Five ATP Faces to Watch This 2016 Clay Court Season
The European Clay court season is upon us so to celebrate The Tennis Review put together five ATP faces who could be hitting the tennis headlines in the next few months.
Goffin broke out at the biggest clay court event of them all when as a lucky loser in 2012 he made his way to the fourth round where he took a set off Roger Federer.
Goffin’s career was blighted somewhat by injuries after that breakthrough, but with his recent entry into the ATP top 20, and his back to back showing in the Indian Wells and Miami semis, he is well prepped for a good run this clay season.
Goffin has other clay court pedigree, too- he beat Dominic Thiem in the 2014 Bet-at-home Cup final and in 2015 he was runner-up at Gstaad to his Austrian rival.
Goffin has all the skills to do well on clay- great movement, shot-variety, and intelligent point construction- and with his recent improved mental toughness this clay court season could see him continue his ATP pro tour progress with an ATP 1000 final or an appearance in the Roland Garros last eight.
Thiem has already impressed in one of 2016’s clay swings- he beat Rafa Nadal, saving a match point, on his run to the Buenos Aires title, and defeated David Ferrer on his way to the Rio semis.
Thiem got his clay court winning ways going when he won his first ever title on the clay courts of Umag in 2015 and then followed that up with Summer trophy runs in Gstaad and Umag.
Currently ranked 14, Thiem will be looking to break into the top 12 before Roland Garros’ seedings are set in order to avoid Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer or Stan Wawrinka, assuming they all maintain their top four rankings, in the last sixteen of Roland Garros.
But even if he does end up among the 13-16 seeds, none of those players will want to see him in their sections of the draw, least of all the defending champion Wawrinka who was one of Thiem’s earliest and biggest scalps when he defeated the then reigning Australian Open and Monte Carlo champion in his Madrid opening match.
Thiem enters this clay court season with an improved serve and a real commitment to being aggressive, and with the confidence he has been gaining these past few months, he will have a real shot at going one better than his current best ATP 1000 showing- the Miami Open quarters in 2015- and his best finish in a slam- the 2014 US Open last sixteen.
The 18 year old German has been causing quite a bit of excitement on the ATP this season with wins over Cilic and Simon, and should continue to generate interest this clay season.
Clay is Zverev’s best surface and his backhand can cause his opponent’s all kinds of problems as he has plenty of time to set up his deep penetrating shots on that wing and he has the legs to slide into the shot and do some damage with it.
Zverev broke out on the clay courts of Hamburg in 2014, reaching the semis, and he also made the Bstaad semis last year.
This season he has been reaching semis of ATP 250s (Montpellier), the quarters of ATP 500s (Rotterdam), and he held a match point in his Indian Wells round of 32 match versus Rafa Nadal.
Zverev was not too dispirited after that loss and it may turn out to be just the learning experience needed to push him onto reaching his first ATP final this clay season.
As a qualifier in Munich 2014, Klizan blasted his formidable forehand all the way to the title, and with his impressive form this year- read here about his remarkable run to the Rotterdam trophy in February– he will be a dangerous opponent this clay season.
Klizan’s high risk game and his nothing to lose attitude mean he can really go for his shots on the clay where he has the time to set up his strokes and hit through the court.
Kei Nishikori found out just how dangerous Klizan can be on clay, arguably the Japanese’s best surface, when, going into the event as one of the favorites, he lost to the 2006 Junior French Open champion in the first round of the 2014 French Open.
Klizan has already achieved a few mile stones on the ATP tour, with four titles on his resume including an ATP 500 and 3 250s (including the 2015 Casablanca title on clay), but he has yet to reach the last 16 of an ATP 1000, never getting past the round of 32 in 21 attempts, or the last eight of a slam (he reached the fourth round of the 2012 US Open, upsetting Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on the way). Will he manage either of those feats this European clay court swing?
Guido Pella has come a long way since losing as a qualifier in the first round of the US Open last season.
The 25 year old Argentine, who went 1-4 on the ATP tour in ’15, spent the rest of the year playing Clay court Challengers, putting together a 22-7 record, winning 2 titles and reaching the semis of the ATP Challenger Tour finals in Sao Paolo.
Since that US Open loss, Pella has increased his ranking from 95 to his current one of 46, 7 places below his career high of 39 achieved on March 21st this season.
Pella is the man who put an end to Thiem’s impressive South American clay swing run when he defeated him in straights in the Rio semis.
Thiem may have been a little fatigued, but Pella had the baseline skills to exploit that, and the cool head to keep calm when on the verge of upsetting one of the season’s hottest stars.
That was not Pella’s only noteworthy achievement that week- he also upset John Isner, an underrated clay courter- in the opening round in a final set tiebreaker.
Pella enters the clay swing in some nice form, too, avenging his Rio final loss to Pablo Cuevas on his way to a three set defeat to David Goffin in the round of 32.
Pella has achieved the least of our five faces, but this European clay court swing, we expect him to rank up there with the season’s break out clay courters.
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