A Look at Men's Clay Courters Ahead of French Open 2018

A Look at Men's Clay Courters Ahead of French Open 2018

Recently, I performed an analysis of the clay courters on the women’s tour at and demonstrated that there were a number of WTA players who were considerably worse on clay than other surfaces, and also, vice-versa.

Interestingly, Kiki Bertens was one of those players who has shown that she is capable of exhibiting a high level on clay in recent years, and since that article, her odds for the French Open have been slashed, following her run to the final several days ago in Madrid.

With this analysis well-received, I thought it would be interesting to do some similar analysis on the men’s tour in advance of the French Open, so that tennis betting fans can hopefully benefit in the markets at Roland Garros.

ATP Top 100 Clay Court Performances

As with the women’s, I analysed 24-month clay court data for all ATP top 100 players, filtering out those players who had played fewer than 10 main tour/main draw clay matches in this time period. First of all, here are the top 10 clay-courters on the ATP Tour, based on the combined service points/return points won percentage:

PlayerClay Court Service Points Won %Clay Court Return Points Won %Clay Court Combined Points Won %
Zverev A64.741.0105.7

Looking at this 24-month data, it is evident quite how far ahead Nadal is over the field. The Spaniard - nicknamed the King of Clay - has certainly lived up to his nickname, winning over 9% greater combined serve and return points to his nearest rivals.

We can also see that a number of the historical top players - Novak Djokovic, Milos Raonic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka - who have had injury issues in the last year or so, were in the list, and there are several points worth making here. Firstly, their injuries have opened things up for other players, and will effectively reduce the quality of the top ten on clay. Their absences, or inability to replicate previous levels, had made the playing field very level at top tennis betting sites, with the obvious exception of Nadal.

Secondly, using 24-month data probably hasn’t given Alexander Zverev enough credit. 12 month data, for example, makes him the second best clay player on tour.

Leaders on Clay

The next step is to look at the players who have shown a better level on clay than other surfaces, and these are the players that in a ‘horses for courses’ approach, are much better on their preferred surface than others, so if they perform well on clay, are likely to be over-rated by the markets subsequently.

PlayerC.C Service Points Won %C.C Return Points Won %C.C Combined Points Won %Hard Court Service Points Won %Hard Court Return Points Won %Hard Court Combined Points Won %C.H.C Combined Points Won %
Meyer F58.636.194.759.931.090.93.8
Zverey A64.741.0105.765.736.9102.63.1

What I did here was take their clay court combined points won percentage and subtract the same percentage for hard & indoor hard courts. The higher the positive figure, the more the player has over performed on clay compared to hard and indoor hard:

Here are the real over-performers on clay, and it’s not a surprise at all to see Rafa Nadal close to the top of this list. While his overall level on hard courts is still excellent, it’s not nearly at his stratospheric clay standard.

Other players unlikely to surprise people include the Japanese clay-courter, Taro Daniel, who grew up on the clay in Spain, while Dominic Thiem’s love of clay is well-documented. Stefanos Tsitsipas has enjoyed a breakthrough clay season on the main tour, although requires improvement on other surfaces, while many of the other players on the list fit the bill as either South American or South European traditional clay-courters.

Under-Performing on Clay Courts

Conversely, there are a number of players who are unable to replicate their hard court levels on the dirt, and these are listed here:

PlayerC.C Service Points Won %C.C Return Points Won %C.C Combined Points Won %Hard Court Service Points Won %Hard Court Return Points Won %Hard Court Combined Points Won %C.H.C Combined Points Won %
Harrison R61.533.194.665.035.7100.7-6.1

Looking at this list, there is also a theme. A number of Eastern Europeans and Americans feature, and this isn’t a shock. Many of these players grew up on hard courts, so it is absolutely logical that they struggle on clay.

In addition, it’s also worth pointing out that there were a number of top 100 players, such as Marcos Baghdatis, Matthew Ebden, Julien Benneteau and Taylor Fritz who have little desire to play on clay, and didn’t even reach the minimum sample size for clay matches to be graded here. Without doubt, these ‘clay-haters’ would also feature in this list - perhaps Roger Federer would too - if we delved further into the archives to get longer-term clay data for them.

Hopefully this article has given you some thoughts regarding who to avoid and who to keep onside for the your French Open strategy, but also subsequently on the ATP Tour this season, as the tour moves to grass and hard courts later on in the year.

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