Clay Triple Crown


westside clay courtsWell.


Welcome to the clay court tennis season.


What made me think of it?


I happened to notice that Roger Federer accepted a wild card entry into the Monte Carlo tennis open tournament.


It is played on clay.


Same as the French Open.




Well … not quite … not all clay is created equal … nothing matches the French Open terre battue of Roland Garros grounds.

Monte Carlo is the first of three Masters tournaments played on clay and is followed by Madrid and Rome in May, leading up to the French Open, which starts May 25.




Federer, who lost three straight finals to Nadal from 2006-08, has 78 career titles … but has never won at Monte Carlo.

Federer returns to the Monte Carlo Country Club for the first time since 2011 when he lost in the quarterfinals.


In fact.


It is quite possible Federer could retire as the best clay court player … to not win titles at Monte Carlo and Rome.


Does it really matter?


Federer is already in the ranks of immortality with regard to tennis itself … but clay … oh that clay.

He is so close to clay court immortality … but so far away.


If he could win one Monte Carlo crown and one Rome title … and, of course, one more French Open title he would gain a complimentary room at the Chateau de Clay.


Until then?


He will still be on the outside looking in with the other merely ‘very good’ clay-court champions.


And why may he never win one of these?


Because there is no debate … clay rafeal nadal-french-open-2012Rafael Nadal is the greatest clay-court player of all time.


His European clay-court accomplishments include eight titles at Monte Carlo and Barcelona, six titles at Rome, two at Madrid, one at Hamburg and the seven titles at the French Open.


That’s 32 clay-court titles, not including a handful of clay titles at other venues, and still more tennis years ahead.


And he is playing at Monte Carlo again this year.


The only question left is whether there will ever be another clay-court player who can surpass Nadal’s legacy.


Probably not.


We may never see anybody approach this again.




On the way to the French Open Monte Carlo is the first big stop.


FRANCE TENNIS FRENCH OPENIt’s a perpetual reminder that the grueling road to Paris is long rallies and clay stained socks.


It is the first of the Clay Triple Crown which typically bring the history’s best clay court players together time and time again.


The Clay Court Triple Crown is typically discussed is way:



–          Rome is personified as Power.

–          Paris is Prestige.

–          Monte Carlo is Beauty. The courts … well … courting the elegant and royalty on courts nestled high above the picturesque sea and crashing waves.


And because I did the research and someone wrote it all up I will share some interesting details as to the upcoming  Clay court tournaments <I lost the source>:



Monte Carlo: The Double Champions


Since the Open era of tennis began in 1968, there have been 10 players who have won the Monte Carlo Masters at least twice in their careers. All of them proved to be clay-court legends:


    Ilie Nastase                           3 titles         (1971-73)

    Bjorn Borg                           3 titles         (1977, 79-80)

    Guillermo Vilas                      3 titles         (1976, 81-82)

    Mats Wilander                       2 titles         (1983, 87)

    Ivan Lendl                            2 titles         (1985, 88)

    Sergi Bruguera                     2 titles         (1991, 93)

    Thomas Muster                    3 titles         (1992, 95-96)

    Gustavo Kuerten                  2 titles         (1999, 01)

    Juan Carlos Ferrero               2 titles         (2002-03)

    Rafael Nadal                         8 titles         (2005-12)



Other Notes:


 Vilas shared his 1981 title with Jimmy Connors when rain halted the match at 5-5. No American has won an outright title at Monte Carlo.


 Ferrero was never the same after injuries in 2004. How much more could he have added in the age of Nadal?


All of the double Monte Carlo champions won at least one French Open title. They combined for 29 of the 46 French Open titles in the Open era.


Tennis legends Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer never won a title at Monte Carlo.

Other one-time French Open champions also failed to win Monte Carlo.



Rome: The Double Championsclay court-tennis-ball


Since the Open era of tennis, there have been only nine players who have won Rome’s Italian Open at least twice in their careers. Again the list:


    Ilie Nastase                          2 titles        (1970, 73)

    Bjorn Borg                          2 titles        (1974, 78)

    Vitas Gerulaitis                     2 titles        (1977, 79)

    Andres Gomez                     2 titles        (1982, 84)

    Ivan Lendl                           2 titles        (1986, 88)

    Jim Courier                          2 titles         (1992-93)

    Thomas Muster                    3 titles         (1990, 95-96)

    Rafael Nadal                         7 titles        (2005-07, 09-10, 12-13)   

    Novak Djokovic                    2 titles         (2008, 11)



Other Notes:


Only Gerulaitis and Djokovic do not have a French Open title.


Jan Kodes and Sergi Bruguera are the only two-time French Open champions to never win Rome. Kodes also did not win Monte Carlo.


Courier was the first player to defend his title at Rome. Only Muster and Nadal have replicated this. Nadal did this on three separate occasions, including the only three-peat. Muster is the only other player to win Rome as many as three total times.


From 1996-2005, there were 10 different winners in 10 years.


Since 2005, Nadal and Djokovic have won all the titles. If either wins in 2014, it will be 10 years with only two winners.


Players who won Rome and the French Open in the same year: Nastase (73), Borg (74, 78), Adriano Panatta (76), Lendl (86), Courier (92), Muster (95) and Nadal (05-07, 10, 12-13). Put another way, it has only been done 13 times in 46 years, and six of those doubles have come from Nadal.


Rod Laver and Pete Sampras each won one Rome title in the Open era, but Sampras failed to win the French Open. Agassi and Kuerten had only one Rome title.


Federer has zero titles at Monte Carlo or Rome in his six combined finals appearances. Nadal created five of those Federer defeats and Felix Mantilla (2003) won in Federer’s first Rome final.



The Clay Triple Crown


Which players won Monte Carlo, Rome and the French Open at least one time each in their careers?


    Ilie Nastase

    Guillermo Vilas

    Bjorn Borg

    Mats Wilander

    Ivan Lendl

    Thomas Muster

    Carlos Moya

    Gustavo Kuerten

    Juan Carlos Ferrero

    Rafael Nadal


Other Notes:


 Players to win Monte Carlo, Rome and the French Open in the same year: Nastase (73), Muster (95) and Nadal (05-07, 10, 12-13). Not even Borg, Wilander or Lendl could accomplish this.


Only five players won two career championships at both Monte Carlo and Rome: Nastase, Borg, Lendl, Muster and Nadal.


Only Borg, Lendl and Nadal won the Clay Triple Crown at least twice in their career.


Nadal’s Triple: 8-7-8 titles. That’s just plain ridiculous and likely impossible to top anytime the rest of the century, if ever. If so, tennis will probably have radically different conditions.



Anyway.clay roger_federer_1648411c

Winning what clay court enthusiasts call the Beauty, Power and Prestige tournaments is certainly not easy.

I would like to hope Roger can pull off at least one before he is done.


Welcome to the clay court season.

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Written by Bruce