Novak Djokovic explains why it is so difficult to adapt to clay – ‘Sometimes it’s really overwhelming’
Playing on clay is no easy feat, even if you are Novak Djokovic with the world No 1 admitting that it is a very demanding surface.
There is a reason why there are 11 warm-up tournaments – including three ATP Masters 1000 events – on the red dirt in the lead-up to the French Open as it takes time to acclimatise and come to grips with your sliding, technique and tactics on clay.
Djokovic has played only four matches on the surface so far this year as he lost early at the Monte Carlo Masters and the Srpska Open in Banja Luca and then skipped the Madrid Open as he was struggling with an elbow injury.
He will return to action at the Italian Open on Friday and was asked about playing on the surface ahead of his match Tomas Etcheverry at Foro Italico.
“It’s the movement. Every bounce more or less is different. It’s such an irregular-bounce surface. You have wind. You have clay, a surface that is alive basically. Let’s call it this way. Like grass in a way,” he said.
“On clay, if you have a windy day, wind takes out the top layer of the surface, and it affects the bounce, it affects the spin of the ball, the speed of the court. Of course, if it rains or something like this, the conditions are different every single day, then it affects whether the clay is softer or harder.
“There’s plenty of factors that are in play, and you just have to deal with so much more than other surfaces. That’s how I feel. Sometimes it’s really overwhelming. It’s all about I guess adjusting to that.”
Despite clay not being his favourite surface when compared to hard courts and grass, Djokovic still has a brilliant record on the terre battue as he has won 18 titles on clay – including Roland Garros titles in 2016 and 2021 – and his 79.9 per cent winning record.
The 22-time Grand Slam winner added: “I feel that it takes more practice sessions, more weeks of spending time on the court and working on your shots, working on your tactics, on technique, adaptation to the court than any other surface.
“I’ve been hearing some players say that about grass. For me, I’ve been fortunate on grass, I adapt really quickly. But clay is something that really demands time for me.”
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