The clay court season officially got underway last week in Houston and Marrakech, Morocco. From now until the culmination of the French Open in early June, the ATP Tour’s stars will play solely on the red surface, sliding around on the crushed brick and playing longer points.
The clay season is anchored by a series of important tournaments, starting with this week’s Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. Several important story lines will unfold as the tour approaches Paris. Most notably, tennis fans are eager to see if Novak Djokovic can win his first French title. Also, it remains to be seen if Rafael Nadal can maintain the dominance on clay that has defined most of his career. Now in the mix are several NextGen stars who have the ability to challenge the world’s top ten players. Stay up to date on the clay season by following coverage here on Today’s Tennis. Here’s how the tournaments went down this week:
Monaco Denies Sock Repeat in Houston
Juan Monaco capped a resurgent week by defeating defending champion Jack Sock in the championship in Houston. The heavy-hitting 25th-ranked Sock was the favorite, as Monaco was playing just his fourth tournament after returning from wrist surgery. South American and European players tend to be at home on clay, and Americans have traditionally struggled with it, as it is less common in North America. The slow court and Monaco’s consistency eventually neutralized Sock’s powerful groundstrokes. Monaco is a clay specialist with 8 of his 9 titles on the dirt, and his experience and comfort on the surface proved superior as he pulled away to win 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. With the triumph, Monaco snapped a winless streak dating to May 2013.
Delbonis Wins in Marrakech
Frederico Delbonis was the second Argentine to win on Sunday, prevailing over rising youngster Borna Coric. The 6’3’’ Delbonis used a big lefty serve and rolled his groundstrokes to keep Coric on the defensive. He lengthened the points, and his consistency was the key as he defeated Coric 6-2, 6-4. Of note for the NextGen stars (and younger players in general), Delbonis’ title win was number 27 for players born in the 1990s. This statistic is a great indication of the potential that the younger generation has to shape the direction of the men’s game. Look for them to make a big impact this clay season and beyond.
Clay Clashes to Come
Djokovic starts his clay campaign this week in Monte-Carlo. Nole is coming off back-to-back wins in the Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami and will be the player to beat this season. He received a first-round bye and will play the winner of Jiri Vesely and Teymuraz Gabashvili. He is on track for clashes with Gael Monfils in the round of 16 and David Ferrer in the quarterfinals.
Also of note, Roger Federer returns to the tour after several weeks out due to surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Federer missed the Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami, and starts in Monte-Carlo with a bye. Clay has never been Federer’s strongest surface, and fans should keep an eye on his performance this week.