Posted on April 15 2021
The 2021 clay court season is upon us and as the pros head to the Monte Carlo Country Club to kick off their clay court campaigns, let's break down who’s on the brink of success this year and what rackets they’ll be using.
There are some players in men’s tennis who aren’t quite favourites for titles, but they might just be on the cusp of clay court greatness this season. Here at All Things Tennis, we think there are four players who could upset the ‘Big 3’ during this year’s European clay court swing.
Nicknamed ‘The Greek God’ by the UTS exhibition event, Stefanos Tsitsipas is so close to a major breakthrough in his career. At 22 years of age, he’s already had a glittering career, but he’s yet to win a Masters 1000 or a Major. You might be surprised to learn that Tsitsipas grew up on clay, given the comparisons often made between his and Roger Federer’s game styles.
Stefanos feels extremely comfortable on clay and he pushed even Djokovic to 5 sets the last time he competed on the surface at Roland Garros last year. He’s already won a title on clay at the Estoril 250 event in 2019, and he’ll be hungrier than ever to add to that tally this year.
Stefanos’s weapon of choice is the Wilson Blade 98 (16x19) V7 Unstrung which accommodates for his slightly more classical technique. Don’t be surprised if you see Stef making deep runs into the biggest clay court tournaments this year.
Zverev has arguably been the most venerated member of the ‘Next Gen’ and he has the talent to warrant it. However, the last few years haven’t been his best. He has most notably developed a dangerously unpredictable second serve which has cost him some important matches. Plus, his various PR mishaps have somewhat tarnished his ‘Prince of Tennis’ image.
That being said, he loves the clay; with two out of three of his Masters 1000 titles being won on the red dirt in Madrid and Rome. Those are some pretty difficult tournaments to win with Rafa, Thiem and Novak around. So Zverev will pose a credible threat to the clay court ‘Big 3’ this season; watch out for this guy.
As discussed in our previous blog, Andrey Rublev is an ever-present force on the ATP Tour. The majority of his success has come on hard courts but during last years truncated clay swing, he enjoyed his best ever results on the surface.
He won his second clay court title in Hamburg and reached the quarter finals of Roland Garros. As Rublev continues to incrementally improve his game, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t do even better on the clay this year.
Like Zverev, Andrey uses the Head Gravity Pro which he only recently was able to officially endorse.
Diego Schwartzman may only be 5’7” but he’s a clay court specialist who’s completed the nearly impossible task of beating Rafael Nadal on clay. Last year Schwartzman dismantled Nadal in straight sets at the Italian Open. That's a result that cannot be ignored when discussing the 2021 clay court contenders. Not to mention, he followed up that victory with a semi final run at Roland Garros, beating Dominic Thiem along the way.
Schwartzman is capable of beating anyone on this surface, anyone except Novak Djokovic that is. Tennis, after all, is a game of match ups and his game style plays right into Djokovic’s hands. If Schwartzman doesn’t meet Djokovic early on, who knows what he could achieve this year.
There you have it, a completely subjective guide to this year’s 'clay court challengers'. Mark my words, they will all have their moments in the European sun this season.