By Roger Childs

Playing on the dusty, orange clay

After a successful defence of his Barcelona Open title, Carlos Alcaraz said he is there to “build his own history” and he doesn’t ”want to  take over from anyone. –The Guardian, 24 April 2023

The major clay tournaments are played in Europe and the first big one was in Monte Carlo earlier this month. The Barcelona Open and BMW Open finished last weekend and now it’s on to Madrid and then to Rome. The play of the orange clay culminates at the grand slam in Paris, at Roland Garros, in late May – early June.

Holger Rune.

In 2022 this clay major was won by Rafael Nadal to give him a record breaking 14th title – a phenomenal achievement. However it’s unlikely that the Spanish maestro will win this year as he has played little tennis in 2023 because of injury. Major contenders for this second grand slam of the year are the winners of last weekend’s tournaments in Barcelona and Munich – Carlos Alcaraz from Spain and Dane Holger Rune.

Winning on the clay

Andrey Rublev

At Monte Carlo – a venue with amazing views of the Mediterranean Sea – Russian Andrey Rublev beat Rune 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 in the final. In the deciding set the Dane was within one point of taking a 5-1 lead, but fell apart while the Russian kept his focus. 

At Munich Rune looked as if he would again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when seemingly in control. He took the first set comfortably 6-4 but then his play became loose and inaccurate, and Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp kept his cool to take set two 6-1. In the deciding set it was the Dutchman who faltered. At one point he was 5-2 ahead and had two match points, but Rune fought back. Then at 5-4 van der Zandschulp again had the chance to take the championship, but he became nervous, made a number of unforced errors and consequently the match went to a tie break.

The large crowd definitely got their money’s worth with six breaks of serve in the final set and plenty of quality play characterised by many powerful rallies with the occasional drop shots providing variety. In the end the Dane prevailed 7-3 in the breaker leaving van der Zandschulp to rue losing four match points.

Alcaraz too strong in Barcelona

Stephanos Tsitsipas.

Stephanos Tsitsipas was the Spaniard’s opponent in the Barcelona Masters’ final. Alcaraz has a strong serve and powerful ground strokes which net him many winners. The Greek can match the Spaniard’s forehands and backhands, but frequently gets caught out by his drop shots. Alcaraz popularized the latter Roland Garros last year and now all players employ the surprise stroke to have their opponents scrambling from the back of the court to retrieve the ball close to the net. 

In the Barcelona final the Spanish player won the first set 6-3 and in the second used drop shots ten times. Tsitsipas was slow to anticipate these deceptive plays, and only got a racquet on two of them. Alcaraz eventually won the tournament decider 6-3 6-4.

The focus now shifts to the Madrid Masters where a strong field will be lining up.