Clay Court Tennis Part 1

Jim Courier, Monica Seles, Andres Gomez, Mary Pierce, Eva Majoli, Andre Agassi all these players won the French Open. All of them understood the importance of being very familiarize with the clay court  surface. Our players used a very aggressive style of play, we did not let them back up and we preferred that they stayed closed to the base line. I remember Pato Alvarez telling me that with that style it was impossible to win on clay, I proved him wrong many times

To play on clay players have to be able to:
  1. Move by sliding using the court in their advantage, they have to be able to move side to side with equal dexterity, forward and backwards, the emphasis should be on keeping their balance while they execute the stroke, keep a low center of gravity and use wide stands, slide-hit-recover without taking extra steps
  2. We make sure that our students play as closed to the base line as possible, backing deep to defend is not an option
  3. To win on clay the players have to be in great physical shape, the points on this surface are longer. That is why it is important to work daily on movement with tennis specific exercises, this is done on clay courts, with the racket, executing shots
  4. They have to be consistent and patient, it is very difficult to hit straight out winners; the bounce of the ball is slower and higher, the heavy topspin is very useful in this surface
  5. Attack movement, the players must work on opening the court, this is done by hitting side to side and then behind, also attack movement with angles, slices and drop shots. The idea is to hit the ball to all areas of the court, deep with high heavy spin, middle of the court with angles and the short court with drop shots. Keep the opponent off balance
  6. On clay more than any surface is imperative to control the center of the court; the player that controls the center has the upper hand. The first serve should be wide 70% of the time, to take control of the center right away, 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 neutralize the serve, when returner has time and the score in his favor he should go down the line
  8. Another vital part to be able to win on clay is the mental part, the players have to be smart, aggressive, tough, relentless and very disciplined
  9. Nutrition and hydration also play a big roll to win on clay, the matches are longer so the players have to pay attention to this area before, during and after the matches 
  10. After the matches the players need to have the proper cool down, minimum 20 minutes on the bike and a long stretching session, specially the lower body.

I was a young boy when I learned a very big lesson during the US Open, this tournament used to be played at Forest Hills, a very traditional tennis club, for years it was a grass tournament, in 1971 it was changed to clay for only one year. One of the semifinals was Guillermo Villas Vs Manuel Orantes, Villas was ahead 2 sets and 5-0, 40-0 in the fourth set; the people had left the stadium, there were probably only fifty of us that remained seated watching this match, it was very late at night and the match to that point was not very exciting, Orantes kept fighting coming back and doing the impossible beating Villas. The next day he played Connors and beat him in straight sets. Listening to Orantes in the interview he said that he was never out of the match, “after all it is clay and I am in a very good shape”. Through the years I saw many comebacks at the French Open, matches that were almost done but one of the players with the will, the stamina and the determination to keep fighting were able to came back and win; on clay the match is not over until the referee says “game, match”.

At least one month before the clay court season started, we moved all the players from hard to clay.

CLAY COURT DRILLS 

The drills that we used the most during this training period with Monica Seles, Mary Pierce, Eva Majoli, Andre Agassi, Marcelo Rios, Jim Courier and many more players that reach the semifinals and quarterfinals of the Roland Garros were the following: 

1. HIGH NET

  • Objectives:
  1. To hit the ball high over the net with enough margin for error, no mistakes
  2. By hitting the ball high it will also travel deep, high and deep. No balls on the net, no short balls
  3. Getting used to hitting and receiving high and heavy balls starting with the spin serve 
  4. We use the high net during the entire season, including playing matches
  • Execution:
  1. Use two sticks with a rope, place them at the net posts on each side, the rope will be 2 feet high over the net 
  2. Start with balls down the middle working on consistency, make sure the balls are high, deep and heavy, no pushing
  3. Hit cross courts first and then down the line
  4. Do the same exercise applying movement, for example one player hits down the line, the other player hits cross court
  5. It is very important to place the emphasis in the use of the legs to execute each shot
  6. Lots of repetitions to create muscle endurance, build aerobic capacity, concentration, discipline and more than anything else confidence.
  1. ANGLE SHOTS OUT OF THE BASKET

  • Objectives:
  1. Feel confident hitting angles from anywhere in the court
  2. Hit angles from both sides forehand and backhand
  3. Hitting angles on the run
  4. Attacking the middle court
  • Execution:
  1. The coach places the basket closed to the net
  2. The first drill, feed ball close to the net, player has to hit a very short angle
  3. Second drill, feed ball to service line
  4. Third drill, feed ball between service line and base line
  5. Four drill, feed ball to base line
  6. These four drills are all forehands, 20 balls at the time
  7. Second basket, all backhands, 20 balls at the time from all the different positions on the court
  8. Third basket, applying movement, side to side from the different zones
  1. SERVE AND RETURN

  • Objectives:
  1. Opening the court with the serve. The objective of the server is to control the center of the court from the first shot and then continue attacking movement
  2. Attacking movement with the forehand after the serve
  3. Returner neutralizing the middle of the court taking away the advantage of the server
  • Execution:
  1. Using the high rope over the net, two feet high
  2. Players play the points keeping score
  3. Server places the serve wide and then hits a forehand to the open court. The server always looks to hit the “forehand” after returner hits the ball back. 
  4. Returner hits the return deep and to the middle of the court pushing the server back, the goal of the returner is to have enough discipline to neutralize the return playing high percentage tennis
  5. Play sets making sure the players are following this patterns 
  1. USING THE COURT AS A PHOTOGRAPH

  • Objectives:
  1. To visually study the way the players are using the court
  2. Through the markings on the court from the balls as well as the sliding, it will be easy to see the patterns of play
  3. Using this marks on the court the students can see if they are attacking the three zones of the opponents court: deep, middle (angles), and short ( drop-shots)
  4. Easy to see the placement of the serves
  5. Simple to make out the depth of the balls
  • Execution:
  1. Make sure the court is just broom before the exercise starts, so there are not markings on the court
  2. Players play points without changing sides
  3. After one set, take the players out of the court and if possible from a high position study the marking on each side, look for the depth, middle (angles), and short sliding. Also look for the markings on the serves, these marks on the court don’t lie, it will be easy to spot what the players are doing well and the areas they need to improve.
  4. After that analysis, broom the court again and play a second set, make sure the players improve their ball placement and the way they utilize the entire court to attack the opponents movement.