Everyone who doubted the King of Clay on his turf is kicking themselves right now. Rafa Nadal, who prior to this year’s French Open had a 105-3 record in the tourney, has 13 French titles, all sorts of clay-court records, and was not the first ... not the second ... but the third favorite at +400 to win this tournament. And I don’t have that ticket in my pocket.
The 2022 French Open has been great and it is no surprise to see Rafa the one making it great. Nadal is in the final once again, eyeing his 14th title to potentially extend his lead for most Grand Slam title wins to 22, two ahead of Novak Djokovic and Roger Feder, who are tied at 20.
His opponent: Norway’s Casper Ruud, who currently sits eighth in the ATP rankings and holds seven clay-court titles. A breakthrough that is well deserved and, in retrospect, was bound to happen after reaching the finals this year in the ATP Masters 1000 Miami, losing to Carlos Alcaraz. He then follow that up with a semifinal loss to Djokovic in Rome. Nadal is, rightfully so, the heavy favorite but can any other wager be made?
ATP French Open betting odds
Rafael Nadal (-600) vs. Casper Ruud (+440)
Game spread: -6.5 (-125); +6.5 (-105)
Game total: OV/UN 34
How Nadal can win
Simply by continuing to be the King of Clay. Nadal doesn’t hold a 111-3 French Open record by luck. His topspin is tough to redirect, his iron-clad mindset is hard to break, and the crowd will almost always be on his side. Nadal’s biggest physical weapon is that forehand. If he can dictate the pace with it, he will stomp all over Ruud, just as he did against Djokvic to win in four sets in the quarterfinal. Nadal’s biggest mental weapon is that he doesn't understand the word “quit.”
He may be known as the King of Clay, but certainly you can add the King of Comebacks as well. We’ve seen it time and time again this season, but in this tournament, Nadal was down 4-1 to Djokovic in the fourth set to come back to close the match in four. He was then down 6-2 in the first-set tiebreak to Alexander Zverev in the semifinal to then come back and win the set.
As his opponent, you are playing against his skillset on his best surface, but you are also playing against one of the strongest minds in all of sports. So, when it looks like Nadal is down, just know that he is never out. Just do you, Nadal.
How Ruud can … be competitive
I’m not ready to put out a “How Ruud can win” option because there is some tough history to break through. Nadal is 13-0 in French Open finals, winning all in four sets or better. That being said, of those 13 finals, Ruud will be the first player that Nadal has faced for the very first time in the French. In those 13 finals, Nadal had faced each opponent at least once with a majority having played Nadal more than a handful of times. The surprise factor can definitely be to Ruud’s benefit.
Ruud has a super solid game. It’s really hard to pinpoint a problem area, but his backhand would have to be it. However, in this tournament, he has shown that he’s made improvements with it, hitting with confidence. Now, although he will see more balls coming back because it’s Nadal, what I’ve been most impressed with about Ruud is his composure. He is making mid-match adjustments. You saw it after dropping back-to-back sets to Lorenzo Sonego in the third round, and you saw it again in his win over Marin Cilic. He never overplayed against Cilic, but just waited for an opportunity to attack. He has patience and no moment has seemed too big for him ... yet.
Now to be competitive, he can't hit to Nadal's forehand. Zverev was doing just that in the first set against Nadal and it was working beautifully. It wasn't until the tiebreak that Nadal was finding those forehand winners and it cost Zverev.
Ruud has to fight fire with fire by having controlled aggression and utilizing his serve to pressure Nadal. He may not have a power serve like Zverev's, but he is knocking in aces because he has precision with that ball placement, serving 13 aces against Holger Rune in the quarterfinal and another 16 against Cilic. Ruud also needs to remain consistent. Through six matches, Ruud is averaging only 22 unforced errors. He won’t make a lot of mistakes. Combine that with his serving ability and his patience, and Ruud can absolutely disrupt Nadal.
More importantly, Ruud does have experience against a lefty on clay, facing Albert Ramos-Vinolas. That is not the same as facing Nadal, but it is worth noting.
The bet: Casper Ruud +2.5 sets (to win one set) at -130
As noted earlier, Nadal has won 13 French titles, winning seven matches in four sets and six matches in straight sets. In his 114-match history at Roland Garros, Nadal has only played three matches that have gone a full five sets. One was his recent match to Felix Auger Aliassime, but before that it happened in 2011 and 2013.
A longer shot option
Unfamiliarity could be key. For this reason alone, taking Ruud at +1.5 sets (to win two sets) at +220 is worth a look. However, for a better return on a flier, betting "total exact sets" of five at +400 is the better option. It’s already a tough task for Ruud to win and it would be even more monumental to win in four or better. That is why between these two options, the value lies in a five-set match. It's rare, but I’m done underestimating Nadal’s stamina and I’m done underestimating Ruud’s ability on clay.