Andy Schooler previews Sunday’s French Open men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, offering up 6/4, 11/4 and 5/1 shots for what could be a classic.
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Novak Djokovic v Rafael Nadal (1400 BST)
A long-standing tennis question thrown around by tennis fans and media alike has been ‘if you needed someone to play a match for your life, who would it be and where?’
The answer, probably more often than not over the last decade, has been ‘Rafael Nadal on clay’.
With 12 Roland Garros titles, you can see why, but ask yourself the question again ahead of this match and do you definitively give that answer?
Arguably Djokovic on a hardcourt is now this sport’s ultimate challenge – as Nadal knows to his cost.
The Spaniard has lost nine in a row to the Serb on that surface, in particularly struggling to break his serve.
I’m not giving that too much relevance here, although one suspects it has had at least some effect mentally on Nadal, but it’s also more than interesting to note that the pair’s last 10 claycourt matches have been equally split.
It is 17-7 overall on clay to Nadal but since Djokovic’s true arrival at the top table during his dominant 2011 season, it’s just 8-7.
Essentially, Djokovic has long been able to compete with the so-called King of Clay and I’m sure he won’t be brushed aside here.
Followers of my ante-post preview will already have Djokovic running into this match at 9/4 – a good position to be in.
I explained at the time how the October conditions would work in the world number one’s favour and against Nadal and, while the pair have avoided upsets on their way through the draw, I stand by that analysis heading into the final which is set to be playing in a temperature of just 13C.
In the cooler, damper conditions – and playing with the new, heavier Wilson balls – Nadal won’t get the ball up so high with his forehand.
Djokovic knows it too, happy to admit his chance has increased by the calendar rejig.
Speaking after his semi-final win over Stefanos Tsitsipas, he said: “Obviously the conditions are different to the ones we are used to playing in May and June. I think that could be a better chance for me, obviously the ball not bouncing as high over the shoulder as he likes it usually.”
To be fair, the change in conditions hasn’t hindered Nadal thus far.
He was troubled at times by Jannik Sinner’s power and Diego Schwartzman might have pushed Nadal harder had he won key points at key times in the semi-final.
But Nadal arrives in the final yet to drop a set.
However, he hasn’t faced anyone like Djokovic yet. There is no-one like him, the man who has taken over from Nadal as the master of defence.
Djokovic had the longer semi-final, Tsitsipas pushing him to a fifth set after the Serb missed match point for a straight-sets win.
Given how that match unfolded, two things stood out.
Particularly impressive was the way Djokovic remained calm amid such disappointment and he certainly didn’t let the Greek’s comeback get to him. Similar traits may well be needed in this match.
Secondly, there was no sign of the neck and shoulder issue which had affected Djokovic in his quarter-final victory over Pablo Carreno Busta.
The extra tennis he had to play on Friday could be significant if this goes long but Djokovic insisted he felt “fine” afterwards, adding “a day and a half will be plenty of time for me to recover”. He is rarely beaten physically.
The layers still have him as the underdog at 13/10 but if you aren’t already on at 9/4, I see value in that price.
He’s gained something of an invincible aura again in 2020 – his only loss remains the self-inflicted one at the US Open where he was defaulted – and Nadal will know this is the opponent who has given him the most trouble in recent years.
While I wouldn’t put people off, I’m not going to go in again and will instead try a bet in the sets market.
A four-set Djokovic win is a 5/1 shot worth siding with.
There are a couple of tasty prices in the sub-markets which I like the look of, too.
First up is there to be no tie-break in the match – available at evens with BetVictor. This is a stats-based bet which can be easily explained.
Tie-breaks have been rare when these two have met.
Thirty-nine of their previous 55 meetings (71%) have played out without the need for a breaker, while on clay the figure rises to 75% (18 of 24).
At tournament level, six of their seven Roland Garros matches (86%) have not seen a tie-break.
The 17/10 initially available was quickly snapped up, understandably, but it is still a bet at 6/4 with Coral/Ladbrokes - 5/6 still doesn't look bad in the circumstances.
The slow conditions make breaks even more likely with the stats from the semi-finals worth noting.
Djokovic gave up 15 break points against Tsitsipas and created 22 of his own. Nadal held nine break points and had to face 12 on his own delivery.
In short, there should be plenty of chances to break serve.
Finally, I like the look of 11/4 about Nadal serving the most double faults.
Yes, Djokovic has produced double the number of Nadal during this tournament but I always place weight on the head-to-head with this statistic.
Nadal has served more double faults in seven of the pair’s last 10 claycourt matches, a run which includes the last three meetings in Paris. It has also occurred in their last two clashes on a hardcourt.
Few players can threaten the Nadal serve as much as the great returner that is Djokovic and that could well lead to errors.
I doubt there will be many DFs between the pair but I can’t see why Nadal is out at 11/4 so, again, take the price while you can.
Preview posted at 1835 BST on 10/10/20