2018 ATP French Open Final Betting Preview: Nadal Seeks No. 11
Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Rafa Nadal
- Rafa Nadal (-455) will take on Dominic Thiem (+320) in the French Open final Sunday morning at 9 a.m. ET.
- Nadal is seeking his 11th French Open title, the most of any player at a single Grand Slam.
- Thiem already has a win over Nadal this season (in Madrid) and is responsible for Rafa’s last two losses on clay.
As Rafa Nadal, the King of Clay, and Dominic Thiem — perhaps, the Prince of Clay — square off on Sunday in the French Open final, the tennis world will largely be divided into two groups. Those who want to see history repeat itself, with Rafa hoisting La Coupe des Mousquetaires for the 11th time. And those who want to see a fresh face take down the invincible Nadal — with Thiem stepping forward as this year’s brave challenger.
But Thiem isn’t just another “challenger.”
Nadal’s last two losses on clay came against the Austrian — including the last time these two met. Just a month ago in Madrid, Thiem got the better of Rafa, advancing in straight sets. That snapped Nadal’s 19-match winning streak on clay.
That said, Sunday will present a much different task for the young Thiem. It’s one thing to take down Nadal on the clay in a best-of-three-sets match. But, dethroning Nadal — on court Philippe Chatrier — in a best-of-five match presents an entirely different obstacle.
Below, we’ll examine the case for each man — and take a look at some of the different ways I see this match going down. But, first, let’s see how the two have fared against each other on clay courts over the years.
The Case for Thiem (+320)
The case for Thiem is pretty straightforward: the 24-year-old will have to play at a peak level over the course of three sets — and remain on his front foot for the duration of the match.
Thiem used that exact formula in his three past clay wins against Rafa — and it will surely be his key to winning Sunday. Thiem is a rare breed of player who is blessed with not only a massive game off the ground — but also the top-flight brand of athleticism to back it up.
We saw in Nadal’s semifinal match, against Juan Martin del Potro, that it is possible to hit through Rafa — even on Chatrier. That gives behind-the-baseline defenders a lot of room to sag back and run shots down. However, as the match progressed, Delpo’s movement and fitness got exposed — and Nadal inevitably started to fire off open-court winners with ease.
Rafa won’t have that same luxury against Thiem, whose motor, at times, appears to never end. When peaking, Thiem possesses the firepower to hit Rafa in the mouth early — and maintain that level for the entire match. And he’ll have to do so if he hopes to capture his maiden Grand Slam title.
At the moment, Sunday’s weather forecast in Paris calls for rain. If it falls, we will get heavy conditions for the final, which will provide Thiem with a huge boost. Wet conditions will take a lot of bounce off Rafa’s ball — and that means that any balls coming from Rafa’s forehand side to Thiem’s backhand side will sit right in the Austrian’s wheelhouse.
However, if the weathermen have it wrong and we get dry and sunny conditions, then we’ll see a lot more of Rafa’s topspin forehands jump up and away from Thiem — making it harder for him to club shots and pick out lines.
Ultimately, though, I think the first set will go a long way toward determining who will win this match. I really think Thiem needs to come out and win the opening set for any chance to win. It reminds me a lot of last year’s final, when Stan Wawrinka and Rafa faced off.
Going into the match, I felt like it could’ve gotten close — but, after Nadal took that first set, you could see the life get sucked out of Stan. I think tomorrow could play out similarly for Thiem if he falls behind early. Also, Thiem will have to hold his head, as he will undoubtedly feel the nerves Sunday in his first Grand Slam final.
Nerves have a keen knack of turning a shotmaker into a passive player — and that could be the downfall for Thiem. As long as Domi sticks to his game — predicated for the most part on ruthless shotmaking — he should compete and have a shot at winning.
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The Case for Nadal (-455)
Well, when you’ve got 10 French Open titles, like Nadal does, you don’t really need much more of a case. And, of course, Rafa is the heavy favorite to win his 11th on Sunday.
In order for Rafa to take this one back to Majorca, he’ll simply have to play his game — which he’s done countless times on this court, at this tournament. He’ll need to serve well, neutralize Thiem’s offense and counterpunch with his own attack, likely, from defensive positions. The Spaniard will benefit, once again, from playing on a court almost tailor-made for his game — and he will, almost certainly, have the crowd behind him.
But, in my opinion, the biggest advantage Rafa will have over Thiem is experience — which will give him a significant mental edge. Thes best-of-five format ultimately provides Nadal with more margin to absorb intermittent blows from Thiem.
When Nadal beat Thiem earlier this year in Monte Carlo, his forehand was large and in charge — and Rafa was aggressively looking to hit winners and finish points on his terms. While I expect Nadal to be on the defensive for more of this match, he must remain aggressive — and look to play on his terms.
I will personally look to play this match live. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I think the first set will be utterly critical. If Nadal wins the first, he could roll in straight sets. We’ve seen in this tournament — and throughout his career — that once Rafa gets in rhythm on clay, he shifts gears into the realm of invincibility. He’s one of the best frontrunners in the history of tennis.
However, if Thiem can take the first set — put some pressure on Nadal — and give himself some belief, I could see the Austrian winning this match in four or five sets. But that first set will be all-important — and I think the best way to approach this match is to wait and see how things unfold early on.
I’d assume if Nadal drops the first set, he will still be odds-on for the match. If so, I will look to launch onto Domi (up a set) at plus money.
The over/under of 35.5 doesn’t hold much pre-match value in my eyes, due to the same first-set rationale.
My heart tells me Thiem’s got a shot in five, but my brain tells me Nadal in three or four. Either way, I expect a great final on Sunday. Best of luck with whatever wager(s) you choose!