By Ricky Dimon
On the heels of Indian Wells and Miami, three more Masters events will take place in Monte-Carlo, Madrid, and Rome. But the clay-court swing as a whole is already here. It is in Houston and Marrakech, where there are strong fields by ATP 250 standards. Among the players in action this week are Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka, John Isner, Nick Kyrios, and Felix Auger-Aliassime.
US Men’s Clay Court Championship
Where: Houston, Tex.
Prize Money: $ 594,950
Top seed: Taylor Fritz
The 2019 champion: Cristian Garin
The ATP Tour knows a thing or two about imbalanced draws in 2022 as a result of Novak Djokovic’s inability to withdraw. Houston can join the club’s tournaments, which number 1 seed retrew, though in this case nobody is to blame. Casper Ruud probably didn’t expect to be in the Miami final. But he was, so getting right into action in a 250 tournament makes no sense. Thus the Norwegian is out and will be replaced by Michael Mmoh, who goes straight to the second round as a lucky loser. Opelka, Kyrgios, and Tommy Paul will be among those taking advantage of the top half of the bracket. Of that trio, Paul is the one with the combination of both stellar current form and clay-court capability.
A strong American contingent also makes up the bottom half, which is home to Fritz, Isner, Frances Tiafoe, and Jack Sock. One of the more intriguing first-round contests pits Sock against clay-court specialist Cristian Garin, but Garin is struggling mightily at the moment. Both Fritz and Tiafoe are decent enough on the red stuff, so they could be on a semifinal showdown.
Quarterfinal picks: Daniel Elahi Galan over Tommy Paul, Jenson Brooksby over Reilly Opelka, John Isner over Frances Tiafoe, and Jack Sock over Taylor Fritz
Semifinals: Tiafoe over Opelka and Fritz over Paul
Final: Paul over Fritz
Grand Prix Hassan II
Where: Marrakech, Morocco
Prize money: 534,555 Euros
Top seed: Felix Auger-Aliassime
The 2019 champion: Benoit Paire (not playing)
The Marrakech field pales in comparison to that of Houston, but at least it has Felix Auger-Aliassime. On paper the Canadian is a clear title favorite, but he has never been at his best on clay and he is coming off the dreadful results of Indian Wells and Miami. Auger-Aliassime’s draw is a good one, either. Alex Molcan would be a tough second-round opponent and potential quarterfinal foe Botic Van de Zandschulp just won their matchup in Indian Wells. Accomplished clay-courters like Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Laslo Djere, and Lorenzo Musetti could also have a final spot for the contest.
In part because Dan Evans is the No. 2 seed, the bottom half of the bracket is now as strong as ever. It’s also not as deep. Don’t be an unseeded floater like Federico Coria, Pablo Andujar, or Richard Gasquet capitalizes on the opportunity. Even David Goffin has a chance to get back on track. All in all, this is an unspectacular 250 event sandwiched in between Masters 1000 tournaments; absolutely anything could happen.
Quarterfinal picks: Botic Van de Zandschulp over Felix Auger-Aliassime, Jiri Vesely over Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Richard Gasquet over Federico Coria, and Pablo Andujar over Federico Delbonis
Semifinals: Coria over Auger-Aliassime and Delbonis over Ramos-Vinolas
Final: Delbonis over Ramos-Vinolas
Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on Twitter @Dimonator.