French Open Men's Singles Day 13: Nadal return game the key to covering game handicap

Spanish Tennis Player Rafa Nadal
Rafa Nadal should ease past Juan Martin Del Potro this afternoon...
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Day 13 at the French Open action is men's singles semi-finals day, and with three big names and one rather unlikely contender taking to the courts, Dan Weston previews the matches...

"Del Potro gave 11 break point chances in 23 service games (0.48 per game) in this quarter-final, considerably higher than his 0.35 per game figure on clay in 2018. With Nadal recording 0.96 chances per game on return this season on clay, it is evident that Del Potro will have to serve much better to even have a chance of keeping it close against the King of Clay, who has broken opponents 50.5% of the time on clay in the last 12 months."

Del Potro perhaps fortunate in manner of victory over Cilic

In yesterday's delayed matches from Wednesday, Rafa Nadal completed his fightback over Diego Schwartzman, recovering from a set and break down to eventually ease through in four sets, while Marin Cilic succumbed to Juan Martin Del Potro, with the Argentine progressing also via a 3-1 scoreline, albeit in four rather tighter sets.

Interestingly, the match stats suggest there wasn't much between Del Potro and Cilic, with Del Potro only having two more break point chances than the Croat, and the 54% points won percentage is not particularly impressive for a 3-1 success.

Del Potro gave 11 break point chances in 23 service games (0.48 per game) in this quarter-final, considerably higher than his 0.35 per game figure on clay in 2018. With Nadal recording 0.96 chances per game on return this season on clay, it is evident that Del Potro will have to serve much better to even have a chance of keeping it close against the King of Clay, who has broken opponents 50.5% of the time on clay in the last 12 months.

Nadal return game likely to pressurise Del Potro serve

This incredible statistic gives Nadal a vast edge on every single opponent on tour, and even a generally strong server as Del Potro has a projected hold percentage of 57.6% for this match, according to my model.

Furthermore, my model also found for Rafa, pricing him up at [1.07] to get the win. Having a 3.8% edge on serve (holding 89.2% to Del Potro's 85.4%) on clay in the last 12 months, and a whopping 22.9% edge on return (50.4% to 27.5%), we are in quite rare territory where even Nadal's price as a heavy favourite looks value - he's [1.16] to get the win today.

Nadal on the game handicap looks a viable proposition

Bearing both the value and starting price in mind, I want to look at angles to try and exploit this value at a bigger price, and the handicap lines are a logical place to venture towards.

Nadal giving up a 6.5 game head start is [1.74] on the Exchange, and I'd expect this to rise by several ticks as the market forms in the run-up to the match, and I'm quite happy to look at this as a more viable proposition.

Interestingly, Del Potro has never won a match on clay when priced in excess of [3.0], with his last outing ending in straight sets (and a final set bagel) at the hands of Andy Murray at this venue in 2017, so he will have to reverse this history, not to mention a 3-0 clay head-to-head deficit as well, to make Sunday's final.

Cecchinato showing strength in latter stages of matches

Nadal or Del Potro's opponent will be known in advance of their match, with Marco Cecchinato's run from nowhere seeing him take on Dominic Thiem in the other semi-final.

The unheralded Cecchinato simply being here is bizarre for a number of reasons, not least his 10-8 final set success over Marius Copil in the first round, a match which lasted almost four hours. Only one of his wins at Roland Garros this year has been decided via straight sets, but a common theme seems to be that he's got better as matches have got longer.

This is evidenced by coming back from 2-0 down against Copil, winning the final sets in 3-1 wins over Pablo Carreno-Busta and David Goffin by dominant margins, and then fighting back from the brink against Novak Djokovic in the fourth set on Wednesday - Thiem will have to keep on his toes even if he does get into an early lead.

Nadal v Thiem final extremely likely

In truth, however, I'd be mightily surprised if Thiem lost this match. The Austrian is a heavy [1.15] favourite to move to Sunday's final, and my model supported this line. However, I said that I'd be shocked if Cecchinato defeated Djokovic, and he managed that feat, so the Italian clay-courter cannot be completely written off in advance.

I'll be back tomorrow to assess the ladies final, and again on Sunday to preview the men's final - I fully expect it to be Nadal v Thiem, but we shall see if Messrs Del Potro and Cecchinato can do anything about this...

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Follow Dan on Twitter @TennisRatings

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