To become a top tennis player these days, you pretty much have to excel on ALL surfaces – hard, grass, clay, indoor. Gone are the days you could just win on one surface and get street cred. The Europeans, especially the Spanish guys, admitted this sooner than the Yanks and Aussies. They were tired of being called ‘clay court specialists’. So as a group, they started making the necessary adjustments – flattening out their shots, hitting on the rise, adjusting their grips (one of the hardest things to get used to in tennis) and learning how to volley, resisting the urge to slide on asphalt.
Players like Alex Corretja, who is now helping Andy Murray prep for the French Open, started winning on hard courts. Juan Carlos Ferrero, who just took his first title in over five years of fading away, sometimes looked more like a hard court player, with his deep flat groundies. They were two point men of the ‘Spanish Armada’. And now we have Rafa sitting at the top of the world and a guy like Fernando Lopez, who is actually better on hard and grass than clay. Dios mio, a Spanish serve & volleyer!
True, most players who grow up on clay still look and sound like clay courters; the point is, now they can play on hard and even grass, too. No question they have the advantage during the clay court season, on their home turf, so to speak.
Rogi and Rafa both play their first Monte Carlo matches tomorrow. Rogi got a wildcard after his stealth wedding at home and is keeping an uncharacteristically low profile after arriving for the tournament, so the press are running around asking everyone else what he’s doing, since they can’t ask him. Well, obviously he needs clay court matches if he wants to avoid further embarrassing himself. But is he well-prepared to play Monte Carlo? I don’t consider conceiving a baby, getting married, and losing in every tournament you’ve played so far this year good prep for anything – and he knows it. He’s using Monte Carlo to get on the clay, not expecting to take the title.