Nadal may be historically dominant, writes Jack Houghton, but Sunday's final could be a changing-of-the-guard, and an aggressive approach to the Set Betting market is the call...
"Nadal should be favourite, of course - his experience of the big stage and pre-eminence at the French Open presents a significant obstacle for his young opponent to overcome - but it's important not to overstate Nadal's dominance..."
When previewing this French Open - tipping Dominic Thiem at [14.00] - I wrote that Nadal was no certainty, and that, if looking only at their clay court form, Nadal should be a [1.55]-shot to beat the improving upstart, were they to meet.
Well, the two do meet - in Sunday's final - but the market disagrees with my ratings, making Nadal the short favourite, at around [1.26]. In my eyes, those odds are too bullish about Nadal's chances. His head-to-head advantage over Thiem only stands at 6-to-3, and considering the Austrian is only 24-years-old, it's no great surprise that Nadal had the better of their early encounters. In their last four encounters, the score is two-a-piece.
Nadal should be favourite, of course - his experience of the big stage and pre-eminence at the French Open presents a significant obstacle for his young opponent to overcome - but it's important not to overstate Nadal's dominance. His last few seasons have been marked by inconsistency and injury, and Diego Schwartzman demonstrated that there are weaknesses to be exploited in Nadal's game.
I won't be going in again and backing Thiem in the final, but I won't be trading out of my pre-tournament bet either. Instead, I'll be looking to the side markets for some more value.
To date, head-to-head, Thiem has served more aces on six out of the nine occasions they have met, with two ties and Nadal bettering Thiem in this department for the first time in Madrid when they last played. Thiem has served 67% of their total ace count. All of this suggests Thiem should be around [1.50] to serve most aces. At the time of writing, the Exchange market is relative illiquid, but early Sportsbook odds suggest Thiem should be as short as [1.10]. If the exchange reflects this when liquidity increases, those odds should be laid: Thiem is likely to serve more aces, but it's also likely that we won't see many aces at all, and Thiem is no certainty to easily outscore Nadal in that department.
In a total of 21 sets played, Nadal and Thiem have contested just two tie-breaks, or one around every 10 or 11 sets. If they play four sets or more in Sunday's final that translates to odds of [2.66] that we'll see a tie-break, and [1.62] that we won't; with three sets seeing those odds change to [3.50] and [1.40]. The market is already offering [2.02] on there not being a tie-break, and these odds looks like they could still increase. I'll be a backer of "No" at those odds.
Of the 31 sets they've had available to play in their matches, they've used only 21, or 67%, only once requiring more than the bare minimum of sets. In fact, it is an oddity of their head-to-head record that, despite being increasingly well-matched in terms of victories, the matches themselves - in either tie-break or set count - are more one-sided. Applying this to Sunday's final, we might expect to see three or four sets, but are less likely to see five.
For those who want to back Nadal for an outright win, but find the match odds too skinny, taking the [3.80] on a 3-1 win might be the best course. However, I'm going to be aggressive and have a small bet on Thiem winning 3-0, currently available at around [20.00]. He gave Nadal a sound beating in Madrid, and whilst that has never been Nadal's favourite tournament - with suggestions that the relative altitude makes the ball travel faster through the air, dulling Nadal's usual advantages on clay - I'm inclined to view it as a sign of a growing equality on clay between the two of them. Nadal has never been as vulnerable in a Roland Garrros final as he will be on Sunday.