Notes on a draw sheet: Clay court season heats up

Hola, Madrid. Serious clay courts here now.

The clay courts are really starting now. Yes, it was important in Monte Carlo and Barcelona (the guys), and Stuttgart and Prague (the girls). But coming soon are three gigantic events: Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros.

Roland Garros is in five weeks and whoever wins on clay, they will be extremely happy, even if they happen to lose early on grass and then the hard courts. You will remember who wins in Paris — forever.

This week in Spain, Madrid has already started.

In Istanbul, one-time Grand Slam champion Marin Cilic overcame Milos Raonic 7-6(3) 6-3.

In Munich, the 20-year-old Alexander Zverev beat Guido Pella 6-4, 6-3 to win his biggest title yet. Zverev is coming up big time. The 6’6” player is now ranked No. 17, and he is coming up super fast. “I’m confident. I’m playing well so hopefully I can keep going and play some great tennis in the upcoming weeks,” Zverev said.  My colleague, Ron Cioffi, predicted at least a year ago that Zverev would be No. 1 at some point in his career.

The last time that a teenager won a Grand Slam was 12 years ago, when Rafa Nadal won Roland Garros in 2005. None of the top competitors were unable to grab Slams when they were teenagers: not Roger Ferrer, not Novak Djokovic, not Andy Murray, not Stan Wawrinka. Only Nadal, who was only 19 years old. He was very young, and he had a lot of work to do, but regardless, he ran like the wind.

Zverev isn’t as fast as Nadal is, but the German crushes the ball from the backcourt, with his serve, his forehand and his backhand. Ka-boom!

Nadal won this year’s Monte-Carlo and Barcelona, but now, he might have to face Murray and/or Djokovic this week. Not Wawrinka, who looks undisciplined. The Britain and the Serbian are struggling, so the Spaniard is the favorite.


Maria Sharapova was unable to win Stuttgart, but she did reach the semis, which was more or less OK. But now, she has to focus and disregard fans who are screaming at her. It has been a very, very trying 15 months off since she was banned. Now she is back, and hopefully, she can be super nice to everyone. But, it won’t be easy, that is for sure.

On Sunday, Sharapova beat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 and will play Genie Bouchard in the second round. They have played four times, with the American/Russian winning all of them, but at least the Canadian pushed her in Roland Garros a few years ago. Sharapova is the favorite, because Bouchard had just lost six matches in a row. The former No. 5 is very strong, but her brain goes away pretty quickly. Bouchard absolutely has to calm down or Sharapova will crush her.

Three of the top US American women aren’t in Madrid: Serena Williams won’t play the rest of the year (she’s pregnant), Venus is resting, and Madison Keys lost in the first round against Doi. Keys is just coming back, so hopefully, she will get better as fast as she can. Last year, she reached the final at Rome.

The US teenager Catherine Bellis won on Sunday and she is rising very quickly. But on clay? We will find out ASAP.

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