Friday ATP French Open Semifinals Betting Preview: Should Nadal Worry?

Friday ATP French Open Semifinals Betting Preview: Should Nadal Worry? article feature image

Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Rafael Nadal.

The Highlights

  • We have two ATP semifinal matches Friday.
  • Rafael Nadal is an overwhelming favorite to win his match, but Juan Martin del Potro has challenged him in the past.
  • Dominic Thiem, now in his third consecutive French Open semifinal, will take on this year’s Cinderella story, Marco Cecchinato.

With the men finally finishing up the quarterfinals, after rain put a damper on things Wednesday, we look ahead to the semifinals of the 2018 French Open. Both matches might end up playing out a lot more tightly than you might expect. Let’s take a closer look at both, including any bets I made.

Dominic Thiem (-833) vs. Marco Cecchinato (+500)

Friday, 7 a.m. ET
H2H: N/A

Getting us underway at 7 a.m. ET, we’ll find Thiem (-833) taking on the tournament’s Cinderella story, Cecchinato (+500), on court Philippe Chatrier. While the line doesn’t indicate that this match will be very close, things could get tricky for the favorite.

For starters, Thiem will play in his first semifinal at Roland-Garros as the betting favorite. In each of his previous two semis here, he came in as a considerable underdog — against Rafa last year (+350) and Novak Djokovic in 2016 (+650). Cecchinato, who had never won a match at a Grand Slam before this tournament, is playing with house chips — and will undoubtedly be swinging freely.

Although class-wise Thiem possesses the game to sweep Cecchinato off the court in short order — I could see nerves playing a factor for the Austrian. After all, the pressure will be entirely on his side of the net. He also could get caught looking ahead to his first Grand Slam final — after not seeing one of the major names in his way. We will see very early how Thiem will handle this new type of Slam pressure.

Style-wise, both players are shotmakers who like to rip their one-handed backhanders. Thiem, of course, has more firepower off the ground (especially on the forehand wing) — but Cecchinato pulls out some pretty nifty shots on the run. The Italian could also counterpunch with his own blows.

However, in the end, I see class prevailing — and Thiem advancing to his first major final. That said, I gave a long look at Cecchinato +2.5 sets (+120) — considering the number of questionable sets Thiem has dropped this year. So far at Roland-Garros, Thiem dropped a set to Stefanos Tsitsipas as a -455 favorite — and another against Matteo Berrettini, as a -2000 favorite.

In Lyon, Thiem dropped sets (as a large favorite) against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (-833), Dusan Lajovic (-300), and Gilles Simon (-625), before capturing the title. And, before that, he dropped sets to Federico Delbonis (-455) in Madrid — and Andrey Rublev (-400) in Monte Carlo.

So, at least this season, Thiem hasn’t played especially mistake-free tennis. And with the pressure geared up in his third consecutive semi (this time as a significant favorite), I’m not sure this match is straight sets for the Austrian. And he seems to lose first sets more often than not. So if he feels the weight of the pressure, Thiem could find himself down a set off the bat.

At the same time, Cecchinato has spent a ton of time on court so far in Paris —and could also feel the nerves himself — fresh off the two biggest wins of his career. So, for me, I’ll pass.

The Pick: Pass (lean Cecchinato +2.5 sets)

Rafa Nadal (-714) vs. Juan Martin del Potro (+450)

Friday, not before 9:30 a.m. ET
H2H: Nadal leads 9-5

Both of these guys had some bad fortune ahead of this match — each losing a day of rest due to rain in Paris on Wednesday.

While del Potro spent more time on court Thursday, staving off Marin Cilic in four sets, I think Nadal had to work harder overall in the quarterfinals against little Diego Schwartzman, who made the Spaniard work hard for every single point. Either way, I don’t think fatigue will loom large in this match. I expect full efforts from both players.

All in all, I came away very impressed with Delpo after his match against Cilic. On the surface, the Argentine may have appeared to be “pushing” Cilic — but, in my opinion, that was purely a masterclass in knowing how to play your opponent. Although their match lasted just under four hours, Delpo didn’t have to work too hard. He simply kept hitting his backhand cross-court to bait the Croat into unforced errors, which he made 74 of.

For a minute there in the second set, I thought del Potro started to look sluggish; but, by the time the match ended, he kept his cool and did exactly what he needed to do to take down Cilic — picking his spots and employing “contained aggression” with the big forehand.

That’s Delpo, for you. A heady player — with a high tennis IQ and the artillery to back it up. And while I’m not exactly jumping at the idea of betting Delpo to beat Rafa — I like the looks of +2.5 sets at plus money (+100). There are few players on Tour who I trust more than Delpo — and on Friday, I simply trust that he will put up a fight.

Also, the weather could play a major factor on Friday. We saw a tale of two different Rafa Nadals in the quarterfinals. The King of Clay somewhat struggled with the conditions on Wednesday (in the rain), but then absolutely torched Schwartzman in the drier (sunnier) weather on Thursday. A large reason for that has to do with Nadal’s ability to put spin on the ball.

When the clay is wet, it becomes, well, muddy — and that decreases the spin rate Nadal can put on his balls. If the forecast holds true — and we see intermittent rain Friday — I think the weather will benefit Delpo. As soon as Nadal loses some of his topspin, his balls don’t bounce as high. That will allow the 6-foot-6 Delpo to, once again, hit over the backhand (as he did against Cilic) to stay in points.

I also felt Nadal’s serve was somewhat exposed against Schwartzman. Granted, Diego is one of the best returners on Tour — but, still, to see Nadal broken five times (in the first two sets) is still a touch worrisome. Especially ahead of a match against a guy like del Potro — who should, theoretically, have a much easier time holding his service games than Schwartzman.

In the end, though, I just get the feeling that we will see an epic semifinal. I’m hoping we are due for one of those in the tennis world. And with Nadal not looking invincible to this point — I expect Delpo to capitalize on the moment. I think we get a close match — and at plus money — I’m happy to try Delpo with the set-spread.

The Pick: del Potro +2.5 sets (+100)