A postcard from - Andalucía & Sardegna Open 2021

The red mist descends as we enter the clay season

Walking into the locker room at Roland Garros, I see all the clay experts leaning against the walls, leering. Dirt rats, Nick calls them. They’ve been here for months, practicing, waiting for the rest of us to finish hard courts and fly into their clay lair.

Andre Agassi | Open

The red mist has descended upon the players and fans alike. The inherent seasonality of tennis means that it’s time to bid adieu, at least for the time being, to the blue and dive into the red.

But as Andre Agassi already noted in 1988, it is a dangerous land. In other words—welcome to Europe, here be monsters.

The fiercest of the beasts lies in wait still. Apart from ominous rumblings echoing around a practice court in Manacor, he will remain in slumber for another week. But his acolytes—unshackled, and freed from the fetters of hard courts—have been unleashed, and are already claiming the red domain in the name of their master.

The clay season has arrived… or has it?

Following a jubilant tweet celebrating the start of the clay season, the good people at Roland Garros had to dial back their excitement when the French Tennis Federation decided to push the tournament back by one week citing the ongoing pandemic situation in France.

Toni Nadal returns to the Tour 🇪🇸🇨🇦

Tío Toni is back in the game.

After passing on the reins of Rafa Nadal’s career to Carlos Moya, Toni Nadal had great hopes for his semi-retirement. He’d go fishing more, he’d thought. He would finally catch up on season six of Sex and the City. And he would never have to wake up early again for a 6 AM flight to Shanghai.

After a few months of that newly-found freedom, Toni Nadal, bouncing between the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca and his other tennis-related duties, found himself doing his best impression of bored Pablo Escobar in Narcos. And the sixth season of Sex and the City is not that good, anyway.

Hence, the big return. The man largely credited with the creation of the machine that is Rafa Nadal takes another youngster under his wings. Félix Auger-Aliassime is only 20 but has already been on the Tour for a while, notching a 56% win rate over 129 ATP level matches.

What Félix will hope for is help with his record in finals. Over the last 2 years, Félix Auger-Aliassime had reached seven ATP Tour finals—two of them ATP500s and five ATP250s. He had lost all of them.

Toni Nadal is a supremely accomplished coach. Félix Auger-Aliassime is an extremely talented young player. Over the coming months, we will see if the two click together, and whether Toni can mould another player into a force to be reckoned with.

Andalucía Open 🇪🇸

The inaugural edition of the Andalucía Open ATP250 took place under the at-this-time-of-the-year-still-merciful Marbella sun, in the south of Spain. 10 of the 28 entrants in the tournament hail from Spain and didn’t take much convincing in order to make the short trip.

The list included top seed Pablo Carreño Busta (ranked 15 in the ATP), seeded fourth Tour veteran Albert Ramos Viñolas (42), seeded fifth NextGen alumni Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (51), and sixth seed Feliciano López (71). The Spanish contingent was rounded up by Carlos Alcaraz, awarded a wild card into the tournament, and Nadal’s next-door neighbour Jaume Munar.

If, at 39, López had doubts about whether his ranking will ever overtake his age again, he was issued a stern reminder in the second round by 17-year-old Carlos Alcaraz. The teenager went on to make the semifinals of the tournament, in the process recording his 7th Tour win before the age of 18—that’s two better than Sascha Zverev, and one better than Roger Federer (no pressure, Carlito).

As the tournament progressed, the Spaniards filled the quarterfinal spots, and the final saw Pablo Carreño Busta take on Jaume Munar.

After 2h23m, Pablo Carreño Busta, covered in clay head to toe, dealt his younger compatriot the finishing blow. This is Carreño Busta’s fifth title—second on clay. He moves up three spots to number 12 in the official rankings.

🇪🇸 Pablo Carreño Busta d. 🇪🇸 Jaume Munar - 6:1 2:6 6:4

Sardegna Open 🇮🇹

Sardegna, just like Marbella, was mainly attended by the locals. 7 out of the 28 participants put down their Cappuccinos for long enough to play a few sets of tennis at the Tennis Club Cagliari.

First seed Dan Evans (ATP ranking 32) found himself on the receiving end of history as he was eliminated from the tournament by the Young Player of the Moment, 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti.

Musetti stormed into the tournament as if he had better things to do, dropping two games in the first three sets he played (6:0 6:1 against Dennis Novak and 6:1 1:6 7:6 against Dan Evans). Musetti’s barnstorming run took him into the quarterfinals, where he lost to Laslo Đere, but the two wins were enough to boost him to a new career-high ranking of 84.

The last two men standing were Laslo Đere and Lorenzo Sonego. After a marathon of a battle, Sonego outlasted Đere over 3h3m. This is the Italian’s second ATP tournament win, the first coming on grassy courts of Antalya against another Serb, Miomir Kecmanović, in 2019.

The win gives Lorenzo Sonego a boost of six ranking places, bumping him up to a career-best ranking of 25.

🇮🇹 Lorenzo Sonego d. 🇷🇸 Laslo Đere - 2:6 7:6[5] 6:4

Monte Carlo draw 🇲🇨

The Monte Carlo draw is out and no one is happier than Márton Fucsovics. The Hungarian, following his fourth consecutive loss to Andrey Rublev, walked off the Miami courts audibly wishing that he “never plays Rublev again this year”.

His wish has come true and, in Monte Carlo, Fucsovics will have the opportunity to lose to another Russian-speaking prodigy, Sascha Zverev.

With the big boys back in the fold, other parts of the draw are equally enticing. Jannik Sinner will be excited about a potential clash with Novak Djokovic in round two and Rafa Nadal, seeded third in the tournament and gunning for his 12th title in Monte Carlo, is on a collision course with Grigor Dimitrov.

Lorenzo Musetti will face high-flying Aslan Karatsev in the first round, Tío Toni’s new protégé, Félix Auger-Aliassime, will battle it out against Cristian Garín, and Hubert Hurkacz, coming off his impressive Miami Open win, will take on a qualifier, Thomas Fabbiano.

Expect sparks to fly higher than clay.

Deep Dive 🌎

In the first edition of our Deep Dive section, we offer an insight into the country distribution of the Top 100 ATP players.

  • France and Spain, with 11 players each, have the most ATP players in the top 100

  • Italy and the USA, with an equally impressive record, have 10 players each

  • Australia (6), Argentina (5), Serbia (5) are the next most populated countries followed by Canada and Russia with four players each

  • Out of the Slam countries, UK fares the worst—only three players in the top 100

Around the net 🎾

Biggest movers 🔥

🔥 118 (+15) Carlos Alcaraz (reaches a new career-high ranking after his Andalucía Open exploits)

🔥 81 (+14) Jaume Munar (Andalucía Open finalist)

⬆️ 49 (+8) Laslo Djere (Sardegna finalist)

⬆️ 28 (+6) Lorenzo Sonego (reaches a new career-high ranking after winning Sardegna Open)

⬆️ 84 (+6) Lorenzo Musetti (new career-high ranking)

⬆️ 12 (+3) Pablo Carreño Busta (Andalucía Open winner)