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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Daniil Medvedev Targets French Open Breakthrough After Rome Disappointment

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Daniil Medvedev believes there will be more title contenders at the French Open than previous editions with the Russian hoping to be one of them. 

The world No.4 heads into the Grand Slam after what has been a mixed clay swing. Medvedev suffered a third round defeat in Monte Carlo before bouncing back in Madrid where he reached the quarter-finals before retiring from his match with a minor injury. Meanwhile, at this week’s Italian Open, his title defence came to an end in the fourth round on Tuesday when he fell 6-1, 6-4, to Tommy Paul. 

“Mentally I had to be much better,” Medvedev said of his latest performance.
“I started to calm myself down and focus on the match only at the end of the match, and it was too late. I had to do better. I was expecting myself to play better.’
“It’s disappointing, but that’s how sport is. You lose and you go for the next tournament, which is a pretty important one.” He added. 

28-year-old Medvedev recently stated that he is seeing improvements in his game when it comes to playing on the clay. A surface which he has struggled on during stages of his career. Out of the 38 ATP Finals he has contested, only two of those were on the clay. Barcelona in 2019 when he finished runner-up and Rome last year which he won. 

As for the French Open, he has lost in the first round on five out of seven appearances. But did reach the quarter-finals in 2021 and the last 16 the following year. So could 2024 be his year?

“Now it’s maybe a little bit more open than it was ever before,” he said of this year’s event. 
“Good for me, too, because usually in Roland Garros I don’t play that well. The more open it is, the better it is for me.”

All of the top three players on the men’s tour are currently experiencing problems. Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Italian Open and recently underwent a medical assessment after getting hit in the head by a bottle in a freak accident. Jannik Sinner is reportedly on the verge of withdrawing from the French Open due to a hip issue and Carlos Alcaraz has been hindered by a forearm injury in recent weeks. 

“I’m feeling much better on clay,” Medvedev commented. “What is tough for me on clay sometimes is getting used to conditions. Every court – in every tournament in the world – is a bit different.
“On hard courts it’s the same: every court is different. On hard courts I have this ability to kind of quite fast get used to it. On clay, I need more time.”

Medvedev aims to become only the second Russian man in history to win the French Open after Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1996. The tournament will begin a week on Sunday. 

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Stefanos Tsitsipas Says Expanded Masters Events ‘Playing A Massive Role’ In Player Injuries

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Credit Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis

Stefanos Tsitsipas has slammed the decision to extend the length of Masters 1000 tournaments to two weeks by warning that more injuries could occur in the future as a result. 

This week’s Rome Masters is taking place without two out of the world’s top three players. Jannik Sinner pulled out of his home event due to a hip injury and Carlos Alcaraz has been troubled by a forearm issue in recent weeks. Other players missing from the draw include Tomas Machac (Illness), Ugo Humbert (Left Knee) and Stan Wawrinka (Right Wrist). 

The tournament is taking place immediately after the Madrid Open which is also a Masters event that has been expanded to a two-week format in recent years. Supporters of the move argue that a bigger draw provides lower-ranked players with more opportunities to play in these events whilst others will have a day off between matches. 

However, world No.8 Tsitsipas isn’t completely happy with the schedule which he openly criticised on Monday following his 6-2, 7-6(1), win over Cameron Norrie. The Greek has won 12 out of 14 matches played on clay so far this season. 

“It’s a type of thing that hurt the sport a little bit, to have these types of things happen to the highest of the players,” Tsitsipas commented on his rival’s injuries.
“Without them, the show is not kind of the same. You have obviously the guys behind them (in the rankings). These kinds of tournaments deserve names like this to be playing and have the opportunity to play in front of these big stadiums and crowds.
“I’ve spoken about the fact that the schedule has a big toll on our bodies. It starts from the mental side, and it follows to the physical side. The extension of the days in the Masters 1000s I think plays a massive role and contributes a lot to the fact that these players are getting injured.”

The ATP’s extended format is set to be applied to seven out of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments from 2025. The only two yet to make or plan for such changes are Monte Carlo and Paris. However, Tsitsipas has called for changes to be made to the schedule.

“It was perhaps already a lot the way it was before with the seven-day events. Adding more days to that, well, you got to be some type of superhero to be consistent back-to-back 10 days in each event getting to the very end of it.” He commented.
“It’s not a very easy thing to do. Some people need to try it first to get an understanding and how it is to pull that off. Then they should make decisions based on that.
“I think this is not going to be the first time we see these types of things (player injuries). If these types of things continue with the same schedule not being adjusted or customized to the needs of the players, we might see more of these things occur in the future.”

It is not the first time a player has raised concerns about the extended format. Alexander Zverev previously said that the schedule is a disadvantage for the top players. Meanwhile, on the women’s Tour Caroline Garcia has criticised the move to expand WTA 1000 tournaments whilst Maria Sakkari said achieving the Madrid-Rome double has become harder to do

On the other hand, Daniil Medvedev has spoken in favour of the new format and describes injuries on the Tour as ‘part of the sport.’ The former US Open believes the issue is related to the quick surface changes players face and not the duration of tournaments. 

Tsitsipas will play Alex de Minaur in the fourth round of the Italian Open on Tuesday. 

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Novak Djokovic To Undergo Medical Check After Rome Thrashing, Bottle Incident

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Novak Djokovic – ATP Roma 2024 (foto: Francesca Micheli/Ubitennis)

Novak Djokovic has indicated that he will speak to doctors following his lacklustre performance at the Italian Open where he crashed out in straight sets. 

The five-time champion was far from his best against Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo as he struggled to generate any rhythm in his tennis or a single break point opportunity. Djokovic’s below-par performance caught many off guard, including the tennis player himself who admitted afterwards that he was ‘completely off’ his game. 

Trying to find the reason behind his latest performance, the world No.1 isn’t ruling out the possibility that it might be linked to an incident that took place at the tournament two days ago. Following his win over France’s Corentin Moutet, Djokovic suffered a blow to his head after a fan accidentally dropped a metal bottle from the stands. Immediately afterwards, he experienced nausea, dizziness and bleeding for up to an hour but was checked by medical officials.

“I don’t know, to be honest. I have to check that.” Djokovic replied when asked if the incident affected his form on Sunday.
“Training was different. I was going for kind of easy training yesterday. I didn’t feel anything, but I also didn’t feel the same.
“Today under high stress, it was quite bad – not in terms of pain, but in terms of this balance. Just no coordination. Completely different player from what it was two nights ago.
“It could be. I don’t know. I have to do medical checkups and see what’s going on. “

The tennis star said he managed to sleep fine after his head blow but did experience headaches. He looked to be in good spirits the day after it happened and even turned up to practice in Rome wearing a safety helmet.

Djokovic’s concerns come two weeks before the start of the French Open where he is seeking a record 25th Major title. He will undoubtedly be one of the contenders for glory but admits there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the coming days. 

“Everything needs to be better in order for me to have at least a chance to win it,” he said.
“The way I felt on the court today was just completely like a different player entered into my shoes. Just no rhythm, no tempo, and no balance whatsoever on any shot.
“It’s a bit concerning.”

The French Open will begin on Sunday 26th May. 

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