Will Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams play clay season? We look at who’s in and who’s out
Novak Djokovic is among those with question marks next to their names for clay season, but he is far from alone there. We take a look at who is in for clay season, who is out, and who might not make it.
The European clay court season is nearly upon us and is one of the most highly-anticipated parts of the tennis calendar for fans who love players facing long matches and brutal physical tests.
Of course, it is not quite as popular with many of the players for the exact same reason, so it’s a part of the year that can see some big names missing.
So who can fans expect to see – and miss – during the 2022 European clay court swing?
The situation with Novak Djokovic right now is, as everyone knows, extremely complicated. He has clearly stated he will not be getting vaccinated against Covid-19 and that puts him at the mercy of different country’s travel restrictions.
That was why he was unable to play Indian Wells and Miami, but the European clay season should be a lot easier to manage.
Djokovic is a resident of Monte-Carlo (you can enjoy our preview of the Monte Carlo Masters), so he has no problems playing there, while Spain, Italy and France – the countries hosting the other clay ATP 1000s – are likely to welcome him too.
He will also be able to play at the Serbia Open without any problems at all.
The big question surrounding Novak Djokovic during the clay season will be his fitness rather than availability.
He has played just three matches so far this year, so it may take him a little while to get up to speed, particularly against players who have been playing every week for months now.
There is no disputing who the King of Clay is, and Rafael Nadal will again be the man to beat this year.
He will have to wait to make his clay debut in 2022, though. Nadal fractured a rib at Indian Wells, meaning he will not be ready to play until Madrid at the earliest.
That is obviously a blow for Nadal but it also could have been a lot worse. There are those who believe the rest may enhance his chances at Roland Garros too.
Nadal has already come back from one injury this season and immediately found his level, so once he is back there is unlikely to be much of a drop in performance levels.
Emma Raducanu made such an incredible impact and achieved so much at the US Open last year that it’s easy to forget just how much we don’t know about her.
For starters, no one yet has any idea how she will perform against the WTA’s best on clay.
This will be her first clay season and, in theory at least, it shouldn’t worry her too much. She is yet to develop much of a net game anyway and her precision from the back of the court should serve her well.
What we don’t know is whether she has the patience and court-smarts to slowly construct a point, but she has been training in Italy with Ricardo Piatti so if anyone can help her with those things it is probably him.
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Tennis has had to get used to life without Roger Federer in the last two years due to the Swiss star’s problems with a persistent knee injury.
In truth, though, Federer has rarely played any part in the clay season for a lot longer than that.
Federer made the decision some time ago to skip clay to prolong his career and, given that he is still (just about) going at 40-years-old, that was probably a wise decision.
If reports are to be believed, Federer is still targeting a return to tennis after he has recovered from his latest knee surgery, but everyone know it’s grass courts he covets, not clay.
Unless there is a dramatic change of heart closer to the French Open, there’s no chance we’ll see Federer on the red dirt this year, and little chance of us seeing him playing clay court tennis again.
Like Federer, Williams seems to be stepping away from tennis now but doing it very slowly.
She has not retired, although she has not played since Wimbledon last year when a hamstring injury forced her out of the tournament early.
Of course, a hamstring injury doesn’t keep you sidelined for the best part of a year, so it’s clear she is consciously choosing to be away from tennis for the most part.
Also like Federer, if anything is going to tempt her back it is going to be Wimbledon, and she has already said she will make her ‘comeback’ there this year.
Williams does own an apartment in Paris, but there are absolutely no indications she has any aspirations to play any part in clay season.
It’s no secret that Daniil Medvedev is not a fan of clay court tennis. There is no real reason he shouldn’t be able to become a very good player on the red dirt, but it’s just not for him.
Last season Medvedev spent pretty much all of the clay season ranting at umpires and complaining about the conditions – and losing tennis matches.
It was little surprise, then, that after Miami he quietly announced he has been playing with a hernia and now had to get it fixed.
Just as the timing of that surgery neatly coincided with the start of clay season, expect his recovery to perfectly coincide with the end of it.
Murray announced some time ago that he had made the decision to skip clay season this year. No one was especially surprised.
In fact, given his hip condition, the most surprising thing was that he did decide to play it the last couple of years.
The clay season is the most physically demanding swing of the tennis calendar, with long rallies producing long matches, and those are things that Murray just doesn’t need.
Instead, he will prepare for grass season with new coach Ivan Lendl, with whom he won all three of his Grand Slams.
“I am not planning on playing through the clay,” Murray explained in February.
“The past couple of years, the clay has made issues worse; last year I had some issues at the beginning of the year, the clay didn’t help, so I’ve spoken to my team about that and this year while I feel good and healthy I don’t want to take that risk.”
Nick Kyrgios hasn’t taken a full-time interest in the ATP Tour for some time now, although he is more active than recent years.
He has played some clay tennis this season with him producing a fine run at Houston, but as far as Europe is concern he is not interested.
He has suggested he will be more active in 2023, though – because his girlfriend wants to visit Paris.
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Who are the maybes?
For all his positive messages, there remains significant question marks over the fitness of Dominic Thiem.
Thiem would consider clay his strongest surface, and he is a two-time French Open finalist. However, he has endured a terrible time with injuries of late with him barely playing since last summer due to a wrist injury.
He recently made his comeback at a Challenger event in Marbella and lost in his opening match. A subsequent positive Covid test did not help his momentum either.
Thiem will not be in Monte Carlo but is, at the moment, on the entry list for the ATP 250 in Belgrade. Regardless of how much he is able to play, no one will be expecting him to be in any condition to win anything.
There are also doubts about whether or not Matteo Berrettini will play any part in the clay season after he underwent surgery on his racket hand.
Berrettini has already made it clear that he will not be playing at Monte-Carlo, Madrid and Rome. The latter of those three is obviously significant.
Rome is the last significant tournament before the French Open, so if Berrettini plays any clay court tennis at all this season, there certainly won’t be a lot of it.
On the WTA side it appears that Elina Svitolina is likely to be missing for clay season.
The Ukrainian recently announced she was taking a break from tennis due to a back injury and ‘unbearable pain in her heart’ brought about by the Russian invasion of her homeland.
She did not put a time on her return, though, so you never know.
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There must also be doubts over former French Open champion Simona Halep.
She had to pull out from Miami after suffering a disc hernia. The Romanian gave her return date for three weeks, although that seemed optimistic, especially if she is hoping for more than a stop-gap solution.
Halep did recently start working with Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou, though, so it’s clear she is still at least active and has a chance of playing some clay court tennis this year.
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