No more hard courts, no more green dirt, no more North American events. For the next month and a half, we’ll be sliding across European la terre battue toward Paris. This week Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic play home-court events—Nadal in Barcelona, Djokovic in Belgrade—and the WTA shifts into a higher gear, with its 500-level tournament in Stuttgart.
Porsche Tennis Grand Prix (WTA)
$565,530; WTA 500
Indoor red clay
It makes a difference when the No. 1 player in the world is in the field every week, doesn’t it? Ash Barty is on leg three of her round-the world 2021 adventure, and the Stuttgart draw is better for it. The top three seeds are Barty, the 2019 French Open champion, Simona Halep, the 2018 winner in Paris, and Sofia Kenin, the 2020 runner-up there.
There’s not much of a drop-off after that, either: Elina Svitolina, Aryna Sabalenka, Jen Brady, and a quartet of past Stuttgart champions—Petra Kvitova (2019), Karolina Pliskova (2018), Laura Siegemund (2017), and Angelique Kerber (2015 and ’16)—are all present and accounted for.
First-round match to watch: Kvitova vs. Brady
Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell (ATP)
$1,800,000; ATP 500
Nadal sounds like he wants to put any doubts about his readiness for Roland Garros to rest as quickly as possible. After his quarterfinal defeat to Andrey Rublev in Monte Carlo, Rafa said he plans to come to Barcelona and practice, practice, and practice some more. This is the closest thing Rafa has to a hometown event—the stadium court is named after him—it has often served as a confidence booster for him in the past; he’s won it 11 times. But a title is not essential. In 2019, Nadal lost to Dominic Thiem in the final in Barcelona, before beating him in the Roland Garros final—i.e., the one that mattered—six weeks later.
Still, it will be interesting to see how Rafa bounces back after double faulting the first set away against Rublev. This is a quality draw that includes Rublev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Denis Shapovalov, Jannik Sinner, and two of Monte Carlo’s star performers, Caspar Ruud and Dan Evans. Rafa could open against Adrian Mannarino, and face clay-lover Cristian Garin after that. But he won’t have to go up against Rublev or Tsitsipas until the final.
First-round match to watch: France Tiafoe vs. Carlos Alcaraz
Serbia Open (ATP)
$1,000,000; ATP 250
Djokovic first tried to establish a clay-court event in his home country in 2008, and while he won the title twice, it folded in 2012. Maybe the second time will be the charm. This year the tournament will rise again, at the Novak Tennis Center, and next month it will host another ATP 250, as well as the first WTA event in Serbia.
Djokovic is the top seed, of course, but a title, even at home, isn’t a sure thing. His clay campaign got off to a slow start in Monte Carlo, where his game was “dismantled,” as he put it, by Evans. And there’s respectable competition in Belgrade, including Matteo Berrettini, Aslan Karatsev, Marton Fucscovics, and Djokovic’s countrymen Dusan Lajovic, Filip Krajinovic, Miomir Kecmanovic, and Laslo Djere.
Returning: Sebastian Korda. The young American starts against Aljaz Bedene, and would play Karatsev after that.
TEB BNP Paribas Tennis Championship (WTA)
$235,238; WTA 250
Elise Mertens, Petra Martic, Veronika Kudermetova, and Daria Kasatkina are the top four seeds in Istanbul. Kudermetova will try to keep her Charleston momentum going.
Kasatkina will try to build on her two titles from earlier this year and transfer that success to clay. And Martic will make her debut with new clay coach Francesca Schiavone. As for Mertens, I thought she could be a sleeper champ in Charleston. I was wrong then, but she’ll take her shot again as the No. 1 seed this week.
Returning: Ana Konjuh