This week’s focus was heavily on the PGA’s first major of the year with the Masters in Augusta. While preparations for it were underway, men’s tennis quietly shifted away from the hardcourt season and into clay. The red dirt is so different from hard court, with many nuances, quirks and in general just an extra degree of difficulty.
Since I like to bet ATP… a lot, here is what you need to know to help you become more familiar with either following or fading my bets.
Clay court can be a picky surface because you have to use your body to slide either into the shot or behind the shot, making it a skill set that is completely its own. Sliding on clay requires confidence, experience and a high degree of comfort. Due to the unevenness of the surface as a match progresses, you get random ball blasts, wrong calls from line judges (because hawk-eye is not used), and depending on the weather conditions a surface that can play really slowly (lots of clay). ), or faster because the wind has blown clay off the track. Anything can make betting on clay matches difficult.
The year starts off skewed with many injuries. Most of them are from players who happen to excel at clay. These are the most important players you need to know.
“The King of Clay” and 21-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal own this surface. Maybe “owner” is an understatement. You do not have your own statue unless you do something right.
Nadal holds a 464-43 (91.5 percent) win / loss record on clay, the most of any player ever. The second best current player is Novak Djokovic, No. 1 in the world, with a career record of 80.5 percent in win / loss on clay.
But he is injured. After a warm 20-0 start to the year, Nadal suffered an injury in the semifinals of Indian Wells against compatriot Carlos Alcaraz and then eventually lost to American Taylor Fritz in the final. Afterwards, he announced that he would be out for four to six weeks with a stress fracture on his rib, leaving his participation in the French Open a question mark, where he holds a record-breaking 13 titles, with his last titles in 2020.
“Djoker” has only played three games in 2022 due to his vaccination status. According to his social media, he is currently training in Monte Carlo in what looks like he is preparing for the ATP 1000 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters next week. Djokovic may have a 35-12 record that includes two titles in Monaco, but how much of the fighting form could he be four months into the year after playing just three games and losing one of them.
Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka
Of the current players, I would consider Thiem the best clay court player outside of Nadal and Djokovic. Unfortunately, he has been in and out of injury since the 2021 Australian Open. The same goes for Wawrinka. Both made an attempt to get back on the tracks in the Marbella Challenger last week, but both lost in equal sets. Provided both can stay healthy, it will still take time to get back in shape.
Last year was similar to his year after back-to-back finals appearances, where he won in Serbia and followed it up with a final loss to Alexander Zverev in Madrid. He then lost in a competitive quarter-final to Djokovic at Roland Garros, played another round of back-to-back finals appearances on grass, won Belgrade and lost (again) to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final and then again in the US Open quarter-final. Losing to world No. 1 is good loss, but he has not been able to stay healthy this year. After losing to Nadal in the Australian Open semi-final, Berrettini has played in six matches and lost three before announcing he would be out a few weeks after having surgery on his hand.
The current world No. 2 has expressed its frustrations with clay. Maybe you’ve seen. Well, he should miss the whole clay season after announcing that he would be out one or two months after having a hernia procedure.
Some of the best players on clay are injured or have question marks. Who leaves it to fight this season?
The current world No. 5 has a record of 60-21 win / loss on this surface, including seven ATP titles, three of which were on clay, two from 2021. One of those titles was the 2021 Monte-Carlo Masters. He certainly has those skills, but where he lacks is the mind.
Ruud is one of two players who will have my interest this season. Nadal, Djokovic and Thiem, I would rate Ruud right there as someone who is great at clay, and his record certainly reflects that, at least at lower level events. He is 78-30 on clay and has seven ATP titles to his name, six won on clay, four won in 2021, all six titles at ATP 250 level. Ruud dominates against lower ranked opponents, but currently has a record of 5-15 against top 10 players.
How good is Ruud right? Since 2020, he has played 54 best of three games on clay. In that time he has a record of 45-9 wins / losses, where he won 32 of these matches in equal sets. Keep him in mind this clay season. Can he fight in the major events against higher ranked opponents? It’s his next obstacle to jump.
You may have seen me talk about the 18-year-old star (quite a bit) on Twitter. Sorry do not apologize. The young Spaniard is the most exciting player in all sports right now. Think of everything you like about The Big 3 (Federer, Djokovic and Nadal), and consider that Alcaraz is all that is wrapped up in one. I have not seen a complete player like him, probably ever.
In his young career, he only has a record of 18-7 on clay, but already has three titles that win at each level on tour: ATP 250 Umag (clay), ATP 500 Rio (clay) and most recently the ATP Masters 1000 Miami (difficult). The young bull is 7-6 against top 10 opponents, but some came alone this year and defeated Berrettini in Rio, Cam Norrie at Indian Wells and both Tsitsipas and Ruud in Miami. His one loss in his last 16 games was against Nadal.
Who should bet this clay-court season
In the futures markets, I seek to support Ruud in lower ATP events (250/500) and as a straight-set winner and Alcaraz in every way I can. If you follow me on Twitter, then you already have either a nice 16-1, 12-1 or 10-1 ticket on Alcaraz to win the French Open.
Could it not happen? Of course, but with most players injured and he already has a 2-0 head-to-head record against Tsitsipas, it has legs. At least we have value with his current odds down to +400.
These are the two players I trust when they enter the clay season, and the two players I will often support. April and May will be fantastic months with ATP tennis.