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Tebbutt: Shades of Clay

Apr 03, 2018
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt
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It’s unlikely Roger Federer will ever again be pictured against a terre battue background in competition – unless he’s making some kind of farewell tour or playing Davis Cup.

The fact that he will miss the clay-court season for the second year in a row, and Roland Garros for a third consecutive year, pretty well ties a bow on his career on clay courts.

His numbers at Roland Garros are 65-16 with one title (2009), which pales in comparison with Wimbledon – 84-11 and eight championships at The Championships.

While he intends to return to the tour for the grass court event in Stuttgart beginning on June 12th, his great rival and friend Rafael Nadal will start his annual quest for domination on clay when he represents Spain in a quarter-final World Group Davis Cup tie in Valencia on Friday. It will be the first competition test of the troublesome right psoas muscle in his anterior hip area that forced him out of the Australian Open quarter-finals on January 23rd. He has not played since.

Spain will be hosting Germany and Nadal could play Philipp Kohlschreiber on Friday and Alexander Zverev on Sunday as he builds up to the European clay-court season which begins for him in Monte Carlo the week of April 16th.

The two other clay-court World Group ties this weekend have France traveling to Genoa to play Italy and Croatia, winners over Canada in February’s first round, hosting Kazakhstan in Varazdin.

Belgium, an anemic squad without David Goffin, appear to be sacrificial lambs as they play on hard courts in Nashville against a U.S. team featuring the full complement – Isner, Sock, Querrey, Harrison, and Johnson.

While the men’s clay-court season doesn’t officially kick off until next week with ATP 250 events in Houston and Marrakech, the women start with the Volvo Car Open in Charleston this week. Widely known as one of the more charming stops on the WTA Tour, it features a line-up that includes top seed Caroline Garcia, second seed Petra Kvitova as well as Daria Kasatkina at No. 3 and Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka at No. 10. Miami Open winner Sloane Stephens was slated to be the No. 4 seed but withdrew on Monday with “change of schedule” listed by way of explanation on the tournament draw-sheet.

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

Genie Bouchard is the only Canadian in the main draw. She barely got a direct entry after several withdrawals and will face wild card Sara Errani in a first-round match on Tuesday – it’s third match on centre court following a 10 a.m. ET start. Bouchard, now ranked No. 111, defeated the 31-year-old Errani on hard courts in Indian Wells in 2014 while the No. 95-ranked Italian won their only other meeting – on clay in Acapulco in 2013.

The WTA International level event in Bogota, Colombia, on red clay next week is slated to be the next stop for Bouchard. Also planning to play Bogota is Carol Zhao. This week the No. 138-ranked Zhao is at the WTA International hard-court event in Monterrey, Mexico, and will play No. 136 Naomi Broady of Britain on Tuesday in the first round.

SUNSHINE SUCCESS FOR THE BOYS

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

The American ‘Sunshine Double’ of Indian Wells and Miami proved to be a positive for Canada’s top three men’s players.

Milos Raonic, with a 2018 record of 1-3 up until March, reached the semi-finals in Indian Wells – losing 6-2, 6-3 to eventual champion Juan Martin del Potro – and the quarter-finals in Miami, beaten 5-7, 7-6(1), 7-6(3) by del Potro but while he played at a much higher and improved level.

His year-to-date record is now 7-5 and his ranking is up from No. 38 to No. 22, putting him in better position heading into the busiest six months of the tennis year. Maybe more importantly, he seems to have come out of the two Masters 1000 events fit and healthy. That may be the best news for Raonic fans.

On the red clay, he’s expected to play Monte Carlo, where he has a residence, as well as Madrid and Rome, and possibly another event, leading into the French Open which starts on May 27th.

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

Denis Shapovalov’s ranking actually dropped from No. 44 to No. 45 after his results in Indian Wells and Miami. But that’s better news than it may seem. By reaching the second round in Indian Wells [lost to Pablo Cuevas 7-6(4), 6-3] and the round-of-16 in Miami [beaten 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-4 by Borna Coric], he basically defended points – 80 for winning the Challenger in Drummondville and 48 for being runner up at the Guadalajara (Mexico) Challenger – from a year ago.

On the eve of the clay-court season, Shapovalov has zero ranking points to defend through April and May until the grass-court events begin in early June. Clay will likely be his most challenging surface, but the five tournaments that he intends to play – Monte Carlo, Budapest, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros – are a great opportunity to boost his ranking.

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

Much like Shapovalov, Vasek Pospisil may appear to have stagnated because he entered the Sunshine Double at No. 75 and came out of it with the identical ranking.

But he was defending points from qualifying and winning two rounds (including beating world No. 1 Andy Murray) in Indian Wells in 2017. That was 61 points, and there were also 23 points earned at Mexican Challenger events in Guadalajara and Leon. He essentially covered those by qualifying and losing 6-2, 7-6(4) in the first round in Indian Wells to Felix Auger-Aliassime, reaching the semi-finals of the Drummondville Challenger and then scoring solid wins over No. 79 Ivo Karlovic and No. 34 Andrey Rublev in Miami before going out 7-5, 7-6(4) to second seed Marin Cilic.

That was a busy stretch for Pospisil who will now take a well-deserved break to rest and train before playing hard-court Challenger tournaments in South Korea beginning at the end of the month. That includes Busan where he’s defending 125 points as the 2017 winner before getting onto the clay at the ATP 250 event in Geneva immediately followed by Roland Garros.

All three men will be interested in next Tuesday’s draw (10 a.m. – 5 a.m. ET in Canada) in London to determine who Canada’s opponent will be, and where it will play, for the Davis Cup World Group Playoffs from September 23-25.

It appears Canada will be seeded and therefore avoid facing other seeded nations such as Britain, Australia, Switzerland and Serbia. It will most likely play a country emerging from this coming weekend’s Group I Zonal action with possibilities being as varied as China, Chile, Uzbekistan, Portugal, Colombia and Austria.

STEPHENS AND ISNER MASTER MIAMI

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

Sloane Stephens (3-4) and John Isner (1-6) in 2018 tournament play entering the Miami Open were long-shots to win the titles at this year’s Miami Open, the last one to be played at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne.

It was even worse for Stephens going back to her unlikely title at the 2017 US Open. She was 0-6 for the rest of last year after Flushing Meadows.

But both she and Isner defeated an impressive list of opponents in winning in front of their home country fans in Miami. Stephens beat four Grand Slam champions (rankings in brackets) starting in the round-of-16 – Garbine Muguruza (3), Angelique Kerber (10), Victoria Azarenka (186) and Jelena Ostapenko (5) in the final by a 7-6(5), 6-1 score.

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

Isner similarly overcame top players in his last four matches, including Marin Cilic (3), Hyeon Chung (23), Juan Martin del Potro (6) and Sascha Zverev (4) 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4 in the championship match.

It was the first top-level (below the Grand Slams) tour title for both Stephens and Isner and they reached career highs of No. 9 in the rankings – although that equalled Isner’s previous best achieved in April, 2012.

They also each earned $1,340,860 (US) for their victories taking the 24-year-old Stephens to $9.8 million in official career prize money while the soon (April 26) to be 33-year-old Isner is now at $14.2 million.

THE MURRAYS: MOTHER & SON

Andy Murray, as he works his way back from January right hip surgery, has been training and rehabbing at the Mouratoglou tennis academy in Nice in the south of France. He posted the above on twitter and got an amusing response from his mother Judy