The clay tennis court game is constantly growing. Learning the strategies and differences between clay tennis and other surfaces will help you win on a clay court.
What Are The Differences In a Clay Tennis Court?
In order to play well on a clay court, it is important to fully understand some of the differences.
Firstly, clay is much slower than other surfaces, especially red clay, which is most common in Europe or in South America. It can be tricky to hit winners on these slow courts so we have to find other ways to win the point! But lets carry on with the differences for now.
It is slippery and sliding or skating becomes common. This makes recovery and the way you position yourself on the court slightly different.
On average the balls bounce higher on clay than they do on hard or grass. The friction of the clay slows the ball down pushing it upwards when it bounces instead of through the court.
All this adds up to longer matches and longer points on clay, which requires higher levels of aerobic fitness. Longer points and slower bounces means the players have even more time, so lets take a look at what to do with it!
Clay Tennis Court Strategies
1. Using The Slowness Of The Clay Tennis Court
The fact that clay is slower means that smoking a winner past your opponent becomes a lot more risky. Tennis is a game of percentages, and on clay playing those percentages becomes an art.On hard court or grass courts, taking a slight risk and hitting a strong ball from the baseline will usually set you up for a shorter ball or a mistake. However, on clay hitting a strong forehand or backhand will only get neutralized by the clays bounce… giving your opponent more chance of returning it while you still have the same risk involved.
Therefore, to start with, one of the golden rules on clay is to be PATIENT and only go for winners on the balls where you a firmly inside the court.
Furthermore, because it is difficult to hit through your opponent on a clay court, opening up the court becomes are key tactic. This is what Rafael Nadal does so beautifully! He can whip the opponent of the court and leave them sliding into timbuktu giving him the full court to play into. That way it doesn’t matter if the bounce halves the speed of your ball, your opponent will not be able to run fast enough to catch up with even the slowest ball.
Im not suggesting the tactic is to whip forehands like Nadal, but angling your tennis strokes of a clay court allows you to take a step, taking valuable time away, and play into the open space.
2. Managing The Sliding
Sliding can is often what people find tricky about a clay tennis court and sometimes it can feel like your sliding and scrambling off into the distance while your opponent is comfortable playing the ball to the other side. Sliding has to be practiced. The tennis footwork drills has plenty of exercises that will get you used to moving on the clay tennis courts and it is useful to do a few as a warm up. Make sure to stay low when you slide, it should be a leg burner!
Anyway, if you are on the defense and sliding it is often useful to scoot back a bit. On clay it is not a terrible thing to be a couple of meters behind the baseline, it gives you less chance of getting jammed by a bad bounce.
On top of that moving back a bit while defending will give you more time to recover from your slide. On hard court, you can push off and recover fairly quickly but on clay you have to create that time. In addition, when behind the baseline it is important to play with more net clearance.
This will put the ball deeper, pushing the opponent back into a more defensive position and earn you more time while defending.
3. Using The Bounces To Your Advantage
The bounces are higher and more vertical on a clay tennis court due to the friction of the court. That means players cant use the pace of the other player as much, so to keep pressure on your opponent racquet head acceleration is key.
But there is another strategical advantage to vertical bounces, it is a shot that can be lethal on clay courts. This shot is known as the drop shot. If you are unsure as to the ways to use and hit drop shots, you can read the drop shot article for more information.
There are two main reasons to hit a drop shot on clay courts:
- It is harder for the opponent to push off quickly, on a slippery surface, and get to a short ball.
- The balls bounce more vertically, so the second bounce of the drop shot tends to be closer to the net!
The Different Physical Game of Clay Tennis
Even though the longest match was actually on grass! On average clay court matches are significantly longer and the average length of the points even more so. Which makes clay tennis much more aerobic.
As mentioned earlier, to be successful on clay, famous tennis players play further back behind the baseline. However, playing further back when defending means more court coverage.
So, when preparing to play on a clay tennis court it is important to build up your aerobic fitness. The week before a tournament, running 20 minutes or more at a good pace without stopping will be a good tennis strategy that will help you out a lot when it comes to match time.