Since 2006, the French Open has seemingly been Rafael Nadal’s to lose. While such dominance can take spectator drama out of the event, from a betting perspective, it’s been easy money. Sure, as such a prohibitive favorite the odds weren’t good, but you felt pretty safe in taking Nadal to win, even over Federer. Not so, this year. With Djokovic nearing a 40-match undefeated streak – including four straight over Nadal – he has earned co-favorite status. Would anybody be surprised if either man won? It’s basically a pick-em. Right now Nadal still leads with bookmakers, but by the slimmest of margins: Nadal at 10/11; Djokovic at 11/8. With these odds it takes a sizeable investment to get any sort of return; a scary prospect given the competitive climate. At 12/1, Federer is the next highest favorite, and not a bad choice if one of the two ahead of him stumbles. Murray, 16/1, has a favorable draw that won’t pit him against a top-100 player until the 3rd round at the earliest. Looking for longshots? Try Thomaz Bellucci or hometown hopeful Gael Monfils, both at 150/1, or monster-serving Milos Raonic at 250/1.
Here are some other predictions for the first week in Paris:
Roger Federer Upset Threat Level: Guarded
There’s a slight potential for an early round disastrous loss, but it’s unlikely. Given their recent match – which Federer probably should have lost – Feliciano Lopez is not a dream 1st round draw. But after him Fed finds the friendly names of Tipsarevic, Wawrinka, Andreev, and Tsonga. Those guys can bloody Fed, but none have the stones to knock him out of a Slam. Fed should reach the quarters and bulldog David Ferrer, or the enigmatic Monfils. Then things could get a little messier.
Biggest letdown match: Djokovic and Del-Potro
It sounds like a sexy third-rounder, but I think JMDP is going to get worked. Besides being magma hot, the Djoker is 3-0 lifetime against the tall brunette from Tandil (Isn’t it weird when you do that for guys?). Hasn’t even dropped a set against him. Plus, JMDP is coming off an injury and going to have exactly the wrong kind of warm-up matches. In the first round he swaps serves with Dr. Ivo, and after that he may get to watch Ernie Gulbis spray errors all over the court. Neither match will come remotely close to replicating the kind of lengthy exchanges Delpo will face against Djokovic. He’ll be well-rested and horribly prepared at the same time. Timber: the big man is going to fall hard.
Least likely to defend his points: Tomas Berdych
It’s a toss-up between Berdych and last year’s other surprise semifinalist: Jurgen Melzer. The thinking here is Berdych flames out first. For a short time last year he seemed to shake the underachiever label, but he’s still fighting the scared, desperate look that creeps across his face anytime he confronts adversity. When matches get tough I get a feeling that during a changeover he’s going to reach into his bag and pull out his teddy bear. Maybe it’s the shaggy hair and those boyish blues.
X-factor commentators will repeatedly bring up trying to sound smart: Babolat tennis balls
Babolat, the French racquet company famous for destroying a generation of juniors thanks to its no-feel Pure Drive frame, is now providing the official ball for Roland Garros. It’s the first major tournament of any kind to use the ball. Early reviews from the players find it lighter and quicker than the deposed Dunlop balls, which have a reputation for being sluggish. In theory this should favor the bigger hitters, especially if the weather gets hot with low humidity. Even though the difference in weight is a scant few grams, players will notice (or claim to) a difference. The ultra superstitious Nadal, who lines his water bottles up just so, will get asked numerous times if the change affects him. To which he’ll reply he had no problem with the old ball (obviously), but it’s not his decision (duh). Much will be made, but the same group of contenders who everyone thought would be there at the start of the tournament will be there at the end.
Number of American men in the 2nd round: 2
Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I think some combination of Fish, Querrey, and Sweeting get to walk the Champs for another day.
Number of American men in 3rd round: 0
Chris Fowler: “It’s the first time since all the way back to last year that the American men have done little at Roland Garros. Andy Roddick missed the tournament, and seems to be inching toward the end of his career; Isner and Querrey look more and more like doubles players each day; and the junior ranks are hardly littered with American prospects.” [Turning to his colleague] “Let me bring in Patrick McEnroe. Patrick, you’re the head of the USTA’s high-performance, super-duper development program. Is the situation as bleak as I’m making it out to be?”
Patrick McEnroe: Shouldn’t you be on a college campus somewhere trying to keep Lee Corso away from coeds?