We can talk about the reasons I have neglected ATT during the clay court season this year, but I fear the real reason is that I simply haven’t had time for tennis in my life this last month and a bit – even sports like football and formula one which for so long had ranked lower in my affections have had a bigger spotlight.
Clay has always been my least favourite surface, I favour the skill and finesse of grass and can relate to the hard courts more through my own experiences (I have played on clay only a handful of times). Can we suggest too that – albeit subconsciously – I have lost interest because a certain Swiss isn’t present? I don’t want to think that is the reason as it threatens to undermine the authority of this blog, but it needs looking at.
So, what has happened?
Rafa has dominated the clay, winning in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome – I feel now I must’ve been the only one who didn’t see that coming frankly. I wasn’t convinced the Spaniard would be so unaffected from the injury woes which returned in full force at the start of the season. I expected cracks in the armour to appear. But no, it has been an ominous and awe-inspiring month for the world number one.
Elsewhere, with Djokovic showing no sustained signs of regaining his aura, it is Sacha Zverev who is looking like the biggest challenger from titles won outright (Munich and Madrid) – but Nadal’s only conqueror Thiem (who beat Simon in Lyon yesterday), Nishikori and Goffin to name but a few should be considered threats this next fortnight. Other winners included Joao Sousa, Pablo Andujar and Steve Johnson.
Everyone is now saying Halep is the favourite for RG, but again she has flattered to deceive a little when it comes to the crunch. The Romanian exudes none of the classic ‘choker’ traits like a Zvonareva or Hantuchová classic case. She seems mentally strong and is still the world number one – which should give oodles of confidence. But despite many titles to her name, the diminutive Halep is still prone to a walkabout/crumble come the final stage. Rome was another perfect example; an impressive roster of wins to reach the final before being blown away by Svitolina 0 and 3.
Instead, it is the other seasoned clay cast who we should mention, the likes of Muguruza, Pliskova, Kvitová and the aforementioned Svitolina, but so too Kiki Bertens, Pauline Parmentier and one of the stories in Melbourne: Elise Mertens – who picked up a couple of titles herself.
So clay, I’m sorry – for whatever reason I just haven’t been able to commit to you this year. But that will all change going forward, starting with some old tournament in Paris……