The 'Golden Swing' of Latin American clay-court tournaments is underway. This month, we take an in-depth look at the best clay-court records of the past 52 weeks using the FedEx Reliability ATP Index, with exclusive analysis from past and present ATP World Tour stars.
"First of all you have to be really fit," said Borg, who compiled a 245-39 career record and six Roland Garros titles on red dirt. "You have to realise that to win you will need to stay on court for many hours. You must be mentally and physically strong and have a great deal of patience. Because today, you have a lot of guys capable of winning long matches."
On a surface where the ball digs into a powdery top dressing and loses a lot of its speed, and where perfect balance and the ability to slide into a ball is a necessity, it isn't a surprise to learn that nine of the Top 10 clay-court match wins leaders since 2000 have been from Spain or South American countries.
Andres Gomez, the 1990 Roland Garros champion, told ATPWorldTour.com, "They grew up on clay [and] they expect to have a better clay-court season than on any other surface. Their schedule is designed that way. When there are players hoping for the [clay] season to finish fast, others have the mentality to tough it out week in and week out."
In that 10-season period, Nadal leads the field with an astonishing 203-16 (.9269) record, but we all know about the qualities of the 'King of Clay'. Yet, remarkably, four other Spaniards who will be plying their trade on Latin American red dirt - Nicolas Almagro, David Ferrer, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Albert Montanes - have also finished among the clay-court match wins leaders in each of the past five years.
Last year, Ferrer (31-7), Ferrero (28-7), Almagro (28-11), Nadal (22-0), Fernando Verdasco (22-7), Montanes (22-12), Thomaz Bellucci (21-10), Juan Ignacio Chela (21-12), Potito Starace (18-13) and Stanislas Wawrinka (17-6) ranked among the best players on red dirt.
There are currently 24 players from Spain or South American in the Top 100 of the South African Airways 2011 ATP Rankings.
"You have to have patience and imagination combined with good control in sliding on the clay," said Gomez, whose 17 of 21 ATP World Tour singles title came on clay courts."The tactics of clay-court tennis haven't changed, but the speed of the game has."
"You have a greater number of aggressive baseliners with the ability to finish points quicker thanks to the lighter balls and better equipment. But the counter-puncher has gotten better too. You have a more attractive game on clay, with the attacking players becoming more of a threat now than in the past ... and that makes for a more interesting game."
This week, the Movistar Open in Santiago, Chile, the first of 22 ATP World Tour clay events in 2011, opened the 'Gira Dorado'.
Juan Monaco, who has a 3-7 record in clay-court finals, told ATPWorldTour.com about the differences between the Latin American tournaments and European clay events.
"In Europe, fans are more impartial [and] educated," said Monaco. "Here, they are also educated but have greater passion. The crowd gets involved with the players. It always feels like Davis Cup atmosphere."
From the fast courts of Santiago and the Brasil Open at Costa do Sauipe, where the fans are patriotic, to the bright orange hue of the Copa Claro in Buenos Aires and the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco, where the purists turn out in force, several former Roland Garros champions have plied their traide.