Little value to be had in Paris

  • By: Andy Schooler (Twitter: @NetTalkTennis)
  • Last Updated: May 25 2013, 11:58 BST

Our Andy Schooler previews the men's draw at the French Open and with little value to be had turns to some big-priced outsiders.

Rafael Nadal: The man to beat but no great price to do so

My frank view of the French Open men's draw is that there's very little value to be had.

For weeks the talk had been about whether the favourites - Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - would be drawn in the same half or not and on Friday we got the answer as they were put on course for a semi-final meeting.

That immediately had a big impact on the market. Anyone in with Nadal and Djokovic was pushed out, while those in the bottom half were cut. In addition, the lopsided draw sees the layers offering only a third of the odds for a place in their each-way terms.

This means there are two obvious options for a punter. Take your pick from the leading duo and go in big or search for the likely losing finalist from the other side of the draw.

However, neither makes particular appeal.

Nadal, seven times the champion in Paris, has won plenty of plaudits so far this season and a record of eight finals from eight events - six of which have been won - since he returned from his knee injury is hard to argue with.

However, am I really the only one who feels he's not dominated on the clay to the same extent as he's done in previous years? He had two struggles against David Ferrer, in Madrid and Rome, only just scraped past Grigor Dimitrov in Monte Carlo and then lost the final there to Djokovic, his first defeat in the principality for a decade.

There was a fairly common theme to Nadal's struggles too - in heavy conditions he's not as comfortable. Just as in last year's French Open final, he's found the damp balls problematic. They don't allow him to get as much spin on the ball and certainly make things harder for him.

We shouldn't look too much into two-week weather forecasts but the one for Paris over the next fortnight has plenty of rain and temperatures struggling to get out of the teens - pretty much what we've seen in northern Europe for weeks now.

Of course, Nadal is capable of battling through such problems - he found a away to win in Rome and Madrid and also against Djokovic in that final 12 months ago - but I just can't be backing him at odds-on given what I've seen.

However, if you disagree, it's worth noting Stan James are giving money back if his main rival, Djokovic, wins the title. Having Nadal on your coupon with a strong money-back proviso won't be a bad position to be in.

As for Djokovic, ankle problems remain a concern to anyone looking to back him.

He rolled the joint initially in a Davis Cup tie in April and then again in Madrid en route to defeat against Dimitrov. That loss, and a bizarre one in Rome to Tomas Berdych from 6-2 5-2 up, would have been unthinkable towards the start of the season. The same can be said about his loss to Tommy Haas in Miami.

Like Nadal, his ability to fight may well get him through, and even carry him to the one major title he's yet to win, but right now I can't back him at around 5/2.

As for the bottom half, Roger Federer is the man the bookies expect to take advantage of a nice draw to reach the final, but again holes can be picked in his case.

The line 'Federer should never be written off' still has credence but the words are not as strong as they once were.

The 2009 champion is yet to win a title this season and has slipped to some surprise defeats, none more so than the one suffered at the hands of Kei Nishikori in Madrid.

If you expect him to reach and then lose in the final, you are only getting just over 2/1 given the aforementioned place terms. I'll pass on that.

His main rivals for the final berth would appear to be Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer.

The former, a semi-finalist in both Madrid and Rome, has been handed a nightmare draw, though.

French wild card Gael Monfils, a former top-10 player, has to be one of the hardest first-round draws, while the in-form Ernests Gulbis is likely to follow in round two. Nicolas Almagro is a tough potential last-16 foe before a possible meeting with Ferrer in the quarters.

Berdych's form is good so at 50/1 he will still have his backers, but I suspect he'll have a lot of tennis in his legs come the latter stages, if indeed he gets that far. Another reason for not getting with him is his poor record against Ferrer - the Spaniard leads 6-3 and 3-2 on clay.

Of the big names, Ferrer would be the one I'm most keen on - pushing Nadal as he did in Madrid and Rome showed he's getting back to his best. But the bookies are wary of him and he's not much of a price; no bigger than 20s with a layer who will give you an each-way bet.

Another worry has to be his record against Federer, the man he is seeded to meet in the last four - it's played 14 lost 14.

The quarter betting - which takes out an match with Federer - may be a better way to go but at no better than 5/4, there doesn't seem much value in backing the Spaniard now.

Kevin Anderson or Milos Raonic would be a tricky last-16 opponent, while a quarter-final against someone from that Berdych section of the draw would be no gimme either. If you fancy Ferrer, you are probably best rolling up his matches.

I've managed to pick holes in most bets so far without coming up with anything constructive, so what's the advice?

If you're a serious punter, it would really be no bet. But given this is a Slam and many of us like some kind of interest, I'm going to take a maverick approach and turn to some big outsiders. Even you disagree, they are certainly worth considering from a back-to-lay perspective as just one shock defeat among the big names would see their price plunge.

If the big guns are going to fail, then they are most likely to do so in heavy conditions. With that in mind, I'm looking for players who can stay in a player's face and grind out results from the baseline.

In the top half, my man is Tommy Haas, tennis' renaissance man who has enjoyed an incredible 12 months to return to the world's top 20 at the age of 35.

Haas, who came through qualifying to reach the third round in Paris last year, has already won a clay title in Munich this season and pushed Ferrer to 6-4 in the third in Madrid.

Those results followed on from his defeat of Djokovic in Miami. He's out at 400/1 but has a nice draw which has him on course for a rematch with the world number one in the last eight.

Down in the bottom section, Juan Monaco and Gilles Simon fit the profile.

Regular readers will know I sided with Monaco in Rome only to be let down but the reason for that pick was he had shown signs of returning to good form with a run to the quarter-finals in Barcelona, while in Monte Carlo he beat Gulbis and took a set - in heavy conditions - against Djokovic.

And this past week he's performed - at time of writing he's in the final in Dusseldorf.

He made the last 16 here last year before running into the Nadal juggernaut. However, at his best he'd be confident of beating anyone outside the Big Four and, as he showed in Monte Carlo, can still trouble the elite. He's 300/1.

Finally 500/1 shot Simon has had some encouraging results of late.

He pushed Andy Murray to a final-set tie-break in the last 16 in Madrid, playing some impressive stuff in lengthy rallies, and reached the same stage in Rome. He was also a semi-finalist in the smaller Bucharest tournament.

While he was well beaten by potential last-16 foe Federer in Rome, Simon has given the Swiss problems in the past. He's actually won two of their four completed matches and also took Federer to five sets in the 2011 Australian Open.

On home soil, with plenty of support, he may just be able to capitalise on any surprise results.

Admittedly are all long shots but in the absence of any tempting prices about those higher up the market, I'll have a tiny nibble and save the rest of the bank for some tournament match bets.

  • The tournament gets under way at 1000 BST on Sunday and is being televised live in the UK on ITV and British Eurosport.

  • Preview posted at 0905 BST on 25/05/2013.