Tommy Paul tries to explain the unexpected boom for American stars on clay courts

Kevin Palmer
American players share a dinner in Rome
American players share a dinner in Rome

American players have rarely thrived on European clay courts, but all that has changed this year.

Taylor Fritz, Coco Gauf and Danielle Collins all made it through to the quarter-finals at this year’s Rome Masters, with the latter two making it through to play in the semi-finals.

Gauff’s run in Rome ended when she lost to world No 1 Iga Swiatek, as she lost 6-4 6-3, but she still head to the French Open in good form after some solid performance in Rome.

Now the feel-good factor around American tennis has been boosted further by Tommy Paul, who made it through to his first Masters 1000 clay court semi-final by beating No 7 seed Hubert Hurkacz 7-5 3-6 6-3 in a quarter-final featuring 13 breaks of serve.

The unassuming Paul was asked about the unexpected rise of American stars on Europan clay and he struggled to explain why they have found their fee on a surface that they have found notoriously tough to master.

“For me, it’s kind of just having more experience on the clay,” said Paul, as he gave a verdict on his own clay court form.

“I’ve had a lot of seasons over here. I got a pretty good training block before coming over here. I’m feeling more comfortable than I probably ever have.

“I actually grew up playing on clay. That was all I played on, even before going to play hard court tournaments. The green clay, not the good stuff (smiling).

“I mean, I’m comfortable on it. I’m really enjoying my time on it right now. But I don’t know if there’s one factor for all of us. I’m not sure.”

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The bond between the American players on the tennis our was highlighted by a dinner attended by most of the male and female American player competing in Rome including Fitz and Gauff, with Paul suggesting there is a good spirit among the group.

“There was like a USA dinner. I guess it was probably last Tuesday,” he said. “I think everyone was invited. It was just kind of whoever showed up.

“We had a pretty good group. I think there was 20 of us or maybe a little bit more.

“Yeah it was fun. Anytime we can all get together, it’s a good time, so… I don’t know if that has anything to do with the success of this week.”

Paul has bounced back impressively after picking up an ankle injury at the Miami Open in March and he is growing in confidence once again as he makes another march up the ATP Rankings.

“It was really unfortunate, the ankle injury in Miami. I thought I was playing some of my best tennis,” added Paul, who has moved above Ben Shelton to be the No 2 American player once again behind Fritz after his run in Rome.

“Now it has worked out really well. I had a lot of time to kind of prepare on the clay. It was kind of like starting from scratch.

“I mean, I started my practices literally standing on one foot, how anybody would when they’re recovering from an ankle injury. Like, every day doing a little bit more and a little bit more. I got really comfortable on the clay.

“My whole team has kind of tried to get me to not play early in the clay court season, to have a longer training block. This year I was kind of forced to do it. I’m happy that it happened.”

Gauff also gave her thoughts on the bond among the travelling American players, as she suggested it is driving their success.

“I think we just all root for each other and push for each other,” said Gauff after her defeat against Iga Swiatek.

“Specifically Tommy and Danielle are people that I always root for, even though I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re super close. We speak all the time. Danielle and I, I love her. Me and her got closer after the Billie Jean King Cup we did together.

“She’s just a great person honestly. I love to see her do well. I think if you ask her, she loves to see me do well.

“I think it is a camaraderie. I think it does push us to be better. I think on clay people underestimate Americans and they think we hate the European swing. I was hoping maybe I could win and Tommy could win and it would be an American sweep.”