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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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Novak Djokovic Opens Up About Wimbledon Points Removal

The world No.1 states that he will always support the views of his peers.

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Novak Djokovic (Roberto Dell'Olivo)

By Kingsley Elliot Kaye

In his press conference following his win over Yoshihito Nishioka at the French Open, Novak Djokovic expressed his views about the ATP decision to remove points from Wimbledon.

 

Negatively affected by such a decision – he will drop 2000 points – the world No.1 praised the ATP’s stance and called for players’ unity.

“I think collectively I’m glad that players got together with ATP, the governing body of the men’s tennis, and showed to the Grand Slam that when there is a mistake happening, and there was from the Wimbledon side, then we have to show that there are going to be some consequences. So I support the players, unification always. I have always done that. I will always do that.” He said.

Djokovic criticized the lack of communication between the parties involved, in particular with regard to a document of recommendation by the English Government which contained diverse options. Had it been discussed by the All England Club with ATP and players, a compromise may have been reached.

“I think it was a wrong decision. I don’t support that at all. But, you know, during these times, it’s a super sensitive subject, and anything that you decide, it’s unfortunately going to create a lot of conflict, a lot of separation instead of unification.” He continued.

Djokovic also mentioned other suggestions coming from WTA and ATP, that possibly men’s and women’s players from Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia could play together at some exhibition event during the slam or something like this and prize money could go to the victims in Ukraine. There were different ideas, but there was never really a strong communication coming from Wimbledon.

He stressed that removing the points from Wimbledon, therefore not allowing players to earn or to defend points, is a decision that affects everyone, a lose-lose situation for everyone, as he called it.

Nonetheless, the charm and prestige of Wimbledon shall rest unaltered and its meaningfulness extends far beyond: “A Grand Slam is still a Grand Slam. Wimbledon for me was always my dream tournament when I was a child. You know, I don’t look at it through the lens of points or prize money. For me, it’s something else.”

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Injury-Hit Borna Coric Reacts To First Grand Slam Win In 16 Months

The Croat admits he was unsure how his shoulder would hold up in his opening match at Roland Garros.

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Borna Coric - US Open 2020 (via Twitter, @usopen)

Borna Coric said he is relieved that his body managed to hold up during his opening win at the French Open on Sunday.

 

The former world No.12 spent almost three hours on the court before defeating Spain’s Carlos Taberner 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1, in what was his first Grand Slam match of any kind since the 2021 Australian Open. Paris is only the seventh tournament Coric has played in since returning to the Tour following a year-long absence due to shoulder surgery. The 25-year-old is yet to win back-to-back matches this season.

It does feel great. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of my shoulder because I’ve never been in the fourth set, fifth set (of a match) for one-and-a-half years,” said Coric.
“So it was also kind of worrying for me, I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know how I’m going to feel and how my whole body is going to behave in those later sets. Obviously I’ve been practicing it, but it’s really never the same.”

Impressively the Croat produced a total of 54 winners against 39 unforced errors in his latest match in the French capital. Furthermore, he won 76% of his first service points and 53% of his second.

“The last few weeks haven’t been very easy, I lost many tight matches. I mean, I was also quite happy with my tennis, but I was just losing,” he reflected.

Coric was once tipped to be the future of men’s tennis after rising quickly up the ranks at a young age. In 2014 he was the youngest player to end the season in the top 100 and a year last he was the youngest to do so in the top 50. He has recorded a total of nine wins over top five players, including Roger Federer, as well as winning two Tour titles.

In the second round at Roland Garros Coric will take on the formidable Grigor Dimitrov who has been ranked as high as third in the world. He will enter the clash as the underdog given his ongoing comeback from injury. At present Coric’s principal focus is on his body but that will change in the coming weeks.

Until Wimbledon my health needs to come first and after Wimbledon I can kind of try to switch in my mind so I can start playing more and more tournaments. I can train more and I can focus more on the tennis rather than on my shoulder,” he explains.

Coric has reached the third round of the French Open on four previous occasions.

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Felix Auger Aliassime Wins First Ever Roland Garros Match In Five Sets

Felix Auger-Aliassime earned his first ever victory at Roland Garros.

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Felix Auger-Aliassime (@MatchPointCAN - Twitter)

The Canadian found himself down two sets to none but fought back to pull off the comeback in a thrilling five set victory.

 

Felix Auger Aliassime is into the second round of the French Open for the first time in his career after battling back to beat the Peruvian qualifier Juan Pablo Varillas in five sets 2-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 in three hours and 14 minutes.

The Montreal native finished the match serving 14 aces and hitting 52 winners in a match that featured a lot of long rallies from behind the baseline.

“It was a dream for me to play here, it was an honor and my first time on Phillipe Chatrier and my first win at Roland Garros and I had to work hard to get it and credit my opponent he played very well today.”

The Peruvian started the match by breaking the number nine seed right out of the gate and at 3-1 managed to turn that break into a double break as he served out the first set with ease.

The first two games of the second went on serve but again the world number 122 seemed to play better as the Canadian looked stunned, searching for answers.

The Lima native once again took an early lead to take a 3-1 lead and again that seemed like enough for the Peruvian as he served out the second set and was one set away from an improbable upset.

The third set is where the Canadian started to turn things around and his groundstrokes seemed to have more precision. At 2-1 it was the Montreal native who got the first break of serve.

After consolidating the break the world number nine was hungry for more and turned that break into a double break and it looked like the match was turning in his favour.

The Canadian served out the third set to send it to a fourth looking to send it to a decider.

The Montreal native rode the momentum from winning the third into the fourth set where after holding the opening service game got the early break once again taking a 2-0 lead.

At 5-3 with the Peruvian looking to stay in the set, Auger Aliassime managed to get another break to win the set and send the match to a fifth set.

The fifth set stayed on serve until 4-3 when the Canadian had four chances to break and at the fourth time of asking he was able to break and serve out the match to complete the comeback.

After the match in his on court interview he was asked about the adjustments he made in the third set to turn the match around and pull off the win.

“I tried to give myself some more space and a little more time, my opponent at the beginning was playing very quick, aggressive, and flat so I tried a couple things and I also served better and after that it was easier.”

The Canadian will next face either Aslan Karatsev or Camilo Ugo Carabelli in the next round.

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