Depending on where you live, playing on clay may be an everyday commodity or a completely exotic experience for you. If you haven’t tried playing on clay courts before, you should treat yourself and do it, as it’s truly a wonderful playing surface. The famous red clay, as seen on the French Open, is a whole new world, and if you want to win on this surface, you need to adapt your game and follow special strategies and tricks that will help you get the edge on the dirt.
Here are some of the recommended shots and strategies that will help you adapt your tennis game to clay courts and be more successful:
It’s a fact that balls bounce much higher on clay than on any other surface. This is why you should try hitting shots with lots of topspin. As any kind of ball spin naturally gets a boost on clay, you should try hitting with as much topspin as possible to have the balls bouncing high. High bouncing ball will keep your opponent planted far behind the baseline and on the defense. It’s really hard to hit an offensive shot when you’re several feet behind the baseline and dealing with a ball that bounces high above the ideal strike zone. High bouncing balls will neutralize the aggressive players who might have been giving you trouble on hard courts.
When playing on clay, you should always try to go for deep shots that land close to the baseline. Shots depth, combined with topspin, will really push your opponent back. This way, you’ll just need to be consistent with placing deep rally balls until you get a weak return from your opponent and an opportunity to blast an approaching shot or a winner. When it comes to targets, aim for the area in between the service line and baseline to leave margin for error, and make sure you have a full follow through in order to drive a deep ball.
Clay promotes variety, as there are no easy points on this surface. The most typical player on clay is a baseline grinder, player who can play extremely long points without ever leaving the baseline area. He can keep the ball in play for as much as it’s needed for you to make an unforced error and lose the point. Hitting shots with an angle is an excellent strategy to use against those players, and on clay in general. Try hitting a forehand or backhand shot that goes inside the service box, relatively close to the sideline. This kind of shot will force your opponent to move diagonally, and if you catch your opponent standing far behind the baseline will result in a straightaway winner. Don’t worry if your opponent does get to this ball, you’ll get an easy shot and open court to work with. Clay surface is slow, and it’s really hard to hit winners from the baseline so you need to look for angles in order to open up the court and move your opponent around.
Well-hit drop shots stay glued to the ground on clay. This is a great option for you to use on this type of court surface. Be on the alert though, as if you don’t hit the drop shot well and have it sit up, your opponent will have lots of time to get to the ball and punish the mistake you made. Clay is slow, so you’ll have more time to get in position for the drop shot. Ideally, you’ll be hitting it from the middle of the court, and adding a bit of slice to the ball so that it skids away from the opponent. Try spotting the perfect opportunity for a drop shot, which is when your opponent is standing far behind the baseline. You can also experiment with running up to the net, after you hit the drop shot, and ending the point with an easy volley.
Changing direction on clay is simply hard. The surface is kind of slippery and it’s easy to get into a skid when changing direction. This slipping motion uses up energy and results in precious milliseconds waisted. A good strategy to use on clay is to play behind the opponent in order to catch him on a wrong foot. Try hitting behind your opponent as he’s trying to recover towards the middle of the court in a crosscourt shots rally. If you place a ball behind the opponent, he’ll have lots of trouble quickly stopping on clay and changing direction, so often he just won’t be able to reach the ball at all. So close, but so far away. This strategy will surely frustrate your opponents on clay.
When you step on the clay courts, make sure you’re mentally ready to play long points. This means that average rallies will last much longer on clay than on hard courts, and you’ll need to hit more balls to win. Clay usually favors players that are really fit. Don’t be impatient and keep in mind that short points and winners are rarely seen on clay, so it’s perfectly normal if you’re having trouble ending the point early. With this mindset, start building points from grounds up. Move your opponent around, combine deep balls, topspin and even moonballs to create offensive opportunities. Look for a chance to play an angled shot, approach the net or use a drop shot against your opponent. Variety is the name of the game on clay. You essentially need to outsmart your opponent and create open space on the court in order to win the point. In the end, combination of smart play and fitness level always prevails.
Playing on clay is pure fun and this slow surface allows us to get to more balls with less physical effort, so the points last much longer. It also neutralizes offensive options, so players need to be more sneaky in order to win. The clay court deteriorates as you play on it, and small imperfections in the dirt mean that the ball bounce can get erratic and random at times. Use the above strategies next time you go out to play tennis, and you’ll surely win more matches. Be ready to play long points, use more spin and look for angles and you’ll surely surprise your opponents and turn things around.