Angie, Fabio... is this the year?

These five solid clay-courters have not thrived at Roland-Garros – yet.

Roland-Garros 2018, 8e de finale, Angelique Kerber©Cedric Lecocq / FFT
 - Ian Chadband

There are players out there, from rising hopefuls to thirty-something stalwarts, who, for one reason or another, have never yet fulfilled their clay-court potential at Roland-Garros.

Yet they could still persuade you they are capable of making a big splash in Paris.

Can we really ever safely discount the prospects of these five luminaries?

Angelique Kerber

Two quarter-final appearances in 11 main draw appearances at Roland-Garros might suggest the masterful German should struggle to complete her career Grand Slam but there’s no question she has the ammunition to become only the seventh woman to achieve the full set of major triumphs.

It is still the only Slam where she has not even reached the semi-finals - a stark contrast to the seven times that she has made the last-four in Melbourne, Wimbledon and New York - yet three clay-court titles represents evidence she can succeed in Paris. 

“If I had the chance to complete the career Grand Slam, that would be amazing, but I'm not thinking about this,” protests the 31-year-old, who has suffered too many first-round exits at Roland-Garros - five - to get ahead of herself.

In the past, she’s often conceded that she has never felt that comfortable with her movement on the clay but she looked good here last year, losing a hard-fought three-setter to the eventual winner Simona Halep in the quarter-finals.

This year, she also thinks the big-match experience of her latest coach Rainer Schuettler, the last German man to reach a Grand Slam final at the Australian Open in 2003, can help give her a sharper edge.

Fabio Fognini

When it comes to Roland-Garros, the Italian has often flattered to deceive a little on the surface where he has won eight of his nine career titles. Yet there’s still the tantalising prospect this could be the year he eclipses his best performance here eight years ago when he was a quarter-finalist.

Yet why now should we be won over by the fanciful idea that the mercurial one has a Grand Slam in him? Well, first, there was his huge breakthrough Masters win in Monte Carlo, when he defeated Rafael Nadal, albeit a seriously out-of-sorts Nadal, en route. 

Then there was the testimony of his wife Flavia Pennetta, the former US Open champion, who reckons the new father is now living “the best moment of his career” and even laughs that one of the sport’s most combustible figures now looks at peace on court.

Could the taming of Fognini be the making of him?

Ashleigh Barty

The affable 23-year-old Australian, who has risen to world No.8 after a splendid season, has a nice self-effacing line when it comes to the clay-court season. “Every week on clay is a week closer to the grass season,” she likes to laugh.

Except it now looks as if her ever-improving nous on clay is no laughing matter for her opponents. For while the modest Queenslander admits she still has a lot to learn about her game on the surface, even she’s seen enough of an improvement to declare: “I think I have the game on clay to be able to do some damage.”

She is not alone in thinking that, either. “I know it’s probably verbally not her favourite surface to talk about but she’s building on this surface and I think she has a game that completely suits it,” Australian Fed Cup captain Alicia Molik told

With her effective kick serve and booming forehand, there are shades here of Sam Stosur, another Australian who thrived at Roland-Garros with her one final and three semi-final appearances.

Grigor Dimitrov

You might think it hard to make a case for the gifted Bulgarian at a venue where he has failed to get past the third round in eight attempts.

His former coach Patrick Mouratoglu observed how Dimitrov's weaker second serve kicker has meant he often struggles to make a big impression on clay and he certainly hasn’t made great waves at any of his recent four clay-court tournaments after missing Rotterdam, Acapulco and Indian Wells with a shoulder injury.

Roland-Garros 2018, 1er tour, 1st round, Grigor Dimitrov©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Yet though he says he has “zero expectations” because of his ring rust, that could, perversely, free him up to be quite a danger because it should be remembered he has won a tournament on clay, albeit back in 2014 and used to regularly win Challengers and Futures on the surface.

He may have dropped down to world No.47 but the 2017 ATP Finals champion is a player best avoided in the main draw. “Things haven't really gone that well for me in the past months,” he admitted to, “but that doesn't discourage me.”

Belinda Bencic 

In three attempts, the powerful Swiss has not gone beyond the second round at Roland-Garros but, at 22, the memory of her 2013 girls’ triumph here is recent enough to still imbue her with confidence.

Bencic is still adamant that there’s no way she should be able to call herself a clay-courter yet as she struggles with the slide and finds the rallies too slow to suit her penchant for fast exchanges. Yet after reaching the quarter-finals in Charleston and semis in Madrid, she’s beginning to feel more comfortable with her movement on the surface.

She had played so little clay-court tennis - just three matches since the end of the 2015 season - that perhaps she had forgotten how effective she can be on the surface. After all, she learned to play tennis on clay growing up in Switzerland and never thought then that it ever felt strange.

“I still think it's not going to be my favourite surface," she told the WTA Insider. “It's good to keep the expectations low.” 

Indeed. Yet wins over luminaries like Svetlana Kuznetsova and world number one Naomi Osaka this season suggests she can’t really conceal the danger she can pose.