Zerillo’s 2019 French Open Preview: Why Dominic Thiem Can Win, Plus 2 Longshots Worth a Look

Zerillo’s 2019 French Open Preview: Why Dominic Thiem Can Win, Plus 2 Longshots Worth a Look article feature image
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Susan Mullane, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Dominic Thiem

On April 27, 2019, Dominic Thiem defeated Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-4, in the semi-finals at the Barcelona Open, his fourth career win over Nadal (all on clay).

Thiem’s odds to win the 2019 French Open, which were previously as high as +1200 or +1000 soon dropped to as low as +350.

The big odds adjustment was certainly correlated to the win over Nadal, but it was also part of a larger uptick for Thiem’s stock.

Thiem had previously bested Roger Federer (3-6, 6-3, 7-5) on March 17 in the final at the Indian Wells Open, for his first ATP Masters 1000 title, before beating Federer again on clay (3-6, 7-6, 6-4) on May 10 in Madrid.

The 25-year-old finally seemed destined to break through and add a Grand Slam title to his list of career accomplishments.

However, after that second 2019 win over Federer, Thiem dropped two tiebreaks to Novak Djokovic in his next match, and Nadal later re-asserted himself on clay with a victory over Djokovic in the Rome Masters final (6-0, 4-6, 6-1).

After A beat B, B beat C, and C beat A, all three of their French Open futures odds were re-aligned closer to where they were prior to Thiem’s victory over Nadal in Barcelona.

As of writing, Thiem is about +700 to win the 2019 French Open. And I still think that there is value in that number.

Why Dominic Thiem Can Win the French Open

Thiem has already proven that he can beat the top players in the world; he’s one of only about 20 players who has beaten all four of Rafael Nadal (4-8), Novak Djokovic (2-6), Roger Federer (4-2), and the recently retired Andy Murray (1-2).

Thiem also has the pedigree to succeed at Roland-Garros. He made back-to-to-back semi-finals there in 2016 (lost to Djokovic) and 2017 (beat Djokovic, lost to Nadal) before breaking through to the final in 2018, where he lost in straight sets to Nadal (4-6, 3-6, 2-6).

Winning the final seems like the logical next step in Thiem’s progression.

There are no weaknesses to Thiem’s game. He has a big serve (145+ mph) with topspin, is an equally adept attacker and defender from both wings and he uses the slow clay courts at Roland-Garros to sustain long rallies, where he patiently waits for opportunities to be aggressive. He typically plays very deep, hitting groundstrokes instead of moving towards the net for volleys.

Thiem also has a signature shot, a powerful one-handed backhand, which he can use both to defend high-bouncing balls on the clay courts, or to drive by his opponents for winners:

Thiem is extremely calculated and mentally tough. He is a great player to bet on live when he drops the first set in a match, as he almost always seems to come back to even at some point, no matter the opponent.

The biggest obstacle standing in his way is that he has consistently failed to beat two of Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal in the same tournament, which is about the most difficult thing for any male tennis player to do.

Provided that the chalk advances in the draw, Thiem will have to beat both Djokovic and Nadal back-to-back in the semi-finals and final in order to raise the Musketeer’s Trophy.

Thiem might have turned the corner after a five-set loss to Nadal in the Quarterfinals at the 2018 U.S. Open; there is a noticeably higher level of confidence in his game this year.

But with an up and coming generation of potential superstars behind him, Thiem’s window to win a Grand Slam might be closing fast.

Thiem was about +900 (10% projected probability) to win the 2018 French Open. I think his true odds are probably closer to +400 (20%), the price they were listed at about 10 days ago.

Current odds of +700 implies a 12.5% chance of winning, and I would play it down to +550 (15.4%).

Two Longshots Worth A Punt

Christian Garin 66-1 to win Quarter 3

Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem, and Rafael Nadal are all roughly even favorites to reach the semi-finals of the 2019 French Open. Quarter 3 seems like the place to look for a longshot despite the presence of next-generation superstar Stefanos Tsitsipas (+250), and former champions Roger Federer (+325) and Stan Wawrinka (+600).

My favorite dark horse in this quarter is Christian Garin. The 22-year-old is 19-6 overall on tour with two titles on clay in 2019, winning the Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston on April 14, and the BMW Open in Munich on May 5. The win in Germany earlier this month was particularly impressive; Garin defeated three top-25 players, including Diego Schwartzman, Marco Cecchinato, and Alexander Zverev en route to that title.

If he can get past American Reilly Opelka, and then likely Wawrinka in the second round, Garin can go on a big run at Roland-Garros.

Belinda Bencic 33-1 to win French Open

The recently turned 22-year-old Bencic was a top-10 player at age 18 but struggled with injuries over the past few years before recently regaining her form. At the Dubai Tennis Championships, Bencic defeated four top-ten players (Aryana Sabalenka, Elina Svitolina, Petra Kvitova, and Simona Halep) en route to her third WTA singles title.

Bencic defeated two more top-10 players (Naomi Osaka and Karolina Pliskova) at the Indian Wells Open before recently beating Osaka again on clay in Madrid. I’m not certain if any player is more battle-tested than Bencic of late. But her largest obstacle might be getting past Kiki Bertens in their quarter; Bencic is 0-3 head-to-head against Bertens, including a recent three-set loss on Clay.