• French Open preview

Can anyone knock the King of Clay off his throne?

Jo Carter May 25, 2012

With Rafael Nadal stemming a seven-match losing streak against Novak Djokovic and scooping titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome, the question is not so much who will win the French Open, rather, can anyone stop the King of Clay claiming a record seventh crown at Roland Garros?

In the women's draw, Li Na is the defending champion but has not won a title since. Maria Sharapova is eyeing a career Grand Slam, while the form of Serena Williams has been ominous on the clay.

We make our predictions for the 2012 French Open.

Men

The man to beat
His win over Novak Djokovic on Monday confirmed what we already knew: Rafael Nadal is the red-hot favourite to defend his French Open crown. Having tasted defeat just once in seven years at Roland Garros, the bookmakers are understandably not offering generous odds (8/11 with bet365) for the Spaniard to make it seven this year. Likewise, with world No. 1 Djokovic bidding to complete a career Grand Slam, odds of 9/4 with bet365 are barely worth the investment.

Resurgent Roger
With 48 wins from his last 52 matches, Roger Federer is a man in form. Since the US Open last September, the world No. 3 has picked up seven titles, including one on the blue clay in Madrid. But with no major titles in over two years, can the Swiss finally get his hands on that elusive 17th grand slam title? Although an each way bet may be a shrewder option, with odds of 8/1 with bet365, perhaps it is worth backing Federer to taste victory at Roland Garros for a second time.

Czech out these odds
Although Juan Martin Del Potro is tempting at odds of 16/1, Tomas Berdych is our dark horse. The big-hitting Czech has been in impressive form on the clay, beating Andy Murray in Monte Carlo before eventually falling in the semi-finals to Djokovic. A semi-finalist at Roland Garros two years ago, he lost in the Madrid final to Federer, and lost to Nadal in Rome last week. At 33/1 with bet365 he looks a tasty bet, or if you prefer, half those odds to reach the final.

Cash in with Carter

  • Rafael Nadal to win the French Open - 8/11 at bet365
    Tomas Berdych E/W - 33/1 at bet365
  • Angelique Kerber E/W - 25/1 at bet365

Women

The favourite
Clay may clearly be her least favoured surface, but after wins in Charleston and Madrid, Serena Williams is the bookmakers' favourite to complete a unique clay-court hat-trick on green, blue and red clay. Of her 13 grand slam wins, only one came on the clay. But having returned to the world's top five for the first time since January 2011, few would bet against a seemingly injury-free Williams claiming a second French Open title, ten years after her last win at Roland Garros. Williams is 5/2 with bet365 to scoop the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

The world No. 1
When she won the Australian Open before blazing to a 26-match unbeaten streak, Victoria Azarenka threatened to repeat the heroics of Djokovic the year before. While her 2012 form will never be mentioned in the same breath as Djokovic's, she has reached two finals on the clay, falling to Maria Sharapova and Williams, before withdrawing from Rome with a shoulder injury. However, she has showed no signs of injury training with former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo in Paris this week. With a resurgent Serena threatening to spoil the party, a win in Paris would really cement her claim to the No. 1 spot. With so many one-time major winners in recent seasons, can Azarenka show that she is not just a one-hit wonder? Back her at 4/1 with bet365.

Outside bet
A semi-final appearance in Rome last week saw Angelique Kerber break into the world's top ten for the first time. The 24-year-old has already bagged two titles this season - in Paris and Copenhagen - and boasts wins over Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki. A tempting bet at 25/1 with bet365.

Please note that odds are correct at time of publication and are subject to change.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk