Friday, April 16, 2010

Competition or surface: What's better for French Open preparation?

Fresh off winning her first title of the year last weekend in Ponte Vedre Beach, Florida, Caroline Wozniacki is keeping it rolling this week at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston. She has to be the heavy favorite to win the title with the form she's been displaying.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the WTA calendar, Francesca Schiavone and Roberta Vinci have advanced to the finals in Barcelona, a good result for both players.

But I'm left wondering something related to both of these events:

Which one is better preparation for the queen of clay-court tournaments, the French Open?

Is it the Family Circle Cup, which had six top 20 players in the draw, making for the stronger field, but played on Har-Tru courts? Or is it Barcelona, which only had two top-20 players entered and none in the top 10, but is played in Europe on the red clay similar to Roland Garros?

It's hard to say because over the past 20 years, the prolific French Open winners such as Justine Henin, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Steffi Graf all have won titles on the green stuff, and in the years they bagged the big one.

But is that just a testament to their ability? After all, they each have Hall of Fame stats. It must be because from what I gather, even though the Har-tru is referred to as "clay," it plays almost like a different surface compared to the red stuff. The weather also has a big impact on the playing conditions, and the climes in the "Southern Swing" and Paris in the springtime couldn't be more different.

So why play in the U.S. this time of year? Not that I really have any complaints: It's great to see a few tournaments holding court here. Aside from the competition and surface differences, money plays a big part as the pot in Charleston is more than three times the size of the one in Barcelona.

I'm going to inject myself into the middle of this thrilling debate and say that if I were a French Open contender, I would be playing exclusively on red clay. It'll be interesting to see who goes further at the French: Schiavone or Wozniacki. And what will be the bigger factor in determining that? Acclimation, competition or just pure talent? We'll see soon enough!

(Photo: AP)


Anonymous said...

Remember that now all clay (red or green) is the same. In reality, you can make the courts at Roland Garros and the courts at the Family Circle nearly indentical if you wish. The devil is in the details or in this case the maintenance and the weather. The courts in Spain and Italy are typically layers of crushed terracota and the courts in Paris are actually stone based (white limestone)and topped with a thin layer of finely crushed brick...and when they played in Germany, the courts surface was much more coarse by nature. Also don't forget compaction and the weather. In Paris, history shows that the first week the courts play softer and wetter and the 2nd week they firm up and dry out and play faster...too many variables to consider? Yep, but all the clay is great for developing talent and extending the careers of players of all ages. As for Har-Tru, I feel strongly that it is the perfect transitional surface from hard to red clay...a little firmer and faster that what the players are on this coming week but not as hard and fast of the painted hard courts of Indian Wells and Key Biscayne. It must be a pretty good option, Federer practices on Har-Tru the day after being bouned at the Sony.

Anonymous said...

To the point above, how great would it be if the Sony Erickson switched to Har-Tru and the ATP picked up one more clay court event in the US...maybe in tennis-crazed Atlanta of near Bolletaria and IMG in Tampa.

This would keep the best talent in the world in the US for 3 weeks on the dirt. The US would host the first 3 weeks of the 7 week clay court season...we can only dream.