Zverev and Bencic highlight the game's head-first dive into red clay

Zverev and Bencic highlight the game's head-first dive into red clay

None of them are top-tier, or even second-tier, tournaments, but there are a few surprisingly familiar faces who are getting their clay campaigns off to an early start.

After dipping a toe onto green clay in Charleston, the tours are ready to take the red-dirt plunge this week; that’s the surface at all four events starting Monday. None of them are top-tier, or even second-tier, tournaments, but there are a few surprisingly familiar faces who are getting their clay campaigns off to an early start.


Grand Prix Hassan II (ATP)

Marrakech, Morocco
$750,000; 250 ranking points
Red clay
Draw is here

Alexander Zverev closed 2018 with his biggest title, at the ATP Finals in London. Which makes his slow start to 2019 all the more puzzling. He has reached a final, in Acapulco, but he went out early in Indian Wells and Miami. So maybe it shouldn’t come as a shock that the 21-year-old isn’t wasting any time getting back on court, or getting his clay season underway. To that end, Zverev has taken a wild card into Marrakech, where he’s also the No. 1 seed. With him, among others, are Fabio Fognini; last year’s finalist, Kyle Edmund; defending champion Pablo Andujar; and another surprise wild card, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Grand Prix Hassan II is feeling a little grander than usual this year.


Fayoz Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship (ATP)

Houston, USA
$652,245; 250 ranking points
Red clay
Draw is here

OK, U.S. men don’t dominate on clay in most places, but they do dominate on clay in one place: Houston, Texas. Americans have won five of the last eight editions of this tournament, including the last two. Steve Johnson claimed both of those titles, and he’s the No. 1 seed here again. Much of his strongest competition also looks familiarly homegrown: Reilly Opelka, Taylor Fritz, Mackenzie McDonald and Sam Querrey are all among the Top 8 seeds.


Samsung Open (WTA)

Lugano, Switzerland
$250,000; International
Red clay
Draw is here

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s it has been a while since Belinda Bencic was the top seed at a WTA event. But where better to have it happen than back at home in Switzerland? Bencic started her clay season last week on green Har-Tru in Charleston; now she’ll cross the Atlantic to continue it on old-fashioned European red dirt. She’ll also try to continue an early-season surge that has shown a few signs of sputtering of late.

Also here: Carla Suarez Navarro, Viktoria Kuzmova, Alison van Uytvanck and, as a wild card, Svetlana Kuznetsova


Claro Open (WTA)

Bogota, Colombia
$250,000; International
Red clay
Draw is here

Just like Lugano and Marrakech, Bogota has a solid headliner: In this case, it’s Jelena Ostapenko. The 2017 French Open champion is the top seed, and one of the few Top 50 players in the draw. After pullouts by Petra Martic and Tatjana Maria, the second seed will be 65th-ranked Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

First-round match to watch: Amanda Anisimova vs. Sabine Lisicki