Disclaimer: Juan Martin Del Potro did not write this article. Photo : Peter Staples/ATP Tour
I can’t get enough of the clay season. Watching is great, obviously, but back in the land of average enthusiast players, there is joy also in just stepping on the red clay and hitting some balls. Especially as a Brazilian-Canadian (olá, galera!), as I shaped my own game from ground up playing on that surface.
Here’s what I love the most about playing on clay courts!
When you say ‘clay,’ you say ‘sliding.’ It’s not only the best way to move on the surface, but it is also apparently now being adopted on other surfaces as well. So, as someone who essentially learned the basics of tennis movement on clay, sliding is second nature to me. I do it all the time! Sometimes I even start sliding on snow or ice, pretending I’m on a clay court back in the south.
It’s so much a part of how I move that I couldn’t even imagine that sliding would be difficult even for pros who rarely play there. I guess it’s fair, since my coaches had to spend a lot of time making sure we’d do the small steps as well, instead of just sliding everywhere. Good times.
2. Ball Marks.
First things first: don’t cheat. It doesn’t matter what surface you play on, and what level.
But, of course, on clay you can see the mark the ball leaves when it bounces – and pretty clearly. While I would prefer no one ever tried to call out a shot that was in, at least I know that on clay we can always go and check the mark. And even if it was actually out, at least we get to see by how much. It’s that ‘Hawkeye’ feeling that the pros are used to.
3. The grind.
Finishing points quickly? No, thank you! When you have to play a point that can’t start before you hit 10 shots between the two players, you know it’s going to get physical. Yes, coaches did that to me as a kid.
But I also love playing from the baseline and just rally. It is so satisfying to really load up the top spin, and patiently build a point up. No rushing the net. And all in all, I was definitely in the best shape of my life. 😂
4. Court Maintenence.
While not exactly “playing,” maintenance is an important part of the clay court experience. It is a life lesson to take care of the things you love. I would imagine that is one of the reasons why we see Rafael Nadal sweeping the clay on practice at the Rafa Nadal Academy.
But also, it’s just really fun to water the courts, sweep, use that broom on wheels to clean the lines (which is ridiculously satifying to do), and then having a prefect court to slide on and leave plenty of ball marks.
5. Stained Socks forever.
You know you play on clay when… your socks are forever stained. Your shoes also get stained, but when you wear any socks you can find to go play, they all get stained. So when I went to school, or hung out with my friends, or any situation that required wearing socks, you could see that red-clay stain all around the ankle area.
Did that bother me at all? On the contrary: it’s my pride as a clay court tennis player! Maybe it did bother my mother, though.
Those are my personal joys of playing on red clay. All surfaces are amazing and have their charm and game style, but for me clay is just closer to my heart. I am sure all players have their favourites and what they love most about any surface, but for now, happy clay season!