With the 2018 French Open draw taking place on Thursday evening in Paris, our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, returns to finalise his outright recommendations...
"Djokovic's level isn't nearly as good as his peak but he comfortably eclipses all of these players in his quarter even based on this year's stats (106.9% combined serve/return points won percentage) which makes him still at top five level."
Kind draw boosts Nadal's chances further
If matters were not in Rafa Nadal's favour enough already, last night's French Open draw boosted his chances even further. As the top seed, Nadal takes his spot in the first quarter of the draw, which compared to other quarters, is devoid of quality. Main seeds in this quarter are Richard Gasquet, Jack Sock, Kevin Anderson and Philipp Kohlschreiber, and while there are some talented young prospects in this bracket - Borna Coric for example - as well as the veteran Pablo Cuevas, it will be a major shock to see any of these players test the King of Clay.
The effects of this draw see Nadal's odds drop further, from [1.49] on Tuesday to [1.42] at the time of writing, and have pushed the price out of many of the other contenders. While Alexander Zverev has remained static at [12.0], Novak Djokovic has drifted to [16.5], and Dominic Thiem even further, to [18.5].
Thiem and Zverev in the quarter of death
All of these three are in the bottom half of the draw, with Thiem and Zverev in the bottom quarter, a bracket which also features former champion, Stan Wawrinka (who has been considerably out of touch since his return to tour action from long-term injury), Kei Nishikori, Sam Querrey, Lucas Pouille and exciting young prospected Stefanos Tsitsipas and Frances Tiafoe.
My numbers do prefer Zverev to Thiem currently, with the German winning around 4% more points on clay this season, and arguably having demonstrated a higher degree of mental strength and sensible scheduling, but that's accurately accounted for by the market pricing.
Quarter three featuring many players with question marks
It's probably sensible to delve into quarter three to look at other options, given that it's less stacked than that bottom quarter, yet still in the opposite half of the draw to Nadal. The main seeds here are David Goffin, Gael Monfils, Nick Kyrgios, Pablo Carreno-Busta, Roberto-Bautista-Agut and Grigor Dimitrov, and in truth, there are question marks over all of these players.
Non-peak Djokovic still best of the bunch in third quarter
Djokovic's level isn't nearly as good as his peak but he comfortably eclipses all of these players in his quarter even based on this year's stats (106.9% combined serve/return points won percentage) which makes him still at top five level. Monfils and Kyrgios have had injury issues and are in no form whatsoever, while the likes of Carreno-Busta and Bautista-Agut have been a little inconsistent this season. Dimitrov has shown little aptitude on clay in the last couple of years and is ranked 18th on tour for combined serve/return points won percentage on clay this season.
With this in mind, I don't mind taking Djokovic at this [16.5] pre-tournament. Based on my numbers so far, he'd be a marginal underdog to Zverev in a semi-final and a slight favourite over Thiem, but a run to this stage would almost certainly boost the Serb's stats by this stage too. While a final against Nadal may be a bridge too far, I am keen to keep the former world number one onside at this stage.
Cilic a very short price to win quarter two
This leaves quarter two to discuss, with Marin Cilic, Steve Johnson, Kyle Edmund, Fabio Fognini, John Isner, Thomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro the likely names fighting it out to get to the latter stages.
Cilic is the 7/4 favourite with the Sportsbook to win the quarter which is absurd given recent injury issues, not to mention the fact that his level on clay this season (combined 103.9%) is not quite top 10 level, and Del Potro and Edmund have better clay data in 2018. The Argentine, Del Potro is second favourite to win the quarter at 9/4, a price which looks about right, but I quite like chancing the Brit, Edmund, as a long-shot underdog to take this quarter.
Improving Edmund capable of a strong run at a nice price
Edmund opens with winnable potential matches against Alex De Minaur and Marton Fucsovics in the first two rounds, prior to a likely meeting with Fognini in the third round. My data would make Edmund a slight favourite over the volatile Italian, despite the quarter winner market with the Sportsbook giving the edge to Fognini.
Given this, Edmund at 8/1 is worth taking a chance on to win quarter two.
Follow Dan on Twitter @TennisRatings
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