After what has seemed like a long month of Masters action in the United States, the ATP and WTA tennis tours resume normal service, with various tournaments around the globe. And it’s clay courts galore, as the players take a break from the hard courts, and put on their sliding shoes.
Houston 250, USA:
The sole clay event the USA for the year, Houston generally draws a pretty strong field, with a lot of players staying on from the Masters events. This year sees two of the top Americans, Frances Tiafoe and Tommy Paul taking their place at the top and bottom of the draw.
For the Aussies, we’re well represented, with Jason Kubler, Jordan Thompson, Max Purcell and Aleksandar Vukic (Q) all looking to emulate Lleyton Hewitt back in 2009, and Jason Stoltenberg in 1994, when they took the trophy home. Rinky Hijikata lost in qualifying but will team up with Jason Kubler in the doubles as will Purcell and Thompson.
Based on the very promising start to the year from each of them, who’s to say it won’t happen?
Marrakech 250, Morocco:
As the only ATP tournament on the African continent, it’s a real opportunity to draw a few eyeballs to the sport in the region. The event has a very long history, with players such as Thomas Muster, Stan Wawrinka, and Juan Carlos Ferrero having previously won here.
Quite a promising field presents itself here, with Italian young gun Lorenzo Musetti hoping to improve his record this year. He is joined by Dan Evans, Richard Gasquet, and Botic van de Zandschulp as the top seeds. Christopher O’Connell, and Alexei Popyrin will be representing Australia this week, and should they get through their first round, will both have a tricky second round matches against seeded players.
Estoril 250, Portugal:
One of my favourite 250 events, located on the gorgeous Atlantic coastline, the Estoril tournament always draws an amazing crowd, lending to a brilliant atmosphere. Expect more of the same for the 2023 edition, with Casper Ruud, Hubert Hurkacz, Stan Wawrinka, Davidovich Fokina, and last year’s winner, Sebastian Baez.
Also in the field is Austrian Dominic Thiem, who has shown glimpses of form this season, but is still looking to string consecutive wins together. Aussie John Peers will partner Brazil's Marcelo Melo and JP Smith and Andrew Harris will partner in the doubles.
Charleston 500, USA:
Charleston has become one of the ‘must visit’ stops on the WTA tour, with the green clay taking centre stage inside a sizeable tennis stadium. An extremely high quality honour board includes, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Martina Hingis, Caroline Wozniacki, Justine Henin, and Australia’s Sam Stosur, amongst a host of others.
This year has 4 top ten players, with hometown favourite, Jess Pegula as the top seed, joined by Ons Jabeur, Daria Kasatkina, and Belinda Bencic. No Aussies in the singles draw (Storm Hunter to play doubles) but expect a highly competitive tournament, with plenty of top 30 players looking to kick-start their clay season.
Bogota 250, Colombia:
It does seem a little strange there is no event in Europe, but we head to South America for a 250 event. It feels as though a lot of the players found it odd too, as this is one of the weaker 250 tournaments on paper at least. Only 5 top 100 players here, with Belgian’s Elise Mertens, ranked 39, as the highest prospect. Eugenie Bouchard has been granted a Wildcard, which will give some extra attention to the event. Aussie Olivia Tjandramulia will play doubles.
ATP Challenger Tour:
Barletta 75, Italy:
Aussie James McCabe gets into the field as an alternate, and joins fellow compatriot, Dane Sweeny. James has started the year very nicely, jumping over 100 places in the rankings, and while Dane has had some good results, he’ll be looking to play more Challenger events to attempt a run at the top 200.
Alexander Shevchenko is the top seed, and is just a few ranking spots away from making his debut in the top 100, so keep an eye on him this week. Aussie Jason Taylor fresh off winning his first ATP Challenger doubles trophy in Lille, France with Max Purcell will be in the doubles draw,
Murcia 75, Spain:
Murcia has only been on the calendar for three years, but you can guarantee strong crowds, as shown in the previous editions. Hopefully the crowds will be cheering on an Aussie final, with Marc Polmans and Omar Jasika taking their place in the field. Marc is playing his first tournament in Europe this season, while Omar will be hoping to win his first match in Europe for the season, after a couple of first round losses. Akira Santillan is in the final round of qualifying hoping to join them in the main draw.
San Luis 75, Mexico:
Celebrating its 33rd edition, San Luis is the second longest running Challenger event on the circuit, behind Tampere, Finland. This year, 3 Aussies are part of the field, with James Duckworth as the number 1 seed. Joining him is Adam Walton, and Bernard Tomic, who received a Wildcard, and is continuing his push up the rankings. Luke Saville will feature in the doubles draw.
W40 Split, Croatia:
Not a lot of larger ITF tournaments this week, with a sole W40 as the biggest event. A fairly even field has assembled in Croatia, with all direct entries between 100 and 300. Diane Parry, of France will take the top seeded position, ranked 108 currently, which has dropped significantly from a high of 58 just 6 months ago.
She will definitely be looking to improve her record this season. Another player who has fallen down the rankings in the last 12 months, is Romania’s Elena Gabriela Ruse. In May last year, she was at 51, and now, has almost slipped out the top 150. If the top two seeds make it all the way through to the final Sunday, expect an entertaining finale.