The red stuff isn’t to everyone’s liking.
A decade ago, Russia’s Dmitry Tursunov wrote in a hilarious blog for the ATP: “I think the only natural habitat for (clay) is on Mars so they should change Roland Garros to hard courts and make a clay tournament on Mars!”
Tursunov might have an ally in Nick Kyrgios.
Following his impressive 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 win over Philipp Kohlschreiber — a savvy clay-courter — in the first round at the French Open on Tuesday, he admitted that clay wasn’t his favorite tennis surface.
The longer rallies aren’t for the routinely headline-making Australian, and besides, his car needs a good clean after practicing on it.
“When I’m back home I don’t really train that much on clay because it makes my cars dirty, too,” he told reporters.
Not that the red dirt is the only surface tennis players have complained about. Voicing their disapproval of playing at Wimbledon, former No. 1 players Ivan Lendl, Marat Safin and Marcelo Rios all stated “grass is for cows” or some minor variant.
But clay has long been considered an important surface for the development of young players.
Despite the emergence of slow hard courts, most would agree that clay remains the slowest surface around. As such, players must learn to construct points instead of quickly blasting past opponents.
“It’s good for learning the game,” said Javier Piles, the former coach of David Ferrer, one of the best clay-courters of the last 10 years who then became a threat on hard courts.
To be fair to Kyrgios, he has had success on clay, making a final in his young career in Estoril, Portugal and upsetting Roger Federer in Madrid.
He entered this French Open short of matches, pulling out of Estoril after the death of his grandfather and not playing at the Italian Open due to a hip complaint.
Murray drops set
Three other big names in the top half of the draw — Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and Kei Nishikori — also arrived in Paris under a cloud.
They, like Kyrgios, advanced although one of France’s top hopes, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, was a game away from defeat when his match with Renzo Olivo was suspended at 9.55 p.m. local time.
Murray, who learned the finer points of clay-court tennis at the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona as a teen, dropped a set before defeating 73rd-ranked Russian Andrey Kuznetsov 6-4 4-6 6-2 6-0.
Murray’s time at No. 1 has been completely dissimilar to the Scot’s quest to get there last year. An elbow injury, bout of the shingles, loss of motivation and then last week, a virus that necessitated antibiotics, have all conspired against him.
Last year’s beaten finalist in southwest Paris coughed throughout his on-court interview after dispatching Kuznetsov.
Murray’s health issues however pale in comparison to del Potro’s. Indeed the Argentine may be the first to come to mind when thinking of talented tennis players whose careers have been derailed by injuries.
Surgery to both wrists — the left wrist is currently more problematic and affects his drive backhand — have robbed the 28-year-old of vital years on the circuit and last week he wasn’t sure of competing at the French Open because of shoulder and back problems.
He did show up for the first time since 2012 and ousted Guido Pella — a teammate when Argentina won a maiden Davis Cup title in November — 6-2 6-1 6-4.
‘So happy to be here’
“I am so happy to be here after five years,” the 2009 US Open champion told reporters.
If the seedings hold, del Potro and Murray will meet in the third round, a mouthwatering prospect given their two tussles in 2016 were classics.
Murray topped del Potro in an enthralling Olympic final in Rio, with the latter getting revenge in that other team event, the Davis Cup, with a five-hour victory in September in Glasgow.
Nishikori has been repeatedly hindered by minor injuries, handing a walkover to Novak Djokovic at the Madrid Open in May with a wrist injury of his own prior to losing to del Potro in Rome the next week.
He overcame Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis — another deeply affected by injury — 4-6 6-1 6-4 6-4.
Tsonga in trouble
The 11th-ranked Tsonga — bidding to become the first French man to win Roland Garros since Yannick Noah in 1983 — trailed Argentina’s Olivo 7-5 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 5-4.
Olivo, who owns only one victory at grand slams, was two points away from advancing at 6-6 in the tiebreak and couldn’t serve out the match at 5-3 in the fourth.
Much to the dismay of the fans on center court, play was subsequently halted due to darkness. Despite not closing out Tsonga, the world No. 91 still had time to pose for a selfie when exiting the stadium.
A minor upset occurred on Philippe Chatrier court when the ever dangerous Fernando Verdasco defeated the much hyped Alexander Zverev 6-4 3-6 6-4 6-2 in the completion of a match suspended by darkness Monday.
When asked what made the difference, the 20-year-old Rome winner didn’t hold back.
“I played absolute sh** made the difference. It’s quite simple.”
Safe to say he and women’s seventh seed Johanna Konta weren’t a fan of the clay. Konta was upset by 109th-ranked Hsieh Su-Wei 1-6 7-6 6-4.
Simona Halep — the 2014 finalist who is a huge fan of the clay — seemingly brushed aside any concerns about her injured ankle.
The women’s favourite, Halep last week wasn’t sure she would play her opener. But the Romanian did and cruised past Jana Cepelova 6-2 6-3 in just over an hour.