French OpenTennis

French Open Betting: Damp conditions to cause problems for big names on opening days in Paris

September 26, 2020

You can’t beat Paris in the spring, or so the song goes, but you sure can beat playing clay court tennis in Paris in the autumn and we’re about to see why in the forthcoming days.

The 19 men’s matches scheduled for Sunday at the 2020 French Open look rather unlikely to be completed as planned, as my weather forecast is suggesting a 100% chance of rain on day one.

That’s followed by either showers or rain every single day from now until the end of the tournament, which will make things interesting.

The fact that the powers that be were expecting anything different in Paris in October tells you much of what you need to know about those in charge of the sport and it makes it really difficult for bettors, too.

Betting on outdoor clay court tennis requires a pretty precise knowledge of the likely conditions and delays tend to lead to changes in those conditions, which often can be key to the outcome of a match.

It may turn out to be to our benefit though, with this tournament usually miserly in terms of underdog winners, with a paltry average of just 19% of betting underdogs proving successful, both in the last three years and in the last seven.

There have been between 21 and 25 underdog winners in the entire tournament in the last four years and between 11 and 13 dog winners in round one (19% average) in the last five years.

That makes it officially the worst event on the calendar in terms of frequency of underdog winners, but maybe we’ll see more this year, with different balls, weather conditions and a roof on one court, plus the lack of fans and the Covid protocols combining to make it a very different French Open this year.

So, which dozen or so (maybe more this year) of 2020’s round one underdogs will make it to round two?

These ones look like they have definite chances of either grabbing an upset, pushing the favourite hard, or offering betting value:

Marin Cilic, Gregoire Barrere, Richard Gasquet, Benjamin Bonzi, Juan Ignacio Londero, Kamil Majchrzak, Marton Fucsovics, John Millman, Alexander Bublik, Reilly Opelka, Salvatore Caruso, Tennys Sandgren.

Marin Cilic 6.50 vs Dominic Thiem 1.13

This is a crazy price on Cilic, given that Thiem hasn’t played a single match on clay since the resumption and he hasn’t played a competitive one on this surface since February. He also admitted in the pre-tournament interviews that he “usually plays badly after a big win” and by and large that’s true when we look at these results from his last nine immediately after winning a title:

2019 Vienna – Lost in second match in Paris

2019 Beijing – Lost in QF in Shanghai

2019 Kitzbuhel – Lost in QF in Montreal

2019 Barcelona – Lost in SF in Madrid

2019 Indian Wells – Lost in first match in Miami

2018 St Petersburg – Lost in first match in Shanghai

2018 Lyon – Made the final at French Open

2018 Buenos Aires – Lost in QF in Rio

2017 Rio – Lost in QF in Acapulco

The change of balls from his beloved Babolat (that take his top spin much better) to Wilson won’t help and neither will the damp conditions (even if this is under the roof it’s unlikely to be favourably dry and dusty), so taking on the powerful Cilic first up doesn’t look easy – or at least not as easy as a price of 1.13 suggests.

You never know what to expect from Cilic, who looked fabulous in dismissing David Goffin on the clay in Rome and then hit and miss at best against Casper Ruud the next round, but if he plays somewhere near his best this could be tough for Thiem in these circumstances and the set handicap looks decent in this one.

Gregoire Barrere 6.50 vs Grigor Dimitrov 1.13

Another daft price, this, and one that Dimitrov might get away with given that Barrere hasn’t played on the clay since the last French Open when he wasn’t too far away from beating Karen Khachanov.

Barrere was prevented from travelling back from the US Open in time for the Aix En Provence Challenger, so he’s missed a week on the clay, but he beat Dimitrov as a 3.54 chance in Montpellier this February and the Frenchman has the power to do damage in these conditions.

Dimitrov’s record at the French Open is weak, never having past the last-32 here and losing in round one four times – to Ivo Karlovic as a 1.11 shot, Jack Sock as a 1.32 chance and he had to go five against the almost retired Janko Tipsarevic last year.

The sets handicap looks decent on Barrere here.

Kamil Majchrzak 3.75 vs Karen Khachanov 1.27

There’s a lot to like about the chances of Majchrzak here, with Khachanov in poor form and playing in conditions likely to produce a low bouncing court and blunt his big game.

Khachanov was schooled by Dusan Lajovic in Hamburg last week and he was also fortunate not to lose in round one in New York when Jannik Sinner’s body failed him from two sets up.

He should also have lost to Jan-Lennard Struff in Hamburg, but Struff produced another big choke to lose that one, and Majchrzak has been in good form lately, winning the Prostejov Challenger on the clay a few weeks ago.

Khachanov has a decent record at the French Open, but we’ll see how the different conditions and lack of confidence affect his game in Paris this time.

John Millman 4.25 vs Pablo Carreno Busta 1.23

Another price that looks worth investigating here, with PCB rarely reaching the heights on clay that he often does on hard courts and the Spaniard is likely to be made to work very hard here in really slow conditions.

PCB has lost to the likes of Aljaz Bedene, Jack Sock, and Marco Cecchinato here over the years and he didn’t exactly look fit and firing in Rome when he obligingly rolled over, as expected, against Nadal.

Granted, he had little time to prepare for that one, but he hasn’t made a final on clay for over three years now and he’s another one coming off a really painful loss in New York (from two sets up the semi final).

Millman made the final in Budapest on slow clay in 2018, beating the likes of Bedene and Lucas Pouille and while he’s yet to win a match at the French Open he’s had rough draws: Zverev, Bautista Agut, Isner and Shapovalov.

He took Zverev all the way to five last year and he’s not likely to roll over here and could have the edge on fitness and clay preparation, having pushed Diego Schwartzman to within seven points in total in Rome.

The overs or set handicap could be plays here in what will be a real physical battle.

Daniil Medvedev 1.23 vs Marton Fucsovics 4.25

This isn’t the easiest of round one draws for Medvedev, who openly voices his lack of love for the clay and, as I pointed out last week when I went for Ugo Humbert to win set one against him in Hamburg, his stats on this surface are pretty poor for a top-five player.

The cold, damp conditions won’t help his game, making the surface slower than it already was and if Fucsovics is in the mood he has the power and strength to give Medvedev, who lost to Pierre Hugues-Herbert here last year, a real match.

Indeed, Fucsovics won the opening set against Medvedev in their only career clash on the clay (Medvedev has won both hard court meetings) on a day where the Hungarian only made 47% of his first serves and took one of eight break chances, losing 7-5 in the third in the end after having the trainer and doctor out.

You rarely know what to expect from Fucsovics, but I’m happy to take him on the handicap here.

Of the rest, Alexander Bublik played well on slow clay in Hamburg, and he takes on a really out of sorts Gael Monfils, who admitted this after two poor shows since the tour’s resumption: “ I haven’t been feeling great on the court and it is not easy to accept. This period is a little complicated but I will continue to fight, train and hope for better results soon.” He’s been nowhere near the Monfils that started the season so well, but this price on Bublik is too short as a consequence.

Fellow Frenchman, Richard Gasquet might appreciate the fact that he can just play in Paris this year without all the hassle from the media and expectation from the crowd that he’s found difficult to deal with over the years.

If fit, which is guesswork these days, he could well get the better of Roberto Bautista Agut, who finds it too slow here generally (never past the last-16) and will find it even less appealing this year.

He only got past Dominik Koepfer in Hamburg last week when the German’s legs went late on and having just become a new dad he could be excused for not wanting to hang around too long in Paris this year.

The last time that Jack Sock was favourite for a main level clay court match? Here in Paris against Jurgen Zopp in May 2018 when he lost as a 1.24 chance and he’s lost 11 of his last 15 main level matches when priced up as favourite.

Now he’s favourite against Reilly Opelka and Sock’s another one that likes to use heavy top spin, so the lack of Babolat balls and damp conditions won’t help him at all.

He edged through qualies in a final set breaker against Facundo Bagnis and two breakers against Andrey Kuznetsov and Opelka has had some results on clay, so I couldn’t back Sock as favourite here.

Juan Ignacio Londero seems to prefer a slow clay court and could easily turn the Kitzbuhel form around on Federico Delbonis, who’s just 3-7 win/loss in the French Open main draw, while Salvatore Caruso also holds underdog chances against Guido Pella, whose fitness remains far from confirmed after being diagnosed with Morton’s neuroma in the summer.

Caruso has played some decent stuff lately, while Pella’s fitness is still under that cloud it appears, based on what he’s shown the last few weeks on clay.

The good form on clay since the resumption from Hubert Hurkacz and Tennys Sandgren has been a bit of a surprise, given that they both appear to be better suited to quicker surfaces.

Hurkacz beat my man Rublev in Rome and that’s good form, but 1.47 looks a tad short to me.

Finally, Emil Ruusuvuori looks like a player that enjoys quicker conditions and even on quick clay in Kitzbuhel, when we backed Marc Andrea Huesler against him the Finn didn’t seem to enjoy the red dirt.

Benjamin Bonzi actually beat Medvedev here (by retirement in set four) a few years back and should be desperate to progress in his home major having qualified, so it’s one where I’d probably take a chance if there was a home crowd to get behind Bonzi.

So, quite a few options, but it’s never a major that has many dog winners, so I’ll just take four from my list above.


Best Bets


0.5 points win Cilic +1.5 sets to beat Thiem at 3.75
0.5 points win Barrere +2.5 sets to beat Dimitrov at 1.91
0.5 points win Fucsovics +1.5 sets to beat Medvedev at 2.70
0.5 points win Millman +1.5 sets to beat Carreno Busta at 2.70