By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
Almost every Grand Slam seems to be littered with an abundance of high profile first round casualties and me saying ‘dammit! Why didn’t I think of opposing him/her – the writing was on the wall’. There will be upsets and no doubt a whole host of odds-on favourites you wouldn’t back with Monopoly money, but on the flip side, there’s a few outsiders at big prices who might be worth a shout. Here’s a look at five French Open First Round bets who have varying degrees of justification for thinking about causing an upset.
Mona Barthel – 13/8 (v Angelique Kerber)
While an all-German clash in London has dominated the sporting headlines in recent days, there’s one in Paris that could be no less profitable. Angelique Kerber is a steady, reliable player you could lazily stereotype as being ‘very German’. She’s become a fixture in the world’s top ten without doing a whole lot of winning, but she could be vulnerable against Mona Barthel. Her younger compatriot has the narrow 2-1 edge in their head to head record and so far this year has amassed a win rate not dissimilar to a player ranked 25 places above her (63% v 66%). Kerber has three first round exits at Roland Garros to her name and although she’s much improved since her early visits, Barthel is the more tempting pick at the odds.
Anabel Medina Garriques – 9/2 (v Li Na)
China is on an unstoppable march to owning the world’s ass at everything and Li Na has been at the forefront of their push for global sporting domination. The 31 year old has blossomed later in her career to become a regular in the later stages of Grand Slam events and she begins the fortnight clear fourth favourite to win the title at 12/1.
But it may not be easy for her in her opener as the 2011 winner has an appalling record against the lowly ranked Spaniard, Anabel Medina Garriques. She has won just one of their five meetings and that was a retirement last year’s Aussie Open. To make matters worse, she’s 0-3 against Medina Garriques on clay and although that record stems from 2007 and earlier before Na rocketed up the world rankings, it’s a fairly comprehensive record. She’s been upset by lower ranked opponents in each of her last two clay court events
Shahar Pe’er – 6/1 (v Agnieszka Radwanska)
There’s no point trying to sugar coat it – Shahar Pe’er’s recent form has been atrocious. She’s earned a grand total of two ranking points from her last two tournaments, which is pretty much the tennis equivalent of spelling your name right in an exam. Against the current world number four, she looks to have little going for her.
But that’s not strictly true because if you can conveniently overlook the recent form, the history books are a little more generous to the 26 year old Israeli. She’s got a record of three wins and three defeats in her career head to head with Radwanska, but on clay, Pe’er has a decisive 2-0 advantage. The Pole is no stranger to having a few days off in Paris, she’s been dumped out at the first round twice in six visits, most recently in 2011. It would take a sudden and dramatic turnaround in form from a player who has barely been spelling her name right in recent weeks, but at big odds, it’s worth a small nibble.
Jack Sock – 3/1 (v Guillermo Garcia-Lopez)
The US are desperately on the lookout for their next superstar to challenge for Grand Slams and although there’s no guarantee that Jack Sock is the man, he’s making progress in the right direction. It’s his first visit to Roland Garros and I’ve got limited evidence to justify my unfounded confidence in the 20 year old Nebraskan. He won the Mixed Doubles at the US Open with Melaine Oudin in 2011, although I wouldn’t blame you if you treated that with all the respect of winning an egg and spoon race at his primary school.
One source of hope is how Garcia-Lopez has been given some tough examinations by players from a similar rankings ballpark as Sock during the clay court season. He’s mostly come through those examinations, but there is some vulnerability there. It’s also worth bearing in mind that when you get outside the world’s top 50, the rankings get very condensed. Although 40 places sounds like he’s in a different galaxy to Sock, it’s probably only a couple of runs to the quarter-finals of regulation events away from being non-existent. Plus the guy has got through life with a name like Jack Sock – clearly this is a man familiar with overcoming adversity.
Jiri Vesely – 7/2 (v Phillip Kohlschreiber)
‘A 19 year old with a career record of 0-1? How much can we lump on this in no way promising bet?’ you may have sarcastically thought as you read the last speculative first round bet on this list. Vesely isn’t a household names, but he’s had an excellent clay court season. Just not at the top level. He’s shown ability on the dirtball courts by winning two Challenger Tour events during this clay court season and he’s a player on the rise. He won the 2011 junior Aussie Open and although plenty of players have done that without going on to make much of a ripple on the main tour, he’s worth giving a chance.
Kohlschreiber hasn’t done much wrong in his clay court season either and to be honest, he probably won’t need to be at his best to beat the young Czech. However he had to withdraw from the Rome Masters due to vertigo. I don’t know if it’s something that’s likely to strike again in Paris, but I wouldn’t want to take the chance at heavy odds on especially as with a record of not getting past the first round in four of his nine visits to Paris, the German clearly has enough to worry about without health issues.
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