The Joys of Clay Court Tennis

I’m sure you’ve had the chance to play on a clay court by now, either European-style red clay or the more common North American green Har-Tru surface.

In the past, I’ve mostly been a hard-court player. So I scrambled to get a few practice matches in on clay before the big summer tournaments (on clay). It was never really adequate. I’d still find my footing was a bit dicy, and more importantly, my shot patterns were never really ready for prime time on the clay.

This year, I finally joined an outdoor clay court club for the summer and it has been a delight. Playing on clay does so many things for your game and body you just don’t experience on hard courts.

The first, obvious difference is how much easier it is underfoot. If your knees and hips hurt after playing two hours on a hard court, you’ll feel a whole lot better after the same match on clay. And you’ll bounce back faster and be able to play again sooner with less stiffness and better mobility.

That’s why a lot of older players naturally gravitate to clay court clubs. It’s just easier on your joints. The clay and the ground underneath are more cushioned.

But the real difference is what clay court tennis does to your game. The balls bounce higher and slower (meaning they don’t skid towards you so quickly, like they do on hard courts). Which means points last longer. A lot longer.

Even in doubles it’s common to have rallies lasting 4, 5, even 10 shots. It’s hard to put away volleys for winners and harder to put away overheads. It’s just plain easy to get your racquet on a ball and push back a defensive shot. And harder to set up your stance for a crushing 100 mph. winner (consistently).

The same in singles. Clay court tennis opens up new and more varied shot patterns on the court. More drop shots. More lobs. More use of the front of the court for luring your opponent into the net and lobs to move him back.

Clay court tennis is like painting with a full palette of colors, rather than just 5 or 6. There’s more variety, more opportunity for artistry.

It forces you to be patient, to work the point, and to think. To vary your game and shot selection much more. And to be more aware of what’s going on during the match.

I’m not saying hard court tennis isn’t fun. But if you want to improve aspects of your game that may be neglected otherwise, clay court tennis can help.

What do you think? Has playing on clay been a joy or a nightmare for you?

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