Perhaps the most anticipated ATP major of the year, the 2022 French Open is set to start on Sunday in Paris. You have the King of Clay in Rafael Nadal, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, and one of the most thrilling athletes in all of sports in 19-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz.
There’s just one problem, however. Nadal and Djokovic are in the same quarter and both are in the same half as Alcaraz. The Roland Garros tournament director did these three zero favors in clumping them together. With that in mind, let’s see if there’s still value to be had.
If you hopped on early, then you are holding an ‘Alcaraz to win’ ticket at 12-1, 14-1, or maybe even 16-1 like me. Since winning the Miami Open, Alcaraz has dropped down to the second favorite of the tournament. Talk about line value.
Novak Djokovic +200
Carlos Alcaraz +225
Rafael Nadal +400
Stefanos Tsitsipas +450
Alexander Zverev +2000
Surface and format
We stick to the clay courts for Roland Garros but switch to best of five. Clay can already be a tricky surface because you can expect a lot of break of serves and break backs. Now throw in potentially two additional sets and things can get really interesting. As of now, weather conditions look to be a mixed bag of great weather tied in with some wind and rain, which could affect the ball bounce and court speed. Keep this in mind when betting match play each day.
More importantly, a best-of-five tournament is a different beast entirely. It takes a different kind of mindset to excel in majors. If a player is down two sets, does he have the mental fortitude to fight back and go a full five like Nadal and Djokovic? If a player is up two sets, can he keep the aggressiveness up to close it out in three? To win a major takes grit, aggression, creativity, stamina and mental toughness. So, let’s break it down.
Why we don't like Rafael Nadal
Odds to win: +400
Odds to win 1st quarter: +150
Fading the King of Clay in his domain? Yes. In his career, Nadal holds a 105-3 win/loss record at Roland Garros, notching 13 French Open titles. As I’m writing this, it’s absurd to me that my suggestion is to ‘not bet Nadal’ to win a 14th title. His last title came in 2020 while defeating Djokovic in straight sets, but he fell to Djokovic in the semifinal last year in four. Nadal’s 2022 clay season is looking awfully reminiscent of his 2021 clay season, minus two titles. Last year, Nadal was able to clinch Barcelona and Rome before the French Open but had some hiccups in between with either injury or his serve. Double faults was one reason for his quarterfinal loss to Andrey Rublev in Monte Carlo, and his chronic foot injury was a partial reason for his loss to Djokovic in Paris.
This year, Nadal started hot with a 20-win streak, winning the Melbourne, Australian Open and Acapulco hardcourt events before taking time off to recover from a rib injury. His clay run has been less than ideal, having played just two events in Madrid and Rome. He's only played five total clay matches, finishing 3-2 in those. Why I couldn’t back him: He’s coming into a clay major with practically no reps, fighting a chronic foot injury that definitely came into play in his three-set loss to Denis Shapovalov in Rome. Not to mention that he could face Djokovic in the quarterfinal, before potentially facing Alcaraz in the semifinal — and both of them are in better form ... and health. Nadal might look good early, but put him in a five-set match multiple times and a run to the title is tougher.
Tough road for Novak Djokovic
Odds to win: +200
Odds to win 1st quarter: -125
Djokovic may be peaking at the right time. He entered the clay season playing less than a handful of events before losing to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in three sets in his opening match in Monte Carlo. He followed up with a taxing run into the Serbia final, losing to Andrey Rublev in three (both losses losing 6-1 and 6-0 in the third set). Djoker started finding his groove in Madrid, nearly picking off a very much in-form Alcaraz in a tight 6-7, 7-5, 7-6 semifinal match. It was a fantastic showing and proved Djokovic could be very competitive against the best player in the world right now. Just wait until you put him in the same matchup in a major with more reps and more confidence.
Djokovic followed up that stellar performance by winning the Rome Masters and not dropping a single set, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final 6-0, 7-6. This is a dangerous Djokovic, one that looks untouchable at the right time. It's a tough road to the final in Paris, potentially facing Nadal in the quarterfinal and then Alcaraz in the semifinal, but I like Djoker. For one, there’s a chance Nadal may not make it that deep. If he doesn’t, that gives Djokovic the opportunity to preserve his legs for Alcaraz. If he does face Nadal, Djoker is in better form and health than Nadal. Alcaraz may have won the first battle against Djokovic, but this is different territory. He has played only 15 matches in majors, with his best run coming in the 2021 U.S. Open before retiring to Felix Auger-Aliassime in the quarterfinal. There was a lot to like from Djokovic in the first matchup and I expect in a best of five, though it could be close, that he would come out the victor.
Back Djokovic if/when he faces Nadal in the quarterfinal. His odds to win the first quarter are -125, so this could only be of value if Nadal falls early. If not, the odds may be about the same.
Could Carlos Alcaraz continue his dream season?
Odds to win: +225
Odds to win 2nd quarter: -165
Alcaraz, 19, has defeated six of the top 10 and has won four titles (three on clay, one on hard) this year. There’s nothing that can be said about him that hasn’t been pounded at least 1,000 times.
If you already have a futures ticket on Alcaraz at a much better number, your job is done. There is no further position to add. Though likely to happen, Carlitos to win his quarter at -165 is pricey considering that he has not played in two weeks, potentially sustaining an ankle injury in Madrid, and he lacks experience in majors. I’ve already mentioned I liked Djokovic to win the rematch, but that 12-to-1 or higher futures ticket is still very much live.
Value lies with Stefanos Tsitsipas
Odds to win: +450
Odds to win 3rd quarter: -155
The price of -155 for the Greek to win his quarter is high but warranted. Tsitsipas could not have asked for a better draw. He's unlikely to face his first test until the quarters, potentially against Caper Ruud or maybe even David Goffin. Ruud is a shell of who he was last year, winning five titles, four on clay. This year, he has just one clay title under his belt, winning Buenos Aires in early February. This clay season, he has a 10-5 win/loss record, losing three of those in straight sets. He could be rounding out to better form, but overall, he holds a 5-16 record against top-10 opponents and a 14-13 grand slam record.
What we could see happen: Nadal, Djokovic and Alcaraz could tire each other out, leaving Tsitsipas to run away with the title simply because exhaustion kicked in for the others. If Djokovic happens to beat both Nadal and Alcaraz, will he have the legs to compete in the final? We saw a preview of this in last year’s U.S. Open. Djoker defeated Zverev in a grueling five-set semifinal match and was gassed in the final, losing to Medvedev in straight sets. If Nadal beats Djokovic and Alcaraz, will his chronic foot injury hold up for one more match? If Alcaraz defeats Djokovic, then our futures ticket is live.
Who will reach Roland Garros final?
Right now, Tsitsipas has the best chance to reach the final. Backing him at +450 to win is a sound option considering how the draw is laid out for the others. Players like Zverev and Medvedev are non-factors, and it’s not likely that there’s a surprise player to come out with a win. The last players to win the French Open not named Nadal or Djokovic were Stan Wawrinka in 2015 and Roger Federer in 2009. The last unseeded player to win it was Gaston Gaudio in 2004. Clay is a different beast and it's that much tougher for outsiders to win in a best of five. Right now, Tsitsipas is the fourth best clay court player on tour behind Nadal, Djokovic and Alcaraz and by luck of the draw could find himself in prime position to win his first slam title. After all, he was up two sets to love against Djokovic in last year’s French Open final before losing the match in five. Redemption?
Prediction: Tsitsipas in the final facing either Djokovic or Alcaraz. Odds for Tsitsipas to 'reach the final' are +150, I'd prefer that over him winning the entire thing.