The Greatest Tennis Players On Clay In The Open Era: An Analysis - UBITENNIS
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The Greatest Tennis Players On Clay In The Open Era: An Analysis

UbiTennis investigated the results of over 200 tournaments to ascertain who have been the most successful on the dirt in men’s tennis since 1968.

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NOTE: This study was conducted before the 2020 French Open. For those who might be interested in checking out the original dataset, click on the link below: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1TLJp3EYsRn5KE2FZKRv_rNA0K6ACOtmmC_XI8tan08o/edit#gid=0

The beginning of the clay season is generally perceived as a rebirth for European fans, partly because the elite of world tennis comes back to the Old Continent at the end of the Oceanic and North American trips, partly because the matches start to take place again at times that do not compromise circadian rhythms and private lives, partly due to the ancient association with blooms of the Romance spring, a double-edged sword in the context of the Roman May, especially for those allergic to poplars. The latter aspect has had no reason to exist in 2020, since the clay was re-invented in an unprecedented late-summer or early-autumn outfit, but in some ways the theme of renewal has never been more relevant, for reasons we all know. Given the caesura that the pandemic represented for tennis and beyond, our editorial team decided to sum up 53 Open Era tennis seasons on the surface, trying to find objective measures to see who they were the most dominant in this specialty.

The analysis focuses on the concept, which has risen to great popularity in recent years among Big Three fans, of “big titles”, that is Slams and Masters 1000 or whatever their name was since the creation of the Grand Prix (which took place in 1970) – since then, they have been called Grand Prix Super Series (until 1989, also including events of the WCT circuit), and then Championship Series, Super 9 and Masters Series, before being bestowed their current denomination in 2009. In the case of the clay, therefore, we will talk about Roland Garros (since 1968), Monte Carlo (since 1970), Hamburg/Madrid (this one since 1978), Rome (since 1970), and more, as will be explained.

To analyse the performance of the players in the aforementioned tournaments, two data types were chosen from the original dataset that would give a complete overview or at least allow them to be studied from several points of view. The first is the total score obtained in the above tournaments, with a very simple scoring system: 2 points for a Grand Slam victory, 1 for a final, 0.5 for a semi-final, 0.25 for a quarter final, 1 point for a win in a 1000 or Masters Series or Super 9 if you prefer, 0.5 for a final, and 0.25 for a semi-final. These data are the most relevant, because they permit to identify the best performers over the long term, that is, in short, who has actually won the most. 

The contrast for such a clear-cut figure is provided, obviously, by the average achieved by the players in the tournaments in which they reached the final stages (the defeats in the first rounds are therefore not part of the study, because the point of the article is to define the winning spirit of the various athletes). This is a more ambiguous but useful parameter when interpreted correctly and in synergy with the other, because a high average allows us to understand which players were able to win more often when it counted, i.e. when they reached the final stages of a tournament. The two variables were then graphed in a Cartesian plane by putting in abscissa the average points per event and in ordinate the total points obtained.

A brief digression: big data (or advanced statistics, or sabermetrics, or moneyball) are revolutionizing all sports, whether we like it or not, providing means to overcome the preconceptions related to a single sport, in particular from a tactical point of view. and they are infinitely more complex than the study reported here. Figures related to the length of the exchanges, the spin or the direction of the serve, and shot placement, help us understand the game as it happens, in some ways assisting the identification (within the limit of our knowledge of the psycho-physical conditions of the players, decidedly less predictable), whereas a ‘dry analysis of the performance’ such as this one (which exclusively examines the final results and their continuity) is completely a posteriori, and therefore has a purely historical value, it photographs and legitimises the existence of a previous state almost like the Domesday Book, straight out of Norman lore.

This article can at best be called a social media debate’s debate, that is, a social media debate in which the contenders bring concrete and unbiased data to support their arguments (perhaps even politely) – John Lennon would tell us that it is easy to imagine (if we try), however improbable it may seem. Out with deference and caveats, we can move on to analysis.

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Brazilian Rising Star Joao Fonseca Waives College Eligibility To Turn Pro

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Image via https://twitter.com/RioOpenOficial/

One of Brazil’s most promising young tennis players has made the bold decision to abandon a dream of his to play college tennis in America to turn pro. 

17-year-old Jaoao Fonseca was committed to playing college tennis at the University of Virginia but says professional tennis has called him in a way he couldn’t refuse. The rising star has played just two Tour-level events so far in his career and is currently ranked 343rd in the world. 

At last week’s Rio Open, he became the second-youngest player after Alexander Zverev to reach the quarter-finals of an ATP 500 event since the category was introduced. In his home tournament, the Brazillian beat Arthur Fils and Cristian Garin before losing to Mariano Navone.

“It was an incredibly tough decision for me and my family as I have been dreaming about living a college life in Charlottesville, playing the sport that l love with a wonderful team and coach, but, in the last months, professional tennis called me in a way that I simply couldn’t say no,” Fonseca wrote in a statement published on Instagram
“Although I will not be attending school, I think it is an extremely valuable and viable path for young players in their way to professional careers,” he added.

Fonseca has already enjoyed success on the junior circuit. Last year he was runner-up in the doubles tournament at the Australian Open boy’s event. Then at the US Open, he won his first Grand Slam junior title in singles. He is also a former ITF Junior World No.1 and is currently ranked second in the standings. 

The youngster has already been hailed by compatriot Beatriz Haddad Maia, who is currently ranked 13th on the WTA Tour. Speaking to reporters at the San Diego Open, she has offered her support to Fonseca if he needs it. 

“João is a nice person. He has a great future, if he keeps working hard and keeps doing what he’s doing. I think he has a very aggressive mentality and tennis.” She said.

“We sometimes text each other, but not that much. But I’m always following.. not only him.. but the Brazilians. I’m proud of what he’s doing. He has a long way and he needs to understand that it’s a marathon, it’s not a 100 meter race.’
“Tennis has its ups and downs. I wish him all the best, for sure. I’ll be here whenever he wants. I’m happy with what he’s doing.” 

Fonseca played at the Chile Open this week but lost in the first round to Thiago Agustin Tirante.

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Injured Alcaraz Pulls Out of Rio Open After Two Games

A sprained ankle a couple of minutes into his debut at the Rio Open forced top seed Carlos Alcaraz to abandon his match against Thiago Monteiro

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Carlos Alcaraz after the injury - Rio 2024 (photo Tennis TV)

For world no. 2 Carlos Alcaraz, this year’s Rio Open lasted two games: the Spanish champion had to retire on the score of 1-1 in the first set during his first-round match against Brazilian Thiago Monteiro due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the second point of the match.

In an accident somewhat reminiscent of the terrible one suffered by Zverev in the semi-final of Roland Garros 2022, Alcaraz’s right foot “got stuck”  in the clay as he returned towards the center of the court after returning from the left, and he immediately flew to the ground dropping his racket. The Spaniard immediately asked for a medical time-out, but as soon as he took off his shoe it was immediately clear that his ankle had already swollen.

After having a tight bandage applied, Alcaraz tried to continue the match, but just two games later he understood that it was not possible to continue so he shook hands with his opponent, abandoning the Brazilian tournament.

The match was played on a very heavy court due to the rain that had fallen heavily during the day. The organizers had been forced to cancel the daytime session and play could only begin around 7.30 pm local time, after the courts had remained under pouring water all day.

Alcaraz told the press present in Rio: “I think these things happen, especially on clay. It wasn’t a problem with the court, I hurt myself in a change of direction and this happens on this type of surface. I went back into the match to see if I could continue or not. I spoke to the physiotherapist on the court and we decided, together, that I would continue to see if the ankle would improve. It didn’t happen, so we preferred to be cautious and withdraw as a precaution.”

Considering that Alcaraz left the court on his own two feet and managed to wobble through a couple of games after the injury, it is quite likely that the injury he suffered is much less serious than the one that kept Alexander Zverev away from tournaments for over seven months. However, it will be necessary to verify whether it is just a sprain or whether tendons or ligaments have been involved. If this were to be the case, the prognosis could turn out to be longer, and this is happening less than two weeks before the start of the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami.

The Spaniard is scheduled to play an exhibition in Las Vegas on 3rd March against Rafael Nadal: it will be decided in the next few days whether to withdraw as a precaution for the first Masters 1000 of the season in Indian Wells.

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Can Jannik Sinner dodge the morning-after syndrome?

Very few players have managed to follow up their first triumph in a Major. Hewitt is the last new Grand Slam champion to immediately win an ATP title. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer all misfired, can Jannik Sinner do better?

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Jannik Sinner - Australian Open 2024 (photo: X @federtennis)

By Roman Bongiorno

“The morning-after syndrome,” as they call it. The list of great champions who have suffered from it – Carlos Alcaraz, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, is impressive.  Some of the most illustrious names in our sport, the most successful ever. Yet, even for those who are legends, the match immediately after their first Grand Slam triumph is often an insurmountable hurdle.

The very young Spanish phenomenon, born in 2003, was the latest striking example. After winning the 2022 US Open and becoming the new world No. 1, Alcaraz managed to win just one set in his next two matches: he lost 6-7 6-4 6-2 in the Davis Cup against Felix Auger Aliassime, who was definitely on fire in that period, and was inflicted a 7-5 6-3 defeat by veteran David Goffin in his first match at the ATP 500 in Astana.

Mentally, it’ not easy. The most important triumph of one’s life, immediately to be put aside.  And go back to work. The media are quick to pounce on any slip, headlines hinting at signs of a career already over: “it’s gone to his head”, “he has made his money” etc.

Less than a year later, Carlos Alcaraz was once more a Grand Slam champion, beating Novak Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon.

Just think of tennis legends such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who fell victims to this serious syndrome. The former, after his triumph at Roland Garros 2005, stepped back on court on the green grass of Halle, losing in 3 sets to the world number 147 German Alexander Waske: 4-6 7-5 6-3. For many, that was a disastrous defeat foreshadowing a future that would not be as bright as it had seemed. Rafa told another story, by winning another 21 Grand Slam titles, on every surface.

The Serbian, on the other hand, thrived on the hard courts of Melbourne, just like Jannik Sinner. In 2008, after winning the title, he was engaged in Davis Cup against Russia. He did not finish his rubber against Nikolay Davydenko and retired at the beginning of the fourth set while trailing 2 sets to 1. In his first ATP tour appearance, in Marseille, after brushing aside Ivan Dodig, he was ousted in three sets by Gilles Simon. Over the following 15 years Novak Djokovic went on to become the has become the most successful player ever.

What about Roger Federer? After lifting the trophy won at Wimbledon in 2003, he moved to the home clay of Gstaad.  He survived the morning-after syndrome  after a fierce but victorious struggle in the first round with the Spaniard Marc Lopez, ranked No.190. Then he cruised till the final, but was defeated in a five set hustle 5-7 6-3 6-3 1-6 6-3 by Jiri Novak.

The morning-after did not spare Juan Martin del Potro. After his stunning victory over Federer at the 2009 US Open, he set foot on an ATP tennis court three weeks later in Tokyo. It was Edouard Roger Vassellin, 189th in the world, who spoiled the party, neatly defeating the Argentinian in two sets, 64 64.

Even “Ice man” Bjorn Borg, the man without (apparent) emotions, focused only on tennis and winning, lost the first match after his success at Roland Garros 1974. He was defeated in the first round in Nottingham by world No. 71 Milan Holecek from Czechoslovakia. Over the next years he definitely made up for that impasse on English lawns.

A rare bird at last, and not by chance does it come from Australia, a land which is ever so rich in unique species. Lleyton Hewitt, who in 2001 after steamrolling Pete Sampras in the US Open final, immediately won his next matches, two singles rubbers in the Davis Cup against Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson, and then went on to win in Tokyo by beating Michel Kratochvil in the final.

Jannik Sinner has been building up his success on gruelling feats. Sure he’s eager to be back on the Dutch indoor courts of Rotterdam where he enjoyed a brilliant run last year, only surrendering to Danil Medvedev in the final. Just one year ago the Russian seemed an impossible opponent to defeat. Now, in the last 4 challenges, Jannik has beaten him 4 times. The last one, in the final of the Australian Open.

Rotterdam could have been the stage for a rematch, but Medvedev has pulled out of the tournament. Jannik Sinner appears as a favourite, and is vying to close in on that third place of the rankings currently held by Daniil.

Jannik has set out on his mission. But even if he were to be defeated in the first round by an opponent ranked beyond the top 200, no one should dare cry failure. Italy at last has a Grand Slam winner, and he is not to be downplay him in case of first defeats.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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