2018 French Open Thursday Preview: Underdogs Should Start Barking Soon

2018 French Open Thursday Preview: Underdogs Should Start Barking Soon article feature image

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Samantha Stosur

Not good enough from my two underdog shots on Day 4 at the French Open — although Trungelliti (+170) and Delbonis (+195) both certainly had their chances to swing their matches. Favorite bettors have enjoyed a very profitable start to the tournament, which you rarely see at a Slam.

Of the 14 ATP matches that started Wednesday, only one underdog won (Berrettini, who was only a slight dog at +105). And, Tuesday, only two dogs won. More of the same on the WTA side as well, which is probably even more surprising. Dogs there have gone 31-7 over the past two days. That hasn’t helped our “bargain hunting” handicapping style, but the tournament is still young. I expect the dogs to start barking at a much more regular frequency from here on out.

And, with that, let’s take a deeper look at Thursday’s Day 5 card.

Day 5 Popcorn


  • Denis Shapovalov (-250) vs. Maxi Marterer (+190)
  • Pablo Cuevas (+120) vs. Kevin Anderson (-150)

We’ll see a battle of young stars when El Shapo and Maxi Marterer face off tomorrow. The two have never met, so it’ll be interesting how their styles contrast — but this should be a fun match to watch, regardless of who you back.

I’m also looking forward to the Cuevas-KA match. Cuevas is a top-15 — maybe top-10 — player on clay when he’s peaking; and KA made the 4R here last year. Get the Orville Redenbacher ready.


  • Serena Williams (+108) vs. Ashleigh Barty (-121)
  • Bernarda Pera (+109) vs. Daria Gavrilova (-123)

Serena not getting any draw breaks in her first Slam since the 2017 Australian Open. After struggling to pass a first-round test against a big serving lefty, she’ll now need to face a player who will test her footwork — which looked shoddy at best the other day. And as expected, her first serve also didn’t look clean, as she faced eight break points against a subpar returner in Kristyna Plíšková.

Barty plays with more variety than just about anybody on tour. Her backhand slices, in particular, should give a rusty Serena a lot of trouble. The word out of the Barty camp ahead of the tourney was an injured back could keep her from playing, but she didn’t experience any issues in her first round rout. I personally played Barty at -121.

Pera might not be a household name yet, but she can ball on clay — where she went 33-6 last year on the lower levels. During that 2017 dirt run, she made six finals and won three of them. Gavrilova is never an easy out on clay, as the energetic Australian will make her opponents work for it. However, she has not played her best tennis at Slams. After barely pulling out a three-set win over an injured Sorana Cirstea, she now has a Major record of 12-14 and has never advanced past the second round outside of Melbourne. Pera is the play here at plus-money in a true coin flip. – Stuckey

Day 5 Parlay Potential


  • Kyle Edmund (-250) vs. Marton Fucsovics
  • Fabio Fognini (-400) vs. Elias Ymer

The Edmund-Fucsovics match will surely be a big-hitting affair. I give the edge to Edmund, though, in terms of class and experience at Slams. Fognini takes on Ymer and should feast on the Swede’s serve — which isn’t very strong. As with all Fognini matches, however, know what you’re getting into before you pull the trigger. Fognini matches can get … complicated. But I like him, here.


  • Caroline Garcia (-615) vs. Shuai Peng
  • Elise Mertens (-675) vs. Heather Watson
  • Simona Halep (-1250) vs. Taylor Townsend
  • Maria Sharapova (-300) vs. Donna Vekic

Enormous clay class differences in the first three matches on what should be an otherwise very competitive and intriguing WTA day. In regards to Sharapova, I expect a much more focused effort after a scare in R1. Plus, Masha has an insane 12-0 record in the second round at the French Open. – Stuckey

Day 5 Underdog Value


  • Casper Ruud (+170) vs. Albert Ramos-Viñolas
  • Sergiy Stakhovsky (+150) vs. Mischa Zverev

Both Ramos and Mischa have struggled this season — and both could be in for tough matches on Day 5. Casper Ruud has already proven (in his young career) his prowess on clay courts — and almost knocked out Ramos last year when they met. Ruud is a shotmaker, and if he can maintain his level against Ramos, he should create plenty of chances for himself. My only concern in this match is the best-of-five-sets format  — which can be a tough ask for young players.

Stakhovsky, style-wise, plays a similar brand of tennis as Mischa, as both guys look to serve and volley. This match could very well come down to a couple of tiebreaks, which makes the +150 tempting.


  • Sam Stosur (+132) vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
  • Lucie Šafářová (+250) vs. Karolína Plíšková

Pavs comes in on a roll, having won six straight on clay — including a title in Strasbourg. However, this line looks too high and I think tired legs might catch up with her after a busy past week. The Russian leads their head-to-head 3-1 on clay, but they’ve all been very competitive and Stosur won their only 2018 meeting on the dirt in Madrid. Plus, the Australian loves Roland Garros. Just take a look at her French Open results over the past years:

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She has advanced past the second round in nine straight French Open appearances — including a semifinal and R16 in her past two, where she lost to both eventual champions. I can’t pass up on the Australian at +132.

Šafářová didn’t arrive in Roland Garros on any kind of impressive form, but she did make the final here in 2015 and has won two of her three career meetings with Plíšková on clay. Lucie is worth a half-unit dart in an all-Czech clash. – Stuckey


Jan Lennard Struff (+125) vs. Steve Johnson

Thursday, 5 a.m. ET
H2H: N/A

Oddsmakers have finally jumped back aboard the “overprice Stevie Johnson” train, and he’s available as a -156 favorite over Struff in this one.

Personally, I think Struff’s the better clay player between the two — or “European clay,” player, at any rate. Over the past two years, a large chunk of Johnson’s clay court wins has come on the American dirt of Houston — not exactly the same type of conditions he’ll be playing on in Paris.

And while Struff doesn’t have a particularly stellar record on clay over the years — I like the way he matches up with Johnson, style-wise. Both guys can serve big, but Struff should have the advantage from behind the baseline. Johnson can extend points with the defensive slice, but he’s not going to hurt Struff in any backhand-to-backhand rallies. Especially considering how the backhand is arguably Struff’s strongest shot.

I could see this match being a long one. Johnson will make a few runs in this match given the strength of his forehand, but I think Struff will ultimately outlast Johnson. Struff should be able to pick his spots and keep Johnson scrambling from the baseline.

Malek Jaziri (+438) vs. Richard Gasquet

This line is just way too fat for me to pass up.

So far in 2018, both players have had some success on the clay. Gasquet is 8-5 on the dirt with a combined 109.5% hold/break percentage. “Maori” Jaziri, on the other hand, is slightly better in both categories, boasting a 9-4 record and a 112% combined metric.

Maori has also played — and beaten — the stiffer competition, in my opinion. Jaziri made the final in Istanbul (losing out to Taro Daniel, in a match he should’ve won), beating Marin Cilic along the way. Gasquet, in contrast, has seen his “best” results against guys like Tomas Berdych, Andreas Seppi (who looked like I could’ve taken a set off him in the first round), and Jeremy Chardy — who aren’t really tier-one players. Not at this point in their careers, anyways.

Style-wise, we’re gonna see a lot of long rallies. Both guys will go for shots but also extend points with the slice. From a firepower perspective, it’s hard to really tell what we’ll get from Gasquet. It’s rather obvious that Gasquet’s peak level in the past is quite high — but, in recent years, there’s been a fall off to his attack-oriented game.

Jaziri will always play his heart out and if he’s gonna go down, it’ll be swinging. At this point in Gasquet’s career — with recent losses to guys like Dutze Lajovic and Lorenzo Sonego (both in straight-sets) — I simply can’t look a gift horse in the eye, so to speak, when he’s priced like this. Jaziri is one of my favorite dogs to back — and I think, at the very least, we’ll get our money’s worth out of +438.

YTD: 50-51 +7.6 units