The Clay Court Swing

Spring, in the tennis world, generally refers to everything that happens in between the trophy ceremony at the Australian Open and the first slides across the courts in Paris, and it’s often a time of year when our eyes turn away from tennis. But here at Grand Slam Tennis Tours, through our Topnotch Tennis Tours division, it is our busiest time of year: We wrap up Australia, head over to Indian Wells for the BNP Paribas Open, and before you know it we’re closing out March down in Key Biscayne with the Miami Open.

For years now, the lack of a clear, consistent and affordable TV broadcast schedule has kept a lid on this portion of the ATP/WTA Tour, and if you like a well-kept secret, we are about to spoil things for you: for two beautiful tennis-y months, the Tour travels around the northern Mediterranean at a time of year when it’s really the only place you’d want to be. Imagine palm trees and blue skies. Crisp mornings that warm into t-shirt weather afternoons, and then turn into evenings spent sipping local whites in outdoor cafes. Here, I drew up a quick sketch of the scene:

Cafe Terrace at Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Cafe Terrace at Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Spring, as they say, is a time of awakening. For certain lucky and talented players, April and May on the red clay represent an opportunity to continue the success they began in Australia and North America. For others, it’s a time to WAKE UP and gather up the pieces of a season that held such high hopes just a few months prior.

For our clients, though, they are just on vacation. Which means that the European clay court swing is primarily an occasion to open our eyes to a stretch of some of the most spectacular events on the professional tennis tour. First, take a moment to appreciate this [partial] list, with the final match-ups in parenthesis: (Notice the beauty of the locales, and consider that by the time Djokovic and Murray faced-off in Paris they had spent the spring reintroducing themselves to the clay, finding their strides, and ultimately battling each other on it so that they arrive at Roland Garros ready to rock and roll.)

April

Marrakesh (Delbonis over Coric)

Monte Carlo (Nadal over Monfils)

Barcelona (Nadal over Nishikori)

May

Madrid (Djokovic over Murray)

Rome (Murray over Djokovic)

Nice (Thiem over Zverev)

ROLAND GARROS (Djokovic over Murray)

If spending time in beautiful Mediterranean locales, tickled with sea breezes and dining largely on olives, wines and cheeses isn’t your idea of a good time, well, fine. We won’t judge. But for the rest of us, there is a strong appeal in certain experiences:

  • Monte Carlo Rolex Masters: Enjoy your day on the grounds of the Monte Carlo Country Club, and try to keep your eyes on the players and not the clear blue waters in the background. After tennis, head to the casino for a white-tie session at the craps table, or stroll on the cobbled streets of the most exclusive principality in the world. Nadal won this event 8 years in a row, 2005-2012.

Court Central at Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters

  • Mutua Madrid Open: Housed in the Caja Magica, an open-air arena designed by renowned French architect Dominique Perrault, the Madrid Open is a special event on tour. Owned by former player and Romanian magnate Ion Tiriac, the Madrid Open has explored progressive innovations such as an ill-fated blue clay experiment and more controversial ideas such as using fashion models as ballgirls. Who knows what’s in store for 2017…
Federer at the Mutua Madrid Open

Federer at the Mutua Madrid Open

  • Italian Open: The modern Foro Italico is a fine stadium, but if you were ever curious what it might look like if the Trevi Fountain made love to a Roman garden, and their child grew up into a tennis venue, the Stadio Nicola Pietrangeli is the answer. Ringed with white-marble statues of Roman gods and connected by Fascist-era tunnels to the rest of the site, it’s one of the greatest tennis venues in the world and one that feels like a cultural experience unto itself. 
Stadio Nicola Pietrangeli at the Italian Open

Stadio Nicola Pietrangeli at the Italian Open

Would you like to know the greatest sign that it’s a smart idea to travel to Europe this spring to watch world-class tennis? Close your eyes and imagine, for a moment, that there was no tennis and ask yourself how you still feel about taking the trip.