By KATE TAN
After a busy spring hard-court season, the big names of tennis have entered the clay battleground. Rafael Nadal led the ATP players into the Monte-Carlo Masters, which kicked off today.
Next weekend, eight of WTA's top 10 players will fight it out in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart.
Here are the five things to look forward to in the clay season:
Turning 38 this August, Roger Federer has added clay tournaments back into his calendar.
The Swiss Maestro has not played clay tournaments for the past two years in order to keep himself fit for the grass season, which follows the clay season.
This tactic helped him in 2017, where he won his eighth Wimbledon title. However, last year, he stumbled at the quarter-final stage at the All England Club.
A few months ago, Federer announced that he would only show up for the Madrid Masters and the French Open. However, with opponents such as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Dominic Thiem, Federer’s chances to get his hands on a trophy seem slim.
In men’s tennis, clay seems to be synonymous with Nadal. He has dominated clay tournaments over the past decade and has won 57 titles on the surface.
He has 11 titles at Roland Garros, Monte-Carlo, and Barcelona. The only question to ask is, in how many of these tournaments will Nadal win his 12th title?
Thiem might be the biggest threat. Thiem defeated Nadal in Madrid last year and made it to the Roland Garros final as well. This year, the Austrian defeated Federer in the Indian Wells final to claim his first Masters title. With this form, Thiem might be a chance to steal a trophy from Nadal.
However, Nadal still has three opportunities to reach No.12. It is almost certain that the King of Clay will add another record to the long list of his career achievements.
Ashleigh Barty has had a dazzling season. The Queenslander reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the first time in her career and followed that up with the biggest title of her career at Miami.
The Miami title is sure to boost the Aussie’s confidence on clay. She showcased her potential on the surface last year, winning a doubles title in Rome and reaching the doubles final in the French Open.
This season, she is the top seed in the draw at the Internationaux de Strasbourg in France.
As for Roland Garros, Barty will be looking to better her performances from previous years in the singles category. She lost to Madison Keys and Serena Williams respectively in 2017 and 2018 early on in the tournament.
This year, she will enter the draw with a much higher ranking, so she won’t meet top players in the early rounds.
For the first time in WTA history, 16 different players have won the first 16 WTA titles this year.
The list of the 16 champions includes clay experts such as Petra Kvitová and Karolína Plíšková. While Kvitova is the defending champion of the Prague Open and Madrid Open, Plíšková is seeking to reclaim her title at Stuttgart.
One of them could be the first WTA players to break the jinx and win their second title of the year.
However, there are still a few big names who have not won a title in 2019 yet – Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, and Jelena Ostapenko, to name a few. Hence, the trend of no player winning two titles could continue.
The clay season will conclude with the French Open taking place in the third week of May. The 128-year-old Grand Slam will introduce a new court this year.
Court Simonne Mathieu, a new 5000 seat arena, is surrounded by the greenhouses of Roland Garros, which creates an emerald look in contrast with the red clay.
The court is named after one of France's most decorated female players.