Rafael Nadal is synonymous with clay court tennis. Any player, any era – nobody can come close to the Spaniard’s sublime record on that surface.
Nadal’s dominance on clay in embodied by an incredible 11 Grand Slam successes at Roland Garros. It’s not difficult to guess who bookmakers fancy for the French Open men’s singles title this year.
Sometimes in sport, an individual athlete is just perfectly suited to an event. This is very much the case with Nadal, who before the draw is even made and seeds are known, is 11/8 favourite with Paddy Power.
The 2019 French Open begins on Sunday, 26 May and concludes a fortnight later on 9 June. The question is can anyone stop Nadal, who turns 33 during it, from bringing up the dozen?
Familiar faces still in the mix
When the Spanish star has faltered, it’s either been because of injuries or one of his ‘big four’ rivals getting the better of him at a Slam. Novak Djokovic won at Roland Garros in 2016 and tops the ATP world rankings coming into this year’s tournament.
Ten of his 15 Grand Slam successes have come on hard courts, however, but the Serb is rated the man most likely to stop Nadal in the French Open odds on the men’s singles at 9/4.
As with Djokovic, another familiar face in Swiss superstar Roger Federer is world number three at present. Their collective dominance, alongside Andy Murray, of men’s tennis over the last decade has proved a golden era for the sport.
Federer has in recent years opted against competing at Roland Garros to give his ageing 37-year-old legs a rest. He has returned to clay court tennis after a three-year absence, however, and is 14/1 to repeat his French Open triumph of 2009 a decade on.
Thiem and Zverev trying to establish themselves
Sooner or later, the elder statesmen of pro tennis are going to give way to a new generation. Precocious German talent Alexander Zverev is next best in the ATP rankings behind Djokovic, world number two Nadal and Federer.
The 22-year-old reached the quarter-finals of Roland Garros last year and is looking to overcome some poor early season form. Zverev is a 20/1 chance to go three wins better at the French Open, but the aim is surely just to reach the business end of a Grand Slam before he can think about lifting the trophy.
Dominic Thiem reached a maiden Slam final in Paris 12 months ago having twice gone out in the semis in consecutive years. It’s the Austrian who looks the more likely of the younger players that are prominent in the betting that can challenge Nadal and the established order.
Thiem, 25, is 9/2 for French Open men’s singles success in 2019 and that is a bit of each-way value with half of those odds available on him just reaching the final again. Twice a runner-up at the Madrid Open, he has since landed many minor ATP Tour titles on clay.