Tennis’ clay court season is well underway now, and so attention will naturally turn to the second Grand Slam event of the year: the French Open at the famous Stade Roland Garros in Paris. As ever, this will be a tournament for the purists, the advantage of the big servers and the powerful baseline hitters is somewhat negated on the slower clay courts, and so only those with skill and guile are likely to thrive.
Odds In Djokovic’s Favor
The odds to win the French Open 2022 from the bookmakers confirm as much, with Novak Djokovic leading the way at +200 and veteran Rafael Nadal, arguably the greatest clay-court player in history, also in contention at odds of +350.
It took Djokovic eight years after turning professional to reach the final at Roland-Garros, the longest span of any of the four majors, and of his staggering 20-title haul in Grand Slam events, the Serbian only has two French Open wins to his name. However, his improved clay-court form continued at the Italian Open in Rome earlier in May, where Djokovic collected his first title of 2022 in front of a packed crowd.
That was the perfect preparation for the defense of his French Open crown and while he’s a player rarely lacking in motivation at the best of times, the 34-year-old has even more reason to fight hard at Roland-Garros. If Djokovic wins, he will equal Nadal’s all-time record of 21 major victories.
“I could not ask for a better lead-up to Roland Garros,” he said in Rome. “I’m going to Paris with confidence and good feelings about my chances there.” In one of the most romantic cities on the planet, Djokovic’s new love affair with clay courts could reach all new levels.
Return to Sender
One of the most unique attributes of clay court tennis is that the slowness of the surface negates the sheer power of the sport’s biggest servers. There is still an edge to be found on serve, angles, and changes of pace are the key, but for the most part, it’s quality returners that tend to enjoy the most success on clay.
Load up the ATP Tour’s stats hub and look at the two best returners over the past year on all surfaces: Djokovic and Nadal. It’s not a coincidence. The third name on that list is Diego Schwartzman, and he could be an interesting selection for those who enjoy a flutter or two. The Argentinian player has reached the quarter-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters and semis of ATP Barcelona in recent weeks, and as a former French Open semi-finalist in 2020, he is certainly one to watch.
One of the best returners in the women’s game is Barbora Krejčíková, and so it should come as no surprise that she is the reigning French Open champion. The 26-year-old has been struggling with injuries and has done little prep work for Roland-Garros, but if she is fit and firing, few have the weapons that she does to succeed on clay. In a sport where big servers can dominate, it’s refreshing when those with a great return game are able to thrive.