Wednesday’s men’s French Open quarter-final went the way I predicted, setting up the semi-final that we all expected between Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic. My advice of backing the unders in the Nadal vs Stan Wawrinka match was never in any danger, as the Spaniard eased to a routine straight sets win. Rafa goes on to face the world number one, who defeated Tommy Haas on Suzanne Lenglen.
This will be the 35th meeting between the pair in a series that Rafa leads by 19-15. But you can make whatever you like from their previous encounters, such is the longevity of their rivalry.
For me, the only match that has much relevance is their one meeting on 2013, which Djokovic won pretty handily in one of Rafa’s favourite tournaments at Monte Carlo. Nadal has improved as this tournament has gone on, but for me it is no coincidence that the weather has also improved; as fanciful as it sounds, Rafa is a very different player when the sun is on his back.
We’ve seen the Spaniard get outhit in damp conditions many times in the past (and twice this campaign, by Daniel Brands and Martin Klizan). Only his supreme defensive skills and clay court nous kept him in those matches, as he offered nothing offensively for the most part.
The defending champion should, according to the weather forecast, have the perfect 25 degree sunny day for this match. That allows him to make full use of his kicking lefty forehand, which is often nullified by damp clay. It will rear up on dryer dirt and allow him to dictate rallies against most players – notably single-handed righties. Djokovic, though, can take the ball earlier with his two-hander and he can go either way with it – cross court or down the line. That will be the crux of the match on Friday.
Rafa is too short in the betting for a man who was comfortably beaten by today’s opponent on this surface last time. If I had to make a pick of the two I would probably side with Novak at around 2.40.
An interesting stat from their previous encounters is that in their nine clashes in Grand Slams they’ve played just two tie-breaks in 27 completed sets. This makes the under 0.5 total tie breaks a good wager statistically at around 2.40
I can see this one being a close encounter that may well go the full five sets. The overs for me is worth more interest than match odds and over 39.5 games looks good at 1.67.
The second of the semi-finals, between David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, could also be a tight affair. But I really like the chances of the Spaniard to make his first Grand Slam final and deny the French a potential Yannick Noah moment on Sunday.
Roger Federer was as poor as I’ve ever seen him (in a major) against Tsonga in the quarter-finals and for once in his grand slam career he didn’t hit a single ace. Tsonga didn’t really have to do a great deal thanks to the errors from the Swiss, but it is fair to say that he has really improved on the clay.
I don’t think it will be enough to beat arguably the game’s best returner of serve, though. The indefatigable Ferrer will surely break down the Tsonga backhand and draw the Frenchman into too many errors in the end. I like the Ferrer minus 2.5 games on the handicap in this at around 1.87
Back under 0.5 total tie breaks in Djokovic/Nadal at 2.40
Back over 39.5 total games in Djokovic/Nadal at 1.67
Back Ferrer –2.5 games to beat Tsonga at 1.87