ATP rankings are based on results on all court surfaces. However, with a higher than normal level of anticipation for the European clay court season now upon us, what we need are rankings specific to clay courts. This post provides those rankings.
Clay is back. On no other surface does men’s tennis get as physical or as gladiatorial. And with the long two-month lead time to Roland Garros allowing for the analysis of the early feints and jabs of established clay court stars such as Nadal and Djokovic, arguably no other grand slam is as anticipated. Add in the outstanding early season form of those challenging the “Big 4” – among others Wawrinka, Dimitrov, Dolgopolov and Fognini – and it is easy to see why this year’s European clay court “swing” may be special.
Attention has already turned to who the best clay court players are, who might challenge Nadal and Djokovic, and whether any of the rising stars of Q1 2014 can continue their form. Unfortunately, the ATP does not produce rankings based on a player’s performance on a single surface.
That is the purpose of this post: Statistically, who are the best clay court players of the last 12 months?
Clay court rankings 2013-14
The table below uses my own methodology to calculate the current clay court ranking of ATP players. The ranking is based on clay court matches played in the last 12 months (i.e. since the start of the European clay court swing in April 2013). Only ATP main tour matches are included: in other words, no Davis Cup, no Challengers, no qualifying matches.
I have taken the total ATP points earned by each player on a clay court in that time and divided it by the number of clay court matches that player played in the same period. This gives me an “ATP Points-per-match” score. I have ranked the players by this ATP points-per-match score to arrive at their current clay court ranking.
Points-per-match is important. With the ATP awarding geometrically more points for reaching the latter stages of tournaments and more points for bigger tournaments, the points-per-match score rewards players who reach the latter stages of the biggest tournaments – rather than those who have played a large number of clay court matches.
Table first, then analysis.
Clay court rankings 2013-14 (last 12 months); minimum 5 clay court matches played
A few explanatory notes to the table and some thoughts on the outlook
- No surprise and no contention that Nadal and Djokovic are the best two players on clay. Enough has been written about them for me to skip to the next.
- Tsonga’s rank of 3 may surprise some given his current form (which is not accounted for here) and his heavy loss to Ferrer in last year’s Roland Garros semi finals. Although clay is considered by many to be Tsonga’s weakest surface, Tsonga wins a higher percentage of his matches when he plays in France, as he draws energy from the crowds. Two of the clay court season’s biggest events are played in France; Tsonga made the semi finals in both events last year. (Tsonga win % in France: 75%; outside France: 67%.) Despite this, his form currently makes the outlook for him negative.
- While still winning titles in 2014 (Buenos Aires), Ferrer’s form has not yet hit the heights of 2013, when he reached the Roland Garros final. Ever tenacious, Ferrer will need a couple of good draws and his ever-present work ethic to remain in the top 4 clay court players in 2014.
- Federer’s acceptance of a wild card into Monte Carlo is evidence of his belief that he can challenge the best in the game on clay. If he remains fit, he is playing well enough to be the “best of the rest”, outside Djokovic and Nadal.
- Even before his Australian Open triumph, Wawrinka was a stand-out player in 2013 including on clay where he was ranked 6. He beat Ferrer in the title match in Estoril, reached the final at the Madrid Masters 1000, and the quarter finals of Roland Garros (losing to Nadal on both occasions). Wawrinka probably needs to find form more than belief right now and, like Federer, may be able to push the top 2.
- While Berdych was unfortunate to come up against an inspired Gael Monfils at Roland Garros in 2013, two semi final appearances at the Masters 1000 events, including a win over Djokovic, makes Tomas, in addition to his current form, a serious contender on clay.
- Fabio Fognini’s outstanding clay court form especially since the summer last year is recognised in his top 8 surface ranking, 5 places higher than his current ATP ranking. Buoyed by his Davis Cup performances against Great Britain, expect good results during the clay court swing and – with a good draw – the ability to reach the final four at Roland Garros. Fabio’s test will be whether he believes he can bag enough of the fish currently ranked above him.
- Similar to Tsonga, Isner’s comparatively weak record on clay (ranked 25) compared to his current ATP ranking of 9, also disguises a more fundamental issue: that of a weak record outside of the United States, regardless of surface. Read Carl Bialik’s excellent article for fivethirtyeight.com. Isner’s schedule is unlikely to change and similarly his clay court ranking.
- If Dimitrov and Dolgopolov maintain their early season form through the European clay court season, they will be in or around the top 10 on clay, and capable of going deep in the biggest tournaments.
Plenty of vamos, plenty of allez, and a serious amount of anticipation.