It is time to roll out the tennis red carpet (clay) season
- An insight into the history of claycourt tennis and the top performers on the surface, namely Rafael Nadal.
12 tournaments over nine weeks across picturesque Europe - that's how the claycourt season goes every year on the ATP tour during the months of April and May. The momentum builds through a series of smaller tournaments (called ATP 250 events) followed by bigger ones at Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome, with a climax at Roland Garros in Paris.
There’s something about clay
Modern tennis witnessed a paradigm shift with the introduction of the synthetic hardcourt surface for various commercial advantages. But the downside of this standard look and feel was that tournaments started looking similar throughout the year as the season chugged along different cities of the world.
When the claycourt season comes around each year, it sends the sport along with its players and fans back in time. It gives everyone a refreshing feel of the past, and a raw reminder of how the sport has been played on the slow surface over the years.
Continental Europe and Latin America have always had more claycourts than Asia, Britain or North America, which probably explains why the ‘Spanish Armada’ always clock superior performances on this surface.
Rafael ‘Clay’ Nadal
Yevgeny Kafelnikov, a Russian former World No. 1 tennis player, once said that if Pete Sampras entered his name for the Wimbledon event, then the remaining 127 players would be playing only for the sake of participation. The same can be said of another player right now, but on all clay events, not just one.
Back in 2005, a player who goes by the name Rafael Nadal, all of 19 years old, announced his entry by winning the French Open. Most tennis pundits were not surprised that yet another Spanish player was doing well on clay. And Nadal possessed all the right ingredients to excel on clay – heavy top spin, sliding footwork, patience to grind out the opponents.
But little did they know or predict back then that Nadal's genuine love for clay knew no bounds. Fast forward to 2019, and Nadal is still the defending champion at Roland Garros - having won his 11th title in Paris last year.
The Spaniard's overall tally of claycourt titles stands at 55 (out of a total of 80) , which is the highest ever by a player in the history of the sport. It almost seems that clay chose Nadal rather than the other way round.
Every year, an exciting set of Next-Gen players join the ATP tour. Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Karen Khachanov, Borna Coric, Daniil Medvedev, Denis Shapovalov, Frances Tiafoe - the list goes on. Will the sport witness one of these young guns repeating a similar act like the emergence of Nadal during the 2005 season?
If that happens, tennis will have witnessed the same red clay spin out another champion player for the future.