Iga Swiatek pumps her first. She is the favourite heading into the clay court season in 2024.

Photo : Martin Sidorjak

The tennis season has arrived at the first big pivot in the calendar as both the ATP and WTA Tours prepare to transition from the two big North American hard-court events in Indian Wells and Miami to the red clay of Europe.  

The fast-paced, hard-hitting, hard-court action will give way to the long rallies and grinding tactics that come with clay. It’s a different style of tennis, but players today seem more adept at making the switch from one surface to another.   

Historically, “clay-court specialist” was a phrase heard every year around this time. For the most part these types of players no longer exist in today’s game or if they do, they are not players capable of sustaining a Top 50 presence.  

Hard-hitting players who enjoy a faster game like Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina for example have found success in recent years even when the red dirt slows things down. Last year, we saw Sabalenka triumph in Madrid and then make the semifinals at Roland-Garros while Rybakina captured the title in Rome.   

For the Canadians, clay used to be a surface that traditionally challenged our players, but that too has changed in recent years. Perhaps we can credit Genie Bouchard with changing that dynamic with her unexpected run to the semifinals of Roland-Garros ten years ago as a 20-year-old.  

Read also: Five Canadians Kicking Off 2024 Clay Season

Leylah Annie Fernandez has shown plenty of clay court prowess, making the finals of the Junior French Open in 2019 and later as a pro, she was a win away from the semifinals in 2022 before injury hampered her in a tough quarter-final loss to Martina Trevisan.  

For the men, Denis Shapovalov has made one clay court final, in Geneva in 2021, as well as two clay court Masters 1000 semifinals going back to Madrid in 2018 and Rome in 2020.  

And who can forget when Shapovalov pushed the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, to the brink in their 2021 quarter-final in Rome where the Spaniard eventually prevailed 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(3). The Canadian avenged the loss in the third round of the same event the following year, albeit against a physically-hobbled Nadal. 

Felix Auger-Aliassime for his part has made two clay court finals, both in 2019 in Lyon and Rio De Janeiro. Those two clay court events were in fact the first two ATP Finals of his career.  

Read also: Shapovalov – 2024 Edition

The clay-court swing this year will have extra meaning and importance for those looking to represent their countries at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games that will take place this summer. Keeping the theme of surface changes alive, Olympic hopefuls will have to transition from clay to grass and then back to clay again when the event will be hosted at Roland-Garros.  

Tennis Channel contributor and analyst Gill Gross appeared this week on the most recent episode of Match Point Canada and he shared the following thoughts on the impact that the Olympic Games will have being on clay this time around.  

Read also: James Blake Discusses Running the Miami Open

“The difference between the surfaces it not what it used to be,” he observed. “What I’m most interested to see is how it affects the grass season, because it’s a really weird thing this year going clay – grass – clay and there are talks about certain players – is there a de-emphasis for a player who isn’t that good on grass anyway – could they skip it?”  

This year’s clay court season also has a little extra on the line in terms of the No. 1 ranking on the ATP Tour. The red-hot Jannik Sinner could pass Novak Djokovic in the rankings during the clay court swing and become the No. 1 player in the world for the first time in his already impressive career. Sinner has 1730 fewer rankings points to defend over this stretch of the season than Djokovic does with three Masters 1000s and a major on the schedule.  

On the WTA, Iga Swiatek seems fully entrenched in the top spot and it would be hard to imagine her faltering on clay of all surfaces. She leads No. 2 Sabalenka by over 2000 ranking points as of Apr. 1 and is entering the portion of the year where she seems even more unbeatable than usual.  

Enjoy the transition to the clay courts. Be sure to check out the National Bank Open clay court Power Rankings as well this week to see who our experts are backing in this important part of the tennis season!  

The WTA’s best return to Toronto this summer for the National Bank Open August 4 to 12, 2024 at Sobeys Stadium. 2024 Tickets are on sale. Get your tickets today!

The ATP’s best return to Montreal this summer for the National Bank Open August 3 to 12, 2024 at IGA Stadium. 2024 Tickets are on sale. Get your tickets today!