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 to 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
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