Ultimate guide to playing on clay courts

Shahida Jacobs

The clay-court season is in full swing and for many aspiring players around the world, conquering on the ‘red stuff’ will always be the ultimate challenge.

Rafael Nadal’s dominance on the surface over the last decade has highlighted the benefits of growing up on clay courts, with the Spanish master aiming to win a remarkable 11th title on the Roland Garros clay when the French Open gets underway on May 27th.

Tennis365 caught up with Zé Pereira Lopes, Tennis Director and Head Tennis Professional of The Campus tennis academy in Quinta do Lago, to get the rundown of how to succeed on clay courts, as he hinted preparation is an important application on the court.

Tennis365: What are the key fitness tips for playing on clay?
Zé Pereira Lopes : “Legs and core are the foundation for every shot. It’s essential to have the strength and balance to slide into the shot, drive through contact and maintain balance to ensure good recovery. Physical conditioning is crucial on clay because the points tend to be longer than on other surfaces and the best players on clay are often the fittest players.”

Tennis365: How should you structure points on clay?
Zé Pereira Lopes: “It is much harder to finish points quickly on clay, whether it’s with the serve or ground strokes. A typical clay-court match lasts much longer than a match played on a hard or grass court. Being able to finish a match physically strong can be the difference between winning and losing. Having the ability and discipline to concentrate for extended periods of time is also crucial.”

Tennis365: What are the keys shots on a clay court?
Zé Pereira Lopes: “You need to develop the strength and ability to play the ball at or above shoulder height. The easiest place to hit a tennis ball is between the hips and shoulders. As the ball gets above shoulder height it is tougher to generate power and control the ball. A higher bouncing clay court exposes a player’s ability to play the ball above shoulder height.”

Tennis365: How important is patience when you are playing on this surface?
Zé Pereira Lopes: “Each point on a clay court can be an absolute battle. Being able to get on with it and play a tough point no matter what happened in the last is essential.”

Tennis365: What are the key elements of your equipment to succeed on a clay court?
Zé Pereira Lopes: “Grip is everything when trying to stand up on a slippery clay court. The best clay court shoes have herringbone soles. Look for the zigzag pattern on the sole of the shoe as that offers the best grip available.”

Tennis365: Should you still try to get to the net on clay?
Zé Pereira Lopes: “Sure. To be a great clay-court player you must control all zones of the court. It isn’t as easy to finish points from the middle of the court, so you must come to the net to conclude the points.”

Tennis365: Where should the player stand to receive serve on clay?
Zé Pereira Lopes: “I would say one to two metres behind the base line due to the high bounce of kick top spin serves. On other surfaces, you may try to stand on the baseline to receive serve, but clay is different and you give yourself more time to work your way into the point if you are standing further back.”

Tennis365: What strings should be used on a clay court?
Zé Pereira Lopes: “Polyester strings are the best option. There are many great types of polyester strings available on the market today. Not only do they offer good spin control but they usually last longer as well. The one downside is they are usually a little tougher on the arm than traditional gut or synthetic strings.”

Tennis365: How do you explain Rafael Nadal’s incredible success on clay courts?
Zé Pereira Lopes: “This is the surface that Rafa grew up on. He knows how to move, how to get the best of his ability out when he plays on this surface and that is the same for all Spanish players. The coaching in his country is all based around clay courts and that evolves around heavy top spin that gets the ball up high on a clay court. Nadal has got his shots high on his opponent’s backhand side and that has taken them out of their comfort zone. This has worked especially well in his matches against Roger Federer on this surface.”

The Campus at Quinta do Lago is the new home of tennis in Portugal’s Algarve. To discover The Campus for yourself, visit https://www.quintadolago.com/en/the-campus/ #TheCampusQDL

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