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  • Chris Sobey

Tennis


Tennis

The eagerly awaited second Grand Slam of the 2017 professional tennis season gets underway today and the elite of both the ATP and WTA Tours will attempt to lift the coveted championship trophies in two weeks’ time. As is normally the case at Grand Slams the top-10 seeds more often than not contend the finals and the French Open is no different. The men’s tournament has witnessed only one winner seeded outside the top three seeds over the last decade (Wawrinka 2015 seeded 8) and only one player reached the final seeded outside the top-five over the last decade (Soderling 2009 seeded 23).

Only four active players have won the French Open over the last decade and Nadal rises above the rest with an astounding seven titles in this period (nine in total between 2005 and 2017). The only other player to win the title in this period were Federer in 2009 (does not play this year), Wawrinka 2015 and defending champion Djokovic 2016. After a blistering return to form on the red dirt during this seasons European Clay court season Nadal is the clear favourite to win an unprecedented tenth French Open title and it’s hard to oppose him given the form of his main rivals like Murray, Djokovic and Wawrinka on clay this season.

Of the three Wawrinka (14/1) appeals the most as a former winner and more importantly he avoids Djokovic and Nadal, who are in the bottom half of the draw. None of the players in his quarter of the draw will hold any great fear over him as he’s beaten them all in the past and if he makes it to the latter stages again and is fully fit he’s more than capable of beating anyone over the best of five sets. The other main challenge may come from the NextGen stars Thiem and ninth seed Zverev, and of the two Zverev (16/1) appeals the most as he avoids Nadal and Djokovic.

He surpassed Thiem recently by landing a first Masters Series title at Rome where he swept aside Djokovic in the final in straight sets. Zverev does face a very tough opener against the experienced veteran Verdasco, but there are rarely many easy matches at Grand Slam level and he defeated Verdasco at the Madrid Masters recently in straight sets, which is a big positive.

He also resides in Murray’s quarter of the draw, but potentially won’t meet the number one until the quarter-finals. There’s no guarantees he will meet Murray as the Scot faces some potential early banana skins; a tough opener against the aggressive Kuznetsov, Klizan in the second round, who nearly knocked Wawrinka out early at the Australian Open this year, then potentially the big hitting Del Potro in the third round followed potentially by 13th seed Berdych or 21st seed Isner in the fourth round. Zverev’s main challengers in his section of the draw look like eighth seed Nishikori and 22nd seed Cuevas and this could be Zverev's first main big challenge as the Uruguayan has been very strong and consistent on clay this season and beat the young German at the Madrid Masters recently.

Looking at the bottom half of the draw the best approach to making a potential profit could be opposing Djokovic in the Fourth Quarter and Thiem (10/3) and Ramos-Vinolas (25/1) are in good enough form to take advantage should the world number two falter like he has so many times this season.

The women’s French Open is as wide open as ever with Serena Williams not playing and top-seed Kerber, third seed Halep and defending champion Muguruza are all out of form and have been struggling with injuries this season. From the top-half of the draw 2016 semi-finalist Bertens (40/1) seeded 18 proved last year she is more than capable of winning this tournament and the signs look good again as at the time of writing she had reached the final at Nuremberg. From the bottom half of the draw 16th seed Pavlyuchenkova (55/1) is turning in to a much more consistent player; she has always been at home on clay and at Roland Garros, having been a quarter-finalist here in the past, and with none of the players in the bottom half of the draw really setting the world alight on clay this season she looks over priced and is worth siding with


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