Jan-Lennard Struff holds the trophy for the 2024 BMW Open in front of a new BMW i5 M60.
Jan-Lennard Struff holds the trophy for the 2024 BMW Open in front of a new BMW i5 M60. | @bmw_open
Two luxury cars, one driver's license, several gratifying wins, and lots of home cooking have defined the first half of tennis's clay season.

Halfway through the annual clay court season, some terrific storylines have emerged.

Danielle Collins is putting some remarkable finishing touches on her career, Ben Shelton briefly claimed the top spot in American men’s tennis, and Matteo Berrettini leapt straight back into the winner’s circle after returning from injury.

Let’s get to the highlights.

Danielle Collins wins Back-to-Back Titles

The most surprising development is Danielle Collins’ emergence to the best form of her career as she heads toward retirement at the end of the year.

She won the final hardcourt tournament of the year in Miami, which at the time figured to be the prettiest feather in her cap.

Two days later she switched surfaces to clay and dialed up a second consecutive title in Charleston.

That’s back-to-back titles spanning hard and clay courts from a player who is unstringing her racket for good at the end of the year. These were only the third and fourth titles of her entire career.

Miami, a WTA 1000 event, was the biggest win of them all. Charleston was her second 500 title.

She is currently on a career-high 13-match win streak, and has only lost one set in those thirteen matches.

The success has propelled her to No. 15 in the world—she was No. 71 on February 5.

Collins enters Madrid as the No. 13 seed. She won’t be flying under anyone’s radar, that’s for sure.

Ben Shelton wins Houston

Extra Topspin was on the ground in Houston where Ben Shelton claimed the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship over defending champ Frances Tiafoe 7-5, 5-6, 6-3.

Shelton rode that victory to a brief stint as the top-ranked American man, displacing Taylor Fritz who answered with a great result of his own by reaching the finals of the BMW Open to reclaim the top spot.

Shelton’s second win on tour was uniquely gratifying, as his father Bryan won this event in 1992. That’s one for the family album.

It was also a meatgrinder of a tournament for him, as he went the distance in all but one match. That lone match featured an 11-9 second-set tiebreak, though, so it was hardly a breeze.

Shelton should feel battle-tested and confident stepping onto the European clay.

Ben Shelton practices at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston, TX. (Photo: Extra Topspin)

Matteo Berrettini wins in Second Appearance Back on Tour

Berrettini has been fighting injuries off-and-on for two years.

Sidelined for the last six months with ankle and foot injuries, he eased back in with a Challenger event in Phoenix (runner-up), then lost first-round to Andy Murray in Miami in his return to tour-level competition.

Next, he played the Grand Prix Hassan II in Marrakech, Morocco, surging all the way to the title, his first in two years. Comebacks don’t usually produce titles that quickly. It’s a testament to how much game Berrettini still has.

In his acceptance speech, Berrettini said “it’s been a tough last couple of years, I would say, and thanks to [my team] I was able to overcome all the tough moments. My body wasn’t allowing me to play, so thanks to these guys and the ones back home, I am here.

“[To] all the people that made my comeback possible. All my friends, all my family, people that were with me all the time when I was sad, injured, and I didn’t think I could make it, so thank you very much.”

It may be a while before he can seriously compete in majors again, but it is not crazy to think the 27-year-old can get back there. Clay isn’t even his best surface, so to grab a title on the dirt is a promising sign.

If he can stay healthy, he can build.

Elena Rybakina will need a License for that Porsche

Elena Rybakina doesn’t have a driver’s license. It became the talk of the tournament in Stuttgart, where she won the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.

Part of the winner’s loot was a new Porsche Taycan Cross Turismo. But we learned in the post-match interview after defeating No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the semifinals that Rybakina doesn’t have a license, so when she won the tournament and it was time to drive her prize onto the court, she had to hand the keys to Porsche’s CEO Oliver Blume.

Asked what she’ll do with the car, she said “well, I don’t know yet. For sure I will drive it around, and we are thinking to have it in Dubai. So it’s going to be for sure [my coach] Stefano driving, maybe my mom, hopefully me soon.”

Rybakina claiming a title on clay and defeating Swiatek along the way is a meaningful moment for women’s tennis—the burgeoning Big Four of Iga, Aryna, Coco, and Elena need a steady stream of these clashes to solidify this era’s place in history. So far, so good.

Casper Ruud finally gets his Trophy

Casper Ruud has been at the top of the men’s game for a long time. A perennial top-ten player, it seems like he is always in big finals, including three Grand Slams, but lifts the wrong trophy.

Ruud is a nine-time winner on tour, but all of those were 250s.

Not this time. He finally won his first ATP 500 event in Barcelona.

He was long overdue for this win.

It was extra sweet because he defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final, avenging a loss one week after falling to him in the finals of Monte Carlo.

Not to be overlooked, he also defeated Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo, the first time he had ever done that as well. That’s a serious indicator of his current level.

Ruud has flipped a switch mentally. Now in his mid-twenties, he is setting bigger goals for himself and playing more aggressive tennis designed to win matches on his terms.

His strategy going into the second consecutive final against Tsitsipas was “just to kind of give it to him a little bit more than last week. In the final in Monte Carlo I was always on the back foot, too far behind, and he had too much time to control the game.”

The floodgates might open for Ruud now that he has broken through with a 500 title. He is 11-2 on clay this year.

His gas tank will be a factor, though. All that winning means more time on court, which wears the body down. Madrid, Rome, and Roland Garros lie in wait in successive weeks. No rest for the weary.

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The clay season has produced several additional heartwarming results so far.

Camila Osorio won her home tournament in Bogota, the Copa Colsanitas. It marks the second title of her career—she had previously won this same event in 2021. Home cooking always tastes sweeter.

Stefanos Tsitsipas is on a good run, currently 10-1 on clay with a win in Monte Carlo and a runner-up in Barcelona. He clearly didn’t like the taste of falling outside the top ten.

Sloane Stephens claimed her first title in two years, and her eighth overall, by defeating Magda Linette in the finals of the inaugural WTA 250 Open Capfinances Rouen Métropole in Rouen, France.

Want some more home cooking? How about 33-year-old German Jan-Lennard Struff getting his first-ever ATP title at the BMW Open in Munich? It was his fourth appearance in a final, and this time he got it done, battling past Taylor Fritz (a good result for Taylor, by the way). Struff took home a BMC i5 M60 for his efforts…we assume he has a license.

Hungarian Marton Fucsovics also returned to the winner’s circle after a long absence, winning the ATP Bucharest title in Bucharest, Romania. Fucsovics’s last title came in 2018 in Geneva.

Hubert Hurkacz secured the first clay court title of his career at the Millenium Estoril Open in Morocco. It marked the eighth title of his career, but the breakthrough on clay is significant. He is dangerous on all surfaces now.