Andy Schooler picks out his best bets for the women’s singles at the French Open – and they include 40/1 and 50/1 shots.
2pts Aryna Sabalenka for the title at 13/2 (General)
0.5pt e.w. Jessica Pegula for the title at 40/1 (Betfred)
0.5pt Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to win the third quarter at 50/1 (BoyleSports)
Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook
Tennis fans will be very familiar with the term ‘The Big Three’ but in this preview I’m applying it in a new way.
Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina have been the standout players of 2023 and, in many ways, the past 12 months.
Between them, the trio hold the four Grand Slam titles, and this season they’ve captured virtually all the major prizes.
Now, it’s fair to say that several of ‘top’ players have failed to deliver at Roland Garros in the past, often perplexed by the clay having spent most of the season on hardcourts.
But Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina all look happy on the red dirt. Indeed, they’ve just swept up the three big warm-up titles between them – Swiatek winning in Stuttgart, Sabalenka in Madrid and Rybakina in Rome.
In a search for the champion, it’s hard to look beyond these three and the market agrees, going 25/1 bar.
Of the trio, Swiatek is rightly favourite but, as I’ve written on these pages before, I want to be pretty sure a player is going to when backing them at odds-on and that’s simply not the case here.
Excuse the trumpet-blowing, but I was right to pick out Swiatek 12 months ago. She duly delivered a second French Open title in three years.
But a look at what I wrote at the time helps show why I’m less convinced about her chances – despite being exactly the same price – a year on.
Straight-sets victories have very much been the norm. Swiatek has won 42 of her last 43 sets and, remarkably, 25 of those have been won with a 6-2 scoreline or better.
This is dominance not seen on the WTA tour for many years and in short, you can see why the Pole is a short price to win here.
Swiatek was also on a 28-match winning streak at the time but she’s been unable to dominate like that in 2023, largely due to the emergence of Sabalenka as a serious threat and the continued improvement of Wimbledon champion Rybakina.
Her excellent movement on the clay is a big reason behind her success on the surface and there’s little doubt she’s the best natural player on it.
But as well as her form being a bit down on last season – she lost to Sabalenka in the Madrid final – she’s also coming in here having been forced out of Rome with a thigh injury.
Rybakina was already giving her a real test in their quarter-final when the withdrawal occurred and although Swiatek says she’ll be fine for her first-round match, you have to wonder if she’s 100% fit given that was only just over a week ago.
Finally, there’s also a tricky draw to consider.
Rybakina is in the same half but before any such meeting there will likely be some stern tests with the likes of former champion Barbora Krejcikova and Madrid and Rome semi-finalist Veronika Kudermetova possible opponents before the semi-final stage.
Basically, I remember being fully confident Swiatek would win this title a year ago; 12 months on I don’t have the same feeling and so can’t play at the same price.
Aside from the fact she could have to meet Swiatek again, Rybakina looks to have a more comfortable draw.
Ons Jabeur is the other high seed in her quarter but the Tunisian got injured in Stuttgart and when she returned in Rome she was battered by Paula Badosa (herself now sidelined).
Admittedly there’s a tricky opener against Lucia Bronzetti, a finalist in Rabat this weekend, to deal with, but I wouldn’t put off people backing Rybakina at 7/1.
She showed in Rome how her big-hitting game can work on the clay – albeit there’s little doubt she’s less of a natural on this surface.
Instead, when it comes the title, I like the chances of ARYNA SABALENKA.
Avoiding the other two in the draw is a major plus, while it feels like the Belarusian is really growing into the player many thought she could be.
Winning her maiden Grand Slam title at January’s Australian Open will undoubtedly have helped on that front, while toppling Swiatek in Madrid will have given her another major confidence boost.
Her thumping ground game has been causing damage virtually everywhere she’s been in 2023, while service issues appear to have been put to bed. In fact, only Caroline Garcia has won a higher percentage of service games this year than Sabalenka’s 83.4%.
OK, the altitude conditions of Madrid will have undoubtedly helped against Swiatek, who had previously beaten Sabalenka in the Stuttgart final, but knowing she does have the game to defeat the title favourite will be huge in the mental battle.
Sabalenka could actually usurp Swiatek as world number one in Paris but she insists she’s only focusing on looking after her own game – indeed the way she has spoken in the past six months or so suggests a character much happier in her own skin these days, one playing with less pressure.
Marta Kostyuk admittedly isn’t the easiest first-round match but, in the main, Sabalenka looks pretty well drawn and while I’m hardly thinking she’s the bet of the season, I’m happy to place my trust in her.
While I’ve laid down the case for one of the favourites to emerge victorious, it’s undeniable that this tournament has a reputation for big-priced winners – Jelena Ostapenko and Krejcikova were both triple-figure prices when they won the title, while Swiatek (first time around) and Ash Barty landed the title when around 33/1 and 20/1 respectively.
And that’s all with the past six years.
Given that it would simply be wrong not to look at potential outsiders.
Sadly Kudermetova, who I had been keen on prior to the draw, hasn’t had the best of luck, landing in with Swiatek. Krejcikova, the always-dangerous Madison Keys, last year’s finalist Coco Gauff and Rome finalist Anhelina Kalinina are all also in that first quarter.
Instead, it’s the third quarter where I feel there’s plenty of potential with the bookies having largely written off those in the section which doesn’t feature any of the three favourites.
It’s led by third seed JESSICA PEGULA who, at 40/1, looks a tad big.
Despite those title odds, she’s actually favourite to reach the semis – and once there… You know the rest.
It’s more than possible she gets to that stage too.
While clay isn’t her strongest surface, form has been pretty decent. Pegula made the semis in Charleston and the quarters in Madrid, beating the likes of Badosa and clay specialist Martina Trevisan.
She was also a quarter-finalist here in Paris last season and has been remarkably consistent in the Slams, reaching the last eight at four of the last five.
Yes, she needs to take that extra step but arguably her draw offers her the chance to do just that.
Danielle Collins could make things tricky in round one but a look at the head-to-head shows Pegula 4-0 up.
Maria Sakkari is the next highest-ranked player in the quarter but she’s struggled of late, while Belinda Bencic hasn’t played during the European clay swing due to injury.
There’s one player I do think has the potential to cause problems and that’s ANASTASIA PAVLYUCHENKOVA.
She spent more than six months out injured and so it’s no surprise that she’s struggled in the early months of 2023.
But since hitting the clay, there have been a few signs that she’s getting back in the groove, in particular this past week in Strasbourg where she posted two convincing wins, including one over top seed Magda Linette, before losing from match-points up against Lauren Davis in the quarter-finals.
If that narrow loss hasn’t hurt too much, she should return to the scene of her 2021 final run with confidence rising and, given the draw, I think it might be worth throwing some small change at her in the quarter betting at 50/1.
Posted at 0710 BST on 27/05/23
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