What can we expect from Jannik Sinner this clay court season?

Jannik Sinner playing at Roland Garros 2023
Jannik Sinner in action at Roland Garros in 2023

Jannik Sinner has been close to unstoppable this season.

With a 22-1 record and three titles to his name already in 2024, including a maiden Grand Slam at the Australian Open, he is a vein of form that few in tennis history could better.

His prowess on hard courts is now undeniable after the past few months, but it is now time for the Italian to test himself elsewhere; on the famed clay courts of Europe.

Action has got underway at some ATP 250 events this week, following on from the ‘Golden Swing’ in South America across February and early March, but the most prestigious events are yet to come.

And for Sinner, one question looms large: can he continue his meteoric rise on the dirt?

Big events lined up

Sinner is currently set to play at all of the most prestigious events of this swing.

The new world No 2 is currently set to start his clay campaign at the Monte Carlo Masters next week, the first Masters 1000 on the surface this season and one of the most coveted titles in the sport.

That is followed by playing at two further Masters 1000 events – the Madrid Open and the Italian Open – before he heads to Roland Garros for a tilt at a second major this season.

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Roland Garros is, of course, the ‘one’, so to speak, and with the reign of Rafael Nadal looking over, it is a title that Sinner will certainly have his eyes on.
But pressure will follow him across all these events, having now set himself up as an elite figure in the game, and with the No 1 ranking not an unrealistic possibility.

Before Roland Garros he will have to deal with being the main star at the Italian Open in Rome; now the highest-ranked Italian in singles history, all eyes will be on whether he can end a 48-year wait for a home men’s singles champion.>

Mixed clay court record

Clay is by no means a bad surface for the 22-year-old – after all, his first big Grand Slam breakthrough came when he reached the last eight at Roland Garros in 2020 – but, compared to hard courts, it has not been as successful of a surface for him throughout his career.

Of his 13 career titles, 12 have come on hard courts but just one on clay, when he beat Carlos Alcaraz to win the ATP 250 event in Umag two summers ago.

That is the only clay court final of Sinner’s career so far and while his overall win percentage across all surfaces is now approaching 75%, his win percentage on clay is 68.3%.

That is by no means a disaster, but it does show that he has not quite found his best form on clay quite yet, something that was evident last year.

After a bright start in Monte Carlo, Sinner was a set up in his semi-final against Holger Rune only to fall to the Dane 1-6, 7-5, 7-5.

Sinner was then forced to withdraw from the Barcelona Open after just two matches and then withdrew from Madrid before being beaten by Francisco Cerundolo in the last 16 in Rome.

And that was then followed by one of the most disappointing defeats of his career to date, a five-set loss to Daniel Altmeier in the second round of Roland Garros; a match where he had held match points.

He will certainly have plenty of room to make up more ground ranking-wise this spring, but many will want him to produce at least one big result this time around.

The challenge ahead

Sinner is undeniably leaps and bounds ahead of where he was 12 months ago, but this clay season will be a significant way to observe just how much he has improved.>

He is a great mover around the court and looks comfortable sliding even on hard courts, so adapting to the dirt should not be an issue from that perspective.

However, he will have to deal with the likes of Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic, both of whom are more experienced on the surface.

Alcaraz provides a strong comparison point for Sinner as though the Italian did win that Umag final, the Spaniard already has seven clay court titles to his name and was a semi-finalist at Roland Garros last season.

It is hard to know exactly what to expect from the Italian this clay swing. You would perhaps expect better than his results last year, but will he be ready to win a Grand Slam title on the surface?

That question will remain unanswered for a little while, but he is certainly the man to watch across the coming weeks.