Men’s Tennis European Clay Season 2017 7 Questions the Red Dirt Will Dig Up

Clay court season

Photo courtesy of http://revistatenis.uol.com.br

The 2017 European Clay Court season is underway and The Tennis Review could not be happier as we switch from blue and green to red and our favorite tennis players get sliding in the dirt. Here are seven questions we are going to enjoy seeing the answers to dug up on the red dirt over the next few months.

Can Juan Martin del Potro get lucky with a draw?

Since del Potro got his 2017 season started at Delray Beach, he has been hit by one bad draw after another- Milos Raonic in the Delray Beach semis, Novak Djokovic in the Acapulco round of 16 and the Indian Wells round of 32, and Roger Federer in the second round of Miami.

The Argentine is surely deserving of a break when it comes to draws, and the 2009 Roland Garros semi-finalist will take advantage if one comes along and get some momentum going on a surface which will give him time to run around his weaker backhand side and hit that match winning forehand, and in a season swing in which he has just 90 points to defend, providing del Potro with a great opportunity to climb up from 35 in the rankings and start working towards a top 16 seeding for the US Open, the slam where he made his name and where he has his best chances of really coming back again.

Will Stanimal be on the hunt or will he be hibernating?

The 2015 Roland Garros and 2014 Monte Carlo champion knows how to win big on clay versus the game’s biggest players, but Stan Wawrinka can also lose big, either suffering an upset or failing to deliver as he did for some of his 2016 Roland Garros semi-final versus Andy Murray last season.

So what will we get this season? The Stanimal who hunts- like he did so well versus Federer and Djokovic in those big clay finals- or the Stanimal who hibernates as he did versus Grigor Dimitrov twice last season and when he needed to be wide awake in last season’s RG semis?

This season, Wawrinka has been oddly consistent, making the Brisbane and Australian Open semis, and the Indian Wells final, and climbing back to world No.3. There have been the opening round shocks- he went out as Dubai defending champ in his opening round- and an upset in Miami in the last 16 to Sascha Zverev ( the #NextGenATP star proving to be a bad match up for Wawrinka), but Stan is delivering in the big events most of the time, and with the slow conditions of some European clay court events complimenting his big back-swing and heavy shots, the momentum seems to be building for another Stanimal pounce on a title, and the multiple slam champ, whose last title was the US Open back in September ’16, must be feeling a little, somewhat dangerously for his rivals, hungry right now.

Can big cats Murray and Djokovic chase the mice away?

The mice have been playing well while the tour’s biggest cats, world Nos 1 and 2 Murray and Djokovic, have been away, and the question is how quick of the mark will both men be to chase them back into their lower ranked holes?

They won’t have to deal with Federer until Roland Garros, but Rafa Nadal, Stan Wawrinka and Nick Kyrgios could be, after great starts to the season, too strong to send scurrying away.

Both men might look to Federer and take inspiration from his all conquering return from injury, and they will need such inspiration with both men having a lot of points to defend this clay season- Djokovic has Madrid title points, Rome finalist points and the RG title, Murray the Monte Carlo semis, Madrid finals, the Rome title, and the Roland Garros final, and both men have the small matter of the first quarter of the season racing by with neither player making an impact on the race to London with Murray in 12th place (840 points) and Djokovic in 22nd (475).

Djokovic will be getting to work earlier than Murray, at Monte Carlo, and has a great chance to gain some ground after his second round upset at the hands of Jiri Vesely last season. Murray, meanwhile, will not be appearing until Madrid, the tournament that most compliments his natural game.

With Federer out until Roland Garros, neither man can afford to be too rusty- at a time when Federer has the tennis world once again at his feet, neither Djokovic or Murray want to go into the Grass season and face the Swiss where his fandom is at its most frenzied on the back of a clay season which not only failed to cover up any relative rust, but loosened the wheels even further.

How will Rafa Nadal play and will it be La Decima worthy?

Nadal has been taking 2017 step by step and is not even, he says, looking at Roland Garros, but just focusing on practicing on clay.

No expectations and no pressure might be just what is needed for the Spaniard who will have two La Decima narratives going on this clay court season, the first in Monte Carlo, the second at Roland Garros, and while Nadal may not want to think about both those stories coming true, his fans certainly will.

For good reason, too. Nadal is looking like he has a genuine shot at achieving what no other male in tennis history has done- winning ten singles titles at one slam, or any event. The Spaniard is back, once and for all, reaching the finals of Melbourne and Miami, and with Roger Federer, who has beaten him three times this season, out of the picture for a couple of months, Nadal is the player going into the clay season with the most momentum and confidence behind him.

There are still some questions to be answered before we get too excited on Nadal’s behalf such as the Djokovic question- Nadal has not beaten him since Roland Garros 2014 and with the Serb coming back from injury and a less than stellar start to the season, Nadal has a good chance to end that drought- and the most important question, as Nadal pointed out in his post Miami final interview, just how good he will be on clay after a year away.

We may find out in a fortnight when Monte Carlo and La Decima part 1 gets underway, and the thing Nadal is not thinking about, Roland Garros, starts to become clearer on a horizon the Spaniard’s fans will not, except for when they are keeping an eye on their idol’s progress, take their eyes away from.

Will Dominic Thiem take the Next Step?

Thiem has been having a patchy year, but he has won a title (Rio), been to the last 16 of a slam, and made the quarters of an ATP 1000 (Indian Wells) and with his best part of the season coming up, he should have enough confidence and match play under his belt to make the next step, which for Thiem would be the Semis of an ATP 1000, Monte Carlo and Rome the most likely stages for a player who has been threatening the last two seasons to become his generation’s answer to Gustavo Kuerten to go from a cameo role, like he played at Rome ’16 (QF) and Roland Garros ’16 (SF) to starring center stage.

Which big names will fall at the hands of the #NextGenATP?

Zverev, Kyrgios, Chung, Coric, Rublev, Tiafoe and Medvedev are all names no more established ATP player is going to want to see next to theirs in any clay court draw this season.

None of the #NextGenATP will be expected to walk away with any of the big events like Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome or Roland Garros, but they will have a chance to lift ATP 250 trophies like Munich and Nice and be tipped to cause some upsets with the right match ups.

Still, the way 2017 is shaping up, it might not be wise to dismiss the #NextGenATP’s big title chances. We learned this year anything can happen once already, and a second lesson at the hands of the colorful, dynamic and feisty bunch the #NextGenATP have turned out to be would be warmly welcomed.

Will the Lost Generation find themselves?

Tennis fans are as lost with the Lost Generation as that generation are with themselves. Grigor Dimitrov looked like he was back on track down under only to vanish in the North American Spring Swing, Milos Raonic ended 2016 on a high (No.3 in the world, the highest ranking of his generation) only for injury to take its toll once more, while Kei Nishikori continues to struggle with both body and mind.

All three players are still on tennis’ front line, but the current #NextGenATP are chasing behind them, and getting stronger all the time. However, while time is, in some sense, running out, a tennis pro’s life at the top has an ever lengthening sell-by-date and all three can take heart from Roger Federer’s 2017 success as they dig deep within their own hearts, working out what makes them tick, and what they need to do to find their way back to where they were, and then, if they desire, to climb even higher.

The Tennis Review will be posting at least once a week in the Clay court season so check in with us now and then to read the latest posts about what is looking to be a great European clay court swing.

What do you think will be the answers to any of these questions this European Clay Court Season? Or do you have some questions of your own you would like answered? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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