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Could a WTA ‘Big Four’ be on the horizon? And What’s Causing Andrey Rublev’s Struggles on the Court?

Welcome to the Monday Tennis Briefing, where The Athletic will provide insights into the stories from the past week on the court.

This week, the European clay swing began in earnest with tournaments in France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, and Romania. The top four women’s players competed in Stuttgart, Rafael Nadal made a comeback in Barcelona, and an incredible serve was witnessed in zero gravity.

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Are the WTA and ATP tours swapping their dynamics?

Recently, there has been talk about a potential ‘Big Four’ emerging in women’s tennis. Initially, it consisted of Iga Swiatek, Elena Rybakina, and Aryna Sabalenka. However, Coco Gauff’s triumph at the U.S. Open shifted the narrative, making her a consistent presence in tournaments, including the Australian Open semi-finals. At the same time, new rivalries surfaced on the ATP tour with players like Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner, Daniil Medvedev, and Novak Djokovic.

Despite this, the past few months have challenged this idea. Swiatek, although without a Grand Slam title since the French Open, continues to exhibit qualities of a dominant world No 1. The other three have not shown enough consistency to warrant the ‘Big Four’ label, reminiscent of the dominance of Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray in the 2010s.

In Stuttgart, where the top four women competed, it seemed like a semi-final sweep was possible. However, Marketa Vondrousova defeated Sabalenka, Marta Kostyuk beat Gauff, and Elena Rybakina emerged as the tournament winner.

Next stop, Madrid. Perhaps this quartet will dominate once again.

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Whatโ€™s behind Andrey Rublevโ€™s eight-set slump?

Talented tennis players can suffer a decline in form, and currently, it’s Andrey Rublev’s turn.

Rublev, ranked world No 5 at the beginning of the year, has struggled since being defaulted in a semi-final match against Alexander Bublik in Dubai due to a dispute with a line judge.

While the ATP eventually reinstated his ranking points and earnings after viral video evidence showed he did not use profanity, the incident had a lasting impact on Rublev. He has only won one match since then, experiencing defeats to lower-ranked players like Alexei Popyrin and Brandon Nakashima.

Despite appearing healthy, Rublev’s performance has been below par, losing eight sets out of 10 in four consecutive losses since the default.

The statistics indicate a decline, particularly in his ‘dominance ratio,’ highlighting his struggle compared to previous years.


Coco Gauff’s consistency and the need for improvement

Coco Gauff is celebrated for her determined playstyle, especially in tight three-set matches.

While Gauff possesses admirable qualities, including her competitiveness and resilience, she needs to address her inconsistent performance in three-set matches. With four losses in eight such matches, there’s room for improvement.

Despite her coach Brad Gilbert’s emphasis on winning ‘ugly,’ Gauff must ensure she wins matches consistently. Her recent defeat against Kostyuk in Stuttgart highlights the need for a more clinical approach.

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Stefanos Tsitsipas and Casper Ruud gearing up for success

On the clay courts, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Casper Ruud have established themselves as top players. As they prepare for the upcoming French Open, their recent performances signal a potential peak in form.

However, the grueling schedule leading up to the Grand Slam raises questions about their endurance. Players like Djokovic opt for strategic breaks to conserve energy and perform at their best during major events.


Kick serve masterclass by Joao Fonseca

Brazil’s rising star, Joao Fonseca, showcased an extraordinary kick serve that literally bounced over his opponent Sonego. The video of this incredible serve went viral, highlighting Fonseca’s unique talent.


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๐Ÿ† The winners of the week

๐ŸŽพ ATP:

๐Ÿ† Casper Ruud defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas to win the Banc Sabadell Open in Barcelona, claiming his first ATP title above 250 level.
๐Ÿ† Jan-Lennard Struff emerged victorious in the BMW Open in Munich, securing his first ATP title.
๐Ÿ† Marton Fucsovics clinched the Tiriac Open title in Bucharest, his second ATP title.

๐ŸŽพ WTA:

๐Ÿ† Elena Rybakina triumphed at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, marking her third title of 2024.
๐Ÿ† Sloane Stephens claimed the Capfinances Rouen Metropole Open title in Rouen, her first title since 2022.
๐Ÿ† Suzan Lamens emerged victorious at the Oeiras Ladies Open, overcoming Clara Tauson in a thrilling final.


๐Ÿ“ˆ๐Ÿ“‰ On the rise / Down the line

๐Ÿ“ˆ Players like Marta Kostyuk, Marton Fucsovics, and Magda Linette have seen significant improvements in their rankings.

๐Ÿ“‰ On the other hand, some players like Carlos Alcaraz and Karolina Pliskova have faced rankings challenges recently.


๐Ÿ“… Coming up

๐ŸŽพ ATP:

๐Ÿ“Mutua Madrid Open (1000) in Madrid from April 24 to May 5, featuring top players like Jannik Sinner, Carlos Alcaraz, and Rafael Nadal.
๐Ÿ“บ Watch on Sky Sports (UK) and Tennis Channel (US).

๐ŸŽพ WTA:

๐Ÿ“Mutua Madrid Open (1000) in Madrid from April 24 to May 5, with players like Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina, and Coco Gauff in action.
๐Ÿ“บ Watch on Sky Sports (UK) and Tennis Channel (US).

Share your observations from the week in the comments as the tennis tours continue.

(Top photos: Alex Grimm/Eric Alonso/Robert Prange/Getty Images)

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