50 Shades of Clay - UBITENNIS
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Editorial

50 Shades of Clay

Joshua Mason

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RAFA GREY

 

 

This month sees the return of Roland Garros Tournament in Paris. The only major to be played on clay, despite 1 in 3 of every ATP tournament played on the surface. There seems to have always been a divide of players who can play on clay, and those that can’t. Rafael Nadal’s domination of the French Open has shown that there is a real difference in ability on the surface. But what is the history of Clay, why does it exist, and how do you get the better of it?

 

Despite it being the love of the latin players, it is rumoured that the invention was by an Englishman! William Renshaw was teaching Tennis in Cannes, France in the late 19th Century when the grass courts kept burning and dying. His solution was to take broken clay pots from Vallauris in the South of France and turn them to powder. He would then protect the courts by spreading it on the grass. Courts are no longer actually made of clay as it reacts to strongly with water. Today it is made from ground bricks which still gives it that unique colour. A court at Roland Garros for instance is made of more than two tons of bricks! The composition of a competition court from Paris is now a mixture of a lot of material. From surface to base it is:

 

Red brick dust: 1 – 2 mm
Crushed white limestone:  6 – 7 cm
Clinker (coal residue): 7 – 8 cm
Crushed gravel: at least  30 cm
– Drain

 

Clay is very much a unique surface for the effects it has on a game of Tennis is dramatic. There is a lot of factors to take into account when playing on the surface. The ball will travel slower, as well as bounce higher, leading players to retreat further from the baseline. In fact the majority of matches will be played in a semi-circle 5-10 feet behind it. Of course this means they are vulnerable to a drop shot, so a wide array of shots is vital on clay. The nature of the surface means an integral part of playing is sliding. Players will have to slide into a shot and time it to perfection to not only hit the right shot, but compose and prepare for the return. The ball behaves differently too. The granular nature of the surface means the balls bite on the surface, and spin is hugely enhanced. People with heavy top spinning shots will benefit from clay. It is also the only surface which can change in a single match. The sliding and running and bouncing balls will leave permanent changes to the surface and even at somewhere like Roland Garros there will be certainty of an predictable bounce. If clay gets damp the ball will slow even further and bounce higher too, all can take place in the time period of a single match.

 

Rafel Nadal has undoubtedly stuck his flag in the dirt to claim the King of the Clay title. Though his dominance may be waning his 9 French Open titles, and record run of wins on clay in the Open era means his records will unlikely be matched. He is always going to be a strong contender and front and centre of betting tips. no matter what age or condition. Clay is such a different game and therefore has it’s own specialists who will struggle on other surfaces. Most notably is Juan Ferrero and Gustavo Kuersten. Most of the greats will come from Europe or South America, due to the monopoly Clay courts has there. It is vital if you plan to be a top player to be adept and trained in the art of clay.

 

Andy Murray for instance did just that and moved to Spain when he was 15, from the indoor courts of the UK to experience just that. His mother Judy coaches how to play on clay and thought the move wise for the development of her son. Not only benefiting for a players clay game, it will also improve your all round game, if you introduce Clay training early on. It’s tendency to produce long rallying improves mental endurance and physical endurance. The shot decisions are particularly important and playing on clay creates a tactical brain instead of relying on finding winning shots. It helps with patience in a match and also protects the body for a season, as the impacts are less than on harder courts.

 

Clay is one of the most unique aspects of Tennis. Almost a sport within a sport. Without it the calendar would look very different and the range of skills on show, for us to feast our eyes on,would be less. Clay courts are an integral part of the sport and to be the best player in the world you have to be able to win on clay. We will be able to judge who best mastered the red dirt on June the 5th!

Editorial

Black History Month – Chapter 2021

In their Black History Month story Mark Winters and Cheryl Jones bring out that with knowledge and understanding of “all” that history presents, we have the tools that can change the future and leave the past where it belongs – and should have remained.

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Naomi Osaka (@ESPN on Twitter)

For many, the second month of the year is commemorated as being Black History Month. In the US, it is also Heart Month. Not to be overlooked, at the end of the Fifth Century, Pope Gelasius deemed February 14th   St. Valentine’s Day. (Black History Month also takes place in Canada in February. In Great Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands it is celebrated in October. But Valentine’s Day is February 14th, everywhere.)

 

Mindful of the ever-growing problems resulting from modern living, concerns about heart care are an ever-growing concern. Valentine’s Day, for years, has been a day where folks remind their loved ones of their caring with gifts such as roses and chocolate. But February this year should be focused on Black History Month because of the widely publicized events that have awakened a need to recognize that in the US and for that matter, all around the world, that every man and woman are supposed to be created equal. The premise should ring true, particularly, now

When Carter Woodson, a historian, along with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, developed the idea of making the second week of February, “Negro History Week”, in 1926, they hoped it would lead to an awareness that there was a forgotten group of citizens who had a hand in building this country. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass had February birthdays and it seemed like a perfect fit. Lincoln’s birthday was on the twelfth and Douglass’ on the fourteenth. The goal was to broaden understanding about African-Americans and to provide cultural insight that was brushed under the carpet after the Civil War. At the time, it was a tick over fifty years since that war supposedly decided that there should be equality for all.     

At the time, teaching Black History, which was the immediate goal of Negro History Week, was not well received. Nonetheless, the second week of February was duly recognized until 1969 when the Black United Students at Kent State University proposed that the entire month of February become “Black History Month.” A year later, the first celebration was held, at the university. By 1976, as a part of the Bicentennial Celebration, it received an official US government designation.

Last year, the world and tennis were dealt a double dose of devastation. COVID-19 became death’s community calling card  and with it economies were maimed. Everyday stress increased and led to the manifestation of frustration and in some cases, anger. Even worse, occasionally, road-rage like eruptions resulted not only in the US, but internationally as well. 

May 25, 2020 was a personal tipping point for the two of us. The death of George Floyd further opened our eyes to where the world and tennis were in regard to so many things. We have traveled extensively and are long-time tennis journalists so we have “creds” but – We are not African-American. 

More to the point, we well know that more must be done to rid our lives of racial bias. Simply stated – Black Lives Matter…Even More Now. (And let it be known that “all lives matter”, all the time – that’s understood. The point is that there are inequities in the treatment of African-American’s that have never been addressed.)

Naomi Osaka used her face-masks at last year’s US Open to call attention to victims of racism – Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Elijah McClain, Tamir Rice and Breonna Taylor and too many more. Her hope was to increase awareness and have people “see more names”, names of the Black victims of police violence in the US. 

Prior to New York, Osaka had traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota where Floyd was killed and she took part in the peaceful protest that was being held. In July, she co-wrote an article that appeared in Esquire Magazine concerning racism and personally “being all things together at the same time.” After Jacob Blake, an African-American, was shot in the back multiple times by a policeman in Kenosha, Wisconsin, she withdrew from participating in the Western & Southern Open semifinal. Realizing the significance of her decision, tournament officials suspended play at the National Tennis Center for the entire day in support of her social justice expression.

Coco Gauff was another person who was candid in her comments about the importance of Black Lives Matter protests. Frances Tiafoe and Sloane Stephens, as well as James Black and both Serena and Venus Williams, were some of the other prominent players who supported the necessity of the demonstrations. (Fittingly, the US Open, during its final days, featured the works of eighteen artists in “Black Lives to the Front”, an exhibition that was staged on the lower rows of Ashe Stadium at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.)

February isn’t just about reading a book that extols the life of a famous person of color. It’s a reminder to realize that history is not merely a white world’s diary. What happened in the past doesn’t have to be repeated because we have no internal chronicle of events. With knowledge and understanding of “all” that history presents, we have the tools that can change the future and leave the past where it belongs – and should have remained.

Article written by Mark Winters and Cheryl Jones

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Editorial

Novak Djokovic King For Another Year In Melbourne Park

Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier columnist James Beck reflects on the Men’s Australian Open final.

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Novak Djokovic (image via https://twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

Daniil Medvedev failed the Novak Test in a big way.

 

He wasn’t himself.

He quit before he got started.

Novak Djokovic was more than himself.

He was near-perfect in Sunday’s Australian Open men’s final.

This brief match was decided by two things: Djokovic’s service game; and his net presence.

Medvedev became unglued when he saw Novak at the net. 

ONLY A GLIMPSE OF THE PAST MEDVEDEV

Only in a few games did Medvedev demonstrate the rapid-fire deep forehands and backhands that had taken the skinny Russian to 20 straight victories before the Aussie final. Also only in a few games early in the match did he unleash the powerful serves to the corners of the box that had made even John McEnroe think Medvedev could upend Djokovic.

In short, Medvedev’s entire game was as wild as a bird in the wild. He didn’t even come close much of the time with his serves and ground strokes. When he missed, he really missed. He showed none of his usual rhythm in his game, none of the wind-ups for his patented whip-like forehands.

I’m sure many in the crowd of unmasked Australians that half-filled Rod Laver Arena must have regretted they didn’t party elsewhere.

It was that bad.

MEDVEDEV JUST ALONG FOR THE RIDE

As a result, the King of Melbourne Park did it again, win a ninth Grand Slam Down Under. Medvedev was just along for the ride in a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 humiliation.

Medvedev could only smile at the end as he admired King Novak. There was no reason to break  another racket.

Djokovic started the onslaught with an ace and ended it with a spectacular backward-running, looping overhead motion that produced an overhead that barely cleared the net and fell inside the sideline on Medvedev’s forehand side.

There you have it in a nutshell: the serve; and the net presence of Djokovic. Both were awesome.

Mix in Djokovic’s almost error-free ground game, and it was a short night for everyone concerned.

In the U.S., I could hop back into bed for a few more hours of sleep, just one hour and 53 minutes after the start of the rout. No more alarms to worry about in the middle of the night.

MEDVEDEV SIMPLY WASN’T READY

Medvedev may have thought he was ready for Djokovic, but he wasn’t even ready for himself. Medvedev appeared to be helpless. He even tried to get the fans excited as he motioned to them. He couldn’t even get his own attention. He showed no fire.

The 6-6 former Wonderman appeared to lose any game plan he might have had. Only in the three games that followed a 3-0 start for Djokovic did Medvedev resemble the player that had made young Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas look so helpless two nights earlier in another straight-setter after Tsitsipas had put a similar beating on Rafa Nadal in the last three sets of a five-set quarterfinal.

THE KING PULLED AN ESCAPE ACT

Wow, this was a wild tournament, one suitable for a world slowed down for more than a year by the coronavirus.

Novak Djokovic just escaped it with his 18th Grand Slam title as he heads to the clay courts of Paris in about three months just two Grand Slam titles behind Nadal and Roger Federer. The trip Down Under worked out perfectly for the King of Melbourne Park.

James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com and search for James Beck.

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Editorial

Women’s Tennis’ Best Player Wins Again

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It wasn’t long ago that Naomi Osaka appeared to be a talented young tennis player who had lost her way. On a rather warm April day in Charleston, S.C., in the 2018 Volvo Car Open, the then 20-year-old had had enough. As perspiration streamed down her face while she walked to her bench on
the jam-packed smallish outside Althea Gibson Club Court, Osaka looked at her coach and made the remark that she didn’t want to be there. Of course, she was losing. Osaka finished that round of 16 match, eventually losing to Julia Goerges.

 

NO WORRIES ABOUT PURSE
Obviously, Osaka wasn’t worried about the larger purse she missed by losing that day in Charleston. Money wasn’t that big a deal. Just two weeks earlier, Osaka had earned a $1.34 million check for winning the mega tournament at Indian Wells, Calif. The world was her game.
A few months later, Osaka won her first Grand Slam title at the 2018 U.S. Open. And now the powerful 5-11 native of Osaka, Japan, looks unstoppable with four Grand Slam titles in less than three years. Serena Williams probably is more worried about Osaka matching her record than Serena is
about surpassing Margaret Court in the number of Grand Slam titles.
Osaka is that good these days on the court, while making waves with her politeness and well-spoken interviews.

BRADY NO MATCH FOR OSAKA
Jennifer Brady was no match for Osaka in Saturday’s Australian Open final, falling much the same way Serena Williams had been dominated a couple of nights earlier. Osaka just turned the6-3, 6-4 victory she posted over Williams to a 6-4, 6-3 over Brady and a second straight Australian Open title.
Brady tried to out-hit Osaka. That was a mistake as the 24-year-old former UCLA star couldn’t keep her over-hit balls on the court in the face of Osaka’s meticulously placed, yet powerful serves and ground strokes. Brady fell victim to Osaka’s near-perfect cross-court put-aways from both sides on short balls.

OSAKA WAS A SUPERSTAR IN WAITING
The first time I watched Osaka in person was in the 2017 Volvo Car Open when a red-hot Shelby Rogers (she had just beaten long-time friend Madison Keys) scored a straight-set victory as Osaka watched too many of her shots miss their mark. It was rather surprising even then as a 19-year-old that Osaka was often losing matches. Her game was already spectacularly based on power. She was so talented and good that she was a
can’t-miss future superstar. Osaka is a quicker version of Serena. She has the entire package of talent.

No one in women’s tennis probably has better control of her shots and serves in pressure situations than Osaka. She also must have some of the quickest feet in the game, while being able to fight off her opponent’s hardest-hit shots with her upper body strength. It’s not surprising that Chrissie Evert calls Osaka “the best player in the world.” She may be just that by a long ways.


James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com and search for James Beck.

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