Looking ahead to the clay season: Is 2024 the year of the young-guns?


The clay season promises to be one of high level and tight margins. With the Monte Carlo open just around the corner, it will be interesting to see who can hit the ground running ahead of Roland Garros in May.

Carlos Alcaraz is the man you would tip ahead of the three ATP 1000 events and the French Open. Alcaraz has shown that he is more than comfortable on the surface, picking up 7 of his 13 career titles on clay. While his two biggest tournament wins have come in Majors on hard court and grass, Alcaraz is certainly a player that is capable of picking up the baton from Rafael Nadal and winning multiple titles at Roland Garros just like his fellow Spaniard did. Last year he was thwarted by Novak Djokovic in the semi-final.

The majority would probably have expected Alcaraz to edge Casper Ruud in the final had he have made it there. This year fans will be backing him to make the final of Roland Garros and give him a strong chance of picking up his third Major.

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain celebrates winning a point during the Men’s Singles Semi Final Match against Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros on June 9, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Andy Cheung/Getty Images)

The momentum in the sport is without a doubt with Italian young-gun Jannik Sinner at the moment. Despite coming up short at the ATP Finals against Novak Djokovic, his group stage win over the Serbian was definitely a turning point in the 22-year-old’s career. He went on to beat Djokovic in the final of the Davis Cup, leading Italy to their first Davis Cup win since 1976.

His biggest victory over the 24-time Grand Slam champion came in the Australian Open semi-final as he put Djokovic to the sword, going on to down Medvedev in one of the greatest comebacks in grand slam final history – coming back from two sets down. Currently, Sinner has only 1 clay title to his name. It is clear that the surface is the Italian’s weakest. Sinner’s sole clay gong in comparison to the Spaniard’s 7 demonstrates a huge preference and performance gap.

It seems as Djokovic nears the end of his career, Alcaraz and Sinner will push Daniil Medvedev out of the picture and cement themselves as the big 2 for the foreseeable future. While very evenly matched, Alcaraz may finish his career with more titles to his name due to his ability to perform on all surfaces. Improving on clay will be a priority for Sinner and this year seems like it could be the time for him to do so. The final ATP 1000 event on clay is the Italian Open and could be a great opportunity for Sinner to perform in a home tournament.

While Novak Djokovic still sits on top at World Number 1, he has shown signs of wilting recently, with the defeat to Sinner at the Australian Open and his shock defeat to Luca Nardi (World No. 75) at Indian Wells. Despite this, Djokovic, arguably the greatest of all time, can never be overlooked and will be expecting to win at least 1 of the big clay events this year. He will prove a tough man to overthrow as he prepares to defend his French Open crown.

Jannik Sinner celebrates winning the 2024 Australian Open. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Casper Ruud has become something of a forgotten man since the emergence of Alcaraz and Sinner but at 25, there is still time for the Norwegian to achieve some big things within the game. Despite seeming to have lost some of the form he was showing in the last couple of years, Ruud is still ranked 8th in the world and 9 out of his 10 career titles are in clay competitions. He has been runner-up in the last two French Open’s and will be hoping he can go one better. With only one title win in 2023 he will be looking to improve in 2024 and has a good chance of advancing to the latter stages of some of the big clay tournaments.

Stefanos Tsitsipas is another player who performs well on clay. Next to an agonising five-set defeat in the 2021 Roland Garros against Novak Djokovic, four of his 10 titles are on clay. Slipping down the rankings to 12th, he will be looking to resurge into the top 10 and like Ruud is one who could use the upcoming tournaments to put himself back in the mix.

It is important to acknowledge Daniil Medvedev, an exceptional player who struggles on clay. One quarter final at Roland Garros doesn’t suggest he will make a big impression at this stage of the tour. A first win on clay in an ATP 1000 event at the Rome Open last year will give him confidence, but he shouldn’t be expected to achieve the same level of success as some of the other players.

Saving the best for last, it would be a sin not to mention the king of clay. While it’s looking like his last season could be blighted by injury, Rafael Nadal can never be out of the conversation when it comes to clay. Without a shadow of a doubt, a prime Nadal on clay is the most dominant tennis player of all time. Unfortunately injuries could mean he isn’t able to perform at the Grand Slam he has enjoyed his most success at. What a story it would be for his swan-song to be a 15th title at Roland Garros – and potentially even a gold medal at the Olympic Games.

Whatever happens, the rest of the players on the tour will be far more confident ahead of these tournaments if Nadal doesn’t play. 2024 could be the season for the rising stars of Tennis to assert their dominance over our ageing legends.

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