2021 French Open Semifinal Odds & Predictions: Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic (Friday, June 11)
Julian Finney/Getty Images. Pictured: Rafael Nadal.
- We've reached the semifinals at Roland Garros and have two exciting matches: Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Alexander Zverev and Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic.
- Our two tennis analysts Gil Gross and Kenny are eyeing four ways to bet Friday morning's matches.
- You can find the odds for today's semifinals and their picks below.
Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Alexander Zverev Odds
|Time||Friday, 8:50 a.m. ET|
|Odds as of Thursday and via DraftKings|
It’s surprising that Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev have never met at a major and fitting that the first meeting comes on their shared best surface, clay. The stakes are high for each. Tsitsipas is yet to make a major final, a box his same-generation rivals Daniil Medvedev and Zverev have both checked off already.
Zverev lost last year’s US Open final to Dominic Thiem, which continued an alarming trend for the German. Zverev is 0-9 against top-10 opponents at majors. Here is a massive opportunity for both: Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are on the other side of the draw. Who will break through?
Zverev at his best is a sight to behold. His combination of serve speed and foot speed is barely rivaled. His defense is extremely difficult to penetrate, his backhand is one of the tour’s best shots, he makes his returns, limits mistakes and the forehand can unleash finishing power.
The problem is that Zverev at the peak of his powers is a somewhat rare sight. He has a tendency to revert to extreme passivity, leaving his weapons behind for retrieval mode. This was his downfall against Jannik Sinner last year in Paris, although he said he was sick. We saw it again in the opening two sets of this tournament, which he dropped to Oscar Otte and in the opening set against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, which was a rather ugly display of tennis by both.
At this year’s tournament, Zverev hasn’t faced anyone capable of beating him. Davidovich Fokina was his highest ranked opponent at #46. It just doesn’t get any easier than that. The same can’t be said about Tsitsipas. He faced a dangerous version of John Isner in the third round, a tough customer in Pablo Carreno Busta in the fourth round and historical matchup nightmare Medvedev in the quarters. The Greek has played with an impressive calm throughout. His clay court game is centered around his deadly forehand and complemented by athletic defense and strong serving. The weakness of his game is the return, which is remedied by the slow bouncing clay.
If Zverev relies too heavily on his defensive abilities, Tsitsipas will make him pay with high-margin sustained aggression on the forehand side and net finishing capabilities. Betting the first set is a chance to take advantage of Zverev’s cagey starts. He takes time to build enough confidence to go after his shots.
The magnitude of this occasion and the level-up in competition Tsitsipas presents is plenty reason for me to suspect Zverev could come out of the gates in retrieval mode. More importantly, it eliminates Tsitsipas’s match-closing nerves.
These next-gen matchups can be very mental, and the Greek has never made a major final. I’m not taking chances on Zverev finding his A+ level or Tsitsipas falling to nerves. But I’m definitely backing Tsitsipas in the opening set. — Gill Gross
Pick: Tsitsipas wins first set -195 (DraftKings)
Of the two matches, this is the one I’m least excited to bet. The range of outcomes here aren’t that vast, yet this line is difficult to swallow.
Zverev has been to a Grand Slam final, and he’s seemed to conquer his double-fault and early-round demons over the past few months. A guy who had bad losses all the time suddenly looks much more composed and confident out there, and that’s scary when we’re talking about someone with arguably more talent than anyone on tour.
There’s just one problem, though. Tsitsipas owns the head-to-head. The Greek is 5-2 lifetime against the German, taking the only meeting between the two on clay and five of the last six meetings. His precision and variety causes real problems for the simple-minded Zverev, who likes to wear his opponents down with deep, heavy groundstrokes. This will be a battle of finesse vs. power, and I’m going to pick finesse given the fact that we’ve seen Tsitsipas diffuse power all tournament long.
Tsitsipas’ serve, and his serve-plus-one, have never been better, and although Zverev’s service is huge, he sneakily relies on his return because he doesn’t hold at as high of a rate as he should. The World No. 5 should do a great job of holding on to his serve here, which is going to make the road for Zverev into this match a long and winding one. — Kenny Ducey
Pick: Tsitsipas -4.5 Games
Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic Odds
|Time||Friday, 11:30 a.m. ET|
|Odds as of Thursday and via DraftKings|
On paper, this is the greatest rivalry in the history of men’s tennis. It is time for chapter 58. If there’s one knock on this storied matchup, it’s that the results have been somewhat predictable based on surface. Nadal has not defeated Djokovic on a hard or grass court since the 2013 US Open. Djokovic hasn’t beaten Nadal on clay since Rome 2016.
Last year’s Roland Garros final was expected to be a close contest, but turned into another display of Nadal’s Chatrier invincibility. The Spaniard won 6-0, 6-2, 7-5. Nadal has won Roland Garros 13 times in 15 years and is undefeated when past the quarterfinal.
The main reason Nadal has been so successful against Djokovic on clay as of late is the difference in the forehands. Rafa routinely gains a massive advantage on serve by clubbing his first forehand and controlling the point from there.
Djokovic has an extremely reliable forehand, but it is not laced with the firepower that Nadal’s is. Nadal is able to neutralize Djokovic’s serve and forehand far more often than Djokovic is able to neutralize his. Most rallies in a tennis match are no more than four shots. Nadal beat Djokovic in rallies lasting zero to four shots 53-25 in last year’s French final and 50-36 in the year’s Rome final. That dynamic has to change if the Serbian wants a chance.
Nadal has shown no signs of slowing down. His forehand is still the most terrifying weapon in clay court tennis. Take his last set of tennis against Diego Schwartzman, for example:
Incredible display of firepower from Rafa. Finished on a run: 25 of 30 points.
How about the forehand in set 4?
Finishes: 7 (28% winners/force error rate!)
Unforced errors: 0
— Gill Gross🍊 (@Gill_Gross) June 9, 2021
Djokovic needs to try to get more returns to Nadal’s backhand, but he’s known that forever; the hard part is doing it. On Djokovic’s own serve, he needs to find a way to hit through Nadal without making too many mistakes. Last year, he unsuccessfully tried flattening out his forehand and using the dropshot. It was one of the great returning performances of Nadal’s career. Maybe Djokovic’s forehand will show improvement, maybe he’ll get to the net more.
So if you’re backing Djokovic, you’re likely depending on successful tactical adjustments. In the 58th match between these two? There are few secrets. The far more likely outcome is that we get more of the same. That Djokovic’s serve, return and baseline patterns don’t work against Nadal on clay like they do elsewhere. That Nadal’s return, defense and forehand dominance rule the match once again. What has changed since 2020? I’m not convinced much has, so I’ll take a bet that would’ve hit last year. — Gross
Pick: Rafael Nadal -2.5 sets +180
Djokovic has lost five straight matches on clay against Nadal dating back to his win over the Spaniard five years ago in Rome, but all but one of those matches have been hotly contested, hitting the over on total games. It just so happens that the one match that turned out to be one-way traffic was last year at Roland Garros, when the line was curiously close to a pick ‘em.
So, that’s why this match is priced the way it is. The oddsmakers simply don’t want to be liable and make Nadal a short favorite at his sanctuary once again. I think there are plenty of reasons why this match should be priced a lot closer, though.
For one, last year’s match needs to be put in context. Not only did Novak Djokovic play through the stoppage, get COVID and travel to America last Fall, he also played (and won) a Masters 1000, then days later played in the U.S. Open, where he was infamously defaulted.
He then turned around with a strange schedule and just a week later pushed through two weeks worth of matches at Roland Garros, outlasting Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets before getting trampled by Nadal in the Final. He had been through so much, and was simply out of gas against an opponent who chose not to play during the stoppage, or during the restart.
There’s also the conditions here. At Roland Garros last year, the clay was wet and heavy, which favored Nadal’s brutality on the forehand and not Djokovic’s corporate-like pushing style. Djokovic has never been as comfortable on the clay as he has been on hardcourts (81% winning percentage across all levels vs. 84%), so any sort of added variable was bad news.
I believe this will be a much closer affair, and I’m in love with this over. I’d also recommend getting some exposure to Djokovic ML, considering the great deal you’re getting. — Ducey
Pick: Over 37.5 Games (-121)