Young Americans relishing prospect of the clay swing
The days of American players making up the numbers on the clay swing are over, according to David Nainkin.
Nainkin is USTA Player Development Lead National Coach and feels that the young crop of American players are no longer intimidated by clay.
In years gone by the Americans were unable to bring their power to bear as they moved with all the urgency of a California Redwood.
Nainkin feels that a player like Ben Shelton is an example of the next generation of player, who already has experience of clay courts in Europe through his junior career.
“To be good on clay you need to be a great athlete, and these guys are. They move really well, and having had that exposure [to clay] at a young age in Europe led them to embrace it,” Nainkin said.
The revolution started with the likes of Tommy Paul and Taylor Fritz making regular trips to Europe as juniors.
Nainkin also feels that the players that are coming through are incredible all around athletes that can thrive in the testing environment.
“That shift in our priorities helped change the culture and outlook of these guys.
“To succeed, you have to like the clay, but you also have to like being in Europe for an extended period of time. Taylor wanted to stay in Europe for every tournament after Monte Carlo and Frances [Tiafoe] was the same. They love being in Europe.”
Shelton is looking forward to his first experience of the clay swing as a professional.
He balieves that he has all the skills to thrive come April.
“I’m really looking forward to the clay,” Shelton said according to Tennis.com.
“I’m looking forward to being able to use the higher bounces to my advantage, moving, sliding. I’m really looking forward to getting on the red clay.”
Former pro and longtime coach Brad Gilbert has also backed Shelton to make a splash on clay.
“With that bomb of a serve and his excellent movement, Shelton could be very interesting on clay.”
Gilbert believes that the new breed of American player will be far better equipped for the clay swing.
We [Americans] weren’t going to get into the mix at the top until our guys got good on clay,” he said.
“Too many of our guys were just a serve and forehand.” Gilbert said. “Now a lot more of our guys are more athletic so they can do more things. The cool thing about the current players is that they all play differently. They’re not the same type of players, and that’s interesting to watch.
“We had a long period when guys almost skipped the clay season entirely.
“Several years ago you had maybe one or two guys in some of the big draws. They felt lonely. It doesn’t look like anybody will be feeling lonely this year.”
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