Clay Court Season Preview

Posted on 15. Apr, 2009 by stephen in ATP

The hard-court season is over and it’s on to the clay.

For the last four years, the clay court season has only meant one thing. His name is Rafael Nadal. It’s unlikely this year will be any different. With only one loss on clay in the last four years, and four French Open titles under his belt, the man known as “Rafa” is as close to a sure bet as Britney Spears forgetting what city she is in (note, I was required to include a Spears reference in this entry as part of a losing bet). Can Rafa lose at the French Open?

Well, in four year’s at Roland Garros he hasn’t lost a set. He hasn’t even played a five set match. Last year he lost four games in the final to his closest rival on clay – a man named Federer, you may have heard of him. So, my answer is No, Rafa can’t lose at Roland Garros. Everyone else is playing for second this season.

This week the big boys kick of the clay season in Monte-Carlo, which used to be a TMS “super nine” event but has now been demoted through the new tournament structure which features a “super seven.” Monte Carlo has the same points and prize money as the other “super” events but doesn’t get the special status which includes a mandatory player entrance requirement. It’s kind of like dating a hot girl and not being able to tell your friends. Still good, but not the same kind of satisfaction.

Last week the clay court season kicked off with modest events in Houston and Casablanca. Let’s leave that aside for a moment. The big off court event took place in a wedding chapel in Basel, Switzerland where Roger Federer married long-time girlfriend Mirka Vavrinek. I usually wouldn’t waste too much ink on a wedding story (this is type anyways), but Mirka’s a former tennis player, and Roger’s constant companion on tour. They met at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and have been together ever since.

A lot of athletes have trouble committing to relationships when in their prime, but Roger and Mirka’s relationship has always seemed special and probably contributed to his success and ability to dedicate to tennis. I met them at the 2006 TMS event in Toronto and spoke with them briefly. They always looked like a perfect match and even at that event where Roger turned 25, he spoke glowingly about Mirka and about her bringing him flowers on his birthday. I wish someone would bring me flowers…but I digress.

Earlier this year we learned that the couple is expecting a baby this summer and it’s been nice to see Roger mature under such a public microscope. Some have said that fatherhood will make it difficult for the 13 time grand slam champ to focus on tennis. I disagree; Roger is too focused and too mature. He will use fatherhood as added incentive to get better, realizing that there is a light at the end of his playing days and that the opportunities in the next few years need to be maximized. Congrats Roger, weddings are good, consolidate it with a slam.

Back to Houston and Casablanca. The winners were familiar names, Lleyton Hewitt in Houston and Juan Carlos Ferrero in Casablanca. Both guys were once great, both guys were former world number one’s, both guys are grand slam champions, both guys are closer to retirement that competitiveness in a major. Nevertheless, it must have been sweet for these relics of the past to taste the sweet sensation of victory once again. It’s also a reminder of how the mighty have fallen, how the guard is constantly changing in men’s tennis and how important that half step is. Hewitt and Juan Carlos were half step guys, they won because they had the extra level of fitness, competitiveness and intangibles When they lost the half step – they were just regular tour guys – normal Joe’s who competed regularly but it’s never been the same, and never is when you have seen your name at the top of the rankings.

This week Monte Carlo is under way. Number 6 seed Simon has been eliminated, as has Hewitt, who after receiving a wild-card into the event took a loss to Marat Safin. The top four players in the world are in Monte Carlo. The draw is deep. Potential semi finals are Nadal v. Murray and Federer v. Djokovic. It’s difficult to predict how the big guys will fare in their first week on clay. It’s a pretty long season although the French Open is around the corner and all four will want to head in with some strong results

I will keep you updated as the Monte Carlo draw progresses.

Game, set, end of entry.

Stephen Birman

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2 Responses to “Clay Court Season Preview”

  1. birms

    16. Apr, 2009

    i really like murray hes looked awesome in 09

    dont count him out for the number one prize

    solid article

    Reply to this comment
  2. Diceman

    15. Apr, 2009

    This new tennis writer has a little Bill Simmons in him. He’s just not as cool.

    Reply to this comment

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