and the card on day one is not exactly appealing in that regard, so I’ll be starting in a very circumspect fashion today.
The forecast tells us to expect scattered thunderstorms in Paris today, starting from about 16:00 local time, and there’s a bit of wind around as well, reaching around 19kph, but it’ll be warm at around 27C.
Fernando Verdasco v Yoshihito Nishioka
Assuming that Verdasco is fit he should have few problems despatching Nishioka, who hasn’t even bothered with clay warm-up tournaments and is largely ineffective on the red dirt.
The Japanese lefty has been playing well enough at Challenger level on hard courts, but I can’t help but feel this trip to Paris is little more than a chance to pocket a handy €40,000 for losing in round one.
Nishioka has played only two main level matches on clay in his career and lost heavily on each occasion – once in Houston six weeks ago to Horacio Zeballos and once to Tomas Berdych here in Paris back in 2015.
He did play Sarasota and Tallahassee as well as Houston on the American clay, but was soon back off to Asia on hard courts, where he was last seen retiring in Busan on May 15.
If we look at that Houston loss to Zeballos we find that the Argentine hadn’t played for a month and his previous match was on hard in Miami, while Nishioka had played two quali matches in Houston, yet Zeballos still won 6-1, 6-2.
Now the Japanese faces another lefty and one that despite his inconsistencies has very good hold/break totals both in the last year on clay at main level and here at the French Open.
Verdasco is 106.3 on the year and 109.1 at the French Open, where he played well again last year, and it’s hard to see Nishioka being that competitive here, so the -5.5 games on Verdasco looks the bet here.
Damir Dzumhur vs Denis Kudla
My second wager of the day is to take the over 37.5 games in this clash between two players who’ve managed to win only five of their last 16 matches combined on clay at main level.
Dzumhur has had a poor season so far when considering how well he ended 2017 and he hasn’t looked fit for much of this campaign, where he’s failed to record back-to-back wins since Marseille in February (and he should have lost both of those).
His 2-8 record in the past year on clay and hold/break mark of just 88.1 is poor and that total is exactly the same as Kudla’s all-time main level clay total.
Kudla qualified here by beating some decent players, who know their way around clay courts, and while the American isn’t known for his clay court prowess he’s no mug as his performances in qualifying show.
He also beat Verdasco on American clay in Houston six weeks ago, so I’d expect him to be competitive against this 2018 version of Dzumhur.
The Bosnian also loves a long match at a major, with only three of his 25 completed matches at majors being won by Dzumhur in straight sets, including a five-set tussle with Kudla at Wimbledon 2016.
Only four of his last 18 matches have been settled in three sets and over 37.5 games at 1.85 appeals here.
Another that could well go long is the clash of the two lefties between Federico Delbonis and Thomaz Bellucci, with Delbonis struggling for form and beaten by Radu Albot in Lyon and by the struggling Albert Ramos in Rome.
Bellucci has found it tough since his brief spell off the tour for a drugs ban, but he has beaten Delbonis in three of their last five meetings and qualified here well enough, so that one could be a lengthy battle.
Others I thought about were to take the overs in Grigor Dimitrov’s match against Viktor Troicki, but the Serb’s form in the last year and him pulling out of Rome and Lyon with a back injury are off-putting.
Lucas Pouille, despite his recent dip in form, should be too strong for Daniil Medvedev, who’s 2-10 on clay at main level in his career and doesn’t seem that committed to trying to improve on this surface at the moment.
The -5.5 games on Pouiile is an option in that one, with Medevedev’s resistance fading in a few matches I’ve seen him play on clay this season.
Alexander Zverev couldn’t have asked for a much kinder round one draw that Ricardas Berankis, who’s 5-16 on clay lifetime at main level, and who hasn’t played since Davis Cup back in April.
The Lithuanian withdrew from qualies in Munich and Geneva (reason not known) and is another that’s here for the loser’s cheque, as he has done four times previously (0-4 at the French Open).
Paulo Lorenzi beat Berankis by 12 games here a year ago, so -10.5 on Zverev is a distinct possibility.
The price of 1.16 on Pablo Carreno Busta looks short enough against an opponent that can be decent on his day in Jozef Kovalik, who’s been good enough to beat Marin Cilic on hard courts and force tie breaks against Dominic Thiem (on hard and clay) and Stan Wawrinka on clay.
PCB has been very in and out this season and I quite like the over 32.5 games in this one.
Another one that could be more competitive than the odds suggest is the match between David Goffin and Robin Haase and bizarrely it’s actually the Dutchman that has the better service hold/break total at main level on clay in the last 12 months.
This is in part due to Haase walloping an injured Hyeon Chung in Madrid 6-2, 6-0 and Goffin’s won four of their five career clashes, including in Madrid in the match directly after Haase beat Chung so easily.
Goffin’s price has halved since Madrid, where he was a 1.30 chance to beat Haase, and on his day the Dutchman is very capable of taking this one past 33.5 games.