Posted on April 16 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 the dark horses are this year and what rackets they’ll be using.
Dark horse: n. a candidate or competitor about whom little is known but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds. If you’re a tennis enthusiast, which I suspect you are, you will probably know a fair bit about these six names listed below. But as for the wider sporting audience, they’ll be shocked if one of these players has a major breakthrough this clay court swing. Here at All Things Tennis, we’re going to round off our little trio of blogs about the upcoming clay court season by discussing who we think might shock the world this spring.
Felix Auger Aliassime
Known by tennis pundits as FAA, Felix Auger Aliassime is spearheading the rise of the ‘next next gen’, for want of a better term. He’s 20 years old and has already reached 7 ATP finals in his career.
There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the recent addition of Toni Nadal to his coaching team, Toni being the coach that moulded his nephew Rafael Nadal into the champion he is today. It’s clear that ‘Uncle Toni’ wouldn’t just coach anyone, so he obviously sees a big future in Felix. With this new partnership beginning just as the clay season begins, Felix couldn’t ask for a better person in his box as he competes on the dirt this spring.
Like Toni Nadal’s former prodigy, FAA uses the Babolat Pure Aero to aid him with his heavy spin-oriented game.
Christian Garin is a player who has crept up the rankings whilst remaining relatively unknown to the wider tennis community. He’s 24 years of age and has captured 5 ATP titles in his short career. With all of his titles occurring on clay, there’s no doubt he feels incredibly comfortable on the surface. He will be a potential banana skin for any established player drawn against him this year.
Garin uses the Head Graphene 360+ Radical MP 2021, a versatile racquet that allows him to fully utilise his incredible timing and touch.
Like Garin, little is said about Casper Ruud in the wider tennis community. He’s a sweet ball striker with an incredible forehand that’s oh-so-easy on the eye. With one clay court title under his belt, Ruud is one to watch out for on the clay. If you see his name on the TV schedule, be sure to check out that beautiful forehand. You won’t be disappointed.
His forehand is made even more aesthetically pleasing by the use of his Yonex EZONE 100 Tennis Racket, a similar frame to the Babolat Pure Aero but with more feel. If you’re in the market for a good-looking tennis racquet, look no further than the EZONE range.
We’re sticking Karatsev on this list because, to be honest, nobody knows what he’s capable of after the stellar year he has enjoyed so far. Seemingly out of nowhere Karatsev reached the Australian Open semi-finals and won his first title in Dubai. If he feels as comfortable on clay as he is on hard courts, he’ll be a contender for sure.
Aslan uses the Head Graphene 360+ Prestige MP, a heavy racquet that comes in at 320g. He’s a big man with big calves and a big heavy racquet to match.
Carlos Alcaraz Garfia and Lorenzo Musetti
Last but not least, Alcaraz and Musetti. 17 and 19 respectively; these two young guns have attracted a lot of attention in the last few months.
Alcaraz just reached the final of the Andalucia Open 250 event where he beat the likes of Ruud and Feliciano Lopez along the way. There has been a lot of talk of ‘the next Nadal’ surrounding Alcaraz and although that may be a little premature, the hype only continues to build around him.
He uses the Babolat Pure Aero which seems to be a popular choice among young clay court specialists, it’s certainly worked well for Rafa over the years.
Musetti first announced himself into the tour last year in Rome, with wins over Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori coming, seemingly, out of nowhere. His game bears some resemblance to that of Richard Gasquet who was an extremely promising junior and young player.
They both have glorious one-handed backhands and play a swashbuckling, romantic style of tennis. They also both use a version of the Head Graphene 360+ Extreme Pro, a powerful weapon of choice that produces ‘extreme’ spin.
Alcaraz and Musetti will have nothing to lose during the upcoming clay swing and might just produce a major upset. We’ll have to wait and see.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our clay court preview series; we wish you luck in all your tennis related quests this spring. Maybe you’ve been inspired to seek out your local clay courts and hit on the dirt. If that’s the case, good on you. And don’t bother cleaning your socks!
Written by Aron Dochard