Each Grand Slam tournament is unique. That means that bettors need to be aware of the differences between tournaments and what they mean for handicapping. Perhaps no tournament is more different and unique than the French Open. The clay surface is entirely different than anything else. If you handicap this tournament like you would a hard court or grass tournament then you just aren’t going to have success in the long term. Here are five differences to consider:
Americans are rarely competitive – There are Americans who have had success at Roland Garros, but the average amount of success enjoyed by American players in Paris is far below what can be expected at the other three Grand Slam tournaments. There simply isn’t a tradition of clay court play in the U.S., so American players are far behind European or South American players who know the surface. Because Americans aren’t particularly competitive, this tournament isn’t as interesting to American bettors as others – at least the casual bettors who are drawn to events because of rooting interests or familiarity. If you do your betting at American based sportsbooks, then the French Open is likely to have less betting volume than others – especially the U.S. Open. That can have a big impact on where to look for value in this tournament.
More specialists than other surfaces – Clay is a unique surface – far different than hard courts or grass. The surface is slick, so players can slide on it. Big serves aren’t rewarded. Rallies are long, so stamina and ball control are key. The ideal types of swings are different than other surfaces. If a player doesn’t typically play on the surface then it will be very tough for them to adapt to challenges of the surface. As a result of the uniqueness of the crushed bricks there are a lot more players who specialize on clay and maximize their success there. Those players will be in a good position to succeed on the clay surface. The players will be less familiar to most casual bettors than other players because they won’t be as much of a danger on other surfaces. It’s important for bettors, then, to be aware of who the specialists are and which players could have a bigger advantage on the surface than on others. On the flip side, there are some very good players who just can’t find their way on clay. Pete Sampras, for example, is one of the all time greats with 14 career Grand Slam titles, but he never even made the French Open final, and only three of his 64 career titles were on clay.
Stamina is a big factor – The clay surface leads to a different style of play than on other surfaces. Big serves aren’t nearly as much of an advantage because the surface eats up a lot of speed on impact. That means that long, slow rallies are the norm, and they are often played with both players behind the baseline. That means that games can be much longer in the French than in other tournaments, and the time between breaks can be longer as well. The time between breaks can be an issue if it is a hot day. If you have stamina concerns about a player at the best of times then you might really have those concerns at Roland Garros. When the points can be as long as they can be players also need to be able to focus for long periods of time, so players who aren’t mentally sharp can have issues.
Big serves minimized – At the French Open or Wimbledon a player with a rocket of a serve can have a big advantage. He can make it very hard for his opponent to react to the location of the ball, and can keep games and rallies shorter because of his big hitting. Clay surfaces seriously limit that advantage. The ball bounces higher on clay than other surfaces, and the surface robs the ball of more momentum upon impact than other surfaces. It’s a very slow surface. Players that rely on their serve or power hitting games to give them an edge will be at a disadvantage on this surface compared to others.
Strategic players rewarded – When the surface is slower and points are longer you can’t gain an advantage with brute force. that means that the players that succeed are the ones that can outthink their opponent and find other ways to get an edge. A well timed drop shot can be deadly, or a clever directed shot at just the right time. A smart, creative player has a much bigger edge on clay than anywhere else.