Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
COME BACK FOR LIVE SCORES & LIVE BLOG FROM 26 JUNE
For the players, the clay season is about long slides, long rallies, and long matches. For the fans, it’s about a long-running, slow-building drama. With three Masters 1000 events on the men’s side, and three high-level tournaments on the women’s, there’s plenty of time for tension to build and story lines to take shape on the six-week road to Roland Garros. That road begins this weekend when the men make their annual, spring-is-here pilgrimage to the Mediterranean, and the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters.
Since 2011, the biggest story of the clay season has been Novak Djokovic’s quest to win his first French Open. That tale finished with a happy ending in 2016, when Djokovic finally won Paris. What might take its place in 2017? Here’s a look at five possibilities.
By starting the year with titles at the Australian Open, the two 35-year-old legends showed that they’re still going strong. Since then, they’ve shown signs that they want to conserve that strength as much as possible for the year’s three remaining majors.
Serena, who played just four events outside the Slams in 2016, pulled out of Indian Wells and Miami this spring, and her coach hinted at more withdrawals to come. Federer, after winning those two events back-to-back, announced that he wasn’t planning to play again until the French Open.
For Serena and Federer, Wimbledon and the US Open are the Holy Grails ahead.
The Brit and the Serb, who will both turn 30 next month, were born within a week of each other, and they’ve been acting like twins for the last year and a half. Djokovic dominated the first half of 2016, Murray dominated the second. This year they each went out early at the Australian Open, and struggled through the first three months. They even withdrew from Miami with injuries to their elbows.
Now they seem to have recovered—Djokovic won his singles match in Davis Cup this past weekend, and Murray is practicing on clay in France. Last year they were the ATP’s most successful clay-courters; Djokovic beat Murray in the Madrid final, Murray returned the favor in Rome, and Djokovic won the rubber match in Paris. This spring both should be highly motivated: Djokovic to work his way back toward what he still must feel is his rightful ranking—No.1—and Murray, who has improved immensely on clay over the last two years, to follow in Djokovic’s footsteps and win his first title at Roland Garros.
The best news that Nadal has heard this season came last Sunday in Miami, when Federer said he wasn’t planning to play any French Open tune-up events.
Finally, Rafa must have thought, I can get away from that guy.
So far in 2017 Federer is 3-0 against Nadal, and the Swiss has prevented him from winning the two hard court titles he may have wanted more than any others: his second at the Australian Open, and his first in Miami.
Still, while Federer’s 2017 has deservedly garnered the attention, Rafa, who is second in the Race to London, has to be pleased with the way he has started on hard courts.
He has to be even more pleased that he’s moving to clay.
This spring he’ll try for a triple-digit trifecta: He can win his 10th titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Paris.
It’s doubtful that Rafa, who will turn 31 in June, can dominate on dirt the way he did in his prime.
He’ll face some formidable competition in Djokovic, Murray, and younger guns like Nick Kyrgios, Alexander Zverev, and Dominic Thiem.
But after watching the 35-year-old Federer across the net from him this year, Rafa might just be feeling a little younger and spryer himself.
Like Murray, Kerber finished 2016 at No.1; and like Murray, she has had a disappointingly slow start to 2017. But with a semifinal appearance in Dubai, a quarter-final run in Miami, and a runner-up finish in Monterrey, she does seem to have steadied the ship. Now, as the two-time defending champion, she’ll be the favorite at the first significant WTA clay-court event of the spring, in Stuttgart.
That leaves us with two questions. If Kerber doesn’t win in Stuttgart this time, will that leave her deflated going forward? And if she does, can she turn it into the type of momentum that lasts all the way through the French Open? The opposite was the case in 2016. After Stuttgart, Kerber lost in the first round in Madrid, Rome, and Paris. It may seem counterintuitive, but clay doesn’t help the German’s defensive-minded game; she needs a surface to give her shots more pace, not less. The upside in 2017 is that, with Victoria Azarenka or Petra Kvitova out, Maria Sharapova just returning to the tour, and Serena cutting her schedule to the bone, Kerber may still be the WTA’s player to beat.
Federer is the ATP’s story of the moment, but Kyrgios is looking more and more like he’ll be the story of its future. The 21-year-old Australian has beaten Novak Djokovic twice in 2017, and lost to Federer in a three-tiebreaker classic in Miami. Can he keep rolling on clay? Why not? He beat Federer in Madrid in 2015, and took Nadal to a third set on dirt last year. Kyrgios will be joined through the clay season by fellow Next-Genners Zverev and Thiem. The German and the Austrian are widely seen as French Open contenders of the future.
Is this finally the moment when that future arrives for the men’s game? Probably not. But the mix of generations that will be in play through the spring makes tennis’s present a time to savor.