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Future of tennis: Clay season predictions

Rafael+Nadal+is+now+in+his+farewell+season+but+will+likely+forever+be+recognized+as+the+%E2%80%9CKing+of+Clay.%E2%80%9D+Nadal+played+Andy+Murray+in+the+2014+Roland+Garros+semi-final%2C+where+Murray+was+beaten+in+straight+sets+%E2%80%94+6-3%2C+6-2+and+6-1.+Photo+courtesy+of+Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric+de+Villamil+%2F+Flickr
Rafael Nadal is now in his farewell season but will likely forever be recognized as the “King of Clay.” Nadal played Andy Murray in the 2014 Roland Garros semi-final, where Murray was beaten in straight sets — 6-3, 6-2 and 6-1. Photo courtesy of Frédéric de Villamil / Flickr

In the world of tennis, the previous world champion, Novak Djokovic, faces a dip in form, causing new players to step up as dominant competitors. Djokovic announced the split with his long-term coach, Goran Ivanisevic, March 27. In this announcement, he also expressed uncertainty regarding who will fill that position, if anyone at all.

With Djokovic’s temporary absence, the doors are left open for fellow tennis players to rise to the occasion and prove themselves.

Biggest Breakthrough

Prediction: Grigor Dimitrov

Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov takes to the grass courts during the 2015 Wimbledon tournament. Dimitrov lost in the third round, where he fell at the hand of Richard Gasquet and lost in straight sets — 6-3, 6-4 and 6-4. Photo courtesy of Carine06/Flickr.


Ever since Roger Federer burst onto the tennis scene in 1998, his one-handed backhand has left spectators speechless. However, Federer wasn’t the first person to step on the court with a one-hander. The one-handed backhand is a tradition dating back to when Rod Laver and Don Budge used it in the 1940s.

It is a rare yet incredibly valued shot that requires the perfect balance of coordination, speed and control. As of Feb. 19, there were no one-handed backhands in the top 10. This was the first time since 1973 that the top 10 rankings only saw two-handed backhands.

Tennis fans have a reputation for being extremely traditional. Therefore, the breaking of a long-lived tradition like the one-handed backhand upset the vast majority of fans who appreciated its rich history. However, that didn’t last long when Grigor Dimitrov found his way back into the top 10 for the first time since 2018, just a month later.

Dimitrov has always been one of the most respected players. The versatility of his game, paired with the craving people have for his one-handed backhand, makes him a strong contender for an incredible breakthrough season this year.

Dimitrov has this finesse about his tennis — I don’t see any major gaps in his game. He is a very well-rounded player, which makes him incredibly adaptable on the court, and he can also keep his composure and stay calm during big moments, which gives him a huge advantage against highly emotional opponents.

Additionally, Dimitrov has a solid backhand slice. In a tour dominated by big hitters, being a good defender is incredibly helpful. He also comes to the net often, which adds a sense of unpredictability to his game.

In a way, I see direct parallels between Dimitrov and Federer, as they both share precision in their games and maintain composure. The absence of Djokovic and the transition onto clay makes it ideal timing for Dimitrov to develop his career further.

In his appearance at the Miami Open in March, Dimitrov beat top 10 players Carlos Alcaraz and Hubert Hurkacz. Dimitrov made it to the final where he lost at the hands of Jannik Sinner.

Despite just falling short, this deep run affirmed just how dangerous he is on the court when he is in good form. These conditions are ideal for Dimitrov to continue this winning path into the clay season and climb up the rankings.

Fan Favorite

Prediction: Jannik Sinner

Sinner strikes a backhand at last year’s Monte Carlo Masters April 14, 2023. The Italian reached the semi-final where he lost to fellow youngster Holger Rune. Photo courtesy of si.robi/Flickr.

There is no denying that Jannik Sinner is in his best form right now. The 22-year-old has 13 Association of Tennis Professionals tour titles to his name, including the 2024 Australian Open. He has been extremely consistent, making deep runs in close to all tournaments this season.

Sinner has rapidly moved up the rankings and captured spectators’ attention ever since he transitioned to the professional tour. The variety that he has in his game leaves no room for his opponents to break him down.

His groundstrokes are tremendously powerful and exceptionally consistent, allowing him to win long rallies. He is swift to the ball, his footwork is on-point and he has excellent flair in his shots.

I admire Sinner’s variability because, although he prefers to stay at the baseline, he isn’t afraid to come to the net. He has great technique on his drop shots, as well as solid volleys. What’s more, Sinner is able to change the rhythm of play and manipulate his opponent well.

According to Sportskeeda, Sinner has struggled with his fitness in the past, often becoming sick and even having to withdraw from games due to illness. However, he is said to have improved his endurance in the gym, and it seems like his bouts of sickness are mostly behind him.

In addition to his tennis, Sinner has built an extremely large following both on and off court, and he has attracted a fan club known as the Carota Boys. The name originates from when Sinner was seen eating carrots at changeovers.

When he first started rising up the rankings, Sinner was one of the quieter players. He always seemed incredibly focused, well-mannered and kind. However, his personality has truly blossomed as he has found his game and reached the top.

Sinner has recently become more comfortable in front of cameras and big crowds, enabling him to display more of his personality. He is a positive character with respectful sportsmanship, so I believe the crowd will continue to reciprocate his energy.

Overall, based on how well he has been playing and his admirable character, Sinner is the favorite for the clay season. He is an extremely likable player and is able to use the crowd’s appeal as motivation.




Most Anticipated Performance

Prediction: Stefanos Tsitsipas

Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas hit the grass courts at Wimbledon in 2018. Tsitsipas reached the semi-finals but fell at the hands of John Isner in the round of 16, losing straight sets — 4-6, 6-7 and 6-7. Photo courtesy of Carine06/Flickr.


The former No. 3 in the world and two-time Monte Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas has now left the top 10. The Greek number 1 is yet to live up to expectations for this season.

At the beginning of his career in 2013, there were many expectations placed on Greek players, as they had yet to break into the top 10. The fact that Tsitsipas reached as high as No. 3 in the world in Aug. 2021 was a huge deal for his country.

Consequently, tennis fans expected him to continue lifting trophies, become world No. 1 and make deep runs in most tournaments. These ambitions simply proved too much. This past year, it appears that Tsitsipas hasn’t lived up to his past accomplishments.

Tsitsipas was in a public relationship with a fellow tennis player, Paula Badosa, leaving him spending less time on the court. He has played fewer tournaments than he has in past years, in addition to being out at the beginning of the year due to a back injury.

According to Tennis 365, Tsitsipas has faced much criticism about how his relationship distracted him from his tennis career. The reality is there have been many players in relationships who were never labeled as distracted or who were scrutinized in the same way.

Badosa announced on her Instagram story that she and Tsitsipas had “amicably part ways” May 6. Over the past year, the former couple had gained public popularity and even created a joint Instagram account, called Tsitsidosa. Thus, their break-up announcement was extremely unexpected.

Nonetheless, I never thought Tsitsipas’ dip in form was due to his relationship. Alternatively, I thought he had lost motivation as the season progressed, but I am intrigued to see how the former Monte-Carlo champion will perform this year.

Tennis-wise, Tsitsipas has a lot of potential to regain consistency. He is able to generate a lot of power on his forehands and is strong at the net. At 1.93m, he is also extremely tall, which plays to his advantage; he moves very well and can cover a lot of distance quite quickly.

He has good hands at the net and has a very varied game, which always helps. He defended his title in Monte-Carlo for the third time April 14. However, he has lost early in more recent tournaments.

Most importantly, Tsitsipas plays particularly well on clay. Considering it is his favorite surface, he has the ability to turn things around and make his mark this season.


Best Crowd Pleaser on Court

Prediction: Frances Tiafoe

Frances Tiafoe strikes a backhand on the practice court in preparation for his opening match in the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston, Texas, which took place in April 2024. He received a wildcard on the doubles court and competed alongside Germany’s Dustin Brown. Photo courtesy of mirsasha/Flickr.

America’s Frances Tiafoe is one of the best crowd-pleasers on the court. The world No. 20 and former No. 10 has won 3 ATP titles.

Tiafoe has an intriguing playing style. He swings very freely but can be explosive and has a lot of variety in his game. He frequently uses the serve and volley combination and is particularly sharp and quick when moving around the court.

From the moment he steps onto the court, Tiafoehe has his headphones in, bold Nike prints on and all the noise from the crowd blocked out. There is a louder and more cheerful energy in the stadium when he walks out; the stands are louder, spectators are smiling and he seems to play stronger because of it.

Predicting Tiafoe’s shot selection is difficult, as he often changes his game style. His quick thinking and unique shot selection make him both a tough opponent and an engaging competitor to watch.
The American likes to come forward and has an exceptional touch at the net. He is known for finishing points with his behind the back volleys and outstretched overheads, in addition to his smile between points and casual walk back to the baseline.

However, behind Tiafoe’s chilled personality is an emotive intention. To him, his breakthrough to the top 10 meant more than just a personal goal — Tiafoe hopes to inspire the younger generation and people of color that these achievements are possible.

His energy on the court makes him extremely likable. When he plays, he finds this fire from inside which seems to burn brighter as the match progresses. He will have moments of extreme intensity where he runs for every ball and other moments of pure entertainment.

Tiafoe has found this balance between being a fierce competitor and interacting with the crowd by involving them in the match. He draws energy from the crowd and feeds off of that energy, allowing him to find newfound motivation in big points. He cultivates this personal connection with the people around him and that makes his game uniquely inspiring and entertaining.

Tiafoe has the potential to go very far in his career. He has already touched a lot of people and when he hits the clay courts, he can propel himself even farther. I specifically see him winning Grand Slams and gaining an even greater following in the future.


Conclusion

Overall, the future of tennis looks bright with young, fun and inspiring players continuing to modernize and popularize the sport. Their strong work ethics and talent continue to attract spectators and allow them to sustain their following.

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About the Contributor
Alexandra Theofilopoulou ('27) is a Reporter for The Standard in Multimedia Journalism.

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