The six men set to shine as the ATP tour gets into its clay groove

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It may only be mid-February, but already the Tennis schedule is moving on to the clay court season, and for a lucky few specialists, it’s the highlight of their season.

In days gone by, the term ‘clay court specialist’ really did mean just that. But in today’s modern game every tennis player who dares to call themselves professional is pretty handy on the surface.

Nevertheless, there’s a few on the Tour who offer a significantly greater threat when their pristine white trainers turn brick red.

So, from now until the French Open, you should be watching out for the following six clay court connoisseurs…

We’ll begin with Juan Monaco, who won the U.S Men’s Clay Court Championships last year.  That was no fluke though, for the 32-year-old Argentine has reached 21 ATP Finals in his career – and 19 of them have come on the dust.

While Monaco was winning in America, his compatriot Federico Delbonis was landing the Trophy Hassan II tournament in Morocco.

The 26-year-old also reached two more Clay court semi-finals last season, and 11 of his 12 Challenger Tour finals have come on clay.

He may be a new kid on the block, but 19-year-old Alex Zverev has already shown a talent for the clay.

The teenager reached the third round in Paris last year, while all three of his Challenger Tour final appearances have come on the dirt. The German has already reached ATP Tour singles and doubles finals on clay too.

But now we move on to the Premier League of clay court prowess, starting with Nicolas Almagro.

Of the Spaniard’s four quarter-final appearances at Slams, three have come in Paris.

But that statistic is dwarfed by the fact that Almargo has reached 23 ATP Slam finals – all of them on the red.

And Almagro’s most common opponent in those showpieces is compatriot David Ferrer.

The 34-year-old reached his only Slam final in France in 2013, and his 43-15 record in Paris is his best across the big four.

In total, Ferrer has reached 51 ATP finals, with 27 coming on clay.

And no, of course we hadn’t forgotten about Rafael Nadal.

The ultimate King of Clay, over half of Nadal’s 102 ATP final appearances have come on the red stuff.

The Spaniard has won a staggering 49 of his 57 ATP Clay court finals, and that includes the record-breaking nine French Open titles.

And after proving he is close to something like his best in Melbourne last month, we can expect a very strong clay season from the King.

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