Friday, October 07, 2022

What’s It About French Open Clay That Surprises?

PARIS ( Associated Press) – Why is the French Open more likely to become a first-time Grand Slam champion than the Australian Open, Wimbledon or the US Open? Why are there so many amazing results at Roland Garros? What distinguishes its red clay from the surfaces used in the three other major tennis tournaments?


The French Open is the only Grand Slam tournament held on clay courts – not actually made of clay, but dusted with red brick atop a layer of crushed white limestone.

Wimbledon, which starts on June 27 this year, is famously played on grass. The US Open, which begins on August 29, and the Australian Open, held in January, each use a different type of hard court.

The softness of the clay court and the motion-absorbing grab slows down shots compared to other surfaces, making speedy serves and groundstrokes dull. Clay’s grittiness amplifies the effect of heavy spin (think 13-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal’s uppercut left forehand), which lifts the balls off the ground.

“Clay is a completely different surface from hard courts and grass,” said Tamara Zidansek, who reached the semi-finals in Paris a year ago while finishing 85th. “It’s such a distinctive surface.”

play style

Because the fast-moving serves and quick-strike forehands relied on by so many players are not as effective on clay as hard or grass courts, it is important to switch tactics, pace and spin, for drop shots. There is an increased reward.

“On clay, you have to hit a lot of balls to win a match. If you’re not 100 percent sure, it really shows up,” said International Tennis Hall of Fame member Martina Navratilova, who won the French Open Won two of 18 Grand Slam titles. “It’s hard to win a match when you’re not playing well.”

Katerina Sinyakova, a Grand Slam doubles champion who defeated then-no. Naomi Osaka described the clay effect this way in the third round in Paris, finishing 42nd in 2019: “You really have to win the point. Winning a point is not as easy as hard court, because it is not that fast. A more creative player can play better on clay and use this as an advantage for them. You can’t use too many slices or drop shots on hard courts.


Numbers are long. So match: last year the average for women’s matches in Paris was 1 hour, 39 minutes, 42 seconds; It is 3 minutes longer than the US Open, more than 6 minutes longer than the Australian Open, and more than 8 minutes longer than Wimbledon. Men’s matches—best of five sets; The women’s bests are three – averaging 2 hours, 39 minutes, 24 seconds in 2021, 11 minutes more than the Australian Open and 6 minutes longer than Wimbledon. Matches at the 2021 US Open averaged 2 hours, 50 minutes, 35 seconds, but were shorter in the past decade than at Roland Garros in previous years.


All surfaces can be affected by temperature, but clay courts change more in extreme heat and cold – Nadal’s quarterfinal win over No. 1 seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic in Paris on Tuesday night with temperatures in the 50s Fahrenheit Was fought ( juvenile Celsius) – or on a damp or humid day.

“The grass turns a little, but I think the soil is alive. You have to play with it,” said Felix Auger-Aliasime, semifinalist at last year’s US Open. “Sometimes the soil is more dry and the buoyancy is going to fall apart Other weeks, it’s too humid and too soft and it plays out differently. The whole mud swing, from one week to the next, the conditions change a lot.”

It can be as simple as the wind blowing dust over the court at Roland Garros, creating thick or thin patches.

“I think people forget sometimes, because it’s red and it looks the same, but they don’t see the amount of clay,” said Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic, who mostly works on indoor hard courts in Switzerland. I grew up playing. “They don’t see how it changes. They don’t see how fast or how hard it is. You can’t see it on TV.”


Footwork is important on clay, which allows players to slide in shots. The trick is to do it right.

For example, Bencic says that his open hitting approach and lack of play on clay make that aspect difficult for him.

“My movement is not really made for the soil. I have a huge advantage on the grass because of my stance,” she said. “I have to think about it on clay. It doesn’t come naturally.”


Some players, especially from Europe or South America, learn the game on clay. People agree that there can be a significant benefit.

“You get a lot of people that it…is their ‘home’ surface, the way they grew up playing. That suits their game and so they are much more comfortable than me,” 13 in Paris Said th seed Taylor Fritz, who lost out of the top 125 to Bernabé Zapata Miralles, a Spanish qualifier. “And I probably won’t lose too many of these guys on hard courts, but on clay courts, any day, sure. There are obviously other people I can lose. ,


There are far fewer incidents on clay than on hard court. The 2022 ATP calendar includes 39 tournaments on hard courts, 12 on clay and eight on grass. The current WTA schedule for this season shows 30 on hard courts, 14 on clay and seven on grass.

So it stands to reason that professionals may prefer to focus their efforts on more frequently used surfaces.

Also, as Djokovic explained, there is an adjustment when it comes to the European clay-court circuit that leads to the French Open.

“Historically it has always taken some time and many tournaments to feel comfortable playing on clay,” he said. “Rarely have I felt my best on clay in the first or second tournament of the season.”


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