TENNIS – The Clay Cauldron. This week the clay-court season starts and will continue until the end of the French Open. Our GPTCA International coach Mike James explains the differences in training needed to perform of the red stuff.
Clay… or as I like to call it “The Cauldron” is a surface that in todays modern court environment will eat you up and spit you out if your game doesn’t measure up!
In this article I shall take you through my findings from working with players and witnessing first hand differences that make the cauldron such a gruelling surface for any player in the modern game.
Longer rallies require a different mentality to other surfaces. Players need to be willing to suffer on court and be prepared to not take short cuts. It requires players to train their endurance levels to the maximum and display exceptional flexibility. Focusing on flexibility and strength work is very important during training blocks when playing on clay. This is due to shots often seeing players at full stretch with feet wide apart.
In order to survive, player must have outstanding footwork and should be able to slide into the shot if necessary. As the game is played further behind the baseline, players must be able to cover a greater area at the back of the court and have the ability to turn the point around from difficult positions.
Natural clay court players often have more extreme grips on both forehand and backhand. They also have longer to change to less extreme grips when necessary. Players who have success on court their groundstrokes will often use more rotation resulting in longer backswings and phenomenal racket head speeds.
On hard courts the ball is typically played closer to the body on groundstrokes. On clay more acceleration of the racket is required and the contact point is therefore typically further from the body. In order to achieve this greater strength is needed to propel the racket, particularly on the back foot.
Game styles can be adapted but not changed. Players will however use different tactics. The big four; Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Federer are all court players and others are stepping up to their level. There are a few key tactics that are used. It is important that when moving behind the baseline players use height and width to create space.
The sliced serve is rarely used on clay courts, as the ball doesn’t stay low. The topspin serve to the backhand side can be counteracted at the highest levels by the quality of the double-handed backhand returns. Players are therefore increasingly using the flat serve to gain an advantage in the point. For example Robin Soderling is the only player to defeat Rafael Nadal at the French Open who used his flat serve to Nadal’s forehand very effectively during the match. It is interesting to note that the average speed of serve on clay is getting faster. This has led to a notable change in the way the serve is being taught in Europe. High-ranking juniors and seniors are increasingly working to develop stronger flat serves.
The return of serve in modern clay court tennis is played closer to the baseline than ever before. However, there are exceptions; David Ferrer often returns from 4-5 metres behind the baseline and is often played on the forehand. On the second serve it is vital to have a variety of returns.
There are two common options; firstly is returning deep cross-court to the forehand (although this is often thwarted by the serve-volley) and playing out the forehand rally. Secondly aggressive returns played by stepping into the court, which is often demonstrated by Novak Djokovic. Options depend on the game style and the strengths of the opponent, having a Plan B is vital to success.
Clay court specialists tend to play aggressively even when far behind the baseline. Recovery should be inside the court to prevent the possibility of the opponent looking for the drop shot. Whilst the typical pattern is the forehand-to-forehand cross-court rally, variations also include frequent changes in spin and playing the ball back behind the opponent. Increasingly common is the inside-out forehand drop shot, which is used to change the tempo of the rally. This is a tactic Roger Federer has used in recent years at the French Open. Chip and charge is rarely used on clay courts, and if it is used it must have the element of surprise. The approach down the centre of the court is another infrequently used as it offers the defender an angle after the volley. Many approaches are played by ghosting in, either having first played a short angle, or a heavy deep ball back behind the opponent which is finished off at the net.
The cross-court pass is very common on clay courts. Many passing shots are played as part of a two-shot sequence, hitting the first groundstroke at the volleyer’s feet before playing the pass. Lobs should be trained as both offensive and defensive options.
In order to succeed in the cauldron, the player needs to be determined, focused, and tactically astute. They must be aware of their own strength and above all have self-assurance in the heat of battle and be able to deliver time and time again!
Mike James, GPTCA International Coach
Monte Carlo Breakthrough Leaves Andrey Rublev With Mixed Emotions
The world No.8 takes confidence from his latest run but admits it is ‘impossible’ to play at his very top level every week on the Tour.
After achieving a career milestone at the Monte Carlo Masters, Andrey Rublev was sent crashing down to earth on Sunday.
The Russian tennis star broke new territory at the tournament by reaching his first ever Masters 1000 final at the age of 23. However, he was denied the title by Stefanos Tsitsipas who produced a clinical performance to seal victory in just 71 minutes. Ending Rublev’s run of winning seven finals in a row.
“I feel happy with the week, and I feel super sad with the final, that I couldn’t show my game,” he told reporters on Sunday.
“Of course, I’m happy with the week because I beat so many great players and I beat one of the best players in history. It’s a special week.”
Earlier in the tournament Rublev stunned the draw when he upset Rafael Nadal in three sets en route to the semi-finals. Making it the fourth time in his career he has scored a win over a player ranked No.3 in the world. He is also the first player in history to come back from a set down to defeat Nadal at the tournament.
Besides the king of clay, Rublev also dismissed Roberto Bautista Agut and Casper Ruud. He has now won 24 matches on the ATP Tour this season which is more than anybody else. However, he is reluctant to link all of his match play with his latest performance.
“I feel tired after all the matches that I play, exhausted. But this is not excuse. He was just better than me, and that’s it,” he stated.
“Not always everything goes your way. It happened today. I was completely exhausted. Stefanos, he showed great game. He was just better than me, and that’s it.”
Despite his recent success, Rublev is eager to not get too far ahead of himself heading into the French Open. A Grand Slam where he has only played in the main draw twice before, including last year where he reached the quarter-finals.
“I would like to play really good in Madrid and I would like to play really good in Rome. I would like to play all of the weeks good. But it’s impossible,” he explains.
“Some of the weeks for sure will be better, some will be worse and some will be amazing.’
“For the moment I’m playing really consistent. I’m really happy I’m playing my best season so far. We’ll see what’s going to happen.”
Rublev is set to return to action next week at the Barcelona Open where he will be the third seed.
Former Australian Open Semi-Finalist Kyle Edmund Undergoes Surgery
It has been reported that the world No.69 may not be able to return to the Tour for ‘several more months.’
British world No.69 Kyle Edmund is set to be sidelined from the Tour for some time after having surgery to treat a long-standing problem in Switzerland.
The former British No.1 has confirmed he had a ‘small procedure’ on his knee after being hampered with issues in the area ever since 2018 when a scan revealed that he had fluid behind his left knee. Details of the surgery have not been disclosed by the person who conducted the operation was Dr Roland Biedert, according to BBC Sport. A specialist Orthopaedic surgeon who has also operated on Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin del Potro.
“I had a small procedure on my knee. I’m currently rehabbing. The recovery is going well and I hope to be back on court as soon as possible.” Edmund said.
Currently ranked 69th in the world, Edmund hasn’t played a competitive match since losing in the first round of qualifying at the Vienna Open last October due to his knee. 2020 saw mixed fortunes for the 26-year-old. After winning the New York Open during February of that year, he lost seven out of 10 matches played during the rest of the season. Including five defeats in a row.
No return date has been outlined by Edmund or his team following the surgery. However, British media have reported that he may be out for ‘several more months.’ Casting doubts over his chances of being ready in time for Wimbledon which starts on June 28th. He hasn’t been absent from a Wimbledon main draw since 2012.
Edmund has been ranked as high as 14th in the world with his best Grand Slam run being to the semi-finals of the 2018 Australian Open. Overall, he has won two ATP titles and has earned more than $5.7 in prize money.
Grigor Dimitrov Blames Poor Monte Carlo Performance On ‘Big Infection’
The 29-year-old reveals the reason behind his error-stricken performance at the Monte Carlo Country Club on Thursday.
Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov said he simply ‘didn’t play’ in his latest match at the Monte Carlo Masters after winning just two games against Rafael Nadal.
The world No.17 fell 6-1, 6-1, to the 20-time Grand Slam champion in less than an hour on Thursday. He won 48% of his first service points and 32% of his second, as he hit 32 unforced errors. A dismal performance from Dimitrov who had beaten Jan-Lennard Struff and Jeremy Chardy earlier in the tournament.
Whilst it was never going to be easy playing somebody of Nadal’s calibre, Dimitrov has revealed that he had been troubled by an issue away from the court. He has been suffering from a ‘big infection’ in his tooth which has had an impact on his preparation for the match.
“I’ve been struggling with a massive tooth problem for the past four or five days,” he said. “I have a big infection in my tooth. It’s been hard. I haven’t been able to sleep well or eat well or anything like that.’
“I was bearing it for a while this whole week.”
It is another case of bad luck for Dimitrov on the Tour this season. At the Australian Open he reached the quarter-finals in what was his best Grand Slam performance since the 2019 US Open. However, in his last eight showdown with Russia’s Aslan Karatsev he was hindered by a back injury.
“It’s straight to the doctor’s, unfortunately,” he commented on his tooth. “Very, very unpleasant moment. It is what it is.’
“At least I’m glad it happened on a home soil so I can go see my dentist and figure this problem as soon as possible.Hopefully it’s not too serious and I’ll be able to come back as soon as possible.”
Speaking in his press conference, Nadal said he ‘felt sorry’ for his opponent who ‘played a bad match.’ During the match the world No.3 wasn’t aware of Dimitrov’s problem but was told about it afterwards.
“I wish him all the best. He’s a great guy, a good friend. I just hope the situation is to improve as soon as possible,” he said.
Nadal, who is seeking a record 12th title in Monte Carlo, will play Russia’s Andrey Rublev next.
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