French Open men's betting preview and tips: Hard to see past Radael Nadal

Rafael Nadal wins the French Open for an 11th time
Rafael Nadal wins the French Open for an 11th time

Scott Ferguson previews the men's French Open and finds it hard to envisage anything but yet another triumph for Rafael Nadal.

Recommended bets

4pts Rafael Nadal to win the title at 19/20

0.5pt Christian Garin to win the third quarter at 25/1

With so many architectural changes refreshing the historic grounds of Roland Garros, one could be excused for expecting a fresh set of faces to take over the battle for the Coupe des Mousquetaires - but that might have to wait another year.

We pause in time and see the top three seeds are once again named Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Little has changed. Andy Murray is now out to pasture, but is it really time for someone else to break the stranglehold this triumvirate have on the event, something only achieved once since 2004, by Stan Wawrinka?

In reality, it's in fact Nadal versus everyone else.

There's very little to say beyond the obvious. He's without peer at Roland Garros, with 11 titles and a match record of 86-2. As soon as you start to think he's a mere mortal after defeats by Fabio Fognini, Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid respectively, he comes out and beats the world number one in Rome to claim his ninth Italian Open title. Perhaps he did have an advantage of 40% less court time in the early rounds, or perhaps it was just a case of fine-tuning his campaign to peak when it matters.

So is there any fading of Nadal’s aura of invincibility on the red dirt? It's worth noting that he hasn't won all the lead-up events in a single season this decade, yet has remained dominant when it matters most, so whatever the minor details of the last few weeks all roads lead to Paris.

Is he worth the risk at around evens? Well, he has been handed an absolute peach of a draw, with a total of four sets taken off him on clay from players within the entire fourth quarter. With the exception of Tsitsipas, against whom he promptly overturned the result in Rome, all his other dangers (defined as a player he wouldn't start shorter than 1/10 against) can only face him in the final. And while I despise picking favourites, on that logic alone, 10/11 starts sounding attractive.

Djokovic sits on the other side of the draw but has only taken one clay title in the three years since he won here in 2016. He just doesn't hold that fear factor for rivals on this surface and is far more vulnerable to an upset. While he avoids Nadal until the final, he is poor value considering the fact he has lost in the quarters in his last two visits. Dangers in his section include Fognini and Alexander Zverev, although the German has admitted to being distracted by a protracted legal battle with his former manager.

Thiem has a habit of playing too many events but arrives fresh after losing his first match in Rome. His last three years here have reaped two semi-finals and a final, so he has to be the logical main threat, first to Djokovic and then, perhaps, to Nadal.

Navigation through the second quarter of the draw looks smooth enough, apart from a likely quarter-final against Juan Martin del Potro. The lanky Argentine holds a 4-0 head-to-head record over Thiem, but with a significant caveat - those matches have all been on hardcourt or at altitude in Madrid.

The only other player worth looking at in this section is young Felix Auger-Aliassime. Ranked 109 in January for the Australian Open, the 18-year-old Canadian has surged up into the seedings here. This kid is something special and could make life tough for del Potro should they meet in round three.

Blessed with the formidable energy of youth, Tsitsipas has already played 43 matches this season, 13 alone in May. During that run he has knocked off the likes of Nadal, Zverev, Federer and David Goffin - but can he handle up to seven best-of-five matches in a fortnight? He was completely spent in Melbourne when thrashed by Nadal in the semi-final.

Talent is not a problem, it's the endurance required against some of the greatest players of all-time which can catch him out and should the pair meet again here it’s doubtful he’s yet equipped to pass the test.

Quarter three is the most open of all and there will be value in looking beyond Tsitsipas and Federer to win this section. Former champion Wawrinka hasn't been on the strongest run but has a stellar record here; Marin Cilic also brings patchy form but has reached the quarter-finals the last two years; last year's surprise semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato is seeded 16.

Diego Schwartzman also reached the quarters last year and stretched Djokovic in the Rome semi a week ago. Another Italian, Matteo Berrettini went on a nine-match winning streak recently winning the Budapest title and reaching the final in Munich, so is also respected, but it's the unheralded Chilean, Christian Garin, who could deliver the shock result.

The penny has finally dropped for Garin in recent months. A year ago he was ranked 178 in the world and fell in the first round of qualifying but he returns having improved enormously since, ready perhaps to claim a few scalps at Roland Garros.

He won the junior title here in 2013, defeating Zverev, but failed to take graduating to the senior circuit seriously. This season, however, he has reached three ATP finals, winning two, and only just missed out on being seeded here. He had a minor issue in Geneva last week with a knee ailment, but at the price I'm prepared to take the risk.

Posted at 0930 BST on 25/05/19.

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