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
Alexander Zverev Secures Place In ATP Finals With Indian Wells Win
Zverev will be seeking to win the season-ending extravaganza for the second time in his career.
Germany’s Alexander Zverev has become the fourth player to officially qualify for the ATP Finals after reaching the third round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
The world No.4 defeated America’s Jenson Brooksby 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, in his second round match on Sunday which pushed him over the points threshold to secure his spot in the end-of-season event. It is the fifth year in a row he has qualified for the ATP Finals which he won back in 2018. He is one of only three German players to ever win the title after Boris Becker and Michael Stich.
This year’s tournament will take place in Turin, Italy for the first time in history after being held at The O2 Arena in London for more than a decade. Only the eight highest ranked players are eligible to play in the round-robin tournament which has on offer up to 1500 rankings points for an undefeated champion.
“My first time in Turin. I’ve been to London four times before. London is obviously very special to me because I won there, as well. I think the stadium is incredible, one of the most special events that we had,” Zverev told reporters on Sunday.
“But I also love playing in Italy. I had great success in Italy. I won my first Masters in Rome. I’m looking forward to being there. I’m looking forward to playing in front of the Italian fans. It’s going to be a great week.”
The 24-year-old approaches the final quarter of this season with four titles already won this year. He has won two Masters 1000 trophies, an ATP 500 event in Mexico and a gold medal in singles at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Zverev, who has recorded seven wins over top 10 players, also reached the semi-finals at both the French Open and US Open.
Zverev joins Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas as the players who have qualified for the ATP Finals so far. It is the third straight season the quartet has qualified for the event.
This year’s ATP Finals will get underway on November 14th. Medvedev is the defending champion.
Denis Shapovalov Advances After Pospisil Retires In Indian Wells
The battle of the two Canadians didn’t go as planned…
Vasek Pospisil faced off against his fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and it was the world number 13 who got the win after the Vernon native pulled out due to an injury whilst trailing 0-3.
It was a rough start for Pospisil who seemed to struggle with his serve in the opening game of the match and double-faulted twice in a row to give the early break and Shapovalov had no issues consolidating the break.
Shapovalov continued to apply pressure on the Pospisil serve and after saving two breakpoints the world number 68 pulled up after a serve and stopped play, calling for the trainer. He ended up taking a medical timeout off the court and a couple of minutes later returned to court. Pospisil was broken once again and the following game after a couple of returns decided to call it quits.
” It was pretty awful…and if I’m being honest I am shaking a bit…It really sucks I hope it’s nothing serious…He’s a great guy he’s a real warrior he’s fought back from some injuries surgeries to such a great level.” Shapovalov said of his compatriot.
Shapovalov will face 19th seed Aslan Karatsev in the next round after the Russian thrashed Salvatore Caruso 6-2, 6-0.
In the other results of the day sixth seeed Casper Ruud dominated Roberto Carballes Baena 6-1, 6-2, Roberto Bautista Agut beat the Argentine Guido Pella 7-5, 6-3 and Sebastien Korda won an all American battle with Frances Tiafoe 6-0, 6-4.
Finally, Diego Schwartzman needed three sets to beat another American in Maxime Cressy winning 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.
Stefanos Tsitsipas Sidesteps Question Over Vaccination Status
The Greek also jokes that he will be having less bathroom breaks in Indian Wells due to one particular reason.
Stefanos Tsitsipas has declined to confirm if he has received a COVID-19 vaccination despite previously saying he planned to do so later this year.
The world No.3 was questioned about the vaccination during his pre-tournament press conference at Indian Wells on Wednesday. Earlier this year Tsitsipas came under fire after saying he doesn’t see a reason why somebody his age needs to be vaccinated and expressed concerns over the potential side effects. He also added that young people catching COVID-19 is a good thing as it helps build up their immunity. Prompting criticism from various people, including a spokesperson for the Greek government.
However, in recent weeks Tsitsipas has changed his stance on the issue and recently told Antenna TV that he will have his first dose by the end of this year. When asked by a reporter in Indian Wells if he has had it yet, the French Open finalist declined to answer.
“I’m sorry but I’m not able to provide any of my medical records,” he said.
Player vaccination rates in tennis are becoming a growing issue amid reports that the Australian Open may only allow fully vaccinated players to participate due to a health mandate which has been implemented by the local government. There is yet to be a formal announcement by Tennis Australia regarding their entry requirements. However, The Age newspaper reports that there is a ‘strong likelihood’ that only vaccinated players will be allowed entry by Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.
Tsitsipas’ immediate focus is on this week’s BNP Paribas Open where he is the second seed behind Daniil Medvedev. Speaking about the conditions, the 23-year-old joked it was ‘very dry’ and therefore he will be having less bathroom breaks during matches. Referring to the recent criticism he has received from some of his peers over the timing of breaks he takes.
“It’s very dry here,” Tsitsipas said.
“That is good for me because I sweat less, which makes for less bathroom breaks, which makes for less complaints. So a very good sign so far,” he added with a smile.
The hope for Tsitsipas is that he will be able to build on his recent experience at the Laver Cup where he helped Europe secure their fourth consecutive title. The event provides players with the opportunity to work alongside each other in a team format. Something Tsitsipas relished but he is ready to get back to singles duty.
“I think team competitions are necessary for our sport and we don’t get to be united a lot,” he said. “We always kind of focus on ourselves and our things and environment and that is what you usually see on Tour. Players doing their own thing. Not much socialising.
“At the Laver Cup, we all get to have dinners together and all get to hang out with each other. Of course, though, we all have our competitiveness and if we get stuck around we might share too much with one another, that is the mentality behind it.”
Tsitsipas is yet to win a main draw match in Indian Wells. He will start his 2021 bid against either qualifier Roberto Marcora or Spain’s Pedro Martinez.
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