With the 2018 French Open starting on Sunday, our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, is back to check out the conditions and contenders in advance of Thursday's draw...
"Unsurprisingly, given his record at Roland Garros, and the fact that his 2018 clay data is far in excess of the rest of the field (combined service/return points won percentage of 116.9%), Rafa Nadal is a heavy favourite to take his 11th title."
Nadal and elite players historically dominate at Roland Garros
Following the conclusion of the Rome Masters on Sunday, most of the higher profile players on the men's tour drew a line under their competitive preparations for the French Open, although two - Dominic Thiem and John Isner - have decided they will benefit from extra court time, with both featuring in Lyon this week.
From his first victory at Roland Garros in 2005, Rafa Nadal has been dominant, winning 10 titles here, with only Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic being able to take one title each during this time period. In addition, the quality of runner-up has been extremely high, with only Robin Soderling (2009) and Mariano Puerta (2005) reaching the final when ranked outside the top seven in the world.
With these historical trends in mind it seems that in the best of five set format on clay, the cream really does rise to the top, and a real long-shot outsider reaching the final is extremely unlikely. Understanding this is certainly pretty useful for us in order to exploit the outright market.
Conditions are likely to be medium-paced in Paris
Understanding conditions is also very valuable indeed, and looking at data, it would appear that conditions are likely to be very medium-paced, with 62.3% of service points won in the last three years - exactly the same as the ATP clay mean - while 0.38 aces per game were served in this time period, very slightly higher than the 0.37 ATP clay average.
Considering this, there is unlikely to be one particular player genre which will benefit from conditions - big servers found joy in Madrid, while the traditional clay courters, who love slow courts, had their chance to take advantage in Monte Carlo.
Nadal with clay data far in excess of the rest
Unsurprisingly, given his record at Roland Garros, and the fact that his 2018 clay data is far in excess of the rest of the field (combined service/return points won percentage of 116.9%), Rafa Nadal is a heavy favourite to take his 11th title. The Exchange makes him [1.49] to do so, and it would take a brave man to back against the King of Clay.
Without doubt, every other top player will be keen to be placed in the bottom half of the draw, meaning that they are unable to face Nadal until the final, and looking at these players post-draw, from an each-way perspective, looks a decent option. In addition, after Thursday's draw, I'll be assessing potential value in the quarter winners markets.
Alexander Zverev leads the rest of the contenders
Leading the way of the other contenders is Alexander Zverev, at [12.0], who has been in excellent form in recent weeks, narrowly failing to record three consecutive tournament wins when falling to Nadal in a deciding set in the Rome Final on Sunday. His combined service/return points won percentage of 109.3% this year eclipses the likes of Novak Djokovic (106.9%), Juan Martin Del Potro (105.7%), David Goffin (105.0%), Dominic Thiem (104.5%), Marin Cilic (103.9%) and Kei Nishikori (103.2%).
These other players form the nucleus of Nadal's challengers, although only Djokovic, at [15.5] and Thiem, at [16.0], are priced below the [50.0] mark.
Coric, Edmund and Tsitsipas lead the next-gen challenge
In addition, there are a few other players in the draw with excellent clay data this season, including young prospects Borna Coric, Kyle Edmund and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who with a favourable draw, could provide some back-to-lay or quarter winner value. Furthermore, older players such as Pablo Cuevas, Phillip Kohlschreiber and Fabio Fognini also boast solid clay data this season, as well as longer-term, and could be threats to some higher profile rivals.
Dimitrov, Wawrinka and Monfils with plenty to prove
Players who I am not particularly keen on include Grigor Dimitrov, Stan Wawrinka and Gael Monfils. Dimitrov's clay data has been unimpressive for a number of years now while former champion Wawrinka has much to prove following long-term injury. Monfils has been in very poor touch this year on clay and again lost in the first round yesterday in Lyon.
Following Thursday's draw, I'll be back to give my formal recommendations for the French Open, but this advance pre-draw preview should give you some decent insight into who I'm keeping an eye out for, and who I'm keen to oppose.
You've read the men's preview, now read the women's.
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