The clay court season is nearing its climax. Right now the players are in Rome for the Italian Open and then it is on to Roland Garros for the French Open. And from what we have seen during the clay court season it is clear that even as the superstars are doing their best to hold on to the titles and their top rankings the nearest challengers almost all of them in the top ten are hot on their heels. Whether they will be able to win the Grand Slam events or take over at the very top of the rankings by the end of the year is a moot point. But the keen tussle for leading honours has already made this year’s ATP Tour a fascinating exercise.
Rafael Nadal for one has perhaps never had such a modest record on his favourite surface. The King of Clay has been beaten in the semifinals at Monte Carlo, Barcelona Open and the Madrid Open and he cannot be in a confident frame of mind as he prepares to defend his crown and win a 12th title at the French Open. Roger Federer making his first appearance on clay in three years went down in the quarter final of the Madrid Open. Novak Djokovic however by winning the Madrid Open after comparatively early exits at Monte Carlo and Barcelona has increased his lead over Nadal and looks like the man to beat when it comes to the majors.
While the masters still occupy the first three positions in the rankings serving strong notice are Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas who have been steadily climbing up the rankings through consistent performances. Thiem has risen to No 4 while Tsitsipas who was acknowledged as the leader of the GenNext of players is now perched on a career high No 7 while being outside the top ten not too long ago. The fact that he made it to the final of the Madrid Open before going down to Djokovic confirmed his rising stature particularly as on the way he ousted Nadal in the penultimate round. Thiem too has had a pretty impressive run winning the title at Barcelona defeating Nadal along the way in the semifinal and making it to the last four at Madrid before losing to Djokovic.
So it is the top three and Thiem and Tsitsipas who will garner most of the attention in the coming weeks as the tennis caravan moves from clay to the grass courts in Britain. Alexander Zverev has had an indifferent season and has slipped from No 3 to No 5 in the rankings while the others in the top ten like Kevin Anderson, Juan Martin del Potro and Kei Nishikori while being challengers may lack the firepower to win a Grand Slam event.