After Wimbledon ends, it’s not an automatic pivot to hard courts for everyone. Over the years, a large contingent of ATP tour players has stayed in Europe to take part in the late-summer clay-court stretch. And during that time, some future stars have gotten their first taste of title-winning glory. Here’s a look at five of them who have used their initial tournament triumphs as a springboard to further success.
Coming off a first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the French Open and a round-of-16 showing at Wimbledon, the 19-year-old from Serbia had been racing up the standings in 2006. Ranked at a career-high No. 36 entering the Dutch Open, Djokovic didn’t drop a set all week, beating former top-tenners Guillermo Coria and Nicolas Massu in his last two matches to claim his first title.
Djokovic almost made it two titles in a row, when he reached the final in Umag, Croatia, the next week. There, he faced 21-year-old Stan Wawrinka, who had beaten four-time Umag champ Carlos Moya, and teenagers Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro on his way to the championship round. Djokovic was forced to retire during the first set due to respiratory problems, giving the Swiss his first title.
In July 2014, there was no hotter player on the planet than David Goffin. The Belgian won three Challenger titles in a row on clay after a first-round loss at Wimbledon, with his success continuing on the main tour in Kitzbuhel, Austria, his fourth event in as many weeks. Facing another first-time ATP finalist in Dominic Thiem, Goffin defeated the home favorite in three sets to cap a perfect month.
Talented, yet inconsistent, Benoit Paire hadn’t reached a singles final in two years before the 2015 Swedish Open. Playing with a level of focus to match his natural talent, the 26-year-old Frenchman beat top seed Goffin in the second round and defending champion Pablo Cuevas in the semifinals to set up a final against former world No. 5 Tommy Robredo. Paire beat the Spaniard in straight sets for his first tour-level triumph.
After reaching the third round of the 2018 French Open, where he lost to world No. 8 Thiem in four hard-fought sets, Matteo Berrettini cracked the top 85 of the rankings for the first time. Playing at a consistent level over the next month, the 22-year-old from Rome saw everything come together perfectly at the Swiss Open in Gstaad. Beating Feliciano Lopez and Andrey Rublev, among others, on his way to his first career final, he defeated the Spanish veteran Roberto Bautista Agut in the championship match to complete a dream week where he didn’t drop a set.