So you're a hard-court hot-shot. How do you do on clay? If you are like many U.S. trained players you might be a clay court-avoider. Not a good idea says Brad Gilbert, player turned coach, commentator and former spokesperson for Har-Tru.*
Gilbert says the U.S. needs a bigger clay court culture. Why? Because, "more than 80% of the top 10 players in the world have spent at least half their training time on clay, a stat that goes back to 1968."
"Clay teaches discipline and how to build a point," says Gilbert. "There are no cheap shots. It's harder to put the ball away." Like many Americans, Gilbert admits he didn't embrace the surface, something he still regrets.
Playing on clay means:
Long points -- which translate to improved decision making, patience and mental toughness;
Occasional irregular bounces and condition changes -- making strokes more adaptable;
Learning angles and spin control -- it's tough to end a point so players learn shot variety;
Healthier joints -- the surface is more forgiving especially if you move well. Roger Federer is a great example of a top clay courter that could play into his mid 30s. Anyone over 45 will feel the difference as it's so much easier on the body.
Gilbert recommends that competitive players spend at least half their training time on clay (like those in the top 10) if looking to grow their game. High school or college players using hard courts should use time-off to work on clay, focusing on topspin, accuracy and consistency.
Dubs lovers, clay-play teaches you to be more accurate and deliberate, ready for anything to come back.
Problem is, clay tennis courts are harder to find in the U.S. than in most tennis playing countries. Argentina and Spain are loaded. Cheaper to maintain, hard has been the go-to surface in the States for a long time. Clearly U.S. tennis needs to embrace the slide and add more clay, especially where competing kids are learning.
Is it coming? Florida, a training hot-spot and home to many playing seniors has 50% of the nation's clay. More regions should follow suit. There are also a growing number of junior clay court tournaments popping up around the country. In 2011 for example, The Orange Bowl, also in Florida, changed its surface to clay. Some larger tennis academies have added clay courts. John McEnroe's Academy in New York has 10 Har-Tru and 10 hard.
One clay court teaching specialist is the Academia Sanchez-Casal in Naples, Florida, sister academy to the famed academy of same name in Barcelona, Spain. The program offers 37 clay and 1 hard court.
Hard court lovers, there IS method to the dirty madness.
*Har-Tru, a clay court brand, is the world's largest manufacturer of clay court surfaces.