The European clay season starts today in Monte Carlo, the first Master 1000 played on red dirt this year, followed by Madrid and Rome.
Each player is hoping for the best preparation possible ahead of the next major, hosted in six weeks at Roland Garros in Paris.
It could be one of the most unpredictable clay season in recent years: who will step up?
2017 started in the most unexpected way, with Roger Federer making a huge comeback, winning the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami, losing only one match (in Dubai).
Nevertheless, the Swiss maestro recently said he is likely to skip all tournaments before his first round in Porte d’Auteuil.
“I’ll be resting most of the time. The body needs a rest, I can feel it (…) Everything is good. I should be back for the French Open, that’s the plan” .
2017 reminded us that Federer still has a shot at winning any tournament. But if the Swiss player does confirm he will not play a tournament on clay before going to Paris, it would be (again) a bold bet to back him at the French Open.
Rafael Nadal is in a different situation. As everyone knows, he will be back on his best surface. The Spaniard was also a surprise in Australia when he qualified for the final. Until January this year, Nadal had failed to reach any slam quarter-final since his loss to Djokovic at Roland Garros in 2015.
Many analysts agree that Nadal is the favorite this year for the victory at the French Open (currently trading at 3.40 on Betfair Exchange), especially with the decline of Novak Djokovic.
Perhaps more telling than the ATP ranking, the Singles Race ranking for 2017 (January 1 to April 16) is as follows:
1. Roger Federer 4045
2. Rafael Nadal 2245
3. Stan Wawrinka 1510
4. Grigor Dimitrov 1375
5. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 1265
6. Jack Sock 1220
7. Dominic Thiem 1150
8. David Goffin 1065
Roger Federer has been by far the best player in the last three months, but a surprise name made it to this top 8: Jack Sock. Is the American finally reaching his best form? He will be an interesting player to follow, and clay is not a bad surface at all for his all-powerful game.
David Goffin and Dominic Thiem will also be hungry for success as both players did very well last year (quarter-finalist and semi-finalist in Paris).
Some key statistics about 2016 clay season:
On serve, Ivo Karlovic was the player with the best % of service games won (92%), followed by John Isner, Stanislas Wawrinka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Nick Kyrgios.
As for return of serve, Rafael Nadal was at the top of the list with 42% return games won, followed by David Goffin, Diego Schwartzman and Novak Djokovic.
If we take into account 2017 only (most matches played on hard court), Andy Murray has the best ratio so far with 35% return games won.
Nick Kyrgios is the player with the best percentage of service games won since January, with 93.6%. Ivo Karlovic, John Isner, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Milos Raonic are just behind.
Surprisingly, Roger Federer is only 6th in this ranking.
However, we quickly notice that Roger Federer was one of the best in key moments, with 72% of tie breaks won, and the best Dominance Ratio of the tour (% of return points won divided by % of service points lost).
Federer leads the number of sets won this year with 46, for only 11 lost (80%).
The sample of matches played on clay in 2017 is quite small, but it is interesting to see that Dominic Thiem has the lead when it comes to return of serve, with 42% return games won. In second position, we find Diego Schwartzman.
The Argentinian was already number 3 last year in this category. Schwartzman is not a big name, but he could be a solid option if you wish to do trading on breaks of serve.
Since we are talking about breaks of serve, it is also relevant to mention the players losing their serve the most often on dirt.
In the last 52 weeks, the list includes: Gilles Muller, Donald Young, Benoit Paire, Diego Schwartzman (again), and a prominent player: Grigor Dimitrov.
Another number to have in mind is the total of games played. Dominic Thiem, who was criticized by some analysts for “playing too many tournaments” last year, is already at the top of the list with a total of 615 games played.
The Austrian is considered by many as one of the serious contenders for the French Open title. Hopefully, he will be fresh enough for the second major of the season.
Why 2017 could be one of the most unpredictable European clay season in recent years…
Roger Federer will celebrate his 36th birthday in a few months, and as mentioned earlier, he seems about to confirm that he will not play any tournament before heading to Paris.
Rafael Nadal is gaining confidence again, but he still has not won a title in 2017 (two finals lost to Roger Federer but also one against Sam Querrey). The king of clay is the defending champion in Monte Carlo: next week should already give us some hints about his mental and physical condition.
World No. 1 Andy Murray is going through difficult times. He lost in the fourth round in Melbourne (against Misha Zverev), triumphed in Dubai, but injured his elbow a few weeks later. He has not played for over a month now (since his defeat in the first round of Indian Wells).
Novak Djokovic is also struggling with his game. Despite a title in Doha, he was surprisingly knocked out at his favorite slam by Denis Istomin, and lost two matches back to back against Nick Kyrgios a few weeks later.
The Serbian still has a clear psychological edge over Rafael Nadal, a potential semi-final between the two players in Monte Carlo could be exciting.
Possible trading strategies:
The clay season is an interesting one for bettors and traders who like to back players with a good return game. As clay is particularly slow, it offers more opportunities of breaks of serve than hard court and grass.
Generally, traders have a good chance to make a profit when they back a good returner at the start of a return game, wait for the break (or a situation such as 0-30, 15-40, up to you) to trade their positions and make a decent profit (we previously mentioned players like Thiem and Schwartzman who could be good options).
As stated above, rely primarily on players with a good return game to trade on breaks of serve.
Keep an eye on top players struggling with their game at the moment, such as Novak Djokovic. You do not want to miss an opportunity to place a Lay bet below 1.20 (both Djokovic and Murray were trading at 1.03 when they were defeated in Melbourne).
Grigor Dimitrov is also an interesting case: he is a big name of the game who has not proved yet to be at ease on clay. In the last three years, he was defeated eight times while being the bookmaker favorite (three times under 1.30).
Watch Rafael Nadal’s form in his first matches next week, and players like Jack Sock, Dominic Thiem (playing on his favorite surface) and David Goffin.
Gael Monfils is a question mark, but will likely give his very best to go as deep as possible in Roland Garros, especially after missing the 2016 edition.
As for the unpredictable Nick Kyrgios, his mental game seems to be more and more stable, with good results lately. With two victories over Novak Djokovic, it is mainly on serve that he impressed many observers. Will he finally be able to do well on clay?
We wish you good luck in your betting and trading strategies! Please feel free to leave a message below if you have comments to make.