Who Will be the New King of Clay?


I read this article and found it to be interesting. Outside usual suspects the author looks at Bellucci. I dont know about him though. There is also an answer to a question at the end which is interesting. For the same reasons mentioned in there I dont think unless you at least can make it deep into grass or hard court you can suddenly get hot and win RG.


For nearly five years, the clay-court season was utterly predictable. Heading into Monte Carlo every spring, we all knew what was going to happen over the next two months -- Rafael Nadal would win everything in sight. The only question was whether Roger Federer would push him (see the classic five-set Italian Open final in 2006) or get steam-rolled (see the crunching 2008 French final that went to Rafa 6-1, 6-3, 6-0).

Then the unthinkable happened: Nadal's rule ended like a violent lover's spat. Rafa went down in the fourth round of the French Open last year and hasn't been the same since. Now, with the clay beckoning once again, Nadal's aching knees throw open the whole season. Step up, Juan Martin del Potro and Novak Djovovic, Nikolay Davydennko and, of course, reigning Roland Garros champion Federer. Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid, Hamburg, Paris: They're all there for the taking.

But must we turn only to the usual suspects to fill in for Nadal? Maybe not. Over on the Fan Child's Two Cents, a tennis blog I've just discovered, a potential new clay-court hero has been offered up to the gods: Thomaz Bellucci, a 22-year-old Brazilian lefty who just won the Movistar Open in Chile. Says Fan Child's:

Bellucci now finds himself in the ATP's top-30, and his clay court prowess makes a jump into the ATP's top-20 a distinct possibility, as he'll have plenty of chances to compete on his surface of choice in the upcoming months.

Bellucci's most impressive win of the week was against No. 11-ranked Fernando Gonzalez in the semifinals. Gonzo is a 4-time champion at Movistar, but Bellucci was able to win a close-fought 3-setter on the Chilean's home turf. As an encore, Bellucci prevailed over another tough opponent, Juan Monaco, in another 3-setter for the title.

Bellucci, who cracked the top-100 for the first time after coming through the qualies to take the Gstaad title in August of 2009, appears to be ready to have his best clay court season yet.


The Associated PressTomaz Bellucci in his element.I don't think I've ever seen Bellucci play (other than the short video clip I just watched), but I'll be looking out for him now. From what I've read and seen, he does possess a classic clay-court game, along the lines of rangy Sergi Bruguera, the French Open champ in 1993-94. This is a rare thing nowadays. With the racket-string advances and the changing surface conditions at the majors, the clay-court specialist has become an endangered species in the past half-dozen years. Their extinction would be a shame, for they tend to be the quirkiest characters in tennis. Guillermo Vilas, the 1977 Roland Garros champ and three times a runner-up there, fancied himself a poet who happened to play tennis. Alberto Berasategui, a French finalist in 1994, used a Western forehand grip so extreme it was called the "Hawaiian grip." The stroke made him look like Joe Cocker trying to hit a high note. Three-time French titlist Gustavo Kuerten, meanwhile, was Hawaiian in attitude -- so loose and happy and sleepy that he always seemed on the verge of drifting away on his own good vibrations.


Of course, the backboard style of play that was for decades the quintessence of the crushed red-brick surface rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Jimmy Connors derided Spaniard Jose Higueras' game as "baby tennis" -- this coming, needless to say, after Higueras had paddled the American in straight sets. Offered Sports Illustrated: "Watching Higueras play is about as exciting as counting the 850 columns in the Great Mosque at Cordoba."

Higueras' "baby tennis" -- the languid, looping strokes and otherworldly patience -- doesn't exist anymore, not even in the most hidebound clay-court corners of the ATP's world. Just a few years ago it would have been inconceivable that the two most accomplished players from Argentina -- Juan Martin del Potro and David Nalbandian -- would be better on hard courts than clay. But the fact is, it's much easier for a top fast-court player today to make it into the final week at the French Open than it was in Pete Sampras' day. Clay-court specialists with the goods to win the whole thing, like Berasategui and Alex Corretja, lurked in every quarter of the Roland Garros draw in the '90s. No more. Igor Andreev and graybeard Juan Carlos Ferrero might prove an early-round test for a top-five player, but that's about it. There are plenty of guys out there who happen to do best on clay but have no legitimate chance of making a run in Paris -- Nicolas Almagro, for example -- but so what? The point is, in terms of the style of play on offer, the French Open has become essentially indistinguishable from the other three majors.

So let's hope Thomaz Bellucci is the real deal. Does anyone know if he writes poetry?

-- Douglas Perry

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Story tags: french open | novak djokovic | rafael nadal | roger federer | roland garros | tomaz bellucci

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Posted by Douglas Perry, The Oregonian
February 11, 2010, 3:17PM
A reader emailed in a pertinent set of questions about the demise of the clay-court specialist and asked for a response on the blog, so off we go. Here’s the heart of the email:

I have read quite often that the clay courts in general and perhaps Roland Garros in particular are different nowadays than in the past. They are quicker and thus we have fewer clay court specialists. This is illustrated by the fact that we expect the top-five of the world, at least in the men's game, to be the ones left standing when we reach the final four at Roland Garros – as opposed to the ’90s, where Pete Sampras never made it past the quarters. [Sampras did reach the semis one year. – ed.] But why is this? Why have the courts changed? It is a matter of style of play that has changed too? Or is it simply the surface that has changed and thus allowed hardcourt players to succeed on clay? If so, is this an intentional development?

My response is ... well, that’s a tough one to answer. The subject of changing court speeds at the majors is a popular one, but there is no unimpeachable data on it. It is widely accepted that the grass at Wimbledon is slower now than in past decades, though the groundskeeper there is coy when asked about it. If it is slower, and I believe it is, it’s a response to changes in the game. The powerful, flexible rackets and Luxilon strings reward baseline blasts and penalize anyone courageous enough to rush the net. Wimbledon wants the highest-quality play, and if that’s going to take place from the baseline, then surely they want to make that experience optimal. So Wimbledon has become more like Roland Garros to some degree. As for Roland Garros’ clay -- I haven’t heard that the surface has changed. But changes at Wimbledon and the Australian Open (which switched from grass to a slow, rubbery hard court in 1988 and then a couple of years ago changed to a less sticky hard court) have made Roland Garros’ conditions more familiar to players. Roland Garros used to stand dramatically apart from the other three majors, but no more. Clay is always described as a slow surface, but that’s not necessarily correct. Certainly it’s slower, and offers more bounce, than grass. But players uniformly describe the clay courts in Hamburg as being slower than those at the French Open. And when it’s hot and dry in Paris, Court Philippe Chatrier can seem almost like a hard court. After Marc Gicquel lost to Andy Roddick in the third round at the French Open last year, he was asked whether Roddick could make a serious run at the tournament. His answer: “Yeah. Conditions are very positive for him. The court can be very fast. That's good for him.”


Remember, the clay-court specialist isn’t just the stereotypical scrappy grinder. Many of the best clay courters of recent vintage are big guys who can really thump the ball – Andrei Medvedev and Magnus Norman, back-to-back French Open finalists, come to mind. Clay rewards the strongest, fittest players, and not just because matches tend to be longer and more strategic (yes, burning up mental energy saps you physically). The high bounce is punishing on the arms and torso. And running and stopping on clay is far more tiring than on grass or hard court. The footing is unstable, so it takes more out of a player – and it can do it fast. Think about what it’s like to run on the beach. Obviously, clay isn’t quite like that, but when you’re being jerked around the court by Rafael Nadal, it can sure feel like you’re stuck in a really big sand box.

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Thank you for sharing. There are three types of the Clary Court: Green, Blue, and Red Clay. Which one is suitable for a newbie tennis player?! Thanks. -Tina
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See, there might not be necessarily a new clay court king, We may see two or three who would consistently get into the final in RG.


I don't think there will be any one player who will step up and become the outright King this year. Nadal is injured, I think Fed will likely win 1 or 2 things but not storm to every single title, its likely he will try and conserve his energy towards a concentrated effort at defending his French and Wimbledon titles. All the others are pretty capable of stepping up at any given time. I think Delpo may be the most likely, I really don't know why though just a gut feeling I have.


Talk Tennis Guru
Thomaz Belucci the new king of clay, that won't be. Hopefully a good clay-courter who can make the FO a bit more fun to watch, but him winning there is too big of a wall!


Thomaz Belucci the new king of clay, that won't be. Hopefully a good clay-courter who can make the FO a bit more fun to watch, but him winning there is too big of a wall!

The writer doesnt pick him as the new king, he is just looking at him as one of the ones who can do good on clay, after the current top five.