x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Welcome to clay, where Ferrer is scary and Rafael Nadal is a superhero

Paul Oberjuerge picks out the biggest quality a player needs to have while tackling the slowest surface.

Spain's David Ferrer is a good player on any surface but scary on clay courts.
Spain's David Ferrer is a good player on any surface but scary on clay courts.

A page came off the calender and a sport was transformed. Players who were afterthoughts and also-rans suddenly became formidable. Rafael Nadal went back to being unbeatable.

Welcome to the clay-court season, when David Ferrer is scary, Nicolas Almagro is intimidating and Nadal is a superhero. When Andy Roddick and Andy Murray are just a couple of big guys and Novak Djokovic looks vulnerable.

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After three months spent almost entirely on hard courts, professional tennis has embarked on two solid months on clay.

Those towering men and women with the rocket serves and the base-liners with overpowering pace who won so often during March, are likely to find April and May a far greater challenge.

Clay is the slowest of surfaces and favours the crafty and the resilient, the shot makers and the super fit who can grind out long matches and do not mind little clouds of floating red dust.

It is a different world. Pete Sampras won 14 major titles; none on clay. Roger Federer has won 15 slam events, but only one at the French Open. Serena Williams, 13 slam titles, just one at Roland Garros.

On the other side: Justine Henin won nine slam events, four on clay. Thomas Muster, the Austrian sometimes known as "The King of Clay", won 40 of his 44 championships on clay, including the 1995 French Open, his only major.

Milos Raonic, the big-hitting Canadian, is perhaps the poster child for the intimidating slugger who may struggle to win a match in April or May.

His coach, the Spaniard Galo Blanco, outlined for the National Post the problems for players, many of the North Americans and Australians, who are uncomfortable on clay.

"We've worked a lot on his patience and on working the point and getting his game ready to play one more ball," Blanco said. "We are practising longer rallies. When you play on clay, you can't expect to finish the point quickly … You have to expect the ball to come back one more time. … I'm focused on having him be more aggressive than he is on hard courts, but with more patience."

Patience. That seems to be the key on clay, and many players do not have it. About all the patience they can summon is to wait until June, when the game shifts to grass.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

This week in tennis

Men’s tour

Two players secured their first tournament titles. The American Ryan Sweeting, a wild card, defeated Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-4, 7-6 to win the US Men’s Clay Court Championships in Houston. Pablo Andujar of Spain routed Potito Starace of Italy 6-1, 6-2 at the Grand Prix King Hassan II in Casablanca, Morocco.

ATP rankings
Player Country Points
1. R Nadal ESP 12,870
2. N Djokovic SRB 9,700
3. R Federer SUI 8,550
4. A Murray GBR 5,545
5. R Soderling SWE 5,420

Women’s tour

Carolina Wozniacki won her third title this year by overpowering Elena Vesnina of Ukraine 6-2, 6-3 in the US city of Charleston. Also, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus stretched her winning streak to 10 matches by topping the Hungarian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-2, 6-3 in the Andalucia Tennis Experience.

WTA rankings
Player Country Points
1. C Wozniacki DEN 9,930
2. K Clijsters BEL 8,115
3. V Zvonareva RUS 7,815
4. F Schiavone ITA 5,171
5. V Azarenka BLR 4,630

Rolex Masters

Place: Monte Carlo
Duration: Until Sunday
Prize money: US$3.2 million (Dh11.75m)
Surface: Clay
Defending champion: Rafael Nadal

No WTA event scheduled