A Look Ahead to the 2024 ATP Clay Court Season

Rafael Nadal ahead of the 2024 Olympics.

As we near the end of the current hard court season with the sunshine double of Indian Wells and the Miami Open, we can start thinking about the road to Roland Garros.

As the red dirt starts flying across the globe, it’s time to gear up for an enthralling 2024 clay court season. Before the biggest battles commence, we’ve picked a few talking points that are bound to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Nadal – The Final Goodbye?

With Nadal’s lack of match play and recent injury nightmares restricting his playing time in 2023 and 2024, most are expecting this to be his final year on the tour and, as a result – his last Roland Garros. Not many are expecting him to add to his collection of 14 French Open titles, but could he add to his collection of 63 ATP-level clay court titles? Despite his lack of playing time, Nadal has been training hard, so many will think he can.

Nadal recently said: “I will do my best to try to start the clay season, which is my goal, I am working for that and striving for that goal, but I don’t dare to say anything about what might happen because lately it has been difficult for me to make predictions, unfortunately,” said the Mallorcan.

Alcaraz’s Return To Form

The impending clay season is good news for Carlos Alcaraz, with his return to sparkling form at Indian Wells. Most importantly for the Spaniard, his run in the desert saw him drop just five total games in the last two sets against his new rival, Jannik Sinner. Even at his young age, Alcaraz’s win percentage on the clay is already very impressive, with an 80.5% win percentage in 82 matches, including two tournament wins at the Madrid Masters in 2022 and 2023. At the 2023 French Open, he had notable straightforward wins against clay court ‘specialists’ Lorenzo Musetti and Stefanos Tsitsipas on his way to a four-set semifinal defeat against eventual champion Novak Djokovic.

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Will Sinner Hold His Sparkling Form?

Despite clay not being his best surface, Jannik Sinner’s incredible start to 2024 will surely give him a boost as we approach the 2024 clay season. He has only two tournament wins on the surface since his debut on the tour, with these coming at lesser-known tournaments such as the M25 Santa Margherita Di Pula and Umag—although he did defeat Alcaraz here. He will also be hopeful of improving on his recent showings at Roland Garros, including a five-set second-round defeat to Daniel Altmaier in 2023.

Is Djokovic ready to return?

Given the uncertainty, Djokovic might have to participate in more clay court events than initially planned, allowing him to find his groove before defending his French Open crown this summer. His recent performance at Indian Wells and withdrawal from the Miami Open may have raised eyebrows, but many believe it’s to focus on the 2024 clay season and take advantage of a fading Nadal. Never count out the 24x-Grand Slam Champion.

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Other Potential Contenders

Casper Ruud has a great clay court pedigree and has won many tournaments on the surface, but many doubt his ability to win the big prizes due to the nature of his French Open final defeats in 2022 and 2023. The fact he made both finals, though, could be used to counter this argument.

While Stefanos Tsitsipas’s form has dipped in the past several months, he is always a danger on clay and could be one to watch out for. Andrey Rublev is always a danger, and could a few good showings on the clay or a Masters 1000 win see him eventually get into a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time?

With my love of the slowly dying art of the one-handed-backhand, I have to leave a mention for clay court specialists – if such a term still exists – for Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka. As the red dirt slows the ball off the court, the two veterans rip over the ball with the power of the backhand wing. Many would love one of these two to make a deep run in some of the more prominent clay tournaments of 2024.

Who Will Struggle?

Daniil Medvedev has often spoken of his dislike of clay, with these comments coming after a first-round defeat at the 2023 French Open to Thiago Seyboth Wild:

“Today, because [of the] wind, dry court, I had a mouthful of clay since probably the third game of the match, and I don’t like it.”

He continued, “I don’t know if people like to eat clay, to have clay in their bags, their shoes, the socks, white socks; you can throw them into [the] garbage after clay season. Maybe some people like it. I don’t.”

He can still play good tennis on the surface, and hopefully, we will see some of that this year. Alexander Bublik is another who has spoken about his dislike of clay, with these comments coming after a Monte Carlo Masters win over Stan Wawrinka in 2022:

I have said four times and I will say it five times now. I wish him a speedy recovery but I did not deserve to win this match. As simple as that. Because I mean it is clay court I am running like an elephant you know. I cannot stop, I cannot explode, I cannot do anything.”

“I wish the clay would end soon and I would be going over to grass. That’s all I can say. Nothing about the match, nothing about the performance because there was no match from my side, you could see that. I mean, I hate clay. It’s the statement, guys— I hate this surface.

As a crowd favourite and entertainer, many tennis fans will hope he has changed his tune and can put on some good shows on the clay courts this spring.

Main Photo Credit: Mike Frey – USA TODAY Sports


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