So you want to play better clay-court tennis? As you may know, there’s tennis…and then there’s dirt ball. Dirt ball is a war. For war, you need to be prepared.
Here is a list of some of the most significant adjustments that should be made to do battle on the clay courts.
Are you one of those players who can get away without stretching before a hard court match? Well, don’t try the same thing on clay. Movement on dirt forces you to slide from one side to the other and play lower to the ground. Pulled groins and hamstrings, so common in dirt-ball, can be prevented to a large extent by a quick routine of stretches.
On a slippery surface, its easy to lose your footing as you take off to run down a ball. It’s like a car stuck in the snow. Flooring the accelerator will only cause the tires to spin out. The way to achieve better traction is to control that first step as you go from stationary to motion.
To cover a lot of territory, you will need to learn the sliding technique: spreading your feet, bending your knees, getting low to the ground, and maintaining good balance. Lower your hips by about a foot and you will be able to control your body’s momentum. By using your sliding knee as a shock absorber, you’ll gain better control of the slide.
When a clay court takes on water, the surface quickly turns from dusty and slippery to damp and tacky, making it much more difficult to slide. Learn how your movement will be affected after a heavy rain. You need to test out the surface before you play. When it’s difficult to slide because the court is damp and heavy, you’ll want to move more like you’re on a hard court.
The Entire Court
One great thing about dirt ball is the added style, flair and creativity that is shown off. The slower conditions allow time for the players to take bigger swings and run down shots. Often, the dirt-ball strategy involves attacking deep then short to create openings. You can exploit these openings with shots you might not otherwise try on hard courts such as drop shots, lobs, slices, chips and sharply angled shots that will force opponents to defend the entire court, not just the backcourt.
If your match objective is to be the player who hits winners from all over the court, you will more than likely end up with a mountain of unforced errors and lose the match. To win on clay, you must be better than your opponent at limiting mistakes.
More than any other surface, clay demands that you construct points with both purpose and patience. You can’t be in a hurry to finish things off. You’ve got to set up each finishing opportunity properly. The length of the rally will vary based on your style of play, the conditions of the court, the number of shots it takes to create an opportunity, and your ability to finish off points.
Physical and Mental Conditioning
Dirt ball is not a sprint. It is more of a marathon. You must develop the physical and mental stamina to be able to go the distance. Looking for a quick victory because of lack of preparation and physical conditioning will ensure defeat. Remember, when you are physically or mentally tired you make low percentage shots. On clay the player who makes the fewest mistakes wins.
Implement these changes and, with hard work and experience, you can become a dirt ball specialist who can grind out victories on the slippery stuff.
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