Clay is dirty, unpredictable and can leave you face down in the dust. In short, some of the best tennis out there.
The slower court, increased rallies and wide variety of shots require your game to be at its best. To help you adjust to the nuances of clay court tennis, here are seven strategies for perfecting your slide game.
Build Your Endurance
Although clay is a lower-impact game, the long rallies mean you must be in top condition. Your endurance will be tested in the longer matches mixed with intermittent short bursts of speed where balance, flexibility and composure are vital for economy of shot.
Diversify Your Portfolio
Playing on clay gives you a chance to use every shot in your repertoire. Cross-courts, drops, slices and topspin groundstrokes are essentials. And ball placement is crucial. If your arsenal doesn't contain these gems it's time to practice up, especially with tennis drills that involve at least six shots.
All About the Angle
The serve and volley associated with hardcourt games is tough to reproduce on clay. Your best tactic is to drill cross-court shots and keep your opponent moving. You may have to hit a number of shots before you get the right chance to win the point. Eventually you will find yourself with a wide-open court where the wins is just a tap away.
Although sliding into a shot isn't essential, it sure looks good. Sliding on clay takes a little getting used to at first, but is an effective way to slow momentum and prepare you for the return. Try sliding on a smooth surface at home wearing socks. Notice how the pros do it using the toe of their back foot to assist the stop and aid in the transition.
Patience, The Toughest Virtue
The slowness of clay refers not only to the slower speed of the bounce, but also the increased time involved in winning the set. Although down-the-line wins may come easy at first, once you tire you'll find your unforced errors increasing or your return dropping in speed. Instead of relying on your hardcourt strategy, stick to the cross-court game plan and wait for your winner opening.
Hit Behind Your Opponent
Clay is a slippery surface to play on and makes it difficult to change direction quickly. A good strategy when playing on clay is to aim your shots behind your opponent in hopes that they won't have the time or agility to change direction and return. The downside: Be ready for your opponent to do the same thing to you.
If you can't go to Spain and hit with the best, find a clay court in your area and practice as much as you can. Dig into it, slide around, get dirty. It's not very often you get to play in dirt, so make the most of it. Once you're feeling more comfortable on this surface, try your hand at a clay court tournament and put your skills to the test.