Jim Courier, Monica Seles, Andres Gomez, Mary Pierce, Eva Majoli and Andre Agassi: all these players won the French Open. All of them understood the importance of being very familiar with the clay court surface. Our players use a very aggressive style of play and we did not let them back up and retreat too often.
To play well on clay, players have to be able to:
l) Move by sliding. They have to be able to move side to side with equal dexterity, forward and backwards too. The emphasis should be on keeping their balance while they execute the stroke, keeping a low centre of gravity and use wide stances. They should slide, hit then recover without taking extra steps.
2) Try to be as close to the base line as possible, backing deep to defend only when forced to.
3) To win on clay, players have to be in great physical shape as the points on this surface are longer. That is why it is important to work on movement daily with tennis specific exercises, holding a racket, and sometimes hitting balls and sometimes not.
4) They have to be consistent and patient. It is very difficult to hit straight out winners as the bounce of the ball is slower and higher. Using heavy topspin is very useful on this surface.
5) Players must work on opening the court, which is done by hitting behind the opponent and wrong footing them. Use angles, slices and drop shots too to make opponent be forced to move that much more than on a hard court, and keep them off balance.
6) On clay more than any surface, it is imperative to control the centre of the court. Hitting deep allows this. The player that controls the centre has the upper hand. The first serve should be wide 70% of the time, to take control of the centre right away, and the next shot the server hits should be a forehand to the open court and once in a while behind the opponent.
7) The return should be high and deep to the middle of the court to neutralise the serve, and when the returner has time and the score is in his favour, he should go down the line.
8) Another vital part to be able to win on clay is the mental part. Players have to be smart, aggressive, tough, relentless and very disciplined.
9) Nutrition and hydration also play a big roll to win on clay as the matches are longer. Players have to pay attention to this area before, during and after the matches.
10) After the match, players need to have the proper cool down e.g. 20 minutes on the bike and a long stretching session, especially stretches for the lower body.
By Gabe Jaramillo
Tennis Director, IMG-Bollettieri Tennis Academy, Florida