I see the photographs of Monte Carlo, the burnt orange clay court levitating above billionaires’ yachts off the Mediterranean’s Cote d’Azur. Grace Kelly, or her modern day likeness, sits in the stands, sipping champagne, radiating beauty as Nadal and Federer skitter across the crushed brick like acrobats. Somewhere, Cary Grant is slipping through a bedroom window.

It’s the European clay-court circuit, when the tour flees its asphalt outposts in Palm Springs and Miami for exclusive clubs in Europe’s most fashionable precincts: Monte Carlo, Rome, and, finally, Roland Garros in Paris’ elegant 16th arrondissement

Clay, present and past

I didn’t always feel this way about the dirt. I learned to play the game on red clay municipal courts in a blue collar burg that considered tennis a fey pastime, like birdwatching or crochet. The town’s sports were football and baseball. Tennis was suspect. To most of us, red clay had no special significance. It was simply the surface for a game played by a strange cast of marginal athletes and aficionados of the recondite.

But that was a long time ago. Today, I see red clay as an emblem of European glamour. It’s also a crucible of competition, of course, and the new season poses some interesting questions. Can Nadal claim a fifth consecutive title at Roland Garros? Will the ascendant Murray do damage on dirt? And will Federer’s recent retreat accelerate as he journeys across southern Europe toward Paris?

We’re about to find out.


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