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French Open 2018: Can Someone Stop Nadal?

History awaits Rafael Nadal as he edges closer to a historic 11th French Open title.

Dubbed as the King of Clay, the 2017 French Open champion is once again in contention to win this edition’s tournament. With the absence of his rival, world number two Roger Federer, the stage is set for the semifinalist Nadal to etch his name into the record books once again.

Nadal’s quarterfinal never went to plan—however—as weather prolonged his match against Argentine Diego Schwartzman. The aggressive Schwartzman seemed to have solved the Nadal puzzle after winning the first set. The Argentine was in the momentum, and on course to shock Paris. But destiny is not fond of surprises, as rain halted the second set—to be continued the next day.

What should have been a rest day for Nadal became a masterclass. The champion came back as a renewed man, eventually beating Schwartzman in four sets, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Nadal, after the game, said:

“The changes were not the sun or the rain. It was within myself. Of course, the rain helped stop the match and helped me think about the match, and that’s a reality. But in terms of play, what changed is how I played and how I managed the match.”

The match served as a demonstration of what he can give to the viewers in the semifinal. Wicked serves and powerful forehands overwhelmed the fighting Schwartzman. However, what surprised analysts is Nadal’s lesser-known backhand playing a key role in the match.

Mary Carillo, analyst for NBC, said:

“He’s not afraid of extended rallies, but he’s more canny these days. Rafa [Nadal] can hit backhands these days—short, sharply angled— that I simply don’t remember him hitting as much as before. That Nadal forehand is something to stay away from, but his backhand is no damn picnic either.”

The King of Clay’s road to his throne is set, and from his performances, only a challenger with a better aggressive baseline strategy can change destiny. Even bookmakers believe so, with sportsbook William Hill giving Nadal the tournament winner odds of 1.30.

The Pretenders

Another Argentine believes that he is a challenger for the French Open title. World number six Juan Martin del Potro will face Nadal in the semifinal after beating Marin Cilic 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5. The two have met four times in a Grand Slam event, with Nadal leading three wins to del Potro’s one.

Del Potro, after his quarterfinal victory, said:

“I don’t know if I will win [against Nadal], but I will take a big love from [my fans]. It’s tough to speak now. It has been a long time without good feelings. I had three surgeries on my left wrist. I was close to [quitting]. [Now] I’m having a great present, looking forward for the future.”

His near future looks bleak as bookmakers consider him as a distant underdog to Nadal. Sportsbet.io priced del Potro at 5.60 to win the semifinal. Meanwhile, William Hill and bet635 have given the Argentine similar odds with 6.00 to win.

On the other bracket, Dominic Thiem returns to the Roland Garros semifinal for the third time in a row against surprise semifinalist Marco Cecchinato. Cecchinato—ranked world number 72—beat former French Open champion Novak Djokovic in a shocking quarterfinal victory. Thiem, meanwhile, dispatched tournament favorite Alexander Zverev in three straight sets.

Analysts concede that Cecchinato’s Cinderella run is one of the stories of the tournament. However, they do not see Thiem committing the same mistakes Djokovic did.  The Thiem-Cecchinato semifinal match is priced 1.11-6.20 on Sportsbet.io, 1.14-5.50 on William Hill, and 1.11-7.00 on bet365.

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This Year’s Clay Queen

The French Open women’s finalists have already been decided as Simona Halep returns against Sloane Stephens in the final.

Halep lost last year’s final against surprise champion Jelena Ostapenko. This year, however, she aims to reclaim the title that eluded her by beating 2016 French Open winner Garbine Muguruza in a one-sided semifinal 6-1, 6-4.

Halep, ranked women’s tennis world number one, said:

“It’s the final of grand slam, so it cannot be easy. I will try just to be calm during the match and try everything I can. Because it’s a nice opportunity, a big challenge, so I have just to feel happy after the match that I gave anything.

On the other hand, Stephens beat fellow American Madison Keys 6-4, 6-4. The current US Open champion is looking forward to win her second Grand Slam title.

Stephens, ranked women’s number 10, said:

“Someone has to win. Someone has to lose. Just go out, give it your all, and whoever wins, wins. No one is going to hand you the match. It’s a grand slam final. You have to go out there and get after it and make sure you play every point and try to execute your game plan as best as possible.”

The head-to-head matches between the finalists favor Halep with five wins against Stephens’ two. Stephens never won against Halep in almost five years. Their only clay match on the Grand Slam level resulted in a Stephens’ loss 4-6, 3-6.

Halep is the bookies’ favorite to win the women’s bracket. Sportsbet has the match 1.42-2.80 favoring Halep. William Hill and bet365 offer the odds of 1.44 to Halep.

Bettors can watch the French Open action live this Friday as Cecchinato will face Thiem while del Potro looks to stop Nadal.  On Saturday, Halep battles Stephens.

| Related: French Open 2018: The King of Clay Goes for Record 11th Title

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