Clay 2010: What To Expect
Hard court tournaments have drawn to a close which means we are well into the 2010 tennis season. Hard to believe as the Australian Open feels like yesterday, but it is time to shift our attentions (and time zones) over to Europe. For some this will bring welcome relief. For others, the dirt means nerves, pressure, or even downright misery. Let’s take a look at what the top five might bring to the table over the coming weeks.
Roger Federer: Despite what many think, Federer proved in Miami and Indian Wells that he still cares about Masters events. He is not yet the Serena of the ATP; he enters, he shows up, and he doesn’t treat them as a practise sessions. When he loses to the like of Baghdatis and Berdych he doesn’t look happy about it. What is true, however, is that Federer isn’t the same player outside of the Slams. He has made it no secret that he tries to peak for the Slams and as a result this eventuates in some rather strange losses in between. The reason Federer loses is possibly that he doesn’t push himself as hard in practise, lacks a little focus, and isn’t quite as hungry as his lesser-known opponent down the end who has everything to play for. This doesn’t mean he isn’t trying or doesn’t care, he does, he just knows not to invest huge amounts of mental and physical energy into the Masters. This would result in burn-out or injuries. Expect a similar Federer on clay. He might start out slow, in fact he is starting out by missing Monte Carlo completely, but expect him to gather some steam as the Fed Express rolls through to Roland Garros. He is expected to take a title in Estoril where he faces weaker competition, but his defense of Madrid is far from certain. Whether Federer will advance far enough to face his nemesis Rafael Nadal isn’t as likely as fans may hope. What is promised is that Federer will be a different animal come Roland Garros. An animal hungry to defend the Slam for the first time.
Novak Djokovic: The mystery of the ATP enters the clay court season once again as an enigma. Djokovic rediscovered his form on clay in 2009 after a lackluster hard court season. Djokovic is entering this season once again with the same mixed bag of results. He played solidly at the Australian Open and Davis Cup. He won when playing badly at Dubai which can only be a positive thing for a man who was once known for throwing in the towel, but he played badly and lost in Indian Wells and Miami. A lot of that was attributed to fatigue having made the trip over to Serbia in between Dubai and the States. Entering Monte Carlo next week Djokvoic comes off a solid rest and will be hoping prove himself a serious force on clay. It was arguably his best surface last year and he has a lot of points to defend. He also came very close to beating Nadal at his best. If Djokovic can find his form in time, he could be a legitimate threat for Roland Garros. This is Djokovic though, and anything can happen.
Rafael Nadal: Nadal has been close to his best form coming out of Miami. Whilst he suffered losses to Roddick and Ljubicic over the hard court Masters, Nadal has never been dominant on that surface. A loss to Roddick in America on a hard court can hardly be considered a surprise. The only thing worrying about Nadal at the moment is his mental strength. It remains to be seen whether the courts he is so familiar with in Europe will inspire new confidence in him or make him worried and nervous. He has a lot of points to defend but this is nothing new. As long as Nadal remembers why they call him the King of Clay, he should be the favourite heading into Roland Garros. Anything short of multiple clay court titles, starting with Monte Carlo where he has dominated the past five years, would be considered an upset.
Andy Murray: Murray must be positively dreading clay. Hard courts have always been his surface but he is coming off a surprisingly poor season. He was brilliant in the Australian Open, but since then fell early in every tournament he played. Murray has been saying he isn’t enjoying tennis at the moment and needs to rediscover his love of the game. He is also possibly reconciling with Kim Sears, which could prove a distraction at a time he needs to focus. Whether Murray can rediscover his form on his least favourite surface is certainly doubtful. However, if he can battle through and come out stronger, improving on last year’s results, it will do his confidence and mentality the world of good.
Juan Martin del Potro: It is hard to judge someone’s form when they haven’t hit a competitive ball since the Australian Open, and even in that tournament it was obvious del Potro was having injury issues. His wrist is proving to be a huge battle for the Argentine who before then was rocketing up in the world of tennis. Del Potro isn’t playing Monte Carlo or Barcelona and is hoping for a return in Rome, but even this is looking doubtful. We should see him in Madrid, but it is hard to say when we hear hardly anything about his progress. Del Potro has semi final points to defend in Roland Garros and could take a tumble in the rankings. After his announcement that he was pulling out of Monte Carlo it was said that this year would be spent getting his injury right, not climbing to the top of tennis. Fans cannot expect much from him at the moment and can only hope for his full recovery. Del Potro is a young star of tennis and we all want him back.