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Since 2017, the last two clay-court events before the most significant one on this specific surface are Geneva and Lyon (replacing Nice). These tournaments take place in two different countries but within the same francophone sphere of influence. Geneva: Casper Ruud, the two-time defending champion, lost in the quarterfinals after winning 17 consecutive matches on clay in Switzerland. The Norwegian, who came close to becoming the world’s top-ranked player last year, is currently going through a challenging period where he has to defend a significant number of ranking points. If he continues to struggle with his form, he may finish the year 2023 outside the Top 10. On the other hand, Nicolás Jarry , who secured his second ATP title on clay this year, exhibits a very solid and uncompromising style of tennis. He defeated three current or former Top 10 players consecutively (coming close to losing to Ruud) and rises to the Top 35 for the first time in his career. Had the draw for Paris been made following the last two events, he would have been seeded. With his powerful game, I believe Jarry has the potential to reach the Top 20 this year and achieve good results on hardcourts as well. Jarry expressed his happiness about his successful year, stating: “I feel amazing. It has been a great year. After all the work with my team and family, we are having a great year, and I am very happy for that. It is very special. Two finals, one title here. I am very happy.” This almost two-meter tall Chilean with a French surname, had two match points in the Geneva final four years ago.
Geneva (ATP 250, clay outdoors)
The ten-time champion of the “Internazionali d’Italia”, Rafael Nadal, who is almost 37 years old, has decided to skip yet another big tournament. He didn’t show up in Rome, and tennis fans around the world were wondering if he would finally participate in the French Open. On May 18th, he called a press conference and announced that his season was over, and it is likely that he will return in 2024 for a farewell tour, competing in events that have been the most meaningful to him throughout his illustrious career. “I have been working as hard as possible every single day for the past four months. It has been a challenging period because we were unable to find a solution to the issue I had in Australia,” Nadal stated, referring to his last appearance in January ’23.
During the first two-week edition of the Italian Open, the weather was terrible, with daily rain and temperatures around 20 degrees. Many matches were suspended, and some had to be completed the following day as retractable roofs, like the ones in Madrid, are not available. Two unexpected Germans reached the quarterfinals in Madrid, and in Rome, Yannick Hanfmann  followed suit. The 31-year-old German, as a qualifier, eliminated two Top 10 players and achieved his career-best result. Another revelation of the tournament was Hungary’s Fábián Marozsán . He advanced to the fourth round, stunning the new world number one, Carlos Alcaraz. The 23-year-old Hungarian qualified for his first main-level event. Just over a year ago, he was more associated with the Futures level, as his ranking hovered around 400.
Daniil Medvedev, who claimed the title, had never won a match in Rome before 2023. He has been exceptional this season, particularly in his ability to win tight sets. Among the 25 sets he has played this year when the score reached 5-all, he has won them on twenty occasions. “I always want to believe in myself, and I always aim to win the biggest tournaments in the world,” said Medvedev, who dropped just one set en route to the title. “However, I never thought I could win a Masters 1000 on clay in my career because I usually hated it. I didn’t feel comfortable playing on it, and nothing seemed to work.” In the Race Ranking, he now holds an 845-point advantage over the player ranked number two.
Unfortunately, when compared to the four other Challengers 175 held this year, Turin seems to be of lower caliber. Here is a comparison of the rankings of players seeded at number 8 in Phoenix, Aix-en-Provence, Cagliari, and Bordeaux: 59-59-97-67. In contrast, in Turin, the 97th-ranked player in the world was seeded at number 3, making this event more akin to a Challenger 125 (where typically three players of the Top 100 participate). Jiří Lehečka  could have somewhat salvaged the prestige of the Italian Challenger, but under peculiar circumstances, he entered the qualifying event instead of being seeded at number 1, and eventually retired after losing just four games to an unknown Ukrainian player. Federico Gaio, a 31-year-old Italian, achieved arguably the best result of his career by reaching the final, where he was defeated by Dominik Koepfer , a left-handed German who appeared to be a Top 100 player a few years ago. Because of bad weather he had to play his last two matches the same day… In the second round in Bordeaux, for only the second time in history, two former Grand Slam champions faced each other (38 y.o. Stan Wawrinka defeated 36 y.o. Andy Murray 6-3, 6-0); previously, this occurred in San Remo 1981, when Ilie Năstase defeated Jan Kodeš in a first-round encounter between 35-year-old players. The title in Southwestern France went to Ugo Humbert , who as a teenager had little interest in accumulating points in Challengers on clay, making this surface his weakest at the main level. Humbert has secured two significant Challenger clay-court titles this year, earning him 350 points, roughly equivalent to a Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance. Humbert has collaborated with Jérémy Chardy  this year, a 36-year-old Frenchman who is still actively competing. It is possible that Chardy has influenced Humbert to exhibit more patience during baseline rallies and has contributed to his physical strength development. Another veteran, 37 y.o. Richard Gasquet won the longest tie-break in his career, 16/14 after an 87-minute set (vs Mikael Ymer… 56-52 total points). A few days later, Ymer avenges that loss beating Gasquet in the first round of Lyon (ATP).
The big clay-court event in the Italian capital created a unique situation where as many as three Americans advanced to the semifinals. The all-American final didn’t take place because Goran Ivanišević rather surprisingly eliminated Pete Sampras in a duel between two of the best servers of the 90s. The Croat was less eager to attack the net on clay, which proved to be an efficient tactic in their only meeting on the red surface (they faced each other 18 times; this was their 6th match). Jim Courier defended his title, being more persuasive than the year before with his unparalleled forehand spin, and it seemed that only 18-year-old Andrei Medvedev could prevent him from capturing his third successive French Open title. “This has been a perfect preparation for the Paris,” Courier said. “This is no guarantee as to how I’ll play. But I couldn’t be feeling much better than I’m feeling now.”
Florida hosted the fourth and final event of the season on green American clay, with two serve-and-volley players making it to the final, just like two weeks prior in Georgia. This was not shocking at the time, as there were plenty of serve-and-volleyers in the Top 100, and American clay was somewhere in between European clay and hardcourts in terms of the court speed. 22-year-old Todd Martin claimed his maiden title, but it was expected from him after he showed great potential at the end of 1992 when he lost tight matches to his best compatriots, Courier and Sampras, in Indianapolis and the US Open. 33-year-old Andrés Gómez [WC, 229] – French Open ’90 champion – played his last ATP match losing 6-4, 3-6, 4-6 in the first round.
The 16th edition of the “World Team Cup” in Düsseldorf was won by the United States, their fourth title. Sampras and Michael Chang represented the US, with Chang winning all four of his singles matches and Sampras winning three out of four. In doubles, Richey Reneberg and Patrick McEnroe finished the event with a perfect 4-0 record (8-0 in sets).
The title of a small event in the Emilia-Romagna region went to Jordi Burillo , a 20-year-old Spaniard with very aggressive baseline shots and an over-reliance on dropshots. He became the second qualifier to win an ATP Tour event in 1993, having defeated three Italians in the qualifying rounds and another two in the main draw. Burillo’s last match was exceptionally long (given a “6-1” set), it lasted 3 hours and 17 minutes, but Andrey Cherkasov was among a group of players involved in the longest matches in the first half of the 90s… Richard Krajicek won an exhibition event in Paris with six participants. John McEnroe, who had retired half a year before, took part in the event but quickly lost both his matches.
Rome (Masters 1K, clay outdoors) – week 19/20
(3)🇷🇺Daniil Medvedev d. (7)🇩🇰Holger Rune 7-5, 7-5
Bordeaux (Challenger 175; clay outdoors) – week 20
(5)🇫🇷Ugo Humbert vs. (7)🇦🇷Tomás M. Etcheverry 7-6(3), 6-4
Turin (Challenger 175; clay outdoors)
🇩🇪Dominik Koepfer vs. (q)🇮🇹Federico Gaio 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-0
Rome ($1.5M, clay outdoors) – week 19
(2)🇺🇸Jim Courier d. (4)🇭🇷Goran Ivanišević 6-1, 6-2, 6-2
Coral Springs ($275K, green clay outdoors)
(3)🇺🇸Todd Martin d. (2)🇺🇸David Wheaton 6-3, 6-4
“World Team Cup” (8 teams, clay outdoors) – week 20
USA d. Germany 3-0
Bologna ($235K, clay outdoors)
(q)🇪🇸Jordi Burillo d. (4)🇷🇺Andrey Cherkasov 7-6(4), 6-7(7), 6-1
Madrid had its first-ever two-week event this year with four rounds, and a 96-player draw where the first round began on Wednesday. The tournament also saw the implementation of the hawk-eye system for the first time. The system had already been activated on clay in Estoril earlier this year. Unfortunately, multiple champions of the “Mutua Madrid Open,” Rafael Nadal (five titles, four on clay) and Novak Đoković (three), withdrew from the tournament along with Jannik Sinner, who had suffered an injury in Barcelona a week before.
Sebastian Korda, one of the hottest players in January, returned to the tour after almost a three-month break but lost his opening match in two tie-breaks (5/7, 7/9) despite trailing 0:4 and 0:5, respectively. During the fortnight, two amazing teenagers, Carlos Alcaraz and Holger Rune, turned 20 years old. I counted on their semifinal, but the Dane lost a dramatic third round match after midnight being three points away to become the first man of the Open Era winning three consecutive matches facing match points (main-level).
It was a fairy tale tournament for Jan-Lennard Struff , the 33-year-old German who was the best active player born in the 90s without an ATP title, in my mind, already some time ago. He had lost his qualifying round but then managed to win six consecutive matches, five of which were decided in the final set, including a semifinal win over his earlier Madrid suppressor Aslan Karatsev. Before Struff, only two ‘lucky losers’ had advanced to the semifinals at this level (Thomas Johansson in Toronto ’04 and Lucas Pouille in Rome ’16). Struff’s final victory over the local favorite Alcaraz could be perceived as a miracle. Struff had a break point at 1-all in the deciding set, and the ball was in play, but he missed his shot and was broken in the following game.
Struff’s compatriot Daniel Altmaier advanced to the quarterfinals as a ‘lucky loser’ too, which meant it was the first time in a Masters 1K event that two lucky losers had advanced to the quarterfinals. Besides Struff, Altmaier, and Karatsev, Zhizhen Zhang  also shocked the spectators by becoming the first Chinese man to advance to the Masters 1K quarterfinals. It’s worth mentioning that Zhang defeated three opponents in a row with deciding set tie-breaks, among them he ousted two much higher-ranked players after almost the same scoreline (7-6, 7-6 after quickly lost first sets). In terms of trivia, Alexander Bublik won the longest tie-break of the season so far (17/15) saving seven set points, and Stefanos Tsitsipas landed 39 consecutive first serves inside the service boxes.
Challengers are an important part of the professional tennis tour, offering a platform for up-and-coming players to gain experience and earn ranking points allowing advancement to the Top 100. Recently, the Challenger logo was updated during the Madrid tournament to reflect the improved structure of this second-tier level of competition, which sits below the main-level consisting of Grand Slam and ATP tournaments.
From 2009 to 2022, the Challenger Tour was divided into five categories, ranging from 80 to 125 points available for the winner. However, the structure has been modified for the 2023 season to feature five new categories with point maximums of 50, 75, 100, 125, and 175. The Challenger Tour “175” features five events in the 2023 season, with two of them (Aix-en-Provence and Cagliari) held during Week 18, both 28-draw.
After being eliminated in the first week of the Madrid tournament, many top 100 players decided to participate in the smaller tournaments featuring the highest Challenger tier. Something similar should happen with the “175” events in Bordeaux and Turin, which will take place in two weeks. With the Canadian Open and Cincinnati, Masters 1K tournaments being expanded to two weeks next year, we can expect to see more “175” events added to the tennis calendar. Ugo Humbert , a skilled left-handed ball-striker with a saga of fitness issues, survived one of the longest 2-1 matches in history that lasted 4 hours and 13 minutes (total points: 142-142) against Taro Daniel in Sardinia. Humbert fought hard, being dirty from clay, surviving three match points & cramps, to secure a 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 quarterfinal victory. In the final he needed “only” three hours, saving a double mini-match point in the 2nd set, and two break points trailing 1:3 in the decider. Andy Murray , who triumphed in France, waited almost 18 years for his third Challenger title (two titles come from USA 2005 when he was a teenager). Murray entered the event with a 0-8 record in sets at the main-level.
Stefan Edberg claimed his third and final clay court title, in Madrid, marking the last ATP event won by a pure net-rushing style on European clay. It’s even more impressive that he defeated three Spanish clay-courters from the quarterfinals onwards, including the future French Open champion, Sergi Bruguera, in the final. Bruguera may have been exhausted, as he had won the Monte Carlo final on Monday evening and had to play his first-round match in Madrid just two days later. The event featured an enormous number of one-sided encounters, with only one tie-break in 31 matches.
In late April and early May, there were two specific (always chilly weather) clay-court events in Germany (venues: “Iphitos” & “Am Rothenbaum”), where local favorite Michael Stich reached the finals in both. In München (BMW Open), he succumbed to Ivan Lendl, but improved his performance in Hamburg five days later, beating Lendl in the quarterfinals after losing to him in their previous six meetings. Stich, just like Edberg, was a regular net visitor behind the first serve on clay, but in contrast to the Swede, the German could obtain many cheap points directly behind the serves; behind the second serve as well as receiving, Stich was often constructing points from the baseline possessing more reliable forehand. Due to knee injury, Guy Forget played his last match for almost a year in Hamburg. None of three great American players entered the event in Northern Germany (the overtired Bruguera withdrew after playing almost day-by-day for two weeks).
There were also two events on American clay, the most significant was Mats Wilander‘s comeback after almost a two-year break (he disappeared from the ranking already after the French Open ’92). The best player in the world of 1988, was badly beaten in the second round and decided to practice a few more months before returning to the full ATP schedule in August 1993. Pete Sampras suffered an unexpected loss in the Atlanta semifinal, snapping his 19-match winning streak. The bigger surprise was that he lost to fellow serve-and-volleyer Jacco Eltingh , who went through the entire event without dropping a set. Eltingh lost in the first round in Florida a few days later after his triumph in Georgia. Bryan Shelton (b. 1965), the father of Ben Shelton (b. 2002, semifinalist in Cagliari this week), advanced to the semifinals in Tampa the following week after losing the Atlanta final, making one of the best recoveries of the season during a hard-fought 1-6, 7-6(11), 6-2 victory over Derrick Rostagno. Shelton trailed *2:4 in the 2nd set in which he withstood two match points in the tie-break.
Madrid (Masters 1K, clay semi-outdoors) – week 17/18
(1)🇪🇸Carlos Alcaraz d. (LL)🇩🇪Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 3-6, 6-3
Aix-en-Provence (Challenger 175; clay outdoors) – week 18
(1, WC)🇺🇸Tommy Paul vs. (5, WC)🇬🇧Andy Murray 6-2, 1-6, 2-6
Cagliari (Challenger 175; clay outdoors)
(6)🇫🇷Ugo Humbert vs. (4)🇷🇸Laslo Đere 4-6, 7-5, 6-4
Madrid ($775K, clay outdoors) – week 17
(1)🇸🇪Stefan Edberg d. (3)🇪🇸Sergi Bruguera 6-3, 6-3, 6-2
Munich ($275K, clay outdoors)
(2)🇺🇸Ivan Lendl d. (3)🇩🇪Michael Stich 7-6(2), 6-3
Atlanta ($275K, green clay outdoors)
🇳🇱Jacco Eltingh d. 🇺🇸Bryan Shelton 7-6(1), 6-2
Hamburg ($1,450M, clay outdoors) – week 18
(6)🇩🇪Michael Stich d. 🇷🇺Andrey Chesnokov 6-3, 6-7(1), 7-6(7), 6-4
Tampa ($235K, green clay outdoors)
(6)🇵🇪Jaime Yzaga d. 🇦🇺Richard Fromberg 6-4, 6-2
Carlos Alcaraz , the biggest young tennis star from Murcia, chose to skip Monte Carlo to rest and compete in Catalonia. He delighted the crowd and successfully defended a title for the first time in his career, winning the Barcelona Open without dropping a set (he was two points away from it in the quarterfinal). After the final, Alcaraz expressed his delight: “It’s incredible to feel this energy and lift the trophy in Barcelona in front of my family, friends, and most members of my team who are here as well. Playing at this level and lifting the trophy in front of them is a great feeling for me.” He has played five events this year, four times reaching the final, and once being five points away from another final (Miami).
Holger Rune , the other teenage star born in 2003 (six days older than Alcaraz), successfully defended his title at the Bavarian Championship by defeating Botic van de Zandschulp in the final. The Dutchman had retired in their previous Bavarian final a year earlier after just seven games (chest pain). Rune’s victory was hard-fought and impressive, as he faced challenging circumstances in the decider. Rune trailed 2:5* (15/40) as his opponent began to get frustrated with his own errors sensing his maiden title to be potentially evaporated. Additionally, Rune had been indicating problems with his left shoulder throughout the set and then slightly twisted his right ankle when the score was 4:5 (40/30). Despite these challenges, the Dane fought back to save a double match point on his return again at 5:6 before ultimately prevailing in the ensuing tie-break with domination during baseline rallies. The win was a testament to Rune’s resilience and determination on the court. After the match, he talked about his fatigue: “I was feeling really exhausted, but I was fighting until the end and tried everything I could to come back into the match. I think for the crowd, it was the perfect final. We really pushed each other to the limit, and I am super happy I defended the title today.” With many points to defend in the upcoming five months only during the French Open ’23, Rune has a real chance to finish the season in the Top 5.
The first edition of the Srpska Open was held in Bosnia and Herzegovina, not in Serbia. The 32-year-old Dušan Lajović , who reached the Monte Carlo final a few years ago, experienced a week of his tennis life. He defeated the legendary Novak Đoković in a gruelling two-set quarterfinal (his longest 2-0 win; 2 hours 29 minutes), then notched two dramatic 2-1 victories in the semifinal and final; against Andrey Rublev, Lajović was leading 5:1* (30/15) in the 3rd set, but Rublev, who lately wins “lost” matches more often than anyone else, improved to 4:5* (deuce). However, Lajović managed to hold his nerve, deliberately got a warning for time-violation (photo), and captured his second ATP title with a forehand winner after which he celebrated crouching. He expressed his relief and joy: “Honestly, it was probably the toughest match I have had in the past six months. I felt drained. From 5:1 in the third, I could not feel my legs and felt a bit dizzy. I knew he was going to fight, but somehow I managed to pull it out in the last game. I wasn’t even thinking in the last game. I was just playing automatically and tried to take the ball early on the forehand. I am thrilled and overwhelmed that I did it this week.” Only Slavic native speakers advanced to the quarterfinals.
30 years ago, the Monte Carlo tournament was played one week later than this year. Sergi Bruguera won that event for the second time in his career, with his biggest challenge coming in the semifinals against Thomas Muster. Bruguera saved three match points, but Muster would go on to win their nine following meetings. Cédric Pioline, who was an unexpected finalist, proved his skills in the future, becoming one of the most memorable players of the 90s. At the time of the Monaco final, he was already 24 y.o. and many thought it would be his biggest result. The final was postponed due to rain and held on Monday, with the format shortened from “best of five” to “best of three”. Bruguera raced to a 5:0 lead, but needed a tie-break to win the opener. In the second set, he again led 5:0, but that time left Pioline  no chance to return.
The event also featured a unique run by Ulf Stenlund, a 26-year-old Scandinavian who was among many blonde Swedes who invaded the circuit in the mid-80s. Injuries forced him to suspend his career, and he didn’t play at all in 1989-90. In the years 1991-94, he was trying to rebuild his career by drifting between Satellites and Challengers. In Monte Carlo ’93, as a player ranked 313, he managed to win three qualifying matches, then in the main draw he stunned two left-handed players, dropping just seven games before losing badly in the third round to his compatriot Jonas Svensson (always dangerous in French-speaking cities). It was Stenlund’s swan song. Another qualifier, 19-year-old Àlex Corretja , advanced to the quarterfinals and would go on to become one of the best clay-courters in the 90s.
The fourth leg of the Asian tour in South Korea did not attract big names. Seeded No. 1, Brett Steven was ranked 52. It was one of those events that created a great opportunity to get a maiden title, and Chuck Adams  took his chance. In 1992, he was more of a Challenger player, and the title in Seoul helped him enhance his status. In the years 1993-94, he would regularly play at the main level.
Barcelona (ATP 500, clay outdoors)
(1)🇪🇸Carlos Alcaraz d. (2)🇬🇷Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-4
Munich (ATP 250, clay outdoors)
(1)🇩🇰Holger Rune d. (4)🇳🇱Botic van de ZandSchulp 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(3) – 4 m.p.
Banja Luka (ATP 250, clay outdoors)
🇷🇸Dušan Lajović d. (2)🇷🇺Andrey Rublev 6-3, 4-6, 6-4
Monte Carlo ($1.4M, clay outdoors)
(11)🇪🇸Sergi Bruguera d. 🇫🇷Cédric Pioline 7-6(2), 6-0
Seoul ($175K, hard outdoors)
(8)🇺🇸Chuck Adams d. (5)🇦🇺Todd Woodbridge 6-4, 6-4
After his early exit from the Aussie Open, the 11-time Monaco champion Rafael Nadal had announced that he would return to the tour within 6-8 weeks, leading many to speculate that Miami was a realistic option. However, Nadal did not appear in the United States and also skipped another Masters 1K event – his second favorite after Roland Garros. Along with Nadal, two other big names, Carlos Alcaraz (spine) and Félix Auger-Aliassime (left knee), were also missing from the Monte Carlo entry list… Novak Đoković returned to action, having not played officially in March due to being unvaccinated and unable to go to the USA; he lost a dramatic, rain-interrupted third round match to Lorenzo Musetti, who entered it having won 19 straight games… Andrey Rublev, an elite player since 2020, has finally captured a prestigious title. Although he had won many “ATP 500” titles, he had never conquered a Masters 1K event or advanced to a Grand Slam semifinal. In a dramatic final against Holger Rune, whom Rublev had defeated in a thrilling contest during this year’s Australian Open, Rublev came back from a point to avoid a double break in the deciding set. “I have tears,” Rublev said. “I don’t know what to say to be honest. I don’t know. I am just happy, finally. [I have] been struggling so much to win this freaking Masters 1000 tournament. Finally losing 1:4, Love-30, saving break point, thinking there is no chance to win, and somehow I did it.”
Rublev was not known for winning tight matches frequently, but he has had luck on his side since he overcame his compatriot Daniil Medvedev at ATP World Finals last year. Since then, he has won five matches when close to defeat, including three matches where he was down match points, and has not lost once when he put himself in a position to win the match. Additionally, his tie-break ratio has been excellent lately, with a record of 10-1.
Mark-Kevin Goellner  was a new revelation of the season in southern France. The 22-year-old German (not spelled “Göllner” as he was born in Brazil) was virtually unknown prior to that week. He managed to reach his first ATP semifinal as a qualifier, and could be very happy facing one of the best players in the world, Stefan Edberg. Goellner had other ideas, though. He not only defeated Edberg but also shocked another legend of the game, Ivan Lendl, in the final, despite initially trailing 1-6, *1:2 (0/30). Goellner had a powerful serve, modern top-spin forehand, and nice variety in his game-style. He would notch another valuable results on clay soon, and many people thought of him as an upcoming star of the tour. However, it didn’t happen, as the year 1993 remained his best, despite playing professional tennis for another ten years.
It was an ideal scenario for tennis fans that just a week after the change of guards at the peak of men’s tennis, the two best players faced each other in the final to confirm or deny the new status. The freshly crowned Pete Sampras needed 2 hours 51 minutes to struggle past Jim Courier in Hong Kong. Despite almost three hours of play, there was just one break of serve which Sampras gained as he led 3:2 in the 1st set (he didn’t face a break point). Courier saved a match point in the 12th game of the final set with a serve-and-volley action, but Sampras easily won the ensuing tie-break racing to a 4:0 lead. “I’ll be taking off a week now,” said the exhausted Sampras. “I’ll hang up the racket for a couple of days. I’m supposed to play in Atlanta on clay in eight days, but we’ll see how I feel.” Sampras also had a very tough match in the semifinal, he trailed *5:6 (0/30) in the 3rd set before overcoming the unpredictable Amos Mansdorf 2-6, 7-6, 7-6 (there were four breaks in the decider).
The first out of four clay-court events on American clay was won in North Carolina by Horacio de la Peña , who trailed *3:4 (15/40) in the deciding set of the final against another South American player. It was the fourth and last ATP title for the 27-year-old left-handed Argentinian, who would finish his career one year later. In the semifinal (7-6, 7-5), De la Peña fended off five set points in a 14/12 tie-break against Claudio Mezzadri – it lasted 1 hour 21 minutes, the longest tie-break set on the tour in the first half of the season that year.
Monte Carlo (Masters 1K, clay outdoors)
(5)🇷🇺Andrey Rublev d. (6)🇩🇰Holger Rune 5-7, 6-2, 7-5
Nice ($275K, clay outdoors)
(q)🇩🇪Mark-Kevin Goellner d. (5)🇺🇸Ivan Lendl 1-6, 6-4, 6-2
Hong Kong ($275K, hard outdoors)
(2)🇺🇸Pete Sampras d. (1)🇺🇸Jim Courier 6-3, 6-7(1), 7-6(2)
Charlotte ($275K, green clay outdoors)
🇦🇷Horacio de la Peña d. (3)🇵🇪Jaime Yzaga 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
The European clay-court season begins in Portugal every year since 1990. Casper Ruud, who was the runner-up in four big tournaments last year (two majors included), began this season in poor form (5-6 record). However, after a few hardcourt disappointments, he reminded himself that he belongs among the Top 5 best players on clay and collected his 10th title, all of which were at the “250” level. “I felt great. My entire stay was great, with the fans, great stadium, great atmosphere on this court,” said the Norwegian. “The stadium was full every time I played, so thank you to everyone who was here today and throughout the week.”
Terrible weather plagued the event in Texas, with three days of constant rain. Second-round matches and quarterfinals were played on Saturday, with semifinals and the final held on Sunday. Frances Tiafoe responded very well to the demanding task of winning four matches within two days. The top-seeded American did not drop a set but was close to losing it in the final, as he trailed 3:5 in the second-set tie-break. Tiafoe and Tommy Paul are striving to follow in the footsteps of their fellow American Taylor Fritz, who is currently ranked in the Top 10. Here is a comparison of the rankings of these three players at the same period of the season now [11-18-10] and exactly two years ago [67-53-30]. The progress is visible, but it’s unlikely that all three of them will be in the Top 10 at the same time. However, Tiafoe and Paul seem to be on their way to achieving that at different points in 2023. Tiafoe said, “I don’t know you that well, but I know you real well after today. It was an absolute war and an unbelievable final. I hope you guys in the crowd all enjoyed it because that’s what it’s about.”
In Morocco, the draw was not impressive, with no Top 20 player, and the top-seeded Italian, Lorenzo Musetti, is out of form this year. The 30-year-old Roberto Carballés Baena , a player with a clearly negative win/loss ratio, took advantage of it and claimed his second title being four points away from defeat in the final. He celebrated the success lying on his back, just like five years ago in Quito, where he won his maiden title (Tiafoe also waited five years for his second title). French Alexandre Müller, the beaten finalist, becomes a new Top 100 player. Six weeks ago he showed up positively for the first time at the ATP Tour level, advancing to the Doha quarterfinal. Historically he’s the fourth “miller” inside the Top 100 following Afrikaner Gary Muller (retired 1995), German Lars BurgsMüller (retired 2007) and Gilles Müller of Luxembourg (retired 2018).
Andrei Medvedev, the teenage revelation from Ukraine, in Catalonia (“Torneo Godó”), claimed his second title within two weeks. This time the assignment was more demanding: in the third round, he faced a player he had defeated in the final of the previous week, followed by a match against legend Ivan Lendl, who was 14 years his senior. Medvedev then faced one of the best clay-courters, Thomas Muster, and finally Sergi Bruguera, who was determined to win the home title after suffering two five-set defeats to Dutch players in the Davis Cup two weeks before on the same “Real Club” court. The Ukrainian withstood a double set point at 1-1 in sets against Bruguera, in convincing style. It’s worth noting that Medvedev’s former junior teammate from the Soviet Union, Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov , reached his first quarterfinal after being recognized for his talent and awarded a “wild card”. Kafelnikov shocked Michael Stich in the third round, and it was revealed that he would become one of Stich’s toughest opponents in the future.
Japan. For the second time in his career, the 21-year-old Pete Sampras entered an event with a possibility of becoming the best player in the world. Just like during Indian Wells ’93, his destiny was correlated with Jim Courier‘s result. Courier suffered a sensational defeat to big-serving Jonathan Stark  in the third round, which meant that Sampras needed to advance to the semifinals to overtake him. “This is a great achievement, and I’m sure that it will sink in later. I’m going to be the same guy out on court. I’ve got a match to play tomorrow, and that’s what I’m going to think about,” said Sampras after his quarterfinal 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 victory over David Wheaton, with both players winning the same amount of points (86). Sampras played the semifinal and final in a relaxed mode, displaying superb tennis that defined the entire 90s. It was clear that if he continued to play like this, he would be the best in the world for a few years, and that prediction became a reality.
Estoril (ATP 250, clay outdoors)
(1)🇳🇴Casper Ruud d. (6)🇷🇸Miomir Kecmanović 6-2, 7-6(3)
Houston (ATP 250, maroon clay outdoors)
(1)🇺🇸Frances Tiafoe d. (8)🇦🇷Tomás M. Etcheverry 7-6(1), 7-6(6)
Marrakech (ATP 250, clay outdoors)
🇪🇸Roberto Carballés Baena d. 🇫🇷Alexandre Müller 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-2
Barcelona ($750K, clay outdoors)
(9)🇺🇦Andrei Medvedev d. (7)🇪🇸Sergi Bruguera 6-7(7), 6-3, 7-5, 6-4
Tokyo ($915K, hard outdoors)
(2)🇺🇸Pete Sampras d. (7)🇺🇸Brad Gilbert 6-2, 6-2, 6-2
Although the courts at Indian Wells are considered as the slowest hardcourts and those in Miami as the fastest (alongisde Dubai), only one replacement in the semifinals comparing these two US events of the “Sunshine Double” – Karen Khachanov replaced Frances Tiafoe. The tall Russian  won his biggest title 4.5 years ago (Paris ’18), two years ago became a Silver medalist at the Olympics, but I’d argue he’s been in the form of his life in the past six months, reaching three semifinals of big events (US Open, Aussie Open, Miami). He became the only man to steal a set from Daniil Medvedev , who is also in top form, but one level (at least) above Khachanov. Medvedev was fortunate with the draw in the fortnight, advancing to the semifinals facing opponents akin to Challengers. Christopher Eubans , a two-meter skinny American, whom Medvedev defeated in the quarterfinal, had never entered the Top 100 before. “I haven’t won’t such a big title in probably a year and a half,” Medvedev said after his final victory over Jannik Sinner, who reached the Miami final for the second time in his career. “At the end I was quite shaky. Not even tight, because I’m not scared to win. But still the hands get a little shaky so the serve is a little bit tougher. I managed to get myself together and close the match.” In the 38-year-old history of the event, had never spectators witnessed as many tie-breaks as this March (48). The first Saturday was really crazy: there were two matches with the scoreline 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, and what’s more intriguing, they were won after saving match points in two different sets, by Quentin Halys & Hubert Hurkacz, players of divergent levels, nonetheless both not known for winning dramatic matches with high frequency. Especially Hurkacz’s (10/12, 9/7, 8/6) over Thanasi Kokkinakis was really impressive, it lasted 3 hours 30 minutes (the longest 2-1 match this year). The Pole trailed 4:6 in two consecutive tie-breaks having wasted six set points in the first set! He arguably has the best serve among players at the top of the game, and recently plays more tie-breaks than anyone else. The defending champion, Carlos Alcaraz lost in the semifinal 7-6, 4-6, 2-6 to Sinner squandering two mini-match points (two weeks earlier in the IW semifinal, Alcaraz beat Sinner 7-6, 6-3, so he was five points away to repeat the scoreline). Similarly to the Rio final a few weeks ago, Alcaraz suffered cramps in the 3rd set. This should be noted, but not be worrisome in terms of his further development, at least for the time being. He was sidelined for a few months, and it seems this young body couldn’t cope with the amazingly energetic tennis he tries to propose week-by-week. I assume he won’t have similar problems for the rest of the season. I expect him to claim two out of the four biggest titles on clay this year.
The first round of the 82nd edition of the Davis Cup occurred five days after the Key Biscayne final. Five ties were played indoors (four on carpet, clay in Vienna). Czechia for the first time under a new name (Czech Republic then) taking legacy of Czechoslovakia. At the time there were three Czechs in the Top 100 while the highest ranked Slovak (Karol Kučera) was no. 235. Slovaks will make their Davis Cup debut in 1994. The most dramatic tie, featuring a miraculous outcome, took place in Barcelona where Spain was shocked by the Netherlands (its first advancement to the quarterfinals). Mark Koevermans  displayed a heroic effort in the deciding rubber; he trailed 0-2 against one of the best clay-courters, soon-to-be the double French Open champion Sergi Bruguera , yet somehow he was able to play a transcendental tennis, and won 3-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 after thrilling 4 hours 32 minutes under the floodlights, trailing 2:4 in the decider. Sometimes it’s a matter of synergy, the Dutchman knew how to play against Bruguera, he defeated him for the 6th time in their eighth meetings (all on clay, including on the same court a year before at the Olympics). It’s the last main-level singles win in Koevermans’ career, later that year he retired due to physical problems at the age of 25 (continued in 1994 only in doubles). “I was so tired that I couldn’t even pick myself up anymore”, said a very happy Koevermans. “I had no energy left to encourage me. But I often watched the reactions of the players in the stands and they gave me that extra energy. In the fourth set I felt the whole atmosphere that there was a surprise in the air hung. At a certain point you get into a trance and you are lived.” Before Koevermans enjoyed the most amazing emotions of his career becoming a national hero, Paul Haarhuis had done a lot, defeating in five sets Bruguera and Carlos Costa, also erasing a two-sets-to-love deficit against the latter, withstanding a double match point in the fourth set tie-break. The loss of the United States (defending champion) to Australia could be considered as a sensation, but the Americans travelled over the Pacific Ocean without any of their four best players. What’s more bizarre, the team captain Tom Gorman decided to appoint David Wheaton and Brad Gilbert, the players who were conflicted since their famous quarrel at the Grand Slam Cup ’90. “It’s nice, certainly, to win the last match – but they won the war,” said Wheaton, who participated in his first and last Davis Cup tie. Thanks to him, the Americans avoided a first 0-5 Davis Cup loss since 1973 (also against Australia). The 1992 runner-up, Switzerland, suffered a defeat too. The Swiss team competing with their two best players, couldn’t deal with a specific Indian grass. Jakob Hlasek completely disappointed, quickly losing his both singles rubbers.
First round (host first)
Australia – USA 4-1, Italy – Brazil 5-0, Austria – France 1-4, India – Switzerland 3-2
Spain – Netherlands 2-3, Sweden – Cuba 5-0, Russia – Germany 1-4, Denmark – Czechia 1-4
The first European clay-court event (Estoril) of the season was won by Andrei Medvedev. The 19-year-old Ukrainian had a tough match in the second round against Francisco Roig – one of the closest people of Rafael Nadal, who was 7 at the time. Magnus Larsson lost his first deciding tie-break, having won 12 in a row (!) at the main-level. He was a victim of Karel Nováček, who advanced to his fourth final of 1993, in three different conditions (hard, carpet, clay)… The first leg of the Asian tour (four weeks: 2 Japan, 1 China, 1 Korea) brought a sensational defeat of Jim Courier in the semifinal to Amos Mansdorf. “Rankings are important to everybody, but it is more important to win tournaments and major titles,” Courier said about his tightening rivalry with Pete Sampras. “Pete deserves to be number one and I’m just thinking about what I’m going to do in a tournament.” Michael Chang claimed his 11th title, but already in the first round he was struggling against a young German of the Czech origin David Prinosil, trailing *3:4 in the 3rd set… Marcos Ondruska was in a form of his life, so an all-South African meeting of him against Wayne Ferreira could be anticipated by the local fans in the Durban semifinal. Instead of Ondruska, other Afrikaner, 22-year-old Grant Stafford  faced Ferreira, and stunned him, reaching the first of his three ATP finals (each on a different surface) not having played an ATP quarterfinal before.
Miami (Masters 1000, hard outdoors) – week 12/13
(4)🇷🇺Daniil Medvedev d. (10)🇮🇹Jannik Sinner 7-5, 6-3
Davis Cup | first round | – week 12
Estoril ($500K, clay outdoors) – week 13
(5)🇺🇦Andrei Medvedev d. (4)🇨🇿Karel Nováček 6-4, 6-2
Osaka ($475K, hard outdoors)
(2)🇺🇸Michael Chang d. (5)🇮🇱Amos Mansdorf 6-4, 6-4
Durban ($275K, hard outdoors)
(5)🇺🇸Aaron Krickstein d. (WC)🇿🇦Grant Stafford 6-2, 7-6(7)
Top 10 after the first quarter of the year:
1993: Courier – Sampras – Edberg – Becker – Korda – Ivanisevic – Agassi – Lendl – Chang – Stich
2023: Djokovic – Alcaraz – Tsitsipas – Medvedev – Ruud – Rublev – Auger – Rune – Sinner – Fritz
This year the “Sunshine Double” without two legends: Rafael Nadal (recovers from injury) & Novak Đoković (vaccination status). Nadal, last year’s Indian Wells runner-up, is out of the Top 10 in the newest ranking for the first time in 18 years (912 weeks)! Carlos Alcaraz took advantage of Đoković’s absence and came back to No. 1. He has surpassed 100 matches won at the main-level (one match fewer to do this needed only John McEnroe, 1979). In the windy & cloudy final, the teenage sensation overpowered Daniil Medvedev, who was on a 19-match winning streak playing four events week-by-week (previously so efficient within a month was Goran Ivanišević in 1996… title-runner.up-title-title). “It means a lot to me. To recover the No. 1 [ranking] is crazy for me,” Alcaraz said after the final. “But especially to lift the trophy here for me means a lot… I love this tournament. I really enjoy my time here and of course I felt the love from the people from day one. For me, it’s amazing to complete these 10 days like this.” Alcaraz didn’t drop a set en route to the title, the toughest match he had in the semifinal when faced a set point against Jannik Sinner (saved it with a combination dropshot-volley, FH side both shots). Félix Auger-Aliassime notched a rare feat withstanding a triple match point at two junctions of his fourth round encounter with Tommy Paul. The Canadian trailed *5:6 (0/40) in the decider, later on *3:6 in the tie-break before winning 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (three of six m.p. he saved with unreturned serves; Paul had a relatively good position to convert his second m.p.). Good period for the Chilean tennis lately; Nicolás Jarry recently won a title in Santiago, he couldn’t play at Indian Wells, but his compatriots (Cristian Garín & Alejandro Tabilo) – as qualifiers – advanced to the fourth round. Matteo Berrettini suffers a crisis; the tall Italian was a Top 10er for three years, after the Australian Open he dropped outside the Top 20 and it doesn’t seem he would return where he was: at Indian Wells he lost his opening match, and decided to take part in a Challenger in Phoenix (his first event at this level in four years) where he was beaten again by a player ranked outside the Top 100 (this time in the quarterfinal). Gaël Monfils  unsuccessfully came back to the tour after a 7-month hiatus (foot injury), he turns 37 this year, tough to expect he might be dangerous again.
After the “Sunshine Double” Pete Sampras maintained status quo from a situation three weeks earlier. Before Indian Wells ’93 he had a chance to become No. 1, but lost in the third round while Jim Courier claimed the title. At Key Biscayne (the only two-week event outside Slams then) the roles were reversed: Courier was sensationally ousted in the fourth round while Sampras finished as a champion. The new-comer Marcos Ondruska continued his impressive run in the US events; the young South African almost advanced to the final having eliminated two top players (Chang, Stich) – in the 172-minute semifinal he squandered a double break advantage, then led 5:4 on serve in the deciding tie-break, but ultimately succumbed to MaliVai Washington 6-2, 4-6, 6-7(5). Ondruska seemed to be on his way to become a Top 20 player at least, but it was basically the finish of his development at the age of 20, and to the end of his career nine years later he would not win three straight matches at this level (in Florida he almost won six). It was a unique event for Boris Becker. The German who as struggling with an injury in February, arrived in Florida, but in the second round he got a walkover, whereas in the third round he was unable to play because his injury renewed & withdrew, so he received a check ($8,400) not hitting a ball while four other players, earned the same amount of money for playing five matches (three qualifiers and a lucky loser). Vincent Spadea [524, WC], the Orange Bowl ’92 champion, began his very long career at the main-level with a first round win over Andrés Gómez, on the verge of retirement then. Andre Agassi, similarly to Indian Wells, disappointed, but he began the event in impressive style: in his first two matches he had a streak of 19 games won in a row (!) once he withstood a double set point vs Aaron Krickstein. “I’ve always had the shots,” Agassi said after that win. “My game has been good enough to do better than what I’ve done. The one part I needed to spend energy on was my mental approach and discipline and concentration level and commitment to the sport. And that’s what I’ve really been working on.” People were speculating that it’d be his season, but he needed to wait another two years to fulfill his tremendous potential.
During two weeks of Key Biscayne, two minor tournaments were played on two different surfaces. Aragon, in the semifinal Karel Novacek  avenged a Rotterdam defeat to Anders Järryd two weeks before, and collected his 12th title, not playing even once at 5-all in five matches which was quite unusual given the fast surface… Björn Borg  lost his penultimate match in Spain, leaving a good impression against the best Portuguese of the 90s, João Cunha Silva .
The defending champion Guillermo Pérez-Roldán claimed his last title, in Morocco. The Argentine  who built his career almost entirely on clay-court events, was one of the most successful teenagers in the late 80s (peaked in 1988 reaching the final in Rome), but at the age of 24 he already reached his physical limitations (right wrist). In Casablanca, just like a year before, he began his season. The beaten finalist, local favorite, 22-year-old Younes el Aynaoui , played just his fifth main-level event (third in Casablanca). El Aynaoui gained self-confidence upon that final and several good results at the Challenger circuit, helped him to make a transition to the ATP Tour in the second half of the year.
Indian Wells (Masters 1000, hard outdoors) – week 10/11
(1)🇪🇸Carlos Alcaraz d. (5)🇷🇺Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-2
Phoenix (Challenger 175; hard outdoors) – week 11
(alt.)🇵🇹Nuno Borges vs. (q)🇷🇺Alexander Shevchenko 4-6, 6-2, 6-1
Key Biscayne ($1.400M, hard outdoors) – week 10/11
(2)🇺🇸Pete Sampras d. (14)🇺🇸MaliVai Washington 6-3, 6-2
Saragossa ($175K, carpet indoors) – week 10
(1)🇨🇿Karel Nováček d. (4)🇸🇪Jonas Svensson 3-6, 6-2, 6-1
Casablanca ($175K, clay outdoors) – week 11
(3)🇦🇷Guillermo Pérez-Roldán d. (WC)🇲🇦Younes el Aynaoui 6-4, 6-3
The past four weeks I’ve worked a lot to improve Time-Line on my website, I created it in 2011 and neglected updating two years later… clicking on the link you can read about the most important players & occurrences of the Open Era in chronological order, and use another links to read what interesting happened in particular decades year by year
Comeback of four players of the broader elite (by this I mean current/former Top 10ers to play major semifinals at least) who didn’t participate in any tournament since Australian Open: Novak Đoković & Karen Khachanov [Dubai], Casper Ruud & Matteo Berrettini [Acapulco]. The Serb has now 378 weeks spent as the No. 1 surpassing Steffi Graff‘s record. He was the only off those four guys who could be moderately happy with his performance after the break, even though his 20-match winning streak is snapped, by Daniil Medvedev who claimed his third title within three weeks (!) becoming the first man to win back-to-back Arabian finals (since Doha was moved from January to February two years ago). It’s the third year running a Russian player triumphs in Dubai (Aslan Karatsev in 2021). Trivia: Maxime Cressy established a new record for double faults in a three set match (25); as many as four ‘lucky losers’ entered the event which is unique (none of them advanced to the second round though); defending champion Andrey Rublev survived 2R withstanding a quintuple match point in the 2nd set tie-break, he has won three MP-down matches this year; 39-year-old Tunisian Malek Jaziri [444, WC] played his last professional match, one of a few Arabs in the Top 50, played a lone ATP final (Istanbul ’18), but the biggest success he achieved in Dubai earlier that year, advancing to the semifinal, having eliminated the top seed in 1R.
Two heroes of the “Golden Swing” (Carlos Alcaraz, Cameron Norrie) were too tired to play a third consecutive Latin week after nine matches on clay in South America. They withdrew from Acapulco, pretty special event in the calendar in which almost all matches are played under the floodlights because the weather is punishing. During the day-time the temperature is above 30 degrees, in the evening when it drops (~25°C), the humidity (~90%) makes life very difficult on the court. It was especially visible in the semifinals: Tommy Paul vs Taylor Fritz, an intriguing battle “who is the best US player?”, created a new record of the event for the longest match (3 hours 25 minutes); both were suffering cramps in the decider (Fritz even vomited before the deciding tie-break). In the second semifinal, cramps also attacked Holger Rune, quite surprisingly already after the second set of his match against Alex de Minaur , so the new Danish star actually played the entire set barely walking to his chair during change of ends (he served a few times underhand). De Minaur has collected his biggest title to date; he generated the most energy for the weekend, the first two rounds helped him a lot to do it because his opponents were like guys taken out of the Futures circuit, ranked 1244 and 842. I’ve noticed this year that De Minaur improved his serve, he’s able to hit ~210 kph on a regular basis.
Nicolás Jarry  was a Top 40 player in 2019, then something bad happened to him; he suffered a 9-match losing streak, Covid-19 came afterwards (overlapping his 10-month suspension for taking illegal substances)… he significantly dropped in the ranking, and needed to rebuild his career participating in the Challenger events over two years. He seems to be back to his 2019 form this year; last week he was two games away from a sensational win over Alcaraz in Brazil (semifinal; thanks to this got “special exempt”), this week in his native Chile he managed to go through to his fourth ATP final which he won being two points away from a straight set loss (three points away in the semifinal which he began with 1-6, 0:2). The last stage of the “Latin February”, featured only one Top20er, Lorenzo Musetti, who is out of form this year.