I said on Thursday that Friday’s underdogs looked to have their work cut out and so it proved, with only a retirement victory from Benoit Paire halting the run of the favourites on the day, although several were close matches.
Our handicap bet on Grigor Dimitrov is still going, with the Bulgarian a tad unlucky to be two sets down to Stan Wawrinka in two tie breaks, given he was set point up in set one and mini breaks up in the ensuing breaker and has won just six points fewer in the match so far.
Saturday’s underdogs look (to me at least) considerably more appealing than Friday’s, with Jan-Lennard Struff, Jordan Thompson, Pablo Cuevas, Martin Klizan, Dusan Lajovic and Roberto Bautista Agut all in with chances.
So, basically, all of them barring Antoine Hoang and Salvatore Caruso look like possible betting options on Saturday when we can expect warmer weather, with the dial getting up to around 28C and with not a great deal of wind to bother the players either.
Dominic Thiem vs Pablo Cuevas
This one looks set to be another tough test for Thiem, who has had to battle in both of his opening matches so far in Paris this year and could quite easily have been made to go the distance in each of them.
Tommy Paul led 4-2 in the third set tie break to go 2-1 up against Thiem, while Alexander Bublik led 5-2 in the fourth set against the Austrian, so he’s expended more energy than he would have liked so far.
In contrast, Cuevas has had a much easier time if it in a 3-0 cruise over Maxime Janvier and a third set retirement from Kyle Edmund, but he probably needed that after a ton of tennis played lately by the Uruguayan.
So, this match is set up nicely and it’s their sixth meeting and their fifth on clay of a series that Thiem leads 3-2 overall and 3-1 on clay, but rarely has Thiem found Cuevas anything like a comfortable opponent to get past.
Looking at the numbers of their clay series we find that Thiem has held serve 86.9% of the time and Cuevas 83.6% of the time, which immediately makes me lean towards a long match here.
Thiem has had the better of it on first serve, winning 78% of his points on his first delivery (Cuevas 66.3%), but it’s Cuevas that has won more on second serve (55.3% plays 53.5%).
One of Thiem’s problems throughout his career was always that he didn’t break serve enough against the better players and that’s been the case here, created twice as many chances than Cuevas but taking only 21.3% of them.
Clearly it’s harder for Cuevas to hold serve than Thiem, with the bigger delivery coming from the Austrian, but Cuevas’ clay skills have come to the fore on the big points, taking 38.1% of his break chances.
I mentioned Cuevas’ weak record against the better opponents at the French Open the other day and I expect Thiem to get this done, but most likely it won’t be straightforward and over 34.5 games looks the bet here, along with possibly Thiem 3-1 at 3.70 for a bigger priced bet.
Dusan Lajovic led Alexander Zverev by two sets to one here a year ago before falling away very badly to lose in five, winning only three further games after leading 2-1.
And if we’re going purely on their main level clay court stats over the past 12 months it’s difficult to see Zverev as a 1.25 chance (he was as short as 1.11 last year), with Lajovic having made the final in very similar conditions in Monte-Carlo and holding a service hold/break total of 107.7.
Zverev, unsurprisingly after the poor run he’s been on, can’t match that at 105.1, but he did finally start to look like he was hitting through his forehand again in his victory over an underpowered Mikael Ymer in the last round here.
On the evidence of that I’d expect Zverev to progress here, but he’ll find it harder against Lajovic, who’s one of those players that’s often vulnerable early on in tournaments, but builds confidence as it goes on, as he did in Monte-Carlo.
With a couple of matches under his belt there’s every chance this one will go past 3.5 sets and again the 3-1 to the favourite is a viable option here at around 3.70.
Roberto Bautista Agut is a tempting option as slight underdog against Fabio Fognini and this price has a lot to do with the head-to-head, which stands at 7-3 to Fognini, but many of those matches were a long time ago.
Only one has been played in the last almost two years though and RBA won it and with the Spaniard playing very well so far in Paris and Fabio’s body not in the best conditions these days I couldn’t back the Italian as favourite here.
There’s a school of thought that suggests RBA was rather put off by the antics of Fabio and his fellow, shall we say, combustible sorts, a few years ago, but I’m not sure that’s the case now.
I’d suggest that Fabio is more dangerous over the best-of-three sets these days and he’s only ever won two matches at the French Open versus top-20 opponents, both in a fifth set decider (Edmund last year and Monfils back in 2010).
But this price on Karen Khachanov is very short indeed and if Martin Klizan is anything like match fit after back-to-back five setters he’s another tempting one at 3.80.
Khachanov has shown signs of improvement lately, but he’s still not at the level he found at the end of last season and he had to fight hard to beat Gregoire Barrere, winning only seven more points in the match.
Khachanov’s hold/break total this season is just 100 on all surfaces and against left-handers on clay in his career the Russian is 2-8 win/loss (1-7 at main level) and with a hold/break total of 91.6.
The obvious issue with Klizan is fitness, but he did go and play doubles after the completion of the Pouille match, so he can’t be that tired and the Pouille match was over two days.
Jan-Lennard Struff has been playing well lately and he seems to have added a bit to his usually suspect levels of belief in recent times, but the chokes are still there, notably against Kei Nishikori in Rome.
On his day the German has a shot against Borna Coric, but Struff is perhaps the one I fancy the least (which means he’ll probably win easily).
Finally, Jordan Thompson may well benefit from a retirement from our outright hope Juan Martin Del Potro, whose knee issue appeared to have returned in a five setter a couple days ago.
It’s another cruel blow for Delpo if he can’t continue, but we’ll have to wait and see on that one and Klizan +1.5 sets at 2.43 and Thiem to beat Cuevas 3-1 at 3.70 look the best options on a day that looks to have a lot of possibilities.