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We've made it to Roland Garros. The best tennis players in the world will come together in Paris, France for a chance at 2500 coveted ranking points and a place in history. The proceedings start on Sunday, and with that I've got two ways to get the tournament started on the right foot.
Aljaz Bedene (+240) vs. Chris O'Connell (-323)
If you don't remember Bedene, he's been one of the peskiest players on tour for many years. He's been excellent at winning matches — particularly here on clay — and has one of the best serves on tour despite his rather unimposing stature.
Well, Bedene was dealing with injury last summer and took several months off to heal up. When he returned this spring, he needed to use his protected ranking to qualify for tournaments and earn his ranking points back. After shaking the rust off against Kamil Majchrzak, he took a set off Ugo Humbert in a very winnable Miami match, beat Mikhail Kukushkin in Belgrade and nearly beat Soonwoo Kwon in Lyon.
He has just one win, but we know from watching him through the years that he's a very dangerous clay-court player, holding a 301-133 record on the surface across all levels. He won one match here last year before losing to Diego Schwartzman and two the year before that before he had to face Stefanos Tsitsipas.
This is an excellent buy-low spot on Bedene. O'Connell can certainly play on clay with many Challenger wins on the dirt, but his form isn't quite what it was a couple of years ago when it seemed he made every single semifinal at the Challenger level. Bedene is probably a better player, and he's certainly not past his prime at 32.
Edge: Bedene +5.5 Games
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Hugo Dellien (-110) vs. Dominic Thiem (-110)
Before I make this pick, please know I've stacked many units by fading Dominic Thiem in his comeback. I was the first person to say he wasn't even playing all that well before his hand injury, and that he did not deserve to be a favorite. Here, at Roland Garros, though? Against Hugo Dellien? He probably should be favored.
Dellien, now 28, has piled up the wins at the Challenger and ITF levels, going 440-216 on clay through the years at all levels. This season, he's again dominated at the lower level and has folks excited about a potential run here at the French Open. Every time Dellien rises up to the main draws, though, he falters. The Bolivian is just 32-45 in his career at the main ATP level, and has crumbled under the pressure of performing at this level.
Dellien twice failed to qualify for Roland Garros and in the two years he did qualify managed just one win. Thiem has been to the final here. He's more cut out for best-of-five and won't be fazed by the spotlight like Dellien may be. On top of this, I've been pretty encouraged from his recent performances. For a guy who enters on a 13-match losing streak, Thiem seems to be coming very close to finally breaking through with a win. I think it'll be here.
Edge: Thiem -110
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