FUZZED: The Sliding Game

This week we have some smaller clay tournaments. There is a green clay tournament being held in Houston. Why do players use green clay as a warmup for the European clay court season? They are NOT the same surface. The only reason I can come up with is maybe they don’t want or can’t afford to go over there this early, and they figure green clay is better than hardcourts for preparation.

I play on green clay as well as hardcourts in New Orleans; you can’t slide much on either, which is the key to a red clay game. So I didn’t need much time to get used to green clay. You get a slower, higher bounce and have more difficulty changing directions, but not as much as on red clay. Still, someone who insists on a fast, inert surface and is not into some grinding for longer points will never be comfortable on green or red clay. A player who is not fit or goes crazy because the ball bounce will sometimes be funky might as well skip the red clay season. So what if you can serve aces on a hardcourt? On clay your balls will come back. Your biggest shots will come back, even smashes. Ya wanna volley? It’ll take more than one to win the point. The biggest lesson is that the ball will keep coming back. Deal with it.

Green clay is made of Har-Tru, a mixture of crushed stone, rubber, and plastics. Har-Tru is faster and harder than red clay tennis courts, which are usually made of crushed red brick. So as far as pace goes, it’s hard, green, and red, in descending order; as to height of ball bounce, it’s the exact opposite.

Because the ball will bounce up higher on clay, players typically stand farther back to allow the ball time to drop lower before they hit it – otherwise they end up taking the ball at shoulder height or higher; if you don’t time it correctly and step into it early, your return will be weak or you mishit it. Whether you take it early or not, returing heavy top shot after shot gets very tiring, believe me. It’s no wonder claycourters grunt and snort more than say, grasscourt serve & volleyers. You almost never heard a peep from Pete Sampras. Rafa makes more noise than 10 of Pete.

It’s also tiring to generate topspin, shot after shot, but since big topspin further enhances bounce and drives opponents even further back, this is the style favored by players raised on clay; they also like to follow such shots up with sneaky dropshots or short angles when their opponents are backed up.

So it’s only logical that clay courters usually have well-developed legs and lungs from all that running and sliding around. When Pete was fading, he didn’t have the wheels to stay out there, especially when he couldn’t earn cheap points off his serve. He looked like a wounded animal. Then he’d get to Wimbledon and turn into a different creature, like a fish returning to water.

The girls usually do better than the guys on different surfaces because all of them are used to grinding from the back and don’t count on serving aces on any surface. Still, the players who can slide suavely TO the ball do better. Yanks run to the ball and then their feet slide around afterwards, as they try to change directions. NOT PRETTY.

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