Guten Morgen and Bom Dia!
As far as the clay swing is concerned, all roads lead to Rome (eventually). But before they do, they stop in Madrid. And before that, they meander a little bit around Europe before then leading to Rome and, eventually, Paris.
This week, the Tour splinters in three—a group of players fly off to Germany for the Bavarian Open, another group travels to Portugal for the Estoril Open, and a select few, who don’t normally bother with anything less than a 500 level tournament, decided to take the week off.
Out of the top-30, only four players donned their clay court shoes this week: Denis Shapovalov (ranked 14) and Cristian Garín (22) in Estoril, and Alexander Zverev (6) and Casper Ruud (24) in Munich.
A note from the editor: when we say only four players donned their clay court shoes, this doesn’t mean that the rest of them played barefoot or wearing incorrect footwear—it means they were absent from the tournament.
Hanging up the racquet
Barbora Strycova and Alexandr Dolgopolov announced their retirements from professional tennis.
Strycova—a six-time Fed Cup winner, Olympic bronze medallist, Wimbledon winner, and a former world number one in doubles—is expecting her first baby later this year and said she would like to play one more match in front of crowds before saying goodbye for good.
Former number 13, Alexandr Dolgopolov, retires having never fully recovered from a wrist injury sustained during training in Australia in 2018. His last professional tennis match took place in May of that year against Novak Djokovic.
“I hope I was fun to watch. I never broke any tennis records, but I hope I played entertaining tennis for fans,” said the mirthful Ukrainian.
Age is just a number
Ivo Karlović, Roger Federer, Feliciano López are just a few of the players defying the relentless sands of time, but even they don’t measure up to 74-year-old Gail Falkenberg.
Falkenberg, having started playing at 38, returned to professional tennis on Monday at an ITF tournament in Naples, US after a 3-year break.
Falkenberg, who once played Naomi Osaka in 2013, sadly posed no challenge to French number 796, 20-years-old Tiphanie Fiquet, losing 6:0 6:0. However, it is fair to say that at this stage in her career, the septuagenarian plays for fun rather than results.
“I'll keep playing until my body tells me to stop. I can still win a professional game,” she said unbowed.
Take note, Roger.
Estoril round up 🇵🇹
Last edition’s winner (Estoril didn’t happen in 2020 due to the pandemic), Stefanos Tsitsipas, gave up the defence of the trophy without a fight, opting instead to spend the week preparing for the Madrid Masters.
With most of the top-30 taking a break, a slew of clay court enthusiasts took to the courts in the hope of finding their feet on the red surface before the brutal Madrid-Rome-Roland Garros combo.
Spanish prodigies, Carlos Alcaraz and Jaume Munar, made it into the main draw with relative ease, neither of the players dropping a set in the two qualifying rounds. However, both of them fell in the first round of the tournament—Alcaraz losing in three sets to seed number six Marin Čilić (3:6 6:1 4:6) and Munar (3:6 6:3 4:6) going down to Jérémy Chardy in a similar fashion.
Marin Čilić will consider the tournament to be one of his better displays in recent months. The Croat fought hard in each of his matches en route to a semi-final where he lost to eventual finalist Cameron Norrie (7:6 7:5).
Norrie, for his part, impressed playing a level of tennis he showed only glimpses of so far in his career. Before dealing with Čilić, Norrie came back from a set down against an accomplished clay aficionado and seed number two Cristian Garín (3:6 7:5 6:3).
The top half of the draw was deftly navigated by seed number seven Albert Ramos Viñolas. The 33-year-old Spaniard is a permanent fixture during the clay season and has already impressed in 2021 even for his high standards—going into the tournament he has made the Cordoba final and Buenos Aires and Marbella semi-finals.
On the way to the final, Viñolas didn’t drop a set, in the process defeating a fellow veteran Fernando Verdasco (6:3 6:3), doubles specialist Pierre-Hugues Herbert (6:2 7:6, Shapovalov-slaying Corentin Moutet (6:4 6:3), and freshly-broken-into-top-50 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (6:1 6:4).
The first real test came in the final against Cameron Norrie. After dropping a set, Viñolas rallied back, winning the trophy and making it his 16th win on clay this season—the Tour best.
Despite the loss, Norrie moves back into the top-50 with a ranking of 48.
🇪🇸 Albert Ramos Viñolas d. 🇬🇧 Cameron Norrie - 4:6 6:3 7:6
Munich round up 🇩🇪
Although lacking in the top-20 department, Bavarian Open was more heavily stacked in terms of emerging and ongoing talent. The tournament had a stop-and-start feel to it caused by frequent rain delays, compressing the draw, and forcing some players to play two matches in one day.
Emil Ruusuvuori and Sebastian Korda, both players with undoubtedly bright futures, experienced harsh reality checks in the first round of the tournament—the former losing to Ilya Ivashka (6:1 6:2) and the latter to Daniel Elahi Galán Riveros (6:1 7:6).
Ivashka, a Belarusian number 107, is currently enjoying a spell of impressive results—taking a set off Rafa Nadal on clay in Barcelona and defeating top seed Alexander Zverev (6:7 7:5 6:3) on the way to a semi-final in Munich, where he lost to the finalist Jan-Lennard Struff (6:4 6:1).
Struff won the top half of the draw taking down Slovak lucky-loser Andrej Martin (6:4 6:3), navigating a tight encounter with a fellow German Dominik Koepfer (7:6 6:7 6:2), Serb Filip Krajinović (6:4 4:6 7:6), and Ilya Ivashka.
The other spot in the final was secured by the Qatar winner Nikoloz Basilashvili who carved his way through the draw defeating Brazilian Thiago Monteiro (6:2 6:3), Colombian qualifier Daniel Elahi Galán Riveros (6:4 6:2), another Slovak lucky-loser Norbert Gombos (6:4 6:4), and, on the same day, seed number two, Norwegian Casper Ruud (6:1 6:2).
In the final Basilashvili overpowered Jan-Lennard Struff to clinch his second title of the year. The Georgian, playing comfortable and assured tennis, didn’t drop a set over the course of the tournament. With his win in Munich, he now boasts a 5-2 record in finals at the ATP level, losing his first two and winning the next five.
🇬🇪 Nikoloz Basilashvili d. 🇩🇪 Jan-Lennard Struff - 6:4 7:6
Around the net
Say farewell to the sight of Dominic Thiem feeding ducks in Hyde Park or Rafa Nadal shopping for toilet seat warmers for his boat at Harrods. Starting in 2022, Wimbledon will cancel the Middle Sunday break and thus become a 14-day day event, a statement by the AELTC said.
“To be able to launch this new tradition at the same time as celebrating the history of Centre Court in 2022 is something we look forward to immensely,” announced the chairman, Ian Hewitt, to the horror of all linguists.
Juan Manuel Cerundolo claims his first Challenger title. The talented 19-year-old claimed his maiden trophy at the Garden Open in Rome, where he became the youngest Argentinian champion since Federico Delbonis in 2009.
Once his playing days are over, Dominic Thiem can safely move into scouting, showing himself an astute talent spotter. Here is Tío Toni’s heir apparent at work.