Kings and Queens of Clay:
Before the great Roger Federer came into the scene, there was an American of Greek ancestry that many regarded as one of the best players to have played the game. His name was Petros. We know him by his nick name ‘Pistol Pete’ or more commonly, Pete Sampras.
Sampras had an amazing tennis career with 14 grand slam titles and an overall 762 to 222 win-loss record, which is a 77.44% win rate across all matches and surfaces. Indeed, that’s one amazing tennis stat to have. Yet, one Grand Slam eluded him for his entire career which was the French Open. In fact, his best result ever on a clay court surface was a semi final appearance in 1996.
In the new tennis era, some say the greatest ever tennis era, we have a similar situation with Roger Federer.
While the Swiss maestro won a French Open in 2009, it was by beating Robin Soderling and not his arch rival Rafael Nadal. In fact, Nadal has never lost to his great rival Roger Federer at Roland Garros. Indeed, as of 2015,Rafael Nadal has an astonishing 66-1 record on the clay courts of Roland Garros. His only defeat was to the aforementioned Robin Soderling in 2009. This puts a very legitimate question as to who should be considered as the Greatest of All Time. After all, Nadal has won 23 out of the 33 matches these two have played and has brutally outplayed the Swiss every single time at the French Open.
With Roland Garros not far away, we look into some of the best players on clay in the Tennis world, and a few to avoid! If you agree or disagree with my judgements, feel free to comment. I’d be delighted to hear from you. So who are the true Clay Court Specialists?
The Queens of Clay Courts:
There is no tournament these days without mention of Serena. She is playing at a much higher level than her opponents. While she has already won at the French Open, clay is certainly not her favourite surface. In fact, after her first win at Roland Garros in 2002, it took her 10 years more to win the next one in 2013. Still, she can never be counted out on any clay court event and will deservedly be the favourite each time!
Maria won the French Open for the first time in 2012 beating a very talented clay court specialist, Sara Errani in the final. Since then, she reached the final in 2013, and she won it in 2014 beating a tough Simona Halep. If Serena goes out early in any event, Sharapova is the next best bet without a doubt!
There is no doubt that Simona Halep’s tennis game is getting better and better. Not only is she a great defensive player, she is also extremely aggressive and has decent power which works out well on all surfaces, but especially on clay courts. Her most recent clay court tournament was WTA Bucharest last year where she ended up as the eventual winner. Also, as mentioned earlier, she lost only to Maria Sharapova in the final of last year’s French Open. An impressive stat in that French Open is that, prior to the final, she didn’t lose a single set!
Bouchard is a naturally gifted tennis player with a lot of power. Add to that her raw talent, she ends up as this super tennis player who can out-gun her opponents in stunning fashion. She has already proven that she can handle any tennis surface as was superb at last year’s French Open where she tested eventual champ Sharapova to her limits.
For me, the young Canadian, Bouchard, is always a good bet on Clay!
Victoria Azarenka’s best performance on Clay Courts came in 2013 when she lost to Maria Sharapova in 3 sets at the Semi-Finals of Roland Garros. If she can remain injury free, expect the Belarusian to shine on the clay courts.
Former world no.1, Ana Ivanovic was one mighty force back in 2008 when she won her only Grand Slam to date, the French Open. Current form isn’t that impressive but she is still a threat to some top players due to her aggressive nature of tennis.
Carla Suarez Navarro:
Last year, Navarro’s best Grand Slam performance was at the French Open reaching the Quarter Finals. The Spaniard definitely enjoys playing on Clay Courts and considering the fact that her current form is very very good, must be taken as a legitimate threat to even top players, even Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.
Pretty much all Italians are used to playing on Clay and Errani, of course, is no exception. The 2012 French Open final remains her best Grand Slam performance yet.
A really tough cookie to crack, Sara relies on her defense, particularly her drop shots, making her an overall intellect of the clay surface and can choke her opponents mentally. If there is a clay court event with Errani in it, always expect to be thrilled with her clay court magic!
Garbine Muguruza was pretty unknown prior to 2014. However, her first major statement to the Tennis world came at the French Open last year where she hammered huge favourite Serena Williams with a 6-2 6-2 scoreline and only lost in that event to eventual winner Maria Sharapova.
Expect more in the coming years from this amazingly talented clay courter!
A Few Clay Court Outsiders :
While the above listed players are all hot performers on Clay Courts, there are a few others worth mentioning. They include Andrea Petkovic (semi finalist in 2014), Petra Kvitova (semi finalist in 2012) and Agnieska Radwanska (Quarter Finalist 2013). All these players have had the experience of performing well in Grand slams, so it’s hard to ignore them on clay.
On top of all the listed players, one more player has caught my eye in the last year or so and that is the Ukranian Elina Svitolina. She has not yet passed the 3rd round of any Grand Slam but is definitely going to knock on doors in the coming years. Watch out for this talent in the near future to step up her game on all surfaces, including Clay, where she has had pretty good success.
The Kings of Clay Courts:
Louis XIV is regarded as one of the greatest kings in History, and most definitely the greatest king France has ever known. However, ther is a 78 x 36 feet wide piece of real estate in Roland Garros that has it’s own king, Rafael Nadal. I thought I would give Rafa a bit of respect by capitalizing his name, as in truth, he’s the only ‘King of Clay’! The guy has conquered the toughest surface at Roland Garros an unbelievable 9 times, losing only once, and winning 66 times (as I already mentioned!)
A sheer genius in every respect, I just don’t think anyone in the near future is going to surpass what Rafa has achieved on Clay Courts. His knowledge of the surface’s bounce, pace and all other variables makes him the best human to ever play on this surface!
While Rafa remains amazing in every respect on clay, there is someone seriously knocking on the door, and that is none other than the current best in the World, Novak Djokovic. Novak was favourite with the bookies last year and is currently priced as the favourite for this year’s French Open too. The only Grand Slam that has eluded the Serbian is the French Open, and he must be desperate to break the Spaniard’s domination and win it all this year. Many feel this is Novak’s best chance in many years. Rafael Nadal is improving this year, but is still not at his best. Novak defeated Nadal on clay in Monte Carlo, and the defending Australian Open Champion will be very confident and focused.
Technically, I feel the Djoker’s game is perfect for Clay as he is naturally very powerful and defends extremely well. This could be the year for this amazing player!
Andy’s game is mostly defensive and naturally suits clay. While he lost to Rafa Nadal in 2014 with a 6-3 6-2 6-1 scoreline, I must say I felt Andy actually played well in that match and the 3 set loss didn’t tell the whole story. I feel he should be the 3rd best bet for this year!
He can definitely be considered as the 2nd best clay courter in history, but by form, I am not sure how far the Swiss legend can go in the upcoming French Open. As time has gone by, Roger’s game has weakened, especially in the serving department which makes it much more difficult for him to win this year or any other clay court tournament for that matter. He showed some great form earlier in the year beating Djokovic in the final in Dubai, and winning in Brisbane. Defeat by Monfils in the most recent clay court event in Monte Carlo casts doubt over his ability to go very far in the French Open. Saying that, he is one of the greats and you can never erase him from the favourites list! He has surprised us all before when his chances are played down!
No French Open is complete without David Ferrer. The guy has almost the perfect game to play on the surface and can be both aggressive and defensive at the same time. If any player seriously believes he can beat Nadal on Clay, it’s Ferrer.
If Stan can be consistent, he sure has a chance at any clay event. His best performance at the French Open was in 2013 where he lost to Nadal in the Quarter Finals. More recently, he beat Roger Federer to win the 2014 Monte Carlo Open. There is no question that Wawrinka can definitely play on Clay Courts!
I would normally put Kei in a lower category but at the moment this Japanese player is playing some breathtaking Tennis.
Not only do I think Kei Nishikori has the game suited for clay, but if he can remain injury free and work on his endurance levels, expect some big shocks this year!
While clay isn’t Berdych’s favourite surface, it’s fair to say he is one tough cookie to crack for most top players.
I don’t think he can win the French Open, but he does have the game to reach the Semi Finals of big clay court events and only lost to Djokovic in the recent Monte Carlo Open finals.
In terms of improvement, two players are stepping it up these days.
One is the Canadian Milos Raonic and the other, Bulgarian Gregor Dimitrov. Both are extremely talented and can be expected to get past some good players at this year’s French.
Apart from these two outsiders, I have 2 Frenchmen, Monfils and Simon as possible candidates for success at Roland Garros.
By form, both have looked good this year unlike 2014, so expect some sort of rhythm from both these home favourites.
‘HOT’ OR ‘NOT’ TO TRADE:
While the top players like Serena, Sharapova, Rafa and Djokovic will always be heavy favourites in the majority of matches they play, it’s definitely worth looking into the rest of the bunch, especially if you are looking to trade them.
A look at some of the ‘HOT’ and ‘NOT’ players :
Angelique Kerber: (HOT)
She played and won all her matches at the clay court event in Charleston topping the big serving Madison Keys in the final.
Her game isn’t generally suited for clay but she has definitely stepped up her game recently.
Teliana Pereira: (HOT)
Since losing to Sara Errani in February at her home tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Pereira hasn’t lost a match and won the Bogota tournament without losing a set! Definitely a player on the rise at the moment!
Yarsolava Shvedova: (HOT)
Shvedova shocked the tennis world when she upset the then reigning French Open winner Li Na, in 2012.
While she lost to Pereira in the recent Bogota Final, it must be said, she beat some good players on the way.
Caroline Garcia: (HOT)
While Garcia’s clay court form has 2 wins and 2 losses, it must be said that this girl has really stepped up her serves. With this in mind, I consider her to be a genuine threat to inconsistent servers like Sharapova.
Roberta Vinci: (NOT)
Historically, Roberta Vinci a player who has done very well on Clay courts. But unlike her compatriot Sara Errani, Vinci’s form has dramatically declined recently. Definitely not in my list of players that I want to back!
Sam Stosur: (NOT)
2011 US Open Champ, Sam Stosur’s form has deteriorated in the past year or so. Her serves don’t have the same sting from the past and her game in general feels more reckless than patient. She was a favourite in the French Open 2010 Final but got stunned by the Italian Francesca Schiavone.
Francesca Schiavone: (NOT)
Was one of the best clay courters to watch a few years back as she had a decent serve and defended extremely well. She was also one of the few WTA players who had a lethal one-hand backhand. However, pretty much all those shots have dissipated at the moment and her past glory may not repeat in the near future.
Kei Nishikori: (HOT)
Kei is definitely beginning to believe in his ability at the moment and has definitely performed well on Clay last year by winning the Barcelona Open and only losing to Nadal in the Madrid Open final. He was upset by Klizan in the French Open 1st round but I believe, he is a genuine threat to any top player including the likes of Djokovic.
Grigor Dimitrov: (HOT)
The Bulgarian Dimitrov does have issues with inconsistency but the real question is if he has the game to play on clay. The answer is YES.
Expect Dimi to take his game to new levels in the next few years.
Pablo Cuevas: (HOT)
The Uruguayan Cuevas is one of the most under-rated Clay courters in ATP today. The guy is an exceptional clay courter and has already won the Sau Paulo tournament this year and only lost to Nadal in 3 sets at Rio de Janeiro. He’s definitely a HOT property when it comes to trading, especially on Clay!
Nicolas Almagro: (NOT)
Almagro has had some injury issues recently. On top of this, he has lacked confidence to reach that extra level. Still a great talent when he plays at his best, but overall, I would avoid backing him as you never know which Almagro turns up on the day!
Ernest Gulbis: (NOT)
A few years back there was a talk that Gulbis could be the next big thing in the world of Tennis.
Interestingly, Gulbis is tied with Roger Federer 2-2 in which 3 of those matches were actually on Clay. So yeah, he could definitely play then but since his loss at French Open last year, Gulbis’ form has been pretty poor on pretty much any surface. His most recent clay court loss to Haider-Maurer of Austria may be the right indication that it’s better to avoid him in the near future.
He lost that match 6-1 6-0!!
Fernando Verdasco: (NOT)
Verdasco has a decent serve, the power, the defensive skills and all the talent in the world to win big tournaments. But he is inconsistent. You just cannot rely on him to perform well day in and day out, which is why I would suggest to avoid backing him for most trades.
Thanks for reading! As mentioned, if you would like to add to the list, or have a different opinion, please leave a comment.