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
‘He Needs To Bulk Up’ – Tennis Great Cast Doubt On Alex De Minaur’s French Open Chances
John Newcombe believes it will be a few more years before the world No.27 reaches his peak.
One of Australia’s most decorated Grand Slam champions of all time believes compatriot Alex de Minaur still has a way to go before he poses a threat at the French Open.
Former world No.1 John Newcombe believes the 21-year-old needs to improve on his physicality before reaching his peak on the surface. De Minaur comes into the Grand Slam high in confidence after reaching the quarter-finals of the US Open in what was his best performance at a major so far in his career. He was knocked out of the tournament by eventual winner Dominic Thiem.
Although De Minaur’s preparations for the clay took a blow last week after he lost the first round of the Italian Open to German qualifier Dominik Koepfer. The world No.27 had a set and 3-0 lead over Koepfer before losing. He is not playing in any tournament this week leading up to Roland Garros.
“I’d have to see the draw, how it comes out, but it will be hard work for him,” Newcombe told the Australian Associated Press about de Minaur’s chances in Paris.
“He’s going to have to do a hell of a lot of work. If he got to the quarters, it would be a terrific effort.
“He’s not going to be physically where he needs to be, just bulking up a bit, until he’s 25, 26.
“But he’s got a good all-court game and he understands the game well, so there’s no reason he can’t be a pretty good late maturer (on clay).”
This year’s clay-court major will be the fourth time the Australian has played in the main draw. In his three previous appearances, de Minaur has only won one match which was against Bradley Klahn last year.
During a recent interview with atptour.com, the Next Gen star gave little away about his expectations for the clay this year given the revised schedule. The French Open is taking place just two weeks after New York due to the COVID-19 pandemic which brought the sport to a five-month standstill earlier this year.
“Realistically, you never know until you step out and play matches. It’s a very quick turnaround, something that has never happened to play such an important event after a slam. I’m taking it all in, doing as best as I can and we will have to see,” he said.
De Minaur has won three ATP titles and has scored four wins over top 10 players so far in his career. He is currently the only player from his country ranked in the world’s top 40 on the ATP Tour.
Novak Djokovic claims his 36th Masters 1000 title in Rome
Novak Djokovic came back from 0-3 down in the first set to beat Diego Schwartzman 7-5 6-3 after 1 hour and 53 minutes in the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia at the Foro Italico in Rome. Djokovic claimed his fifth title in the Eternal City and his 36th Masters 1000 trophy and his 81st career title. Djokovic has become the oldest Rome champion.
The World number 1 player extended his record in 2020 to an impressive record of 31 wins in 32 matches, including four titles at the Australian Open, Dubai, the Western and Southern Open in New York and Rome.
Djokovic dropped his serve three times and earned five breaks of serve.
Djokovic wasted a game point and dropped his serve, when he netted his backhand. Schwartzman hit four service winners in the second game to consolidate the break for 2-0.
Djokovic made a backhand error to face a break point in the third game. Schwartzman earned his second break to open up a 3-0 after 18 minutes, as Djokovic netted another backhand. Djokovic earned a break point chance and conveted it after a double fault from Schwartzman.
Djokovic held serve at 15 with an ace in the fifth game to claw his way back to 2-3. The Serbian star forced an error from Schwarzman to earn a breka point in the sixth game and got the break, when the Argentine netted a forehand. Djokovic held serve at 15 to take a 4-3 in the seventh game. Schwartzman hit a forehand down the line winner at 30-15 in the eighth game and held serve with a service winner to draw level to 4-4.
Djokovic saved a break point in the ninth game with a volley winner and held serve to take a 5-4 lead. Schwartzman saved a set point with a forehand winner and drew level to 5-5 after two deuces with a backhand the line winner.
Djokovic held serve after a deuce to take a 6-5 lead forcing Schwartzman to serve to stay in the set for the second time. Djokovic converted his third set point to win the opening set 7-5 after 70 minutes.
Schwartzman earned an early break at the start of the second set. Djokovic got the break back to draw level to 1-1 when Schwartzman sent a forehand wide.
Djokovic hit a winner at the net to hold serve in the third game. Schwartzman hit four winners in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2.
Djokovic saved two break points in the fifth game and held serve with a service winner to take a 3-2 lead. Schwartman held serve with a drop shot. Djokovic won his service game at love to take a 4-3 lead and broke serve at love in the eighth game with a backhand down the line winner. Djokovic held serve at love to close out the final.
“”It was a great week. A very challenging week. I don’t think I played my best tennis throughout the entire week, but I think I found my best tennis when I needed it the most in the decisive moments today, yesterday and in every match. That definitely makes me very satisfied and proud that I managed to find that fifth gear when it was most needed. Turning to Paris, I could not ask for a better tournament here in Rome. Another big title and i super pleased with it”, said Djokovic.
Stan Wawrinka Parts Way With Long-Time Coach Norman
Stan the man is on the look out for a new coach for the first time in almost a decade.
It is the end of an era for three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka after he announced his split from coach Magnus Norman.
The former world No.3 confirmed on Monday that the two have decided to end their collaboration with ‘mutual consent’ following eight years working together on the Tour. Norman was last with Wawrinka at the Italian Open last week where the Swiss player lost his opening match to rising star Lorenzo Musetti. It is unclear as to exactly when the decision was made.
“After 8 great years together Magnus Norman and I have decided to part ways by mutual consent. We have had an amazingly strong, enjoyable and hugely successful partnership. We reached the height of this sport together and I want to thank him for helping me win everything that I could ever dream of winning,” Wawrinka said in a statement posted on Instagram.
44-year-old Norman is a former world No.2 player himself who reached the final of the French Open back in 2000. During his coaching career, he guided Wawrinka to various milestones in his career that includes 13 ATP titles with three of those being at Grand Slam level. The Swede has also been recognized by the ATP for his work with Wawrinka after winning the inaugural Coach of the Year award back in 2016.
“He’s been a great coach, friend and mentor and will always be a dear friend,” Wawrinka said in a tribute.
“I want to publicly thank him for all his hard work, dedication and commitment in making me a better player over the years. Winning three grand slams have been a life changing experience for me and I could not have done that without him. I wish him all the best in his next chapter in his life.”
The announcement from the world No.17 comes a week before the French Open starts. Wawrinka has been training on the clay for the past few weeks after deciding against travelling to North America to play in the US Open. Instead, he played in a couple Challenger events and won a trophy in Prague last month. Overall, he has achieved a win-loss record of 15-3 so far in 2020.
It is unclear as to who will be replacing Norman in Wawrinka’s team.
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