French Open predictions and betting tips

andrew hendrie:

The very best in men’s and women’s tennis return for the swashbuckling clay-court slam that is Roland Garros when the 2020 French Open takes place from 27 September-11 October.

French Open 2020 predictions


The 2020 French Open will constitute the climax of a brief but intense European clay-court season, with a 250 in Kitbzuhel and a Masters 1000 Series in Rome leading up to the two-week Grand Slam played at Roland Garros in front of reduced but still sizeable crowds.

Arguably the toughest tournament to win in all of tennis, the French Open brings together the best players in the world on the physically demanding Parisian clay as the top ATP and WTA stars slug it out for one of the biggest prizes the sport has to offer.

The French Open – otherwise known as Roland Garros – has been dominated by Rafael Nadal on the men’s side for over a decade, with the Spaniard claiming an unprecedented 12 titles, which is the most of any player, male of female, at any of the four slams.

By contrast, the women’s side – at least in recent times – has been much more open, with six different champions being crowned since 2014. Australian star and current World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty is the defending champion after her surprise run to the silverware in 2019.

Another thrilling spectacle is on the cards in 2020 – and we will witness it all during the unusual period of September and October after the ongoing coronavirus pandemic caused tournament officials to change the date from May-June to 27 September-11 October. Up to 60% of spectator capacity will be allowed on the grounds at Roland Garros to cheer on the best players in the world for an unusual but unmissable French Open.

French Open predictions: Who will win the men’s title?


128 players will start the main draw with the aim of taking home the title, but only four men have got their hands on the prestigious Coupe des Mousquetaires champions trophy since 2004.

As mentioned, Nadal is the record 12-time champion, putting together a four-year run from 2005-08 and a five-year streak from 2010-14, while he’s the current three-time defending champion from 2017-19.

One of the biggest Grand Slam upsets in history came in 2009 when powerful Swedish star Robin Soderling conquered Nadal in the fourth round, advancing all the way to the final as a result. However, Soderling couldn’t complete a fairytale run to the title – instead it was Roger Federer who took advantage and finally got his hands on an elusive French Open crown, completing his set of all four majors.

Federer won’t be in Roland Garros in 2020 after returning to the tournament last year and making the semi-finals, with the Swiss undergoing knee surgery that will keep him out until the grass season.

However, while Nadal’s dominance at Roland Garros is unrivalled and he is rightly the favourite with oddsmakers in the run-up to the tournament, he could have his hands full in 2020. Firstly, Nadal is a player who likes a lot of matches to find his rhythm and play his best tennis, and he will be rusty after a lengthy hiatus; currently his only opportunity to play a tournament after six months out of competition will be at the Rome Masters, 20-27 September – and playing a tournament the week before a Grand Slam is a risk.

Secondly, Nadal has confirmed that he has pulled out of the US Open, and as a result he comes into Roland Garros short on match-practice and potentially struggling to find his best tennis. Nadal also prefers to play in hot conditions, where his ball gets the most work on it; colder, damper autumn conditions in Paris shouldn’t be to his liking.

Who are the other contenders for the French Open title in 2020? They are not hard to identify. World no. 1 Novak Djokovic is one of only two players to defeat Nadal at Roland Garros, and the Serbian player completed the career Grand Slam when he won the title in Paris in 2016. Djokovic has had his struggles since then with injury and motivation, suffering a shock loss to Marco Cecchinato at the 2017 French Open, and while he has very much climbed back on top, Djokovic now has to contend with the emergence of Dominic Thiem as a very legitimate threat on clay; it was Thiem who knocked Djokovic out of Roland Garros in 2018-19.

Lockdown has been a bit turbulent for Djokovic, who was widely criticised for the exhibition tour he organised when a slew of players (including himself) tested positive for COVID-19. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that he had an absolutely blistering start to 2020, compiling an 18-0 record, winning the Australian Open, ATP Cup and Dubai Championships and beating every other top-five player in the process. The 17-time Grand Slam champion should absolutely be second favourite for the French Open – even if he has lost his last three matches on clay against Nadal.

If there is to be a champion at the 2020 French Open not named Nadal or Djokovic, any impartial observer would expect it to be Dominic Thiem. The Austrian finished runner-up to Nadal at the French Open in 2018 and 2019, beating Djokovic both years, and while he only got one set from Nadal in both finals, Thiem has beaten Nadal four times on clay – and finally did so at a major when he defeated him in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 2020. Thiem increasingly looks like a champion-in-waiting who is no longer prepared to wait, but the unfortunate truth is that winning the French Open would probably entail beating both Nadal and Djokovic over the best of five sets, at arguably the most physically demanding tournament in the world. It’s an immense task, but one which Thiem was within a set of completing at the Australian Open (he lost to Djokovic in five sets in the final).

Outside the trio of favourites, any other player looks like a long shot. Stan Wawrinka is the other active champion in the field, and should never be disregarded completely, especially since he has made the quarterfinals of three of the past four Grand Slams he has played, including the 2019 French Open where he eliminated Stefanos Tsitsipas before losing to compatriot Federer. But Wawrinka still doesn’t look like quite the player he was before the multiple knee surgeries he underwent in 2017.

Among the younger generation, apart from 26-year-old Thiem, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas is currently favourite with the oddsmakers to become the next French Open champion. The 21-year-old Tsitsipas, who has been playing the Ultimate Tennis Showdown exhibitions during the ATP Tour suspension, has only won one of his five ATP titles on clay but has made the Barcelona and Madrid Masters finals; he has never reached the final eight at Roland Garros, but was incredibly unlucky to be edged out by Wawrinka in a superb five-set contest in 2019 and certainly seems to possess the confidence required. Daniil Medvedev, US Open finalist in 2019, has never won a title on clay but can nevertheless play some great tennis on that surface, reaching the Barcelona final in 2019 and beating Djokovic in Monte Carlo the same spring. Alexander Zverev, 22, has won both the Madrid and Rome Masters and has had his most consistent results at the French Open out of all the majors, making the quarterfinals in 2017-18; before the shutdown, he had made his first Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open, and his inconsistent serving probably hurts him less on clay than any other surface (although it also plays to his passive tendencies).

The big question with all of these players is whether you can imagine them beating Nadal and Djokovic in the same tournament over the best of five sets. Tsitsipas has beaten Nadal on clay, but neither player in a best-of-five; Medvedev has never beaten Nadal on any surface, nor Djokovic in a best-of-five; Zverev has never beaten Nadal on clay, nor either player in a best-of-five match. With Thiem making himself almost as significant an obstacle to reaching the later rounds at the French Open as Nadal and Djokovic, it’s a strain to look outside this trio for a realistic men’s champion.

French Open women’s predictions


Nobody has defended the women’s French Open title since Justine Henin put together a three-peat from 2005-07 – that’s the challenge facing world no. 1 Ashleigh Barty, who captured her maiden Grand Slam title in sensational fashion last year, knocking off rising star Marketa Vondrousova in a surprise final.

With two-time champion Maria Sharapova retiring earlier this season, only six players currently expected to be in the draw have experience of winning Roland Garros: Barty, Serena Williams, Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko, Simona Halep and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Ashleigh Barty (Photo by Laurent Zabulon / ABACAPRESS.COM)

 

With the exception of Ostapenko and Kuznetsova, you’d have to say the other four have to be considered amongst the favourites for the 2020 silverware. Barty, while having a poor record against top 20 players at slams, has become a master of beating who she’s supposed and taking advantage of what turns into depleted draws in the wide open women’s game. Before the shutdown, Barty put together a nine-match winning streak to win Adelaide and reach the semifinals of the 2020 Australian Open; while that streak ended with defeat to Sofia Kenin, in what will probably always be regarded as a missed opportunity by Barty, the Australian was shouldering the entire burden of her nation’s hopes. She won’t be under quite the same pressure at the French Open, although she will have to contend with the different pressure of attempting to defend her title. Barty has pulled out of the US Open, but has yet to confirm whether or not she will be playing at Roland Garros.

Serena Williams, a three-time champion in Paris, is always in the conversation, but she’s starting to develop an unwanted trend of stumbling at the slams since her comeback, suffering a number of one-sided and surprise defeats over the last couple of years – most recently at the Australian Open when she went out early to Wang Qiang. The French Open is the only Grand Slam at which Williams hasn’t reached the quarterfinals since returning from maternity leave, losing to Kenin in the third round in 2019; she’s also failed to win a set in any of the four finals she has reached. If the brutally compressed autumn schedule and change of surface from hard courts to clay do not trouble the 38-year-old, who has persistently struggled with injury in recent years, will she be able to overcome her nerves? 

Garbine Muguruza, who defeated Williams in the final to win the French Open in 2016 and went on to win Wimbledon in 2017, has had a tough couple of years but the powerful Spanish player has reunited with coach Conchita Martinez and made a resurgent start to 2020, defeating three top-10 players in straight sets to reach the Australian Open before narrowly losing to Kenin. Muguruza is more comfortable and less vulnerable to an early upset at the French Open than any other major, and she can be unplayable when she’s operating at the peak of her powers.

All three players we have considered as top favourites have suffered recent defeats to Sofia Kenin in a Grand Slam, and the American cannot be discounted. Kenin announced herself by defeating Williams in the third round of the French Open in 2019, and although her stunning Australian Open victory was rather overshadowed by the subsequent global health crisis, she has an impeccable competitive attitude and intensity, a forward-looking counter-punching game that’s a good fit for clay and a real lack of fear.

A more established threat at the French Open is 2018 champion Simona Halep. The Romanian has been a little reluctant to commit to travelling to New York to play the US Open, but the same concerns are unlikely to apply to Roland Garros, a tournament where she has three times reached the final. Blown off the court by Amanda Anisimova in the quarterfinals in 2019, Halep bounced back by delivering a bravura performance in the Wimbledon final to grab her second major. One of the most consistent, if not the most consistent, players on the WTA Tour and a brilliant clay-courter, Halep has to be in the conversation for Roland Garros champion in 2020.

Two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka’s clay-court game is still very much a work in progress, while 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu has only played a small handful of clay-court matches in her career, so the Canadian is a big question mark. Younger players Marketa Vondrousova (the 2019 runner-up), Anisimova and Iga Swiatek also look like potential dark horses for the title at the 2020 French Open.

French Open 2020 tournament information


Name: French Open
Location: Paris, France
Venue: Stade Roland Garros
Dates: 27 September-11 October
Category: Grand Slam
Surface: Clay
Draw Size: 128 singles
Most titles:
Men – Rafael Nadal (12)
Women – Chris Evert (7)
Reigning champions:
Men’s singles – Rafael Nadal
Women’s singles – Ashleigh Barty

French Open player performance


Who are the best-performing male players at Roland Garros?

PlayerTitlesFinals2019 resultWin-loss
Rafael Nadal12 (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019)0Champion93-2
Roger Federer1 (2009)4 (2006, 2007, 2008, 2011)SF70-17
Novak Djokovic1 (2016)3 (2012, 2014, 2015)SF68-14
Stan Wawrinka1 (2015)1 (2017)QF42-14
Dominic Thiem02 (2018, 2019)Runner-up24-6
Andy Murray01 (2016)Didn’t play39-10

Who are the best-performing female players at Roland Garros?

PlayerTitlesFinals2019 resultWin-loss
Serena Williams3 (2002, 2013, 2015)1 (2016)R365-13
Simona Halep1 (2018)2 (2014, 2017)QF28-9
Svetlana Kuznetsova1 (2009)1 (2006)R152-16
Garbine Muguruza1 (2016)0R1624-5
Ashleigh Barty1 (2019)0Champion9-5
Jelena Ostapenko1 (2017)0R17-3
Kim Clijsters02 (2001, 2003)Didn’t play23-7
Sloane Stephens01 (2018)QF24-8

French Open betting tips


Rafael Nadal is the overwhelming favourite for the French Open men’s title – and we wouldn’t expect anything else. The 12-time Roland Garros champion has recently been spotted practicing on clay, suggesting that he will prioritize the compressed and rescheduled European clay season in September and the quest for a 13th French Open title over his US Open title defense – again, we wouldn’t expect anything else.

Nadal is 1/1 (@ Betfred) to win the French Open 2020, and while there will hopefully be some enhanced odds available, there aren’t any such offers at the moment. So are there good reasons to look elsewhere?

Maybe: Heavy, damp, cold autumnal conditions at the French Open won’t suit Nadal nearly so much as early summer sun, for one thing, and the 34-year-old with dodgy knees is also facing a brutally compressed schedule in order to be ready for Roland Garros. He’s also got two big potential challengers in Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem.

Djokovic (16/5 @ Genting Bet) is one of just two players to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros, doing so in 2015, and has won their last three Grand Slam encounters; he was also 18-0 in 2020 before the season was shut down. The draw feels vital to Djokovic’s chances; he has been eliminated from the French Open by Thiem twice in the last three years. If world no. 3 Thiem lands in Djokovic’s half of the draw, his chances of potentially having to beat Thiem and Nadal back-to-back to win Roland Garros look slim. If Thiem lands in Nadal’s half, however, the two could potentially beat each other up in the semifinals, leaving Djokovic a better chance against the winner in the final.

Thiem himself is 3/1 @ Skybet to win his maiden major title at the French Open after reaching the final in 2018 and 2019. He’s proven he can beat Djokovic at Roland Garros, but only took one set from Nadal in those French Open finals. Yet the Austrian at 26 seems to be rounding into his prime. If he can’t break through to win a Grand Slam title during this weirdest of seasons, when can he?

With the exception of 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka (40/1 @ William Hill), who is yet to prove he’s still the same world-beating player he was before his major knee surgeries in 2017, other ‘contenders’ are only found among the young and unproven. And when you consider that winning Roland Garros even in 2020 is likely to involve beating not only Nadal but Djokovic too, it’s not easy to make a convincing case for the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas (18/1 @ bet365) or Alexander Zverev (20/1 @ 888Sport).

On the women’s side, things are considerably more wide open: Instead of three or at best four realistic contenders, there are a plethora of them. Champions at the last four Grand Slams have included Sofia Kenin, Ashleigh Barty and Bianca Andreescu, after all.

With so much uncertainty, the market has looked to the closest thing it has to a reliable French Open performer for favourite, and seized on 2018 champion Simona Halep (4/1 @ William Hill). Down to lead the field at the Palermo Open from 3 August, Halep looks to be prioritizing European clay and the French Open over the US Open and American hard courts, and the reigning Wimbledon champion has made the Roland Garros final three times in six years. The world no. 2 was a semifinalist at the Australian Open in January, and is one of those players who may well have benefited from a long stretch at home.

Defending champion Ashleigh Barty is second favourite at 9/1 @ bet365 but despite a sensational 18 months which have seen her rise to world no. 1, the Australian still has a lot to prove about beating top opposition at Grand Slams, as well as about rising to the occasion instead of being overshadowed by it. It’s possible to get 12/1 odds at the moment on Bianca Andreescu (12/1 @ bet365) and 14/1 on Serena Williams (14/1 @ Betfred) but neither is a wise bet: Both are prioritising the US Open, and Andreescu’s clay-court prowess is more or less a complete unknown. Naomi Osaka (20/1 @ Unibet) is also nowhere near as comfortable on clay as on hard courts.

Dutch player Kiki Bertens (11/1 @ William Hill) is an excellent clay-courter and the reigning Madrid champion, but she has just one Grand Slam semifinal appearance on her resume. Two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina (20/1 @ Skybet) is another very good clay-courter, but her fundamentally counterpunching game leaves her vulnerable to more aggressive players.

Former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza (10/1 @ bet365) might be the smartest bet among the top eight favourites. Winner at Roland Garros in 2015, Muguruza has made the last 16 or better each of the past six years, and although she has been through a prolongued slump the past two years, she has shown every sign of shaking that off since ditching Sam Sumyk and reuniting with Conchita Martinez. Her run to the Australian Open final in January showed that she’s on her way back to the top, and her superb power game is world-beating when she’s confident.

*all odds correct as of 12.24 on 06/8/2020