The French Open is the third Grand Slam in a disrupted 2020 tennis calendar and represents the most competitive event of the season with most of the world’s best players expected to participate in the men’s draw.
Rafael Nadal arrives at Roland Garros having skipped the hard court season and has an opportunity to equal Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles. Nadal starts at above evens on the betting exchanges, a remarkable price for player that has only ever lost 2 games at the French Open. He possesses a 92% win rate on clay and a 93-2 record at Roland Garros, equivalent to a 98% win rate. Given his historic superiority, it is exceptionally rare for the betting markets to offer above 1.7 on Nadal to win his favoured tournament. However, there are some signs that he may be vulnerable to Djokovic or Thiem in what is considered to be a three-horse race for the title.
2020 has been a poor year for Nadal, though the sample size is relatively limited. He has a 79% win rate across all games, the third lowest of his career. His only two seasons in the last 15 years with a lower win rate were 2015 and 2016, in which he recorded two of his only three failed attempts to win the title.
Djokovic is close to the form of his life this season, with betting markets both in Asia and Europe making him 3.9 to deprive Nadal of equalling Federer’s haul. Since 2010, he has never finished worse than the a loss in the quarterfinal with one win, three runner-up medals, three semi-final appearances and three attempts that stalled at the quarter-final stage. He has an 83% lifetime record on clay and is 10-1 this season, with a disqualification at the US Open being his only loss. Djokovic maintained his position as the top seed dismantling Diego Schwartzman on his way to winning the Italian Open. A line between Djokovic and Nadal can be drawn through Schwartzman who beat Nadal easily in the same tournament. Nadal looked extremely poor in that match, recording a 48% win rate for points on serve, far below his career rate of approximately 75%. Could signs be pointing to value in the market opposing Nadal this year?
The last of the viable contenders is Thiem who has reached the final of both Grand Slams this year and returns to his favoured clay surface. He has an 80% win rate at the French Open and has reached the semi-final in each of the last four years, progressing to the final in the previous two. He has a 13-1 record in 2020, including a loss to Djokovic in the Australian Open final. His 5-9 career record against Nadal may not capture the true probability of an upset as recent form for both players suggests a potential shift in dominance from the aging Nadal to Djokovic or the younger Thiem.