April has arrived and that means we are just days away from the new clay court season. All eyes will be on Europe in the next month or so with major tournaments in Spain, Italy and of course the French Open.
This season sees the three most dominant players in men’s tennis all participating for the first time since 2015. That’s because Roger Federer isn’t having a rest this year and will be battling for yet more ATP Tour titles. It’s not all about the usual suspects though, there are some young and not-so-young pretenders out to claim big scalps in the coming weeks. Let’s look ahead to the 2019 Clay Court season, as we did for the previous season.
Federer is Back and Looking for Fun
Roger Federer turns 38 in August and that age he should be sitting in a commentary box not winning tennis tournaments. He’s ranked number four in the world but top of the ranking list for this year. This is his first clay court season since 2016 and says he’s “in a phase where I want to have fun,”
After an early exit in the Australian Open, he licked his wounds until the end of February. He’s won two titles (including his 100th) and lost in the final at Indian Wells after winning the first set. Anyone would think we’ve gone back in time, there was talk of him fighting off his young rivals and that was 12 years ago.
Back to the history books again. Federer’s only French Open title was in 2009 and at Bet365 he’s a huge 28/1 to win another French Open. He hasn’t won a clay tournament since 2012 though.
Federer will be a threat simply because he’s Federer, that’s what happens. Wins in the best of three sets tournaments may happen but he is more prone to the occasional off-day and surprise defeats are always possible, so bear that in mind.
Another Year of Nadal Domination?
When other players on the circuit look at the success that Rafael Nadal has had on clay, there are several emotions that come to hand. Admiration and envy are on the list but also fear as they wonder just how do we beat this guy?
It’s not just the fact the Spaniard has won the French Open 11 times and has never lost a final. He’s also had 11 victories in Monte Carlo, another 11 in Barcelona (wonder what his favorite number is?) and another eight in Rome. Nadal is the King of Clay, but all reigns must come to an end, sometime don’t they?
Last year was the same old story with Nadal winning in Monte Carlo, Rome and Paris. The level of his French Open victory last year was just off the scale. The semi-final and final saw him demolish Juan Martin del Potro and young-pretender Dominic Thiem for the loss of just 16 games
it’s usually injury that stops Nadal winning titles. His last tournament was at Indian Wells last month and he was set to take on Roger Federer but had to pull out after aggravating a right-knee injury. It’s not certain just how fit Nadal is at present but if you’re betting on him to win a tournament, his fitness must be considered.
Mind you, that’s something that could have been written six years ago and he hasn’t done too bad since then has he? You can get 10/11 on Nadal winning the French Open to make it a dozen wins.
Djokovic Struggling for Form
Novak Djokovic tops the world rankings at present and last won the French Open in 2016 (Nadal pulled out through injury that year). A win in Paris will mean he’d be holding all four Grand Slam titles. You can get 7/4 at Bet365 on Djokovic winning the French Open.
2019 started well for Novak with a win at the Australian Open but he didn’t get to the business end of either Indian Wells or Miami. He has the ability of course to have a good season but had some bad defeats to lower-ranked players last year when failing to reach a clay court final. Keep a close eye on him because if he returns to top form then titles could be on the way.
The Heir to the Throne?
The reign of Nadal, Djokovic and Federer must end sometime doesn’t it? The future of clay court tennis could well lie in the hands of Dominic Thiem. The last three years has seen Thiem reach two French Open semi-finals and the 2018 Final where he lost heavily to guess who, yep Mr Nadal. Currently he’s the third favourite at Bet365 and 10/1 is a good each-way bet.
The 25-year-old Austrian also reached the final of the Madrid Open last year and on the way, he beat Nadal. That’s his third victory on clay courts over the Spaniard but both have been over three sets. Thiem has also beaten Roger Federer (twice), Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev on this surface, so he’s going to be a big danger this year.
Need any more convincing? Well, the Austrian recently beat Roger Federer to win the Masters title at Indian Wells and had to come from a set down to do so. He’s already reached the semi-final of a clay tournament held in Argentina this year and will relish a return to his favorite surface.
Nishikori a Threat
Kei Nishikori has had his share of injuries but, just like Novak Djokovic, made a successful return last year. He’s up to six in the rankings and has a good record on clay courts. Barcelona is a favorite of his having won the tournament there in both 2014 and 2015.
He’s in form too with the last three Grand Slams seeing him reach the last eight twice and one semi-final. Nishikori made it to the fourth round at last year’s French Open, where he’s got to the quarter-final twice in the last four years. He’s unlikely to win a tournament but if he’s in form in one of them, then he’s a player to back. 40/1 at Bet365 to win the French Open could be worth an each-way punt.
Zverev Looking for Grand Slam Success
Alexander Zverev is a real puzzle, isn’t he? He’s ranked third in the world, but his Grand Slam record is appalling. Last year he was seeded second at the French Open but lost in the last eight to Dominic Thiem winning just seven games.
That was a disappointing end to an otherwise successful 2018 campaign. He won in Madrid (beating Thiem in the final) and Munich, lost in three sets to Nadal in Rome and reached the semi-finals in Monte Carlo. There are plenty of winning bets on the way if you back him and surely that Grand Slam breakthrough is on its way. It’s 12/1 that he wins the French Open.
Khachanov on the Rise
Karen Khachanov has had some good performances in the last two French Open tournaments. He lost in five sets to Zverev last year and knocked out both John Isner and Thomas Berdych in 2017. After winning the Paris Masters last year, he could well spring some surprises in the coming weeks. If he does, then the 50/1 Bet365 have him to win the French Open could get you a good return, if backing him each-way.
Whatever happens, we’re set for an excellent few weeks of clay court tennis. Will the old brigade remain dominant or could new faces make big breakthroughs, only time will tell.