As we wave goodbye to the month of March, the worlds tennis stars will now bid adieu to hard courts and begin their preparations for the clay.
The first two Masters 1000 events of the 2019 season threw up some surprising results and potentially altered the landscape heading into a couple of months of intense action on the European dirt.
For those brave enough to write off Roger Federer after a disappointing 12 months at Grand Slam level, an impressive set of displays at Indian Wells and Miami suggested there is life in the old dog yet.
The 37-year-old Swiss was a losing finalist in California before winning the inaugural event at the Hard Rock Stadium, putting John Isner to the sword in confident fashion in Sundays final.
But will that new-found confidence carry over into the clay? Perhaps not…
Im not very confident going into this clay court season, I can tell you that, because I dont even remember how to slide anymore. Im taking baby steps at this point, said the 20-time Grand Slam champion.
To be honest, I didnt play one point — not one shot on clay, I dont believe, last year. Two years ago I played two days. Three years ago I played not feeling great in Monaco and Rome and all that. So its been so little that I really dont know what to expect.
Its been three years since Federer played competitively on clay and he hasnt played at the French Open since 2015, but he is scheduled to make a hotly-anticipated return in 2019.
Few would have given Federer a prayer of pipping the likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal to the title, but the door has perhaps been slightly left ajar after events in recent weeks.
King of Clay Nadal will be expected to pick up a significant portion of his total annual ranking points and is set to appear in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome before chasing a ridiculous 12th title in Paris.
Last season, the 32-year-old won four of those five events but his long-term knee issue reared its ugly head at Indian Wells, forcing him out of a semi-final with Federer as well as Miami and leaving him in a fitness race ahead of the first clay Masters 1000 event of the year.
Nadal suffered with a similar issue last season, but gave himself more time to recover from his Australian Open retirement against eventual runner-up Marin Cilic, skipping the Sunshine Swing in its entirety before returning to action on the clay in the Davis Cup.
The relative lack of recovery time this time around could play into the hands of potential challengers, with Djokovic the most likely to take full advantage.
But again, the all-conquering Serb left behind more confusion in the USA after some underwhelming performances.
Defeats to Philipp Kohlschreiber and Roberto Bautista Agut, in events where he is traditionally strong, raised eyebrows and while its premature to set the alarm bells off for a man who has won the past three Grand Slam titles, there is understandably some concern over his form.
World No. 1 Djokovic has made no secret of his desire to hold all four majors at once again and the 15-time Slam winner can become the first man in the Open Era to win every Grand Slam on at least two occasions.
He is not the only threat to Nadals title, though, and the man often dubbed the Prince of Clay secured an incredibly impressive result to suggest hes peaking in time for his favoured surface.
Dominic ThieRead More – Source