Are Clay Court Tennis Players Getting a Raw Deal?

Next week will see the start of the ATP tour clay court season with 3 master events and Grand Slam being crammed into a 6 week period. It will see two back to back masters event, Rome and Hamburg, played in the space of two weeks, where as last month the two back to back US hard court master events were spread over four weeks.

21st Apr Masters Series Monte Carlo
28th Apr ATP Event Barcelona, Spain
05th May Masters Series Rome, Italy
12th May Masters Series Hamburg, Germany
26th May Grand Slam Roland Garros, France

The clay court event congestion gets worse when you also consider that the event crammed in between master event Monte Carlo and Rome is also another important clay court event in Barcelona, which regularly attracts a high class field. Which means the clay courters on tour need to compete in 4 of their most important events in the same amount of weeks. Then to top it off after one week break, the only clay court grand slam is played.

The congestion has been caused because the ATP tour moved the two US masters events mentioned above, Miami and Indian wells to accommodate the US college basketball season.

World number 2 and 3 time French Open champion Rafael Nadal said,Rafael Nadal

It’s an outrageous way to treat European and clay-court players. The truth is the ATP is making our lives almost impossible, Moving Miami and Indian Wells back because of college basketball is something I understand because it’s very important to them but this is a world tour. We only have three Masters Series events and we have to play them with an important tournament like Barcelona all running together. I’m tired of complaining about this but the people in charge of this don’t share my opinion and I have to respect that.

The hard court players allready have the advantage of having more than 50% of all ATP events played on Hard courts and even a higher % of the big money events take place on hard courts. The 4 $1M+ tournaments that are played on tour will all be crammed in to the period between 21st April and ending with the final of French Open on 8th June. Whilst the 12 £1M+ hard court events are spread more evenly throughout the year.

Surface ATP Events $500K+ ATP Events $1M+ ATP Events
Hard 34 23 12
Clay 23 8 4
Grass 6 3 1
Carpet 4 4 2

The biggest fear of the clay court players will be if this trend continues, then the clay courts could be marginalised the same way that grass has been. There is only one major tournament currently played on grass, that being Wimbledon with a two mid tier events Halle and Queens club, which are played at the same time, meaning Grass court players only get 2 tournaments a year to play on their preferred surface. Which makes it no surprise we don’t see grass court specialists any more on the tour. No major player since Pat Rafter has made an impact with a serve and volley game.

Grass and carpet (Another surface that suits a serve volley player) are surfaces that have been used sparingly by the ATP tour in recent years. The increasing number of events played on hard courts, including this years Olympics threatens to remove variety from the game. I for one would love to see more grass court tennis and although clay is not my favorite surface I would hate to see it marginalised, which at the moment seems to be happening.