This week, the focus was heavily on PGA’s first major of the year with the Augusta Masters. While preparations for this were underway, men’s tennis quietly shifted from the hard-court season to clay. The red clay is so different from hard court, with lots of nuances, quirks and just an added element of difficulty overall.
As I am very fond of ATP betting…, here is what you need to know so that you can become more familiar to either follow or fade my bets.
Clay court can be a tricky surface because you have to use your body to either slide into the shot or behind the shot, making it a skill all of its own. Sliding on clay requires confidence, experience and a high level of comfort. Due to the unevenness of the surface as a game progresses, there is random ball bounce, incorrect calls from linesmen (because hawk eye is not used) and, depending on weather conditions, a surface that can play very slowly (lots of sand). ) or faster because the wind blew sand off the pitch. All can make betting on clay matches difficult.
The year begins shakily with many injuries. Most of these come from players who excel on clay. These are the main players you need to know about.
This rubber belongs to “The King of Clay” and 21-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal. Perhaps “owns” is an understatement. You don’t have a statue of your own unless you do something right.
Nadal holds a 464-43 (91.5 percent) win/loss record on clay, the highest of any player of all time. The next best current player is world No. 1 Novak Djokovic with a career record of 80.5 percent in wins and losses on clay.
But he’s hurt. After a hot 20-0 start to the year, Nadal picked up an injury in the semifinals in Indian Wells against compatriot Carlos Alcaraz and eventually lost in the final to American Taylor Fritz. He then announced he would be out for four to six weeks with a stress fracture of his rib, threatening his participation in the French Open, where he holds the record 13 titles, most recently in 2020.
“Djoker” only played three matches in 2022 due to his vaccination status. According to his social media, he is currently training in Monte Carlo as it looks like he will be preparing for the ATP 1000 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters next week. Djokovic may have a 35-12 record that includes two Monaco titles, but how much match form could he have four months into the new year after playing just three games and losing one of them.
Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka
Out of the current players, I would rank Thiem as the best clay court player outside of Nadal and Djokovic. Unfortunately, he has been injured on and off since the 2021 Australian Open. The same goes for Wawrinka. Both tried to return to courts at the Marbella Challenger last week but both lost in straight sets. Assuming both can remain healthy, it will be some time before they get back into shape.
Last year looked like his year after back-to-back final appearances in Serbia followed by a recent defeat to Alexander Zverev in Madrid. He then lost to Djokovic in a hard-fought quarterfinal match at Roland Garros, played a second round of consecutive finals on grass, won Belgrade and lost (again) to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final and then again in the quarterfinals of the US Open. Losing to the world No. 1 are good losses but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy this year. After losing to Nadal in the Australian Open semifinals, 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 his frustration at clay. Maybe you saw GIFs of his trouble with the red dirt. Well, he was set to miss the entire clay court season after announcing he would be out a month or two after undergoing hernia surgery.
Some of the best players on clay are injured or have question marks. Who does that have left this season?
The current world No. 5 has a 60-21 win/loss record 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 definitely has the skills, but what he lacks is the brains.
Ruud is one of two players who will have my interest this season. Nadal, Djokovic and Thiem, I would rank Ruud right there as someone great on clay and his record definitely 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 low-ranked opponents but currently has a 5-15 record against top 10 players.
How good is Ruud? Since 2020, he has contested 54 best-of-three matches on clay. During that time he has a record of 45-9 wins/losses and won 32 of those games in straight sets. Keep him in mind this sand season. Can he face off against higher tier opponents in the bigger events? This is his next hurdle to jump.
You may have seen me talking (quite a lot) about the 18-year-old star on Twitter. sorry not sorry The young Spaniard is currently the most exciting player in all sports. Think of everything you like about The Big 3 (Federer, Djokovic and Nadal) and consider that Alcaraz combines everything in one. I’ve probably never seen a complete player like him.
He has just one 18-7 record on clay in his young career but already has three titles he has won at every level on the tour: ATP 250 Umag (clay), ATP 500 Rio (clay) and most recently ATP Masters 1000 Miami (Hard). The young bull is 7-6 against top 10 opponents but some came alone this year, defeating Berrettini in Rio, Cam Norrie in Indian Wells and both Tsitsipas and Ruud in Miami. His only loss in his last 16 games was against Nadal.
Who to bet on this clay court season
In the futures markets, I try to support Ruud in any way I can in lower ATP events (250/500) and as a straight set winner and Alcaraz. 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.
Couldn’t it happen? Sure, but with most players injured and he already has a record 2-0 record against Tsitsipas, it’s got legs. At least we have value with his current odds of +400.
These are the two players I trust entering the clay court season and the two players I will be supporting frequently. April and May will be great months for ATP tennis.