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Sunday, 25 May 2014

French Open Outright Picks 2014 (May 25th-June 8th)

The second Grand Slam tournament of the season is definitely one of my favourite ones through the season and that has nothing to do with the fantastic time I had at Roland Garros last year either.

I have personally always been fascinated by the clay courts which was much more mysterious during the non-internet years, especially compared with the up-tempo Wimbledon event that was covered thoroughly by the BBC.

Nowadays we don't have the extremely strong clay court specialists that made it so difficult for the likes of Pete Sampras in Paris, especially not with the uniform nature of courts throughout the world. I'm a big fan of the idea of making the court speeds a little different from week to week, but we have to make do with what we have and that means the recognised names are at the top of the market for the outright winner as we would expect in any of the events they enter.


French Open Men's Draw
The Number 1 Seed who is sitting proudly at the top of the French Open draw is Rafael Nadal, a player that has won the event eight times in his career, but he is still coming into the event as the second favourite according to the outright market.

That was a surprise on one hand as I think beating Nadal in a best of five set match on the clay has proved virtually impossible over the last decade, although he needed to ride his luck in his Semi Final with Novak Djokovic last season.

I have been saying for a few weeks that Nadal has been looking vulnerable, but the draw was going to be important and I don't think he would be too disappointed with how it has panned out for him. Of course, Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer are potential Fourth Round and Quarter Final opponents for Nadal and both have beaten him on the clay over the last six weeks, but a best of five set match is a different proposition altogether and I am not convinced in either player managing to do it in Paris.

The conditions don't favour Nadal early in the week, but I would expect him to negotiate those early Rounds and get into a position to have another big assault at winning the French Open crown for a ridiculous ninth time.

Grigor Dimitrov is another player I wanted to keep onside at the beginning of the tournament, but I don't think he would be good enough to beat Ferrer and Nadal which he would likely have to do to reach the Semi Final and the Bulgarian's time to shine may have to wait for at least one more Grand Slam.


Stanislas Wawrinka is the player that Nadal is most likely going to have beat in the Semi Final if he manages to get through to that stage as I expect the top seeded player in the second quarter to find his way through the draw. The Swiss Number 1 has admitted that he has found it a little difficult to cope with the expectation that comes from winning his maiden Grand Slam title of the season at the Australian Open back in January, but the draw couldn't have been kinder for him in my opinion.

It's not completely plain sailing, but I am sure Wawrinka would back himself to beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Fabio Fognini which could be his toughest opponents early in the tournament.

I also believe this could be a stronger tournament for Andy Murray who is close to naming a new coach and who is regularly not amongst the contenders on the clay courts. This is his worst surface by some distance, but Murray won't be too intimidated by the first four opponents he is likely to see this week.

The biggest issue ahead of the potential Quarter Final with Stanislas Wawrinka may be the Dusseldorf Champion Philipp Kohlschreiber, but the German is coming off a long week and may have too much tennis in his legs in the potential Third Round clash.

Other players like Richard Gasquet, who hasn't played a single clay court match this season having been off the Tour since Miami, and Fernando Verdasco, who is as inconsistent as ever, don't really appeal to block the Murray route and I can see the top two seeded players in the section meeting in the Quarter Final.


The third quarter of the draw might be the most intriguing in the men's draw as there will be some doubts over what the top two seeded players in this section can achieve this week. Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer have both performed well in Paris in the past, but I think both could be vulnerable this week.

Berdych has a couple of matches I would expect him to negotiate very comfortably, but someone like Roberto Bautista-Agut could prove to be too awkward in the Third Round, especially if the courts are playing a little slower under the damp conditions.

On the other hand, Roger Federer has recently become the father of another set of twins and I am not sure how much practice time he has under his belt for this Grand Slam tournament and we may not see the best of him until Wimbledon. However, I doubt Federer could have hand-picked a better draw unless the Nice Champion, Ernests Gulbis, can replicate the form that took him to his best ever result in a Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2008.

Those doubts over the top two players may open the door for the veteran Tommy Robredo to make his way through the draw and surpass his Quarter Final performance here in Paris from twelve months ago. He showed his mental resiliency in coming from two sets to love down to win three straight matches last year in Paris and he has a win on the clay courts over Berdych last season and also beat Federer in the US Open.

Robredo's form isn't the best, but the clay courts agree with him and I think he has a real chance to play himself into the tournament and could be the surprise package from the section.


The final section of the men's draw holds the favourite to win his first French Open title in Novak Djokovic, but the Serb's credentials are going to be tested almost immediately. The wrist that had been a big concern for Djokovic during this clay court season didn't adversely affect him as he won in Rome which made the World Number 2 the outright favourite to win the title, but he likely has to deal with Jeremy Chardy as soon as the Second Round.

Chardy beat Federer in Rome and while I would expect Djokovic to come through that test, the likes of Marin Cilic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could be the next two opponents. Cilic is someone who can raise his game and reach almost unplayable heights against anyone, while Tsonga has had a couple of big years at his home Grand Slam and pushed Djokovic to five sets here in 2012.

With the weather likely to play havoc early in the tournament, Djokovic may be asking to push his wrist in best of five set matches on consecutive days and it will be interesting to see if the likes of Cilic and Tsonga can perhaps find the inspired tennis to knock off the favourite in the relatively early stages of the tournament.

I think there would have been a lot of people rushing to back Kei Nishikori after his achievements during the clay court swing with a title in Barcelona and a runner-up spot in Madrid, but the back injury that forced him out of the latter Final is hard to ignore. If he was fully healthy, he might have been the threat in this section, while my thoughts on Milos Raonic means I would find it hard to back him in a normal situation.

The draw has made this anything but a normal situation for Raonic who has been given a pretty good opportunity to get through to the Quarter Final at the very least. The one player that could potentially cause an obstacle is Alexandr Dolgopolov but he has come off the form he was showing earlier in the season and his inconsistencies remain a concern for those that back him.


The outright market for the winner of the French Open is dominated by the two best players in the world and I can't help but think Rafael Nadal is vastly overpriced considering all the success he has had in Roland Garros throughout his career.

I also feel he has the more 'comfortable' path through to the Final than Novak Djokovic who could be extremely tested by the likes of Marin Cilic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, although it does feel that the two top players will meet in the Final in two weeks time.

Still, I will back Rafael Nadal at this stage and be on the look out for a surprise in the bottom half of the draw.

Talking of surprises, I am also backing Tommy Robredo to come through the Third Quarter of the draw for a small interest- as I highlighted above, there are some doubts over the two top players in that section and Robredo did reach the Quarter Final last season in Paris. He did beat Roger Federer in the US Open last season so will feel better on the clay courts and even the poor form shown by Robredo in the clay court season could be forgotten.


Women's French Open Draw
The men's draw is much more fascinating despite the feeling that the top two players are likely to come through to contest the Final that everyone wants to see in two weeks time. Even with that in mind, there are players through the draw that will feel they can at least stun Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic if either player is not in top shape for the tournament and I don't think the same can be said about the women's draw.

Let's face it- if Serena Williams turns up, she could blitz her way through the draw and win the tournament for the second year in a row, but the one factor that continues to nag away in the back of the mind is her number of surprising losses in Grand Slam tournaments over the last two and a half years that she has once again dominated the WTA Tour.

Virginie Razzano beat Serena here two years ago, while losses to the likes of Sloane Stephens, Sabine Lisicki and Ana Ivanovic over the last eighteen months in the Majors has to be a concern to those backing Serena at short odds.

The aforementioned Lisicki and Razzano are both in Williams' section of the draw as is big sister Venus, but it is tough to see Serena losing considering the way she came through the tournament in Rome to erase doubts about a thigh injury that forced her out of Madrid.

Maria Sharapova would be the biggest beneficiary of an early surprise loss for Serena Williams, but I can't favour the Russian to come out of the section as long as the latter is in the draw considering the head to head between the players.


I wouldn't be holding much hope for Agnieszka Radwanska from the second quarter of the draw if she made it through to the Semi Final of the tournament either, although the Pole is a player that can always find at least one player too good for her. She is a solid competitor, but can be outhit by players on the Tour and I think she is destined to never win a Major (famous last words perhaps).

The draw hasn't been unkind to her though and that is in her favour in case Serena Williams is beaten before the Semi Finals, but even in that scenario I wouldn't be rushing to back Radwanska to knock off her likely opponent in Maria Sharapova.

I am not sure anyone in this section is going to prevent Radwanska reaching the Semi Final but I expect that is where her tournament will come to an end.


The third section of the draw looks much more competitive with the likes of Simona HalepAna IvanovicPetra Kvitova and Sloane Stephens all capable of coming through the draw.

Of those three players, Kvitova is one that has struggled for her form ever since she won Wimbledon three years ago, and I would be very surprised if she was to get through to the Semi Final. The draw means she would have to face Svetlana Kuznetsova early in the tournament and I think it would be a real turn in form for Kvitova to come through.

Someone like Ivanovic has shown some improvements over the last two months, but she is still inconsistent and Stephens has raised her game at the Slams but is probably on her worst surface.

That leaves Halep who has beaten both Ivanovic and Kvitova during this clay court season and who showed her ability on a clay court by reaching the Final in Madrid. The draw also should give Halep the chance to build momentum through the section and I think she could prove how far she has improved over the last twelve months by erasing memories of her First Round exit at this same event.


Finally we get to the last section of the draw and Na Li will be expected to be the player that not only comes through the section, but the most likely one to be playing in the Final in two weeks time. Li is a former winner at the French Open back in 2011, which was a surprise to her but proved she could perform on the clay courts.

Li actually has her second best winning percentage at the French Open and the draw here looks good considering the doubts about Caroline Wozniacki who is the player seeded to meet her in the Fourth Round.

There is going to be a moment where Li will struggle, but if she can get through those difficult times, she should be able to go very close to winning the tournament and at least getting the chance to play for the trophy.

One player who could beat Li before the Semi Final is Jelena Jankovic but the Serb would have to beat Sara Errani who reached the Final in Rome in the last Premier Event. Errani loves the clay courts and has reached the Final in Roland Garros before and I think she may prove a little too good for Jankovic in the Fourth Round that they could potentially meet.

While Jankovic could give Li a lot of problems, Errani only just held on to beat a sick Li in Rome and their past history suggests it would be tough to back the Italian to beat her again.


Like the men's draw, the outright market has the correct two players at the head of the choices and I think I will have an interest in both Serena Williams and Na Li- if Williams is on her game, she will win the event, but Li could be a good cover if the American is beaten early in the draw as she was in the Australian Open earlier this season which was eventually won by Li.

I also think backing Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep to come through the second and third sections of the draw could be worth backing at the prices. As I said above, I think both have been handed good draws to achieve those aims and can go deep in the tournament, even if I believe the Williams-Li combination will prove too good for them in the Semi Finals.

MY PICKSRafael Nadal @ 2.88 Bet Fred (4 Units)
Tommy Robredo to win Third Quarter @ 26.00 Paddy Power (0.5 Units)
Serena Williams @ 2.25 Ladbrokes (4 Units)
Na Li @ 7.00 Sporting Bet (1 Unit E/W)
Agnieszka Radwanska to win the Second Quarter @ 3.00 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Simona Halep to win the Third Quarter @ 3.00 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)

Weekly Final9-7, + 3.06 Units (31 Units Staked, + 9.87% Yield)

Season 2014+ 34.70 Units (688 Units Staked, + 5.04% Yield)

Season 2013+ 21.74 Units (1251.5 Units Staked, + 1.73% Yield)
Season 2012+ 49.21 Units (855 Units Staked, + 5.76% Yield)
Season 2011+ 82.02 Units

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