Tommy Paul’s victory over Kevin Anderson on Monday in Hamburg may have been his second tour-level win on clay, but that doesn’t mean he’s a stranger to the surface.
Throughout his ITF and Challenger career, Paul racked up a 65-24 record on the dirt, to go along with six combined titles. Add those to his 2015 Roland Garros junior title and you could certainly make a compelling case for clay being his best surface. His movement is his greatest strength, and the ability to gracefully glide and slide on a clay court will always be paramount.
Paul, the lone of three Americans to win his main-draw opener, will meet his old foe Andrey Rublev in the second round. The Russian beat him on the hard courts in Washington D.C. to win their first ATP clash two years ago, but they also met in the 2012 Orange Bowl Boy’s 16s final.
Not all Orange Bowl 16s finalists end up being ATP Top 100, but these 2012 boys did, now that Tommy Paul has made his debut at 92 this week. #tbt Andrey Rublev(RUS) d. Paul 63, 64 pic.twitter.com/1pmwFtlKqO— Colette Lewis (@zootennis) September 12, 2019
Rublev defeated Tennys Sandgren, 6-3, 6-3, to begin his tournament, a surprisingly routine scoreline against a player of Sandgren’s caliber.
"It was the best match I've played on clay this season," Rublev told ATPTour.com.
Paul is no stranger to Rublev’s unrelenting pace, and the ultra-slow red clay should make for some spectacular points given Paul’s exceptional defensive and improvisational skills. Here is a clip from their 2012 Orange Bowl final, a match Rublev won, 6-3, 6-4.
Just like all the other sports in the world, athlete’s current fitness levels remain somewhat of a mystery, which makes for a not-so-fun time when predicting matches. Last Sunday we saw much of the NFL’s top talent sidelined with injuries, but so far tennis players have held up surprisingly well.
Paul might be America’s best hope on clay for the foreseeable future, and if his legs hold up—he’s playing his fourth match in as many days after advancing in qualifying—an upset is entirely possible. But in the end, expect the fitter, more match-tested Rublev to hold off Paul for his second ATP victory over his old junior nemesis.
The Pick: Andrey Rublev in three sets