Clay Tennis Courts: What’s the Difference?

May 9, 2018

Young boy playing tennis on Frick Park's clay tennis court in Pittsburgh.

The French Open, otherwise known as Roland-Garros, is just a few weeks away.  As the premier clay tennis court championship in the world, the hot topic of this tournament, outside of the tough competition, is you guessed it, the clay court.

So, why is the French Open played on a clay surface?

The origin of the clay court came out of mere practicality. Back in the late 1800s, the Renshaw brothers added a coating of terra cotta to cover grass courts that were wilting in the hot temperatures.

Obviously, that technology has been enhanced over the years; however, that same concept, for the most part, remains the same to this day.

While the surface at the French Open looks to be a clay tennis court that’s easily recognized for its iconic red color, it’s actually a white limestone surface that’s been covered with a few millimeters of powdered red brick dust.

None-the-less, whether you’ve played on a clay tennis court or not, playing on this surface can be unpredictable and the level of play is a lot different than that of a typical tennis court.

That being said, we’ve put together a list of five tips and things to keep in mind so that if you ever play a match on a clay tennis court, you’ll be mentally and physically prepared to succeed!

Slide into your shots

If you’ve watched even just one set of the French Open you’ll notice that the players tend to slide more when playing on a clay court. While it looks like an injury waiting to happen, it’s actually a smart tactic to master because it slows down your momentum and gives you the chance to prepare yourself for the return shot. So, while it does look cool when doing it, it’s also essential in helping control the tempo of the match.

Embrace the slower pace

When playing on clay, you’ll want to understand that everything from the speed of your bounce to the time it takes to win a set will be much slower than what you’re used to when playing on a hard court. This also plays into the fact that you need to work on your endurance as well. The longer rallies mean that you need to be in tip-top shape to keep up. So, before you think about playing on a clay tennis court make sure to build up your stamina and endurance so that you can withstand the longer matches that are infused with short bursts of speed in order to succeed.

Switch up your shots

It’s time to take a look at your playbook and pull out some shots that you don’t normally use on a regular tennis court. When it comes to playing on a clay tennis court, it’s important that you switch up your shots in order to play to the surface of the court. That being said, cross-court shots, slices, and topspin groundstrokes are going to be your staple shots. However, like we mentioned before, tweaking these techniques for better ball placement is going to be what sets you apart from your competition.

All about the angles

As we mentioned in the latter tip, a clay tennis court forces you to get creative with your shots.  A great tip that helps keep your opponent on their toes is by playing the angles. The goal is to get your opponent off the baseline and moving in various directions. For instance, when hitting a backhand or forehand shot, try hitting it inside the service box. This gets your opponent moving diagonally which opens up the court for you to make your return shot. Looking for angles whenever possible is going to keep your options open and have your opponent constantly in motion so you can find the sweet spot and win the point.

Hit the ball deep

Depth is going to be an essential element of winning a match on a clay tennis court. We recently covered the topic of groundstroke depth if you wanted to brush up on this stroke. The same notion applies when playing on clay. Hitting the ball deep on this surface helps you control the center of the court.  The player with control of the center of the court has a better chance of winning. Additionally, adding depth to your return shot helps you counteract the serve and gives you time to get back into position for the rally.

If you plan on playing on a clay tennis court anytime soon, keep these five tips and tricks in mind to better your performance.

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