French Open betting preview: Rafael Nadal rampant at Roland Garros

As Rafael Nadal remains imperious and his main rivals are absent, if not in body then mind, an 11th French Open title looks the safest bet in the sporting calendar.

With a favourable draw aiding his cause, the question is how can we extract value from a foregone conclusion? Assuming, like me, you’re not comfortable wading in on a 4/11 shot, creativity is required.

Fortunately we don’t have to look any further than the favourite for a first angle, thanks to Sky Bet, who provide the leg work by teasing us with a tantalising 7/1 shot.

They are clearly hoping that the lack of fierce competition will result in complacency from the Spaniard at Roland Garros, enhancing their headline Price Boost odds on him winning the title without dropping a set from 4/1 to 7/1.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal won last year's French Open without even facing a tie-break

Scepticism descends when you think of the epic battles which have typified Nadal’s career. That Wimbledon classic with Roger Federer, his six-hour slog with Novak Djokovic at Melbourne Park, the countless times he’s dragged Andy Murray the distance before breaking his fortitude.

However, Federer and Murray both dodge Paris as they prepare their bodies for Wimbledon, while Djokovic is yet to look anything close to the player who completed his career Grand Slam here two years ago.

The Serb’s flame may seem like it could reignite at any point, but there’s a point where a 24-month slump must be considered as something more terminal - even if Nadal himself refuses to write off Djokovic.

There’s also Nadal’s record of winning three of his 10 Roland Garros titles without dropping a set, including last year, a stat which makes the 7/1 look remarkable value without considering the relative ineptitude of his contenders.

After the top seed, it is world number three and 7/1 second favourite Alexander Zverev who has performed most impressively on clay this year, winning titles in Munich and Madrid.

He also took a set off Nadal in the Rome final but having the mentality to take on the King of Clay over five sets is a different matter altogether.

A record of failing to reach a quarter-final or even beat a top-50 player at a major suggests that the 21-year-old is far from equipped with what is required, even if time is on his side.

Dominic Thiem (14/1 with various) is the man who took Nadal out in Madrid, the 31-year-old’s solitary clay-court loss of 2018, and has the game to go the distance in the French capital.

The Austrian has reached the semi-finals over the last two years, losing to the eventual winner on both occasions.

Dominic Thiem
Dominic Thiem: Nadal's biggest rival at Roland Garros?

Those losses to Djokovic and Nadal having been in straight-sets as he continues to look mentally short on the big stage, so it would play nicely into the hands of our other bet if he can make a first major final.

With the rest of the field at 40/1 or bigger, some may be tempted to hunt for each-way value but form and fitness wreaks havoc with other big games.

Kyle Edmund (125/1 in places) actually represents one of the more consistent performers on the surface, and Marin Cilic’s presence as the top seed of their section doesn’t put me off a quarter-final run at 12/1.

However, it comes back to the big question as to how dominant Nadal will be, and the 7/1 on him to win without dropping a set is simply irresistible; anything upwards of 4/1 has to be considered very fair.

I’ll leave you with one final stat for those still unconvinced. Nadal had won 52.2 per cent of points whilst returning over the last 52 weeks, over 17 per cent higher than his nearest rival.

In a sport where serve is supposed to be king, the King of Clay is making a mockery of the game’s toughest surface and will hopefully send us laughing all the way to the bank.

Tim Clement's selections

Nadal to win the French Open without dropping a set at 7/1

Nadal to beat Thiem in the final at 6/1

Edmund to reach the semi-finals at 12/1

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