The Italian and French Open
For fans gearing up for the Italian Open from May 15th till the 19th, and the French Open from May 27th till June 10th, it’s time to get smart about red clay courts! Why should you understand the history and benefit of this kind of surface? Because it will make you sound like a tennis genius, even if it’s just you explaining things to your wife on the couch.
What makes these European tennis tournaments so unique is the kind of courts that they play on. Clay courts are not nearly as popular as grass or hard courts, but every tennis professional knows that a player is not worth their weight in salt if they can’t play a solid match on a clay court. Red clay has its own key benefits, and we’re going to explore all of that here.
Pick Your Color
Although red clay is used for the Italian and French Open, there are several varieties of clay that are used on courts around the world. In general, green clay is used in America, known as Har-Tru, and traditional red clay courts can be found in Latin America and Europe.
Did you know that even though they’re called clay courts, they’re actually not made of clay? Clay holds a lot of moisture and would be very difficult for even the most seasoned player to play on. Usually, a solid permanent base is used, such as limestone, and then a fine coating of crushed brick is used on top. This allows players to slide over the surface of the court.
Why is Sliding Important?
Because of that fine layer on top of the clay court, it actually makes it harder for the player. Maneuvers that might work well on a hard court are not going to be effective at all on a clay court, and that element of challenge adds to the excitement of the game.
Although players use the slide to their advantage, it’s really the timing of the slide that is rather difficult. Maintaining balance and a strong position is made much more challenging. For tennis players, sliding is considered an art and it’s only mastered by working on a clay surface for a great deal of time.
Another element of challenge when it comes to the clay court is the unpredictability of the surface. For instance, on a dry, sunny day, the court is going to have a very different feel to it than it would on a wet day where there is less bounce. That’s why when playing on a hard court, you always know what you’re going to get, but this is not the case with the clay court. Also, the feel of the court will change as it has been more played upon. At the end of a long day of matches, the court is going to have a different bounce than it did at the beginning of the day.
Quite simply, the topspin that is used on a clay court is different from the topspin on a hard court, and it’s variable. The gritty surface of the clay court can lead to a harder spin, so if topspin is employed, the ball will bounce higher and sharper than the same ball hit on a hard court. Another interesting fact is that clay courts play slower than grass or hard-court surfaces. You’ll notice that players on clay courts will go back deeper into the playing area, as this creates more time to set up the shot.
The Key Benefits of Training on Clay:
- Improved endurance and concentration
- Increased patience in the tennis player
- Can help improve a variety of shots such as spins and angles
- Enhances decision-making skills
- Less stress on the body thanks to the soft surface
France obviously favors clay courts, but so do Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Romania, and even Sweden. So, it should come as no surprise that in the past half-century, these countries have produced the majority of the French Open winners. When you begin your training on red dirt, there’s a good chance that you could be set up for greatness. Not only is this surface the most demanding physically, it also naturally protects athletes’ joints and limits the risk of injury.