Clay court strongmen flex their muscles-Article
This article is from the French Open WebSite. Great stuff!
Aged just 18, Rafael will be the hot favourite for what is his first outing in Paris. The kid is enjoying the kind of clay court form which Thomas Muster boasted prior to his triumph in 1995. Supremely dominant, the Majorcan has netted five titles in 2005 on his favourite surface, and comes to Paris on the back of a sensational Monte-Carlo-Barcelona-Rome treble. In the final of the Italian event, "Rafa" overcame Guillermo Coria in a marathon 5 hour 15 minute clash which is already being dubbed a "classic" (6/4, 3/6, 6/3, 4/6, 7/6). Wisely, he has heeded the advice of his uncle and coach, Toni, and drawn the line at contesting the Hamburg ATP Masters Series. The breather is sure to do him the world of good in the run up to Roland.
Devoid of titles going into the Hamburg ATP Masters Series, the Argentine’s clay court season has been disappointing yet encouraging, as the 2004 French Open finalist has managed to reach finals in both Monte-Carlo and Rome, where only the stunning form of Rafael Nadal denied him his first silverware. But these failures have clearly taken their toll on his confidence levels and he has begun to show signs of nerves in certain matches. Nevertheless, his game is still rock-solid and due to his increased physical strength, he is perhaps even better equipped than last year.
Going into the Hamburg tournament, which he has won for the last two years, the world number one will be looking to get his clay court season going, having only competed in Monte-Carlo so far this year, where he lost out in the quarter-finals to Richard Gasquet. Slim pickings indeed. After being forced to give Rome a miss because of a foot injury (inflammation of the plantar arches), Federer’s preparations will be greatly dependent on the German tournament. Premature elimination in Hamburg would reduce his clay-court warm-up to the bare minimum, on a surface where his reign has never been quite so assured.
From good… to not so good. Gaudio’s recent results on clay have been quite respectable. He has already clinched three titles (Viña del Mar, Buenos Aires and Estoril), but has also suffered two one-sided defeats at the hands of Rafael Nadal in Monte-Carlo (6/3, 6/0) and David Ferrer at Rome (6/0, 6/1). These losses have undoubtedly sapped his confidence, but they’ve also offered him a breather. As is often the case with Gaudio, it’s the mental aspect that’s decisive, but one thing’s for sure: the reigning title-holder will be ready for Roland-Garros.
Now aged 35, he remains an accomplished performer on clay and has been in decent form of late. In Rome, he reached the semi-finals by offering Richard Gasquet a tennis lesson, then gave Guillermo Coria plenty of food for thought. In Hamburg, he’ll be looking to fine-tune his preparations, which are sure to be more meticulous than in 2004. No one knows if the American will be saying his goodbyes at Roland, but he’s certainly capable of enjoying a triumphant swansong in Paris.
In beating Albert Costa in Rome, Andy Roddick claimed one of his finest wins on clay, but failed narrowly to repeat his feat against another specialist on the surface, Fernando Verdasco, against whom he spurned four match points. A winner in Houston, the American is showing real signs of progress on a surface he has traditionally found problematic, and his participation in Rome and now Hamburg has left no one in any doubt of his desire to do well.
What’s happened to the Australian Open champion? Since his coronation in Melbourne, the Russian has reeled from one poor performance to another, reserving his worst displays for what is probably his favourite surface, clay. For with the exception of the Monte-Carlo tournament, where he prevailed over two players ill at ease on the dirt, he is yet to get past the second round. In Rome, most worryingly, he allowed unsuspected physical limitations to be exposed by the young Spaniard Nicolas Almagro. Perhaps he will be stirred in Paris by the stature of the event…
Whatever happens, Lleyton Hewitt will be short of match and competition practice in Paris. At best, he will have taken part in just one clay court tournament before Roland-Garros, after being absent since his final at Indian Wells in early March with a toe injury. History has shown that Lleyton needs to get plenty of matches under his belt to be effective on clay. His mind may be elsewhere too – he has just announced his intention to remarry and become a father again!