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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Saturday April 8, 2023

Rafael Nadal

Who will be the kings and queens of clay in 2023? These are the storylines we'll be watching for clues.

The Sunshine Double is in the books and that can only mean one thing for tennis fans… we are on the road to Roland-Garros!

Clay season has kicked off across the globe, and before the big events commence we wanted to make sure you were hip to the five biggest clay storylines for 2023. We’ll kick it off with the two-headed monster at the top of the list…

Tennis Express

Nole and Rafa

A quick glance at the ATP rankings this week shows that Novak Djokovic is once again the tour’s top dog and he’ll be taking the court in Europe for several events over the next two months, with the goal of winning Grand Slam title No.23.

Djokovic, who hasn’t played since falling to Daniil Medvedev in the Dubai semifinals, will start the clay season as the prohibitive favorite. But he’s not the only legend looking to make his mark.

Enter the King of Clay... Rafael Nadal has been under an injury cloud since he suffered a hip flexor injury at the Australian Open in January, but word on the street is that he’s close to 100 percent and setting his sights on winning his 15th Roland-Garros. Unfortunately we won't learn a lot more at Monte-Carlo, as the Spaniard has already pulled out, declaring himself not quite ready for prime time, but Nadal's time to shine on his beloved clay should come soon enough.

If anyone possesses the necessary savoir faire to get the body and mind in sync for the long slog to Paris, it is Nadal, and the fact that he's elected to skip Monte-Carlo is likely a calculated decision made with just that in mind. We certainly wouldn’t count Nadal out when it comes to locking up a record 15th Roland-Garros title in Paris this spring.

All eyes will be on Novak and Rafa in the coming months as they start to show their form on the clay - the race for major title number 23 is officially underway.

Number two storyline… Iga Swiatek

Several players have done their part to chip away a bit of Iga’s aura in 2023. Full credit to Elena Rybakina, who handed the World No.1 two straight sets losses in their last two meetings. And Aryna Sabalenka, who played lights-out tennis winning the Aussie Open and reaching the final at Indian Wells. There’s also Barbora Krejcikova, who handed Iga a rare loss in a final in Dubai.

Good on ‘em… But as the scene shifts to Europe we have to take into account that Iga is still very much invincible on her beloved clay – until proven otherwise.

Swiatek has gone 37-4 on clay since the start of 2020, with five titles and a 7-1 record against the Top 5. Can Swiatek maintain that domination, or will her top rivals keep chipping away at it? That’s why we’ll be glued to our live streams from now until the middle of June!

Medvedev the Specialist?

In case you hadn’t heard: Daniil Medvedev is the hottest player in men’s tennis at the moment. The Russian has won 24 of his last 25 matches and has impressively raised four trophies – Rotterdam, Doha, Dubai and Miami – since the beginning of February.

With clay underway, That hot streak could soon be over. Clay is Medvedev’s Kryptonite, and unless the Russian can flip that script over the next two months, his Grand Slam aspirations will be put on hold. Our question is this: Can Medvedev surprise us all and translate his winning ways to clay? Perhaps he has the patience and the positivity to make strides this year… time will tell…

Clay season Storyline number 4…Carlos and Jannik

With Djokovic and Nadal on the sidelines during March, Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner stepped up big time at Indian Wells and Miami, and it certainly bodes well for the future of the men’s game. Alcaraz won the title at Indian Wells and Sinner reached the final in Miami, with the pair meeting in scintillating semifinals in both events.

Sinner and Alcaraz showed their potential on the hard courts, now it is time to see what they can do on clay. Both consider themselves to be better on hard courts, but neither has a problem on clay – they aren’t clay allergic by any stretch. Alcaraz will not play Monte-Carlo, but we should learn a bit more about Sinner’s form on the clay this week, where he is slated to face Djokoivic in the quarterfinals in Monte-Carlo.

Contenders Not Named Iga

And finally, a look at potential contenders on the women’s side. Those not named Iga, that is…

We’ve already established Swiatek as the favorite on clay in 2023, but she could be pushed by the WTA’s deep, talented second-tier. Players like Elena Rybakina, who came within a whisker of reaching the Roland-Garros semis in 2021. Or Caroline Garcia, who defeated Iga on clay last year in the Warsaw final. There’s also Coco Gauff, last year’s runner-up in Paris, and 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova.

Paula Badosa, Belinda Bencic, Ons Jabeur, Daria Kasatkina and Jessica Pegula are all looking good in Charleston this week, and that bodes well for their spring season... As always, there’s a lot of depth on the women’s side, and we’re eager to see which names step up to contend for titles on the terre battue this spring. It will take something special to dethrone Swiatek but the prime suspects are already lining up.


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