2012 French Open Preview

May 24, 2012 – 1:41 am by Kevin Johnston

All systems are go at Roland Garros for the 2012 French Open. This year’s field of players is stacked on the men’s side, as always. Ah, the gift that is the Federer-Nadal era, also now known as the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic era. For fans of men’s tennis, what a treat these last 7 or so years have been.

So who ships the title this year? The usual suspects – Nadal, Djokovic & Federer – are the justifiable head honchos once again.

Favorites:

Rafael Nadal – Having hoisted the trophy over his head at this event 6 of the past 7 years, Rafa is the de facto alpha male in this tournament. He’s a betting favorite against the entire field at -150 at most books, which is probably a sharp line despite how ridiculous that seems. As is the case in most years, betting on Nadal at the French presents no value to a wise bargain bettor. His success at Roland Garros is staggering, but it’s downright foolish to lay heavy juice on 1 player against an entire field of talented players.

Novak Djokovic – Along with Nadal, he should be in fine form and ready to dominate despite the disaster that was the Madrid Masters. His price to win is hovering around +200 at most books, so the world’s top-ranked player makes for a smart investment play this year. Not to mention a win at the French will equal a Career Grand Slam for Djokovic, so his motivation will be aplenty. He has also had Nadal’s number since 2011 and that certainly counts for something.

Roger Federer – The 2009 champion is in good form and should be able to make a deep run once again. He’s sitting at about +700 to win at most books. While there is some value at this price, there’s also a strong possibility he just doesn’t have the firepower to make it to the finals this year. There are a few other players who have as good of a chance of sneaking into the semifinals or finals as he does, and at much better odds. Speaking of which…

Value Plays:

Tomas Berdych – This guy is definitely a player to keep an eye on, and his odds to win the tournament are currently about +4000. I was fortunate enough to find him as high as +6000 at one book about a week ago and took him both to win and to make it to the finals at half the odds. So I’ve got Berdych to win at +6000 (60 to 1) and Berdych to place in the top 2 at +3000 (30 to 1). He is a well-rounded player whose clay game has been sharp of late. If he can just upset one of the big guns I believe he’ll make it to the finals. It’s easier said than done, but he has the tools to do it and appears ready to take the next step. He’s easily the best value play on the board.

The “Pushers” – The funny thing about clay is that sometimes a pusher gets in the zone and turns every point into a nightmare 30-shot rally. These clay court specialists can do serious damage when in top form so they must be taken seriously. Guys like Juan Monaco, Nicolas Almagro, Fernando Verdasco, David Ferrer, Marcel Granollers, Juan Ignacio Chela, Carlos Berlocq, Pablo Andujar and Juan Carlos Ferrero all have the type of game to upset a better player on clay. Of that group, only Monaco, Ferrer and Verdasco have a little versatility to their games. Almagro, Granollers, Chela, Berlocq, Andujar and Ferrero are more or less true clay court specialists. Since none of these players will probably make it to the finals, they are all basically guys you bet on to win individual matchups along the way and possibly pull a huge upset that shakes up the bracket.

John Isner – It may be a surprise to see him on my Value Plays list since clay is his worst surface, but surprisingly the giant American has several quality wins on clay this year. So far in 2012 he has beaten the likes of Roger Federer, Gilles Simon, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Feliciano Lopez and Philipp Kohlschreiber. Not too shabby for his “worst surface.” Red clay does nullify a big-hitter’s most glaring advantage which is putting pace on the ball, but it also makes a kick serve bounce a little higher. Isner’s kick serve is the best in the business, and when it’s on point he is a formidable opponent for anyone on clay. Plus, he takes so many sets into tiebreakers that he’s always a danger to shock one of the favorites. If you recall, he almost upset Nadal at Roland Garros last year. Surely he won’t make it to the semifinals but the quarterfinals are not entirely out of the question.

Stay Away From:

Andy Murray: He’s just coming back from a back injury and is nowhere close to being in top form. He’s even thinking about withdrawing altogether according to some rumors. Don’t touch him with a 10-foot pole this year.

Americans Not Named John Isner: Mardy Fish has been pretty inconsistent thus far in 2012, and Andy Roddick and Sam Querrey have both taken huge steps back this year. Donald Young and Ryan Harrison are not serious threats to make much noise on clay. Outside of Isner, there isn’t much hope for a deep run by an American.

Gael Monfils: He has simply looked awful lately, often displaying a Kevin Na-esque inability to be aggressive and pull the trigger. He recently just lost to 216th-ranked and unheralded Brian Baker at the tournament in Nice, France; so much for defending your home soil. Stay far, far away.

To summarize, you simply cannot lay juice on Nadal against an amazing field of players. I like taking Djokovic to win if you can find him at +200 or better which means you can also take him to place in the top 2 at +100 or better. Both of those bets are solid. And Berdych presents a great value play because I honestly think he has the same chance of making it to the finals as Federer does, only the price on Berdych to win is about 5 times higher than it is for Federer. Why bet on Roger when betting on Tomas has significantly better value?

(Note: Those of you who are reading this after the French Open has started and think it’s too late to place a wager, fear not. The odds open back up upon completion of each round. Also, if you are confused by my use of American-style odds, here is an awesome odds converter that is easy as pie to use.)

Follow Kevin on Twitter: @konundrum8

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