This article is part of our Tennis Picks series.
Both French Open men's singles semifinals will be played Friday. After taking out his nemesis in the quarterfinals, the greatest clay-courter of all time needs two more wins to finish the job, but a player ranked two spots ahead of him has other ideas. The other semifinal pits recent clay-court success against past Grand Slam success. All match odds below are taken from DraftKings Sportsbook, but you can sometimes find more favorable odds on some of these matches by checking other mobile sportsbooks such as FanDuel, BetMGM or Caesars.
Past clay-court results are important, but it's clear all four of these men are playing proficient tennis on the surface here and now since they're among the final four contenders for the title at Roland Garros. Conditions vary from tournament to tournament, and even from day to day, but clay generally plays slower than hard or grass, favoring players with better footwork, touch and ability to work the point rather than big servers. That said, two of the four semifinalists have ridden their huge first serves to this point. Keep that context in mind as you look for a betting edge in Thursday's matches.
Nadal came through a titanic quarterfinal clash with Novak Djokovic in four sets and is now favored to take home a 14th French Open title. If Rafa brings his A-game, he's likely to get through Zverev, who has beaten the likes of Nadal and Djokovic before by redlining his game and taking risks, but that's much harder to do in best-of-five on clay than best-of-three on hard. If Nadal's a little off and Zverev plays well, this one could get interesting, much like Nadal's five-set fourth-round win over Felix Auger-Aliassime. Really, Zverev's best hope would be an aggravation of an injury for Nadal. Injuries were largely responsible for two of the Spaniard's three losses in 2022, as he was dealing with a stress fracture in his rib against Taylor Fritz at Indian Wells and had a flare-up of his chronic foot injury against Denis Shapovalov in Rome. Nadal leads their head-to-head 6-3, including 6-1 outdoors and 4-1 on clay.
Clay has historically been Cilic's worst surface, but his semifinal run here has been far from flukey. He has served exquisitely and already defeated two players ranked ahead of the eighth-seeded Ruud in No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and No. 7 Andrey Rublev. The 33-year-old Croat has had the misfortune of sharing a prime with the likes of Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer, so his major win totals aren't as inflated as they likely would have been otherwise. Still, Cilic was able to snag a US Open title back in 2014 and climbed as high as No. 3 in the rankings in 2018. With this semifinal result, he joins the elite company of the Big 3 and Andy Murray as the only active men's players to make the semis at all four slams. In five previous Grand Slam semifinals, Cilic has gone 3-2, so he knows how to step up his game in the biggest moments.
Ruud's a far more accomplished clay-courter than either Medvedev or Rublev, and in a vacuum, he's better than Cilic on clay at this point in their respective careers. The Norwegian leads their head-to-head 2-0, winning once on clay and once on hard courts. All that goes out the window in a Grand Slam semifinal, though. This is the first time Ruud has been past the Round of 16 in a major, and the pressure will be on him as the favorite. It remains to be seen how he'll handle it, while Cilic is a proven performer late in Grand Slams, so an upset here wouldn't come as a shock at all.