Andy Murray has been the standout performer on clay for the past 12 months, but world No.1 Novak Djokovic will be favourite to complete his set of grand slams at this year’s French Open.
Murray, according to the ATP Performance Zone stats, has won 85 per cent of his matches on the red dust this year and last, more than any other player.
Having been at 70 per cent for the first 10 years of his career, the improvement demonstrates just how at home the Briton now feels on a surface.
His victory over Djokovic in Sunday’s Italian Open final may have been aided by his opponent’s energy levels being drained after a gruelling semi-final win over Kei Nishikori the night before, but it was also a timely statement of intent from the world No.2, who recently split with coach Amelie Mauresmo.
“The last couple of years, clay has probably been my most successful surface, which I never expected to be the case,” twice grand slam champion Murray said.
“But I’m not complaining about it. I’m going to Roland Garros with a lot of confidence.”
Djokovic’s loss to Murray – only his second in their last 14 meetings – will have planted a few seeds of doubt in the Serb’s mind as he again targets the one major to elude him.
After edging past Murray in last year’s semi-finals, the career slam seemed to be in the palm of his hand, but he was hijacked in the final by a swashbuckling Stan Wawrinka.
That experience will simply add to his motivation though.
— Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) May 20, 2016
“I don’t feel shaken up by this loss,” Djokovic said, adding “now it’s just fine-tuning”.
Nine-times French Open champion Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, is not used to playing second fiddle to anyone in Paris – and there are signs the Mallorcan is rediscovering his old power.
Consecutive titles at Barcelona and Monte Carlo were followed by losses to Murray and Djokovic at Madrid and Rome, but the 29-year-old looks in far better shape than 12 months ago when he was humbled in the quarter-finals by Djokovic.
Of the other title contenders, world No.4 Wawrinka proved last year that, on his day, he can be almost unplayable.
Nishikori arrives in Paris having reached the final in Barcelona where he lost to Nadal and the semi-finals in Madrid and Rome, while Australia’s Nick Kyrgios and Austria’s Dominic Thiem will fly the flag for the young guns.
3 May 2017
Next week, when Grigor Dimitrov is projected to rise from world No.13 to No.12, exactly o... More
11 May 2017
When we look at Rafa Nadal on clay, there are a few key points that make him better than e... More
31 May 2016
You know their faces on the court, but can you name them when they're in the shadows? We s... More