Tennis’ greatest differentiator among all professional sports remains its various playing surfaces. Sure, some football fields and soccer pitches have thick grass and some have thin. Some ice-rinks are frozen solid while some have a tendency to melt, but the surface itself remains the same. Golf courses use dozens of different grasses, but at the end of the day, it’s still grass. While competitors hit the ball over the net and between the lines, tennis on a red-clay court is hardly the same when played out on a freshly-trimmed grass court.
Game styles are practically molded by the surface a player grows up playing on, and everyone has a favorite. For Petra Martic, it’s clay. In 2019, the Croatian posted a sizzling 16-3 record on the dirt, reaching the quarterfinals of Roland Garros and Madrid, the semifinals of Charleston, and lifting her first WTA singles trophy at Istanbul. Few players glide around the court as effortlessly as Martic. That, combined with her exceptional kick-serve few WTA players own, makes her one of the toughest clay-court competitors out there.
Alison Van Uytvanck on the other hand, prefers a much faster court. She’s won three of her four WTA titles on indoor hard. The Belgian hits as flat as a pancake, and typically wins by overwhelming her opponents with pace. For her to hang with Martic in Palermo on Tuesday, Van Uytvanck will need to adjust her game by allowing for more margin, or play lights out with an all-or-nothing approach.
Both players won titles in 2019: Martic in Istanbul and Van Uytvanck in Tashkent and Budapest. And while almost every player’s current level remains a mystery, this phenomenal clash of styles should make for a thrilling return to WTA competition. In the end, expect the top seed's clay-court prowess to stymie van Uytvanck’s relentless power.