The Clay Cauldron - UBITENNIS
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The Clay Cauldron

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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

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Wrist Injury Threatening To End Holger Rune’s Olympic Dream

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Holger Rune will have a second medical opinion on Monday before deciding if he is fit enough to play at the Olympic Games, according to his team. 

The Danish world No.17 recently retired from his quarter-final match at the Hamburg Open due to a knee injury. The hope at the time was that his withdrawal would be just a precautionary measure ahead of the Olympics. However, he is also dealing with a second issue that appears to be more serious.

According to TV 2 Sport, Rune has been struggling with a wrist issue and underwent a scan on Sunday which his mother Aneke says ‘doesn’t look promising.’ Aneke is also the manager of her son’s career. Rune’s Olympic dreams now rest on the outcome of a second medical expert that he will visit tomorrow who has a better understanding of the sport. 

“Unfortunately, it does not look promising after the first medical opinion after the review of the scan of the wrist,” Aneke Rune told TV 2 Sport.

“We are waiting for two tennis-specific doctors who will give a second opinion tomorrow (Monday). Tennis wrists look different from regular wrists, so we’ll hold out hope for one more day.” 

Rune is one of three Danish players entered into the Olympic tennis event along with Caroline Wozniacki and Clara Tauson. The country has only won one medal in tennis before which was at the 1912 Games when Sofie Castenschiold won silver in the women’s indoor singles event. 

So far this season, the 21-year-old has won 27 matches on the Tour but is yet to claim a title. He reached the final of the Brisbane International and then the semi-finals of three more events. In the Grand Slams, he made it to the fourth round of the French Open and Wimbledon. 

It is not known when a final decision regarding Rune’s participation in Paris will be made.

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Hubert Hurkacz Undergoes ‘Knee Procedure’ Ahead of Olympic Bid

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Poland’s top player on the ATP Tour is not giving up on his dream of winning a medal at the Olympic Games despite recently undergoing a medical procedure.

World No.7 Hubert Hurkacz suffered a knee injury during his second round clash at Wimbledon against France’s Arthur Fils. In the fourth set tiebreak of their clash, Hurkacz dived for a shot but landed badly on his knee and required on-court medical attention. He then played two more points before retiring from the match. 

In a social media post published on Wednesday, the  27-year-old confirmed he underwent a procedure on his knee earlier this week but didn’t provide any further details.  Although Hurkacz has stated his intention to play at the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris, where the tennis event will be held on the clay at Roland Garros. 

“I had a knee procedure this Monday, but I’m feeling better already and my team and are dedicating extensive time each day to the rehab process.” He wrote on Instagram. 

“It’s a dream for every athlete to represent their country at the Olympics, and I want to make sure I am fully fit and ready before making the final decision to step on court. The aim is not only to participate, but to win a medal for my country.”

So far this season Hurkacz has won 34 out of 48 matches played on the Tour. He won the Estoril Open in April and was runner-up to Jannik Sinner in Halle. 

The Olympic tennis event is scheduled to begin a week Saturday on July 27th. Poland is yet to win a medal in the event but expectations are high with women’s No.1 Iga Swiatek also taking part. 

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Motivation, Pressure And Expectations – Novak Djokovic Targets History At Wimbledon

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image via x.com/wimbledon

Novak Djokovic has broken numerous records throughout his career but he still feels the pressure of trying to make history in the sport. 

The world No.2 is through to his 10th Wimbledon final where he will play Carlos Alcaraz, who beat him at this stage of the tournament 12 months ago. There is plenty on the line for the Serbian who could equal Roger Federer’s record for most men’s titles won at SW19 and break the overall record for most major singles won in the sport if he triumphs over the Spaniard. Djokovic currently has 24 Grand Slam trophies to his name which is the same as Margaret Court, who won some of her titles before the Open Era started. 

“Obviously I’m aware that Roger [Federer] holds eight Wimbledons. I hold seven. History is on the line.” Djokovic said on Friday after beating Lorenzo Musetti.

“Also, the 25th potential Grand Slam. Of course, it serves as a great motivation, but at the same time it’s also a lot of pressure and expectations.”

Coming into Wimbledon, there had been doubts over Djokovic’s form after he underwent surgery to treat a knee injury he suffered at the French Open. However, he has defied the odds to reach the final. His run has also seen him beat Alexi Popyrin and Holger Rune before getting a walkover in the quarter-finals from Alex de Minaur, who sustained an injury during the tournament. Then on Friday, he overcame a spirited Musetti in three sets. 

Despite the challenge, Djokovic has insisted that his expectations to do well are always high no matter what the situation is. During what has been a roller-coaster first six months of the season, he is yet to win a title this year or beat a player currently ranked in the top 10. Although he will achieve both of these if her beats Alcaraz on Sunday. 

“Every time I step out on the court now, even though I’m 37 and competing with the 21-year-olds, I still expect myself to win most of the matches, and people expect me to win, whatever, 99% of the matches that I play.” He said.

“I always have to come out on the court and perform my best in order to still be at the level with Carlos [Alcaraz] or Jannik [Sinner] or Sascha [Zverev] or any of those guys, Daniil [Medvedev]. 

“This year hasn’t been that successful for me. It’s probably the weakest results the first six months I’ve had in many years. That’s okay. I had to adapt and accept that and really try to find also way out from the injury that I had and kind of regroup.”

Djokovic hopes that a Wimbledon win will help turn his season around like it has done in the past for him. 

“Wimbledon historically there’s been seasons where I wasn’t maybe playing at a desired level, but then I would win a Wimbledon title and then things would change.” He commented.

“For example, that was the case in 2018 when I had elbow surgery earlier in the year, dropped my rankings out of top 20, losing in fourth round of Australian Open, I think it was quarters of Roland-Garros, and just not playing the tennis that I want to play. Then I won Wimbledon and then won US Open and then later on became No.1 very soon.”

Meanwhile, 21-year-old Alcaraz is hoping to stop Djokovic in his tracks. Should he defend his title at Wimbledon, he would become the first player outside the Big Three to do so since Pete Sampras more than 20 years ago. He has won their only previous meeting on the grass but trails their head-to-head 3-2. 

“I’m sure he knows what he has to do to beat me,” said Alcaraz.

“But I’m ready to take that challenge and I’m ready to do it well.”

When the two players take to the court to play in the Wimbledon final, Djokovic will be 15 years and 348 days older than Alcaraz. Making it the largest age gap in a men’s Grand Slam final since the 1974 US Open. Whoever is victorious will receive £2,700,000 in prize money. 

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