Originally written on In The Neutral Zone  |  Last updated 11/16/14
  Some feel great clay courters are born. They are those few who grow up playing and surviving on the red dirt. It is where they learn the ability to play behind the baseline and adapt the graceful slide needed to maneuver the long rallies. Those who are not as lucky on clay will often face a steep learning curve and never realize their best results on the surface. So the beginning of April always brings an eight week stretch that test the heart and hustle of all clay courters. With events in Casablanca and Houston, we had the two most different players emerge victorious: A clay specialist and anything but. Tommy on Clay! In Casablanca, you had one of the hotter players on tour reach the finals. Kevin Andersen has had some decent results on the American hard courts including a quarters in Indian Wells. On the other side, you had world number 72, Tommy Robredo, who at 31 has drifted to being largely irrelevant on tour. Once the world number five, Robredo’s primary success has always come on clay (he had won nine clay tournaments). This week, he was able to recreate some of that former magic by beating Stanislas Wawrinka to capture a spot in the final. I think that was the big obstacle and the finals result suggested a return to form for someone so adept on clay. He is just another Spaniard who has made a very healthy living with their success on the familiar clay courts. John on Clay? This result comes as a surprise to most of us. I’ve written previously on the issues and injuries that have limited John Isner during 2013. For him to convincingly beat Nicolas Almagro (one of those aforementioned clay specialists), is a big confidence boost. The results on clay may be an aberration but it does suggest to all of us that if Isner serves well, he can challenge anyone. Let’s hope he does so because American tennis could always use a boost come the clay season. Highlights of the Tennis Weekend Aside from John Isner’s first title on clay, we must acknowledge Roberta Vinci who overcame Petra Kvitova in Katowice. Also, Pablo Andujar suffered his first loss in Casablanca after back to back titles (was 9-0). You’ll always have Paris, Pablo!
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