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Ten storylines to follow during the clay court season

The Monte Carlo Country Club
by Mark Hodgkinson
Sunday 13 April 2014

The tours move in full from hard courts to clay courts this week, which brings fresh intrigue to who is going to win what where. Wimbledon.com brings you ten major storylines to keep tabs on... 

1. Will anyone stop Rafa Nadal, who is already the only man to have won the same Grand Slam eight times, from lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires for a ninth occasion? Victory on the clay of Roland Garros would also extend Nadal’s collection from all four majors to fourteen, which would put him level with Pete Sampras, and just three short of Roger Federer. If it hadn’t been for Robin Soderling, who defeated Nadal in the fourth round of the 2009 French Open, the Majorcan would this year be attempting to win a tenth successive title. A surging Novak Djokovic and a rejuvenated Federer will believe they can fend off Nadal in Paris. As will Andy Murray, who missed last year’s French Open because of a back problem, and who didn’t play Nadal during his time with Ivan Lendl.

2. As well as being a hard-court Grand Slam champion, Stanislas Wawrinka is a fine clay-court player – three of his six career singles titles came on the surface, and he was a quarter-finalist at Roland Garros last season. And this year, for the first time, he will be playing a European clay-court swing as a major champion.

3. Will Serena Williams sweep through Europe once again? Don’t think for one moment that the clay-court granules nullify her power. The American, who has an apartment in Paris, was completely dominant on European clay last season, winning titles in Madrid, Rome and then Roland Garros, and it’s perfectly possible that she will do the same again this season. While Williams was beaten in the first round of a tournament in Charleston, South Carolina, losing to an opponent ranked outside the world’s top 75, there is no reason for alarm. Williams was exhausted; losing early meant she will have a longer break before making her first appearance on the other side of the ocean at next month’s Madrid tournament, which she will be attempting to win for a third year in succession.

4. Will the over-30s continue to dominate the women’s game? So far this season, the three most important titles have been won by players in their thirties, with Li Na victorious at the Australian Open, Flavia Pennetta taking the title at California’s Indian Wells Tennis Garden, and Williams going through the Miami draw. 

5. Belinda Bencic, a 17-year-old Swiss, broke into the world’s top 100 as a reward for reaching her first semi-final on the women’s tour at the clay-court tournament in Charleston. How much of an impression will she make in Europe?

6. Spring doesn’t officially start until Nadal is on Centre Court at the Monte Carlo Country Club – this year, he returns to the Principality in the unusual position of not being the defending champion. It will be fascinating to see how he responds to losing to Djokovic in the final of last year’s tournament, for what was his first defeat in Monaco since 2003. Nadal is at his most effective this month – so far during his career, fifteen of his singles titles have come in April. And interest in the tournament was only heightened by news that Federer, who hadn’t initially planned on competing, has taken a wild card.

7. It’s a remarkable state of affairs that just two men, Nadal and Djokovic, are currently in possession of all the ATP Masters 1000 titles. But will that still be the case after the clay-court swing?

8. The clay-court swing could see Murray – whose two-year player-mentor relationship with Lendl ended last month – hiring a new coach in readiness for this summer’s grass-court season. The Wimbledon champion had a meeting with his team this week to discuss his future coaching arrangements.

9. A third member of this generation of men’s players could join the most exclusive club in tennis, those to have won every Grand Slam title at least once again. Federer and Nadal are already in the club, and Djokovic is three quarters of the way to attaining membership, with just a French Open title to go.

10. It’s to be hoped that the clay-court season will see the return of Laura Robson, who, because of a wrist injury, hasn’t played any competitive tennis since January’s Australian Open. 

What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below...

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