Do you want to know the truth of clay court tennis? Forget for a second the mammoth legacy of Rafael Nadal, who’s ownership of the clay court, of Roland Garros and many other dirty venues, has seemingly elevated this surface beyond its mere claim of surface diversity, history and cultural charm. The unevenness of the surface, alone, littered with chunks of court (we could call these dirt clods) should be enough to challenge its credibility. Add the omission of Hawkeye and you start to see a real degradation in quality, consistency and professionalism; having an obstacle course kind of tennis on the calendar isn’t that sexy. Beyond these blemishes, we have the history of clay court tennis at the men’s professional level that succumbs to mediocrity, as in the overall tennis character of the gents who have succeeded on these courts.
I have been over this so many times on this blog. Your Borgs and Nadals are the giant outliers with Wilander and Lendl bringing-up the rear (I’ll leave it at that). 😀
But we saw this claim of mine supported in real time this past week in French Open play, with an exclamation point today from one of the culprits, we’ll call him.
Who is a better tennis player: Denis Shapovalov or Roberto Carballes Baena? So what if Shapo’s form dipped for this match; the repulsiveness of this result, Carballes Baena taking him out in five, builds my argument.
Sure, at the professional ranks, often it’s anyone’s match (or “ball game” as the saying goes). But RCB is not in the tennis class of Shapovalov, but he took him out on the clay court, that’s for sure.
And now I’m going to turn to exhibit B: Hugo Gaston. This guy is relentlessly challenging to the tennis imagination. Let me acknowledge first that some of his aggressive moves into the court to hit an offensive ground stroke and even come-up with some very solid court coverage (of course, that’s part of the dirt baller’s “charm”) and crafty lobs and passing shots did impress.
But the drop shots, with which he literally murdered Stan Wawrinka, littered one’s sense of tennis decency, civility and class (kinda like an image of Trump at this point).
I am the first to say that Domi has looked less than genius all tournament, but as I said earlier, it’s these straight set triumphs playing a more pedestrian tennis that had me starting to think big (at least until a SF against Nadal, which I said at the outset favors ((then and now)) Nadal).
So he gets up a couple of sets on our boy Gaston, but this little bugger almost pulls-off another Paris murder, a cold-blooded massacre: he dug a grave for the Austrian with those touchy drop-shots and almost tripped the disheveled Thiemster into said ditch headfirst.
Who is a better tennis player: Hugo Gaston or Stan Wawrinka? Hugo Gaston or Dominic Thiem?
That’s the truth of clay right there, a capricious, shadowy world that lacks class, transparency (how many calls have these clueless chair umpires missed?) and good sense (like Trump).
I meant to write about a certain (massive) long shot’s game the other day, Daniel Altmaier, speaking of class. I couldn’t find any highlights of his 2020 Roland Garros tennis (his win over Struff, for instance), but I did find this match, indoors, between him and Elias Ymer, a solid player himself.
The German Altmaier is sensational. Yes, he’s a one-hander, but the steadiness of that OHBH against Ymer in the video above and clearly in his play the last week-and-a-half has me all kinds of stoked. This is a steady OHBH.
He hasn’t dropped a set here in Paris and now gets a R16 match-up against Pablo Carreno Busta. To get here, in his win over Berretinni in R32, his hunger and killer instinct really popped-off. He’s vocal, plays aggressively and in that second set vs the Italian 7-seed, he looked ready to lose that set but fought it into a tie-breaker and pretty much smashed any of Berretinni’s hope in that outcome. Impressive stuff from a guy who’s been grinding away on the Challenger tour.
This Challenger experience he attributes to his readiness, actually. He says there are some hard-working talents on that tour; he pointed-out that he and the Italian know each other quite well, as we all know that Matteo’s rise in 2019 comes after his own preparation on the Challenger circuit. Altmaier’s own rise was delayed because of injuries. But here he is, blowing-up the draw at Roland Garros. Can’t wait to see him take-on the steady Spaniard who continues to play well.
Only out of caution, I’d say PCB is the favorite here, given his experience and steady play (though not a dirt baller necessarily, he’s a grinder).
But if the German swipes that one-hander and his opponent all over the court, look the fuck out.
We are thrilled with this development: Lass uns gehen!
Elsewhere in R16 play, Djokovic vs Khachanov. The Serb has had very little trouble throughout and should have more than enough to tame and dispel the Russian. I haven’t seen the Russian play at all. He did beat Novak in that 2018 Paris Masters final, but we still like our Djokovic vs Nadal final here at the 2020 French, so away you go, Karen. 😉
Those four make-up that first QF.
Fucsovics vs Rublev and Dimitrov vs Tsitsipas the second QF.
Haven’t seen the Hungarian play here, but we know he’s solid. I have seen a lot from this Russian over the last few weeks, including here in Paris.
He looks very dangerous, perhaps with the power and confidence to take that next step, into a QF or even a SF. Rublev is hitting the ball hard, returning deep and simply playing with a very focused drive, not letting-down, giving-up, etc. We all liked his come-back from 0-2 to beat Querrey. Look how he dispatched Anderson, too (not to mention our little pal, Davidovitch Fokina). You have to lean the Russian in this one.
The OHBH showcase between Tsitsipas and Dimitrov should be good. I just hope whoever does get through this has some sustainable form to make a deeper run until he meets his maker in the SF.
Down below we have those QFs set: Thiem vs Schwartzman and Nadal vs Sinner.
I see for this bottom-half’s SF a rematch of their Rome QF from a few weeks ago: Nadal vs Schwartzman.
I haven’t seen much of Diego in Paris (saw about 20 minutes of him overcoming the hard-hitting Gombos despite an early scare there in the first set). But he seems pretty untroubled and still with that solid form that actually beat Rafa in straights at the Italian Open a few weeks ago.
Thiem seems a little out of sorts. I say that despite him finding ways to beat these players, most of them in straight sets.
I watched as much of the Thiem vs Ruud match as I could. I like the Norwegian’s game, his demeanor, etc. He looks like a mainstay, especially on clay.
That match, won by Thiem 4 3 and 1 was much closer than the score indicates. Much closer. Yet Thiem did beat him in straights, simply outclassed him in pivotal games, points, etc.
If Thiem beats the Argentine and we get a Nadal vs Thiem French SF, brilliant. We’ll have to assess that then.
I suppose Thiem getting a more straight-forward match of trading blows with a guy like Schwartzman might be a huge relief after this torturous drop-shot display against Gaston. Maybe we see Thiem find another level.
Looking forward to the match.
Sinner is for real, certainly part of the future of the sport, legit. But I see breasdsticks, on a chilly, rainy day in Paris, against the king of clay.
I played some tennis last night, first outing in a while.
My OHBH is atrocious. Send help! 🙂
2 thoughts on “The Truth in Real Time”
Matt, great post. I thought of it when I read this article today from Joel Drucker about the contrasting styles of Djokovic and Tsitsipas: https://www.tennis.com/pro-game/2020/10/djokovic-tsitsipas-khachanov-dimitrov-roland-garros-2020/91241/?fbclid=IwAR0gU-6YVcwy3DmTc_jDiFeBd7Ub6_q1awomZzv93aYJ9lrOVM4hWelNOK0
He makes a logical argument but I think ignores the fact that the classical OHBH represents the sport played in its purest form, as you’ve pointed out many times here.
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I like Drucker’s stuff usually, but this seemed like a soft pro-THBH spin job.
I gave it a good spin, but odd he doesn’t even mention Rafa as part of his “most of the best, most durable tennis is played by two-handers” claim.
But thanks for link and the comment. Love the discussion.
Watching Rafa vs Sinner now. Rafa from here on has a tough grind unless Diego is completely spent. Either way, Rafa’s having to work here.
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