The Indian Wells/Miami tournaments, with total prize money of $27,763,468 (U.S), combine to offer a lucrative North American sojourn for professional tennis players.
This year, $4,113,200 of that amount was taken home by two players – Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka – as they won both titles and earned a grand total of $2,056,600 each.
Djokovic has been ridiculously dominant in 2015 and 2016. The following tweet by colleague Ben Rothenberg provides a nice visual representation of that:
The Serb now has 16,540 ATP ranking points – which is more than double the combined total of No. 2 Andy Murray (7,815) and No. 3 Roger Federer (7,695). Does that mean he’s twice as good a player? Of course not, but simply asking the question says something about how superior he has been since winning Paris-Bercy and the ATP World Tour Finals at the end of 2014.
As for Azarenka, she entered 2016 without a title since Cincinnati in 2013 and has now won three of the four tournaments (her second-round walkover exit in Acapulco in February doesn’t really count) she has entered in 2016 – Brisbane, Indian Wells and Miami. The only blemish on her year was when she got tight in the Australian Open quarter-finals against a red-hot Angelique Kerber, a player she was 6-0 against in their previous encounters.
Azarenka, after a plantar fasciitis foot issue for a couple of years, is healthy again and back to the form that allowed her to hold the No. 1 ranking for a total of 51 weeks in 2012 and 2013. She’s currently ranked No. 5 behind No. 1. Serena Williams, 2. Kerber, 3. Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 4 Garbine Muguruza.
It’s difficult to see her not moving up further after such an impressive start to the season. Last year at this time she was not quite at her best and also suffered a string of tough draws – losing to Serena Williams in Madrid after having three consecutive match points, to Maria Sharapova in Rome and to Williams again at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
Even though clay has traditionally not been her best surface, the 26-year-old Belarusian has a golden opportunity to rise further in the rankings – she already leads the Road-To-Singapore (race) ahead of both Williams and Kerber and looks set for an impressive rebound in 2016.
A surface charge
After hard courts have been the prevalent surface for the first three months of the season, the tour turns to clay for the next nine weeks – right through to the end of the French Open on June 5.
After the squeak-squeak of rubber soles on Plexipave and Laykold, it’s now the more scratchy shuffle-shuffle of movement on brick dust.
A common question at this time of year for North Americans is “what’s the difference between Har-Tru (the predominant clay surface in Canada and the USA) and the red clay in Europe?”
Basically they’re similar and it’s not a huge adjustment changing from one to the other – for example some women are on Har-Tru this week in Charleston and then will go to the red clay across the pond and adapt with few problems.
As a general rule Har-Tru is faster than red clay – but in hot, dry conditions in Monte Carlo, Rome or Paris the courts there can play pretty quick.
In terms of texture, Har-Tru seems to have a little more grit on top while red clay is actually more like real clay, less granular in the very top layer and, in a way, ‘greasier’ without being slippery.
Looking ahead to Roland Garros, here are the Ladbrokes (betting firm) odds:
8/11: Djokovic 9/4: S. Williams
4/1: Nadal 5/1: Azarenka
8/1: Wawrinka 8/1: Halep
12/1: Murray 10/1: ?? Sharapova ??
20/1: Federer, Nishikori 16/1: Muguruza
40/1: Thiem, Tsonga 20/1: Kvitova
50/1: Berdych 25/1: Kerber, Safarova
66/1: del Potro, Dimitrov, Raonic 33/1: Bacsinzky, Suarez Navarro, Bencic
100/1: Cilic, Coric, Ferrer, Kyrgios, Monfils 40/1: Bouchard, Ivanovic, Keys, Stephens, Wozniacki
Looking at the numbers, who are the best value bets? Let’s go with Thiem or Monfils among the men and Kerber for the women.
Raonic and Bouchard are more highly regarded for Wimbledon – in the early Ladbrokes odds Raonic is the fifth favourite at 18/1 while Bouchard is tied for 11th at 33/1.
The Canadians on ‘Terre battue‘
Hoping to regain the form that took her to within a game or two of the 2014 Roland Garros final, and now re-united with former coach Nick Saviano, Genie Bouchard begins her 2016 clay-court season at the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, S.C., on Tuesday afternoon. She faces No. 97-ranked Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania. They famously met on the opening day of the Fed Cup Group I play-off round last April in Montreal with the 26-year-old Romanian winning 6-4, 6-4 – a day after Bouchard had declined to shake her hand during photo taking at the draw ceremony.
On the weekend of April 16-17, Bouchard will lead Canada’s Fed Cup team into its World Group II play-off (to avoid relegation to American Group 1 zonal competition for 2017) on indoor clay in Bratislava against a Slovak team featuring No. 31 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, No. 53 Dominika Cibulkova, No. 121 Jana Cepelova and No. 183 Daniela Hantuchova.
The world No. 46’s other scheduled tournaments before Roland Garros are the Premier level events in Madrid and Rome starting in early May. She could then opt to enter either Nurnberg, Germany, where she won her only career title in 2014, or Strasbourg, France, the week before Paris.
Milos Raonic’s slate of clay-court tournaments is pretty straight forward. Beginning next week he will play the Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo followed by the ATP 500 in Barcelona, and then take a week off before the Masters 1000s in Madrid and Rome.
Last week he had a disappointing 6-4, 7-6(4) loss to Nick Kyrgios in the Miami Open quarter-finals. That was the bad news, the good news was that he seemed to be over any adductor (thigh) injury that affected him in his 6-2, 6-0 loss to Novak Djokovic in the Indian Wells final. Raonic had the following to say about his fitness after losing to Kyrgios, “coming in, first (Miami Open) matches, had a bit of issues. But by now I felt good physically. I felt like I didn’t have any lingering pain and I was happy that disappeared.”
A year ago in Monte Carlo, Raonic’s Morton’s Neuroma in his right foot, which eventually led to surgery on May 11 ending his clay-court season, was bothering him. If he remains healthy this time, he can do well on European red clay. He has been playing at a high level, is comfortable on the surface and plays the kind of aggressive, unconventional game that drives traditional clay-court guys nuts because he doesn’t allow them to get into any kind of rhythm.
This clay-court season Vasek Pospisil will be aiming to win his first match on the Roland Garros terre battue. It’s the only Grand Slam where he hasn’t scored a singles victory – he’s 4-2 at the Australian Open, 5-4 at Wimbledon and 1-4 at the US Open.
Pospisil doesn’t begin his clay season until the 25th of April at the ATP 250 event in Munich. After that he will play the two Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Rome leading into Paris and the French Open, which starts on Sunday May 22nd.
Currently No. 43 in singles and No. 21 in doubles, Pospisil plans to enter the doubles events in both Madrid and Rome with partner Jack Sock.
The bad luck of the draw
For anyone who remembers Chilean player Ricardo Acuna and anyone who is interested – this is a sad story from the ATP’s website: Players Rally For Ricardo Acuna.
Featured photos: Mauricio Paiz