The King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, is out of Roland Garros this year, and there is a strong group of players who are coming for his throne with strong seasons on the dirt. While the two frontrunners are indisputable, there could be some interesting names in the mix behind them.
Let’s dive into each quarter and find some betting value in the futures market.
Note: All odds came from BetMGM. Read here for tips on viewing tennis matches. The full men’s draw can be found here.
This might be my favorite quarter. On top we have the odds-on favorite to win this tournament in world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz. Opposite him is No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas. While it seems pretty straight-forward that the two of these men will meet in the quarterfinal, I do think there are two players here who could spoil the fun.
The first is Lorenzo Musetti. The young Italian has started to find his form once again on the clay —where he’s historically been at his best — taking out the likes of Frances Tiafoe and Cam Norrie this spring and making a run to the Monte Carlo quarterfinals, which included a win over none other than Novak Djokovic.
Musetti went to the fourth round in his Roland Garros debut a couple of years ago and led Djokovic two sets to love before the then-teenager crumbled under the pressure. He also defeated Alcaraz on the clay in Hamburg last season in their only meeting at the ATP level. He has exceptional talent and some very valuable experience at just 21 years of age. He’s going to be a major roadblock for Alcaraz in this quarter.
I won’t be taking out a future, but I do want to point out that American Sebastian Korda has had excellent clay court results in his career, making a trip through qualifying and into the fourth round in his first Roland Garros three years ago. He’s been out for most of the year due to injury, but he’s just as talented as anyone in this quarter other than Alcaraz and he’s got a pretty easy draw through three rounds to play his way into form.
Should your bracket include Alcaraz and Tsitsipas in the quarterfinal here, make a note that Alcaraz has gone 4-0 over the Greek in his career and has dropped just one set in three meetings between the two on clay.
For all the negativity surrounding Djokovic heading into this tournament, his draw really could not have been any better. Sure, he is in the same half as Alcaraz, but quarters rarely come this easy.
Djokovic likely won’t drop a set through his first two matches, and despite a loss to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina at Monte Carlo last year it’s tough to see the Spaniard pushing Djokovic much in a Grand Slam. After that he’ll likely either draw Hubert Hurkacz – who isn’t good on clay – or a player past their prime such as Roberto Bautista Agut or David Goffin.
The Serbian should have four relatively easy matches to play his way into form before gearing up to face an actual upper-echelon talent in the quarterfinal and potentially Alcaraz in the semis. He’s looked rather old in recent months with some uncharacteristic losses and some signs of wear on his elbow, so it’s surely no guarantee he makes it through this quarter without issue. With that said, he did come away with the easiest quarter.
Here’s where things get interesting. I think this is the quarter you want to start throwing some darts, and I don’t think it gets much better than Taylor Fritz and Francisco Cerundolo at 10-1 odds or better.
Holger Rune gives me 2022 Alcaraz vibes heading into Roland Garros. The Spaniard went from around +1300 in the months leading up to the tournament to +225 prior to the event as the market tried to adjust to one of the world’s next elite players, and the same has happened here with Rune, who has skyrocketed up the board to become one of the favorites here. While there’s no doubt in my mind that Rune is a star – and one who will capture a Roland Garros one day – I think there’s a ton of value in fading him.
He’s had plenty of mental lapses and physical breakdowns in the last year, and he’s yet to prove he can last even just a week and a half in a best-of-five setting. Rune was out of gas when he met Casper Ruud in the quarterfinal here a year ago, and the story could easily be the same here in 2023 with Ruud lurking in the bottom half of this quarter. The talent isn’t in question and Rune’s had himself a great clay season, but making the semis at Roland Garros is a different beast.
That’s why I land on those two. I think Fritz has erased much of the gap between his level on a fast court and on clay with three semifinal appearances on the dirt this year and a win over defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas in Monte Carlo. Cerundolo, too, has begun to look like a dominant force on this surface again with a strong showing in Rome and Lyon. One of these two may knock Rune out before the quarters which would make this quarter a wild one.
Ruud has had a miserable season but seems to be playing better ball on the dirt, so if you want to go ahead and fade Rune with a large bet on Ruud to win the quarter at +300 I certainly won’t blame you. I do think the uncertainty with Rune at the Grand Slam level and the volatility of Ruud does open the door for some long shots.
This quarter is a two-horse race in my eyes and no – Jannik Sinner is not one of the horses.
I’m talking of course about qualifier Aslan Karatsev. He is the biggest wild card in this entire field after reuniting with his former coach and resurrecting his career with a trip to the Madrid semifinal this spring. He’s always had one of the biggest games and one of the best returns of serve on tour but has struggled with consistency. The skillset makes him a real threat on clay, where he’s now 13-4 on the year, and he enters this tournament with some real momentum after making it through three rounds of qualifying without dropping a set.
Those who know Karatsev well know that he could go down at any point in this quarter. He could lose in the first round to Alexei Popyrin! Should he find a way through Sinner – which is possible given the Italian’s regressed a bit on clay and prefers a faster surface to utilize his power – he surely has a chance to take out Daniil Medvedev and steal this quarter in what would be one of the biggest heists of the century.
Karatsev is 4-1 all-time against his fellow countryman with straight-set wins in each of their meetings on clay. Given what I’ve laid out above, it’s certainly worth putting some lunch money here on the big underdog to win this quarter, though I do also think Medvedev’s price is rather short. Sinner has picked up seven wins on clay this year in nine matches, but aside from the Musetti win all of them have been against pretty uninspiring competition. With his fourth-round loss in Rome and Medvedev’s title there, I think a Russian is a pretty strong favorite to come out of this quarter.
The outright discussion really begins and ends with Medvedev. The world No. 2 has seen his odds of winning this tournament improve dramatically, but they haven’t come down nearly enough for my liking. Medvedev has been steadily improving on clay with a fourth round appearance or better in the last two seasons at the French Open, and he defeated some of the toughest clay-courters in the world in Rome when he took out Tsitsipas, Rune and Alexander Zverev in straight sets.
Medvedev has added some more topspin on his forehand to help play up that wing on this surface and has adopted a more aggressive mindset to complement his all-world defense and rally stamina. He is starting to become the complete package on clay and I predict by next year he’ll be around +400 or shorter to win Roland Garros. I’d make him around +500 right now, so I still see some value in an outright.
I’m also throwing a dart with Fritz and Karatsev given the way the draw’s broken for them both, though the realistic expectation there is that they make a deep run and create a hedge opportunity.
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