Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2019 clay court season.
Taste the rainbow, they say?
Just like that, the tennis world is about ready to pack its things and move on to a new destination and a new playing surface.
After a few weeks of walking and sliding on the big clay rainbow, the big pot of gold is finally in our sights and we’re only a handful of days away before being able to grab it. And really, all it means is that we now get to move on to a different kind of rainbow—this one made of grass—and with a different pot of gold at the end of it.
In much the same way that the only real prize for tennis players is to live to see and fight another day for another match, the current tennis calendar is such that we tennis fans mostly just live on to travel to another city for another tournament (where players fight for the right to compete in another match).
Well, some do. Most of us probably just follow it all on the television set but, like, still that takes a big time commitment.
That all said, before we bid adieu to the red clay courts and move on to the green grass courts, we want to look back at the things we might have learned and how it might affect what happens next week in Paris. We’ve identified five favourites for the Coupe des Mousquetaires for both the ATP World Tour and the WTA.
On the women’s side, good luck finding out who should stand as the frontrunner and clear favourite above the others.
1) Simona Halep
The choice of Simona Halep makes complete sense. She reintroduced herself to the tennis world by winning her first career Grand Slam title in France a year ago and, though she’s lost some ground on the rankings since, maybe she’s better off that way? Recently, she made the Mutua Madrid Open final, so she’ll be fine.
2) Naomi Osaka
This is probably a bit of a leap of faith? Throughout her (admittedly: very short) career, Naomi Osaka has only won four of seven career matches at Roland-Garros: this is both a very green, and very bad, record. But all Naomi Osaka does now is win Grand Slam titles, right?
3) Kiki Bertens
There was a disappointing Australian Open, yes, but otherwise has anyone enjoyed a better 2019 season than Kiki Bertens? Since the calendar turned to clay, the native of the Netherlands has notched two semifinals berths in Rome and Stuttgart, to go with her title in Madrid—where she beat the first player on this list, no less!
4) Karolina Pliskova
Karolina Pliskova has become a mainstay near the top of the WTA rankings with now four+ seasons among the top 11 in the world. Yeah, she might still be waiting on her big break at Grand Slams and odds are that it won’t come in Paris, but underestimate her at your own peril. Her 2019 season, where she’s got at least a quarterfinal berth or better in every month except April so far, has been consistently great.
5) Serena Williams
If you’re inclined to agree with the numbers, you can swap Serena Williams for, like, Sloane Stephens here and we wouldn’t completely disagree with you. We still want to give the great champion the benefit of the doubt, but her results since coming back from pregnancy have been (totally understandably so) rather poor.
Serena’s tournaments since her return from pregnancy
Indian Wells R3
Miami Open R1
French Open Withdrew R16
San Jose R1
US Open F
Aus Open QF
Indian Wells Retired R3
Miami Open Withdrew R3
Italian Open Withdrew R2
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) May 14, 2019
This clay court season might have been more wide-open than in years past, but don’t be fooled: the big boss is still the same one as always.
1) Rafael Nadal
Really, could it be anyone else? Sure, you’ll say that in 2019, Rafael Nadal has needed to wait all the way until the final warm-up event to notch a first clay title—but what a title it was. The Spaniard won no fewer than four 6-0 sets in Rome, including one in the final, and there’s little doubt that he’s as safe a bet as there is for Paris.
2) Novak Djokovic
On clay courts, let the records show that the best human backhand in history will not save you, not when you’re going up against the Spaniard god above. Novak Djokovic enjoyed a typically great and fruitful run through the clay court season that included a title in Madrid. Don’t let the ensuing cold shower in the Rome final distract you from the fact that in Paris, Djokovic will be very much in the thick of things.
3) Dominic Thiem
Remember when this year would be the year when Dominic Thiem was just about a shoo-in to capture Roland-Garros? Yeah, about that. The Austrian did capture the Barcelona crown, besting Rafa in the semifinal there, but otherwise he’s been fairly quiet. Maybe he will defend his French Open final berth from a year ago, but in our mind he’s a clear third wheel.
4) Roger Federer
We’re not actually believing that Roger Federer has a real chance at winning unless he somehow gets to avoid all three names above in the draw, but just like everyone writing these previews we’re basically contractually obligated to mention him among the favourites.
5) The rest of the field
Seriously, take your pick.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG