This season in clay-court tennis has been a strange one in that Rafael Nadal is healthy and playing—but not dominating the competition.
Stan Wawrinka handed Nadal his fifth clay loss of the year Friday in the quarterfinal of the 2015 Italian Open. How this will affect the seedings for the upcoming 2015 French Open, set to run from May 24 to June 7, remains to be seen, but one has to wonder if Nadal has what it takes to dust off the competition at Roland Garros in a tournament he's won nine times since 2005 (a staggering upset at the racket of Robin Soderling prevented Nadal from winning in 2009).
The oddsmakers don't quite see world No. 7 Nadal as the favorite this year although he's not far off the mark.
Here's a look at the early Vegas lines for the 2015 French Open.
|2015 French Open Odds|
|558||Juan Martin Del Potro||100-1|
|Odds Shark, ATPWorldTour.com|
Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark and updated as of May 18 at 7 a.m. ET.
Novak Djokovic topping the list should come as little surprise. He's the No. 1 player in the world and beat Roger Federer—who simply, stunningly, refuses to go away—6-4, 6-3 in the 2015 Italian Open final. Djoker's on a 22-match winning streak after capturing his fourth title in Rome. He will be in peak form at Roland Garros, and that spells doom for his opposition no matter the surface.
Federer, who himself is a favorite to win the French Open, still doesn't see Djokovic as the top player to watch out for come May 24. He's seen it all and has seen Nadal turn enough opponents to dust on the rust-colored clay in years past that he can't help but peg the Spaniard as the man to beat this year, per ATPWorldTour.com:
You cannot take away the past 10 years. It's going to be best-of-five sets. We know how tough Rafa is physically and mentally. He is the favourite still to me. Novak at this point probably has to win, with the results he's shown this year. It feels similar to 2011 when he didn't lose the whole year.
Indeed, Nadal's odds are not very far off from Djokovic's, but that still doesn't mean the oddsmakers and Federer are overestimating his potential this year. If he fails to garner a top seeding, and that appears likely given his recent form and ATP ranking, he could be primed for a major letdown performance, per the Guardian's Kevin Mitchell:
Without the comfort of a top-four ranking in Paris, however, Nadal will be exposed to the possibility of facing any of Murray, Djokovic or Roger Federer as soon as the quarter-finals. On current form, that would condemn him to an early exit – although it is likely it will also bring out the best in him. The second week could be one of the tournament’s most exciting in years.
Yet, as much as everyone admires Nadal's fighting spirit and respects his extraordinary history on clay, he bears the haunted look of a worried man who must pretend otherwise.
Nadal is a fighter, but a quarterfinal exit seems all too likely here given the level of competition he might be facing prior to or at that stage of the competition. An early run-in with a player like Gael Monfils—one of the few players who can match up athletically with Nadal and an intriguing dark horse in his home country—or perhaps even Wawrinka could provide a blockbuster opening-week matchup.
The French Open will go to another player this year. As of right now, there's no sense in doubting the Vegas lines. This is Djokovic's tournament to lose—don't count on any other outcome.