Why Is A Clay Surface Different?

Australian Tennis

For those players who have had the good fortune of playing tennis on different surfaces, then you will surely know that grass, clay and hard court surfaces all have different characteristics that differentiate one from another.
Not just in bounce and speed of the ball, but also how you need to adapt physically to play on each and every one of them.

Different Types Of Clay

Normally in Australia the clay court surfaces used are Ant Bed in Queensland and En Tout Cas in Victoria, these are different to the clay courts in the U.S which are Har-Tru. Whereas the traditional red clay courts are found in Europe and Latin America.

The term clay courts is actually misleading as they are not made from clay, if only clay was used then as soon as it rained they would retain moisture and would be unplayable for a lengthy period after rain. Most clay courts have a solid permanent base, sometimes limestone, with a fine coating of crushed brick on top, that allows the players to slide.

 

The Need To Slide

Because of the fine brick top on a clay court, it is not possible to move as you would normally do on other surfaces.

Being able to slide is the easy part, but the tough part is being able to time the slide into the shot while maintaining your balance to be able to swing freely through the shot and then to finish in a strong position to allow a good recovery back into court. To play on clay, you need to master the art of sliding.

 

Clay Courts Continuously Change

Depending on the weather a clay court will react differently, on a dry sunny day the ball will bounce higher but less so on an overcast day.

The bounce on clay is more variable than that of a hard court, with constant play clay will gather on each side, and the weather will directly affect the surface. This means that it is impossible for clay courts to have a consistent bounce during play. Even a well maintained clay court will provide variations and surprises in bounce.

Also the plastic, nailed on plastic lines can produce erratic bounces if the ball hits directly.

 

Clay and Spin

Shots on clay that are played with topspin react differently on clay than hard courts. The loose, gritty surface on clay means the ball grips more and thus enhances the effect of the spin. If you play a shot with topspin, the ball will bounce higher and sharper off the clay surface.

As already mentioned clay also plays slower than grass, which means it is harder to hit outright winners. Most clay aficionados play further back on the court to enable them to have more time for the shot and to take the ball under shoulder height where more power can be gained.

Australian Tennis

Reasons To Train On Clay

  • Longer rallies are played so it can improve decision making
  • Clay playing improves mental toughness and endurance
  • A slower game teaches patience
  • More shot variety is needed on clay
  • The softer surface is kinder to the body

Playing on clay produces both advantages and disadvantages, if you consistently play on the surface then you will soon learn to adapt and improve your game.