The second Grand Slam of the 2016 season begins on Sunday, with 16 matches from round one of the men’s singles at the French Open.
The French have Benoit Paire and Jeremy Chardy batting for them today, while Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and Nick Kyrgios are also in action on day one on the clay courts of Paris.
Day one’s weather is set to be a pretty miserable one if the forecast is to be believed, with rain predicted all day in Paris on Sunday, and it could be a frustrating start to the tournament for all concerned.
They’re not always right though, as was highlighted in Rome, when the expected rain only occasionally arrived, and of more interest to us is the real lack of underdog winners in the opening round of the French Open.
Last year only 13 of the 64 round one matches were won by the betting underdog and only four of those were priced at 3.0 or bigger, so it was a good year for favourite backers in this round in 2015.
John Isner vs John Millman
Day one in Paris doesn’t look to be one where you find yourself excitedly leaping out of bed for the 10:00 UK time start with a few wagers on looking forward to a fine day’s tennis in prospect.
Indeed, as far as ‘sure things’ go we can count in Milos Raonic, Nick Kyrgios and Kei Nishikori and also Isner, who faces an opponent in Millman who very rarely has to buy new clay court shoes, having not played a main level match on the dirt since 2013.
The Aussie’s idea of practicing for the French Open this year was to play hard court Challengers in Busan and Seoul and his last match on clay was a retirement in the Furth Challenger in 2015.
Millman also pulled out of Seoul at the quarter final stage two weeks ago with a left ankle injury and skipped Geneva on the clay last week as a result, so his fitness has to be questioned.
Isner too has had injury problems and his comeback from a knee issue was only last week in Geneva, but he’s far more comfortable on clay than Millman seems to be and he’s never been beaten in Paris by anything other than good clay courters.
The American will be happy that he can’t lose another final set tie break, having lost all five he’s played so far in 2016, and he has played 18-16, 10-8 and 8-6 final sets here at the French Open in the past.
He shouldn’t need it this time and Isner looks the one for ‘sure thing’ backers on Sunday.
Teimuraz Gabashvili vs Donald Young
This early 10:00 UK time start should really be going the way of the big hitting Russian, who played superbly here at the French Open a year ago when he blasted his way into the last-16.
Gabashvili was in superb form and didn’t drop a set in the first nine he played in the main draw of last year’s tournament before finding Nishikori too good and he’s a decent price to beat Young, who wouldn’t class clay as his best surface by any means.
Oddly, both of these players have 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 wins over the same opponent in Feliciano Lopez to their names at the French Open in the last two years ¬– Gabashvili last year and Young in 2014.
That’s as good as it gets for Young on clay though and last week’s tank by Fabio Fognini against him in Nice, while looking good on his record didn’t fool Guido Pella, who walloped Young in the next round there.
Gabashvili has the power in his game to really hit through what will be damp, slow courts on Sunday and despite his poor form of late the price on the Russian looks good.
He has had injury concerns lately, so I’m going with the handicap in case of retirement and 2.43 about Gaba winning in three or four sets looks decent here.
Andrey Kuznetsov vs Benjamin Becker
The veteran German is usually written off as a no hoper on clay and while it is true that the red dirt is far from his favourite surface he did beat Fernando Verdasco and Ruben Bemelmans here in 2015.
Becker also took Thomaz Bellucci to five sets at the 2014 French Open and given the up and down nature of his opponent’s game the over 30.5 total games looks a good starting point for a ‘long shot’ double.
In Geneva last week Kuznetsov managed to win only one more game in his match against Lukas Rosol after taking the opening set 6-2 and while he’s much more at home on the clay than Becker he’ll do well to stay at a good enough level for long enough to win easily.
The pair have never met in their careers so far, but their game is quite similar, with a big serve and forehand the shots that do the damage for each of them and while Kuznetsov should win it he looks rather short in price.
The Russian has only won of his last 21 Grand Slam matches in fewer than 30.5 games and unless Becker is struggling with injury on Sunday overs looks decent.
It can be doubled with over 38.5 games in the Grigor Dimitrov vs Viktor Troicki clash that is scheduled for around 16:00 UK time to make a 3.65 double.
Dimitrov has a dismal recent record at the French Open and comes into this match on a poor run of losses against the likes of Pablo Carreno Busta, Diego Schwartzman and Alexander Zverev.
Troicki has proven himself to be more than capable of beating Dimitrov on a hard court and with Dimitrov struggling on clay and having recorded some dire losses at the French Open this one should be close.
Sure thing: Back Isner to beat Millman at 1.20
Value bet: Back Gabashvili -1.5 sets to beat Young at 2.43
Long shot: Back over 30.5 games in Kuznetsov/Becker and over 38.5 games in Dimitrov/Troicki at 3.65