The French Open is upon us and it’ll leave tennis lovers glued to their seats for the next two weeks. The red clay of Roland Garros presents its own unique challenges to players, and its worth tuning in to learn a thing or two from the pros.
What is a clay court?
The name ‘clay court’ is rather misleading, as true clay courts are generally made of a limestone or similar base. However, there are many variations, such as the En Tout Cas surface that we have at Altona Tennis Club.
How is clay different to other tennis surfaces?
Clay is the slowest of the three surfaces, and the ball also bounces the highest. Bounces can often be more variable than a hard or grass court, especially during long matches when there are plenty of ball marks and footprints. Clay is the only surface that can hold rain; a light drizzle is ideal for a clay court. The slow speed of the court means that rallies will often last longer, often causing marathon matches as a result.
What does this mean for a player looking to be successful on clay?
Players will have to be more patient than usual when playing on clay. Keeping the ball deep with plenty of topspin is a high percentage play, and experimenting with dropshots, slices and angles can also be rewarding for players. Players should aim for a high first serve percentage, with top spin serves being especially effective with the extra bounce.
What traits do the world’s best clay court players have?
Rafael Nadal is arguably the greatest male clay court player of all time, with 11 French Open titles to his name. He creates more topspin on his groundstrokes than any player in history, leaving players scrambling to retrieve balls from behind the baseline. Nadal also can flatten out his shots once in an attacking position.
Last year’s women’s singles winner Simona Halep has a counterpunching style that also translates well on clay. Halep is like a wall on the baseline, feeding off the pace given to her by opponents before flicking the switch and attacking when the opportunity presents itself.
Who are the other major contenders for this year’s French Open title?
Last year’s men’s runner up Dominic Thiem will be confident of going one better this year, with the clay surface giving him the time he needs to hit big off both forehand and backhand wings. Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will also fancy their chances of adding another Grand Slam to their respective collections.
On the women’s side, Elina Svitolina’s impressive defensive ability hasn’t quite translated to Grand Slam success yet, but with a game suited to the surface she might be a dark horse to go on a deep run. Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams are also two of the heavy favourites, with a quarterfinal matchup between the pair promising to be one of the matches of the tournament should it eventuate. Australia’s own Ash Barty shouldn’t be discounted either, but she will potentially have to negotiate both Osaka and Williams to reach the semi-finals.