It’s officially Rafa season.
Oh, whoops. That was supposed to say, it’s officially clay season. After a couple of warm-up events in Houston and Morocco the Tour head to Europe for the true clay season. Six weeks of lead-up to the crown jewel in Roland Garros.
Monte Carlo is the kick-off and it routinely attracts most of the big names, and most importantly, is usually the debut and bellweather for Rafael Nadal. He’s won this event an incredible ELEVEN times. In fifteen years. It’s kind of insane. It also makes this event supremely hard to handicap. But, let’s give it a shot.
Start with the man. You can actually get him at even money. Six matches to win 1:1 on your money. It’s almost laughable to say but it’s probably got some value. The greatest clay player ever and he doesn’t really have a threat that will cause him to be less than -500 on the moneyline in his quarter. His most likely route is RBA in round two (last time they played on clay Rafa was -5000), Dimitrov in round three (last time they played on clay Rafa was -1600), Wawrinka in the quarter-final (-600 in the French Open final two years ago), and Zverev in the semis (-600 at Rome last year). He’d have to play Djoker in the final and be -200 at the most to get a rollover equal to even money (Rafa was -600 to Djoker last year in Rome, so…). Any deviation from that path, say Shapo instead of Dimitrov, or Cilic instead of Stan or Nishi instead of Zverev, or anyone other than Djoker in the final… and you don’t come close to +100. That’s crazy to think. So, handicap this tournament with that in mind. On top of that math, realize there are only three active tennis players who have ever won this tournament — Rada, Stan, Djoker. There are only six active players to even make the final (Federer, Ferrer, and Nishi). Those are/were all top five players at the time. Finding a long-shot here, or even someone in double digits, on the outright is not going to be easy.
So, what about Djoker? He’s +300. That’s intriguing in and of itself — when’s the last time Djokovic was +300 to win any title? Roland Garros last year? Since the 2018 clay season ended Djoker has won basically everything and what he didn’t win, he finished second: London, Wimbledon, Cincy, the US Open, Shanghai, Paris, the O2, the Aussie… 1st or 2nd place at everyone. The only Masters Series events he didn’t do well at were Toronto, Indian Wells, and Miami. Are they the three slowest surfaces on that list? Hmmm. That’s weird to think, Djoker vulnerable on slower surfaces. Well, that’s the best case scenario. Because if that’s not true, and Djoker feels right at home here, then this is a Djoker-Rafa final and we can all sleep in till Sunday (FYI, a prop bet on a Rafa-Djoker final pays +250 right now).
So, if Rafa is hurt (he pulled out of Indian Wells with a “knee” injury) and Djoker is vulnerable on clay who is worth a tickle on the outright? Well, Rafa pulls out of hard court tournaments all the time. And he always shows up for clay season. It has become uber apparent in recent seasons that Rafa knows where his bread is buttered and if he feels any kind of stress on a body part, he is more than happy to pull out and rest up, even from a spot deep in a tournament. The guess here is that Djoker is more vulnerable than Rafa is injured. So, let’s look in the top half of the bracket.
And you probably don’t have to look far. Dominic Thiem has long been held up as the “next” guy on clay. He kind of broke through last year and made the Roland Garros final. He has eight clay titles on tour and in the last two years has made the finals in Barcelona, Madrid twice, and the French. He won a month ago in Indian Wells on a really slow hard court over Roger Federer. On top of that, he has beaten Djokovic the last two times they played on clay courts, and he’s done it pretty handily. Thiem’s quarter actually looks super do-able with only Khachanov as a big threat. He’s easily included with Rafa, Djoker, Fed and maybe Zverev and Nishikori as one of the best clay players on tour. At 7/1, double what Djoker is listed at, his price seems high. It’s probably hedgeable against Nadal in final, considering he beat Nadal in Madrid last year before losing to him in the final at Roland Garros. Anything less than Rafa -700 gives you room.
That’s honestly as deep as you need to go. There are no Cinderellas in Monte Carlo. At least not since the turn of the century. If you are really looking for someone deep down in the price list, I wouldn’t go much further than Wawrinka. He is in Rafa’s quarter, has beaten Rafa before, is rounding into form, and considers clay his best surface. There is probably no way he beats a healthy Rafa but if Rafa is still injured it would be better to have Wawrinka at 40/1 in a semi than Nishi or Zverev out of the third quarter at a smaller number.
Thiem +700 x1
Wawrinka +3300 x0.25